letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 238
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 0
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: n/a

Still over 300 queries in the queue. I have read all queries dated prior to Sept 1st.

Oh, wise writers, who read blogs and research agents (those humble servants of writers)…

How can those who do not take advantage of information freely given across the internets be reached? I beg of thee, reveal the secret to me so that I may have a larger percentage of queries which contain the information needed to actually assess them. Last week, roughly 30% of queries had attachments (a few were even entirely attachments), did not include the first five pages, barely even mentioned the genre of the book (let alone had a pitch or summary of any kind), etc. This week it seems closer to half. No exaggeration.

And, though, writers following guidelines shall be lifted up in praise, and shall dine upon pomegranates in the oasis…. Still, those others do slow the ebb and flow of the tide, and cause gnashing of teeth and consuming of comfort food. Also, to no avail as their queries cannot be adequately reviewed without the information requested. Yet still they must be answered, and thus the resources of the kindgom are reduced.

Oh, wise writers, it is known far and wide that the query system is an inexact science practiced on the divining of a creative art. Its effectiveness is limited by the unworthy application of guidelines which nevertheless make the attempt to find a match between writer and agent, and so then proceed unto the glories and tribulations of publication.

In this golden age of submissions via the magic of the internets, it has been foretold that many will query, yet few will query wisely and well. Hasten not, after spending your days, your weeks, your months, your years, stolen from your virtuous families and friends, while writing your dream. Pause. Consider. Take the time your story deserves to present it to those who seek it. Or…. query in haste, repent at leisure.

34 responses to “letters from the query wars

  1. Maybe if we label your advice “Submission Secrets Agents Don’t Want You To Know!” and sell it for a hefty price?

  2. I think you have to sacrifice a goat in the back yard. It’s either that or consume very excellent chocolate on a daily basis…
    Maybe go with the chocolate first. It’s not as upsetting to the neighbors.

  3. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this feature I hear is built into all computers. It’s a little button up in the righthand corner with the mystical letters d-e-l-e-t-e. I’m told that if you tap it, it makes this disappear. Crazy, huh?
    Your willingness to respond despite the lack of attention these writers show your guidelines is commendable. I think I would use the magical vanishing key more often.

  4. Clueless about rules
    Have you considered having TWO form rejections? The regular one for those of us who followed the rules but whose pitch didn’t move you (I know whereof I speak). And a second one that says you got no consideration because you didn’t follow the rules, here’s the internet link to the rules, now follow them!

    • Re: Clueless about rules
      Actually, I have 10 different templates for replies that address common issues of submission error and/or interest in seeing more/not seeing more. But when about half of the queries require that and then result in another round of email, the numbers start to seem daunting. Particularly when the google search that turns up our guidelines is so apparently daunting to find. 😉

  5. Lol,
    Verily, it is easier for a self-published author to find themselves atop The New York Times bestseller list, than for a writer to gain agency representation without following the submission guidlines 😉

    • Sadly, I think that is absolutely true.
      Of course, I assume that I haven’t gotten a response in a long while, it probably means I read some rule wrong and it was circular filed the second it came in the door. Which means I’ll never know I forgot to put it in Times Roman or double-space the paragraphs when I thought they said single-spaced.
      Oh well, the literary lotto some days. 🙂

  6. Web submission form
    I wonder if a web form could be devised to make this easier. The form could have a text box for the first five pages (the server could validate the word count, rejecting too large or too small, or funny characters). It could provide a drop-down for genre, a text box for the pitch, etc.

  7. I believe this is the beauty of form emails.
    I do solemnly pledge to do excellent research on agents I query in order to submit according to the guidelines.

  8. I don’t understand writers who would spend months, if not years, writing a novel and then not take the time to research submission guidelines and how to write a proper query.

  9. You could try implementing an email blacklist, where you block email addresses after sending the “you didn’t follow the format” email and any emails they send after to you gets blocked by the blacklist and bounces like a highly bouncy bouncy-thing. It would prevent any whining cruft. But then again, it may make you look overly hostile if you block everyone who doesn’t get it right the first time(…but still…have you ever found an author worth representing that didn’t follow the format the first time, but did the second? I’ve never been no the agent’s side, so I dunno if that would/has ever happened).
    I don’t know if this would be a good idea, I’m just throwing something out there. It definitely would be an aggressive one.

  10. I put on the googley eyes so you know its me 😀
    And Saint Attila raised the hand grenade up on high, saying, “O Lord, bless this thy hand grenade, that with it thou mayst blow thine bad queries to tiny bits, in thy mercy.” And the Lord did grin. And the people did feast upon the lambs and sloths, and carp and anchovies, and orangutans and breakfast cereals, and fruit-bats, for the ignorant queries were no more, and much frolicking was done by the agents.
    (No members of Monty Python harmed during the typing of this shameless ripoff)

  11. Agent Porn?
    A long agent sitting on a desk, pulls out a folder. Pulling it out, they come up with some letter written in purple in 92 pt font.
    “Please read this.”
    Though it didn’t conform to any rules, the agent decided to read the three pieces of ragged paper dripping with bacon grease and diet coke stains.
    “My god, it’s perfect!”

  12. I’m a big proponent that queries deserve a reply, but I honestly don’t see why you should bother if they can’t be bothered to follow instructions. Put a message on your site: Queries that do not follow instructions will not be replied to. If you did not receive a response after [x] days/weeks, you either didn’t follow the instructions or the email went into a spam folder.
    Then use that magical d-e-l-e-t-e key the person above mentioned.

  13. I’m thinkin’ a simple solution, somewhat simpler then what has been discussed heretofore.
    Your email response should be in this form.
    Dear aspiring writer:
    In your haste to share your wonderful creation, you, inadvertently I am sure, failed to supply all the information necessary for me to fairly evaluate your masterpiece.
    For more complete information, please visit my web site…www.howdidyouscrewthisup.com…read the submission guidelines carefully, and then click on ##, which will identify which of the seven cardinal sins you have committed. If there is more than one number, you committed more than one sin. Multiple sinners have a special place in hell.
    Your very sincerely
    Yada Yada Yada

    You could then program the numbers to match the specific stupidity displayed in said query.
    Simple, straightforward, and easy to understand. Also, suggesting they read the submission guidelines might point out that you have such things, which is something they obviously missed before.

  14. You need one person in the office assigned as DMLA’s Simon Cowell…

  15. Think of it as natural selection. Those who cannot follow instructions take themselves out of the publishing process.
    As for my first sale, I’m very glad I was meticulous about following agents’ instructions. I now not only have a publisher, but an agent.
    This did mean months of actual READING of submissions guidelines and following them to the nth degree, but it was worth it.
    And I find blogs such as yours invaluable.

  16. Lovely
    Ha! And people say prose poems are an obsolete literary form.

  17. Yet still they must be answered
    They don’t.
    You cannot teach those who will not learn. (See icon for details.) Do the best you can to teach everyone, and then put your energy towards the ones who are truly willing to learn.
    And give them pomegranates, etc.

  18. Reading Slush, Suess Style
    Whilst perusing Nathan Bransford’s blog he pointed out the hysterical “Slush I Read” poem by Jim C. Hines about reading slush in the form of a Dr. Seuss poem. Serendipity being serenipitous and all, this might alleviate some of your slush angst.
    As for the “Rules Are For Other People” crowd, may they be relegated to that special level of hell with the axe murderers and people who talk in the theater.

  19. Have you thought, perhaps, of having a form letter for those who do not follow guidelines that explains the issue, points them to the guidelines, AND points them to helpful, free resources on the Internet?
    If they don’t follow guidelines, don’t read them. Just send the form letter.

  20. It ought to be possible to create an email filter for incoming submission emails with attachments, one that would automatically send them a “we don’t read emails with attachments–please see our guidelines at this web page” response and would archive their email without you having to deal with it at all.

  21. This would make me laugh if it wasn’t true.

  22. following guidelines
    I just tweeted this, but:
    Why don’t you add to your guidelines that authors should put “followed guidelines” in the subject line of their query? That might be useful information.

  23. I think more agents are just going to have to limit themselves to pre-published authors only. Getting your short stories published somewhere before moving up to novels was once considered a given.
    Writing (and submitting) short stories takes up less effort, all the way around, so writers who are perpetually rejected will at least waste less time themselves, and maybe be less frustrated in the long run.
    And if an unpublished writer considers short stories beneath him, then the odds that his initial piece of writing — a novel — will be a great loss to the agent, are quite long.

  24. Preaching beyond the choir.
    I have no idea how you reach the people who don’t research before querying. I suppose you could reach a small and unfortunately silent number of them with an e-mail that said, essentially, “Ur doin it rong. Heers hao.” However, you’re far more likely to reach that small and more unfortunately vocal minority who will respond, “Why won’t you recognize that it’s your fault my genius remains undiscovered?” to any attempts at guidance. Un-fun.
    Sigh. Observational truth: most people have blind spots, and the skills necessary to recognize them are the same skills whose lack creates them. As a result, you can tatoo instructions on their thighs (where they can see them every time they sit in the bathroom), and they STILL WON’T GET IT.
    I’m sorry I can’t offer you any suggestions. I wish I could. Then I could patent the process, make an infomercial, and retire covered in wealth and glory.
    As the prophet (Kenny Rogers) said, “No one’s blinder than he who just won’t see.”
    — Ulysses

  25. Atticus Catticus and why writers should follow submission guidelines
    I explore that very topic of why writers don’t follow submission guidelines in this blog post about my friend’s slasher cat …
    Cheers, Jan

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