this rant brought to you by the letter Q for Query

Dear Writer who thinks you deserve more of my time and attention than the other 200 or so people querying me this week:

Quit it.

Query letters in which you tell me that your book can’t possibly be appreciated in the mere five pages our submission guidelines request so therefore you have sent me many unsolicited chapters do not endear you or your novel to me. They tell me you have no respect for the other writers submitting. I have news for you. Some of them are better writers than you are. Some of them are worse. Many of them may not be writing something I want to read. But they are all just as special as you are. They have worked hard and finished their novel. They are amazing for doing that. Each and every one of them.

Don’t you think I know that five pages isn’t enough to fully appreciate a story? Certainly anyone could agree with that sentiment. But that’s not the point of the query package. It’s a presentation. An invitation to read. To be enticed.

And I have news for you. This attitude means I would rather work with them than you. I would rather read their book than yours. So your book would have to be hands down, 8000% better than theirs for me to consider it.

Because, I repeat, they are just as special as you are.

To everyone out there who follows submission guidelines, who takes the time to send what an agent asks for, who helps us in our constant search for new books we can love and clients we can adore: THANK YOU.

42 responses to “this rant brought to you by the letter Q for Query

  1. That only leaves one question: Which five pages?

    • Pages 7, 14, 93, 204 and 303.
      Or maybe go with the obvious answer of the first five pages.

      • But what happens if your manuscript is less than 300 pages? Ha. Ha.
        Besides the guidelines on their website answer the question by specifying first five pages Can’t get any clearer than that. And the research took me a whole 30 seconds

  2. It amazes me that people do this. Do they not READ?? You’re not the first pro to make this rant. You will, unfortunately and apparently, not be the last compelled to do so.
    Sigh. My condolences. On an up note, the amount that you truly respect (at least initially!)the authors submitting to you, whether or not you pick them up, is why you are so busy. Huzzah to you! And booo to the less than considerate special snowflakes you have to deal with.

  3. For short stories, I can usually tell in the first five paragraphs if I want to accept it.

  4. I wonder sometimes why the people who do things like that won’t put their submission in the perspective of reading a book in a store–it rarely takes more than two pages to let you know if you want to read it, let alone five. Five is plenty.

    • I was going to say the same thing! When I see an intriguing book I’ll only read the first few paragraphs, really, before I know whether I’m going to bother with the rest of it. Five pages is rather generous, I think.

  5. yikes
    What’s that Einstein quote? “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And I’m not sure about the universe.”
    Thanks for the kudos at the end there.

  6. You’re welcome.
    Mine will be in your inbox by this time next week. 🙂 And that’s because I will be triple-checking the requirements before I submit.

  7. Thanks arcaedia for your appreciation of what most of us do and go through.
    It’s ironic though because I’ve read blogs from authors who’ve said things like “even if they ask for only a query, I always put my first few pages afterwards so they could scroll down.” And these are people telling us how they got their agent. Sigh.
    I’ve never done it. I’ve always followed the sub directions to a T, but I’ve been tempted. Thanks for making your tastes so clear.

    • hmmm, If a submission guidelines state that they ONLY want a query and no sample pages, then I do exactly as they say, but if they don’t mention any guidelines beyond query me, no attachments, then I do paste the opening five pages below the query.
      I’m not really sure how that’s a problem.
      Or do you mean people who paste 5 pages despite being told not to? ‘Cause yeah, that’s less cool.

      • Yep, the comment was even if they say they only want a query you should just paste your first pages below, so agents can scroll down if their interested- the author had done it and gained agents’ interest that way.
        I’ve also read a query critique by Nathan Bransford where he wrote “oh, she has a website, cool” when a writer included her link. And I read on Fangs and Fur’s query section that a writer gained rep. through her website. Yet another agent just recently claimed that was a turn off, comparing it to saying something like “hey babe, come see my bedroom.”
        The key is to personalize each query, to learn each agent’s specific tastes. Of course, I say that without having had any luck at it. But I persevere.

    • There is something ever so slightly frustrating about the fact that, for every thing you are NOT SUPPOSED TO DO… there is someone out there who succeeded by doing exactly that.

  8. Question: How about authors who send JUST a query, without the first five pages? Are those equally annoying, more annoying, or less annoying?

    • I feel they’re less annoying, because at least that was ignorance (albeit self-imposed ignorance considering how most agencies have their requirements everywhere) rather than willfully ignoring the rules because you’re a special snowflake.
      They are a bit annoying in the sense that, if the query isn’t blatantly awful, I then have to email them and say, “Please send the first 5 pages like our requirements said.” And more annoying for them because now they have to wait twice as long to get a true response (because my requests for 5 pages go right back into the query pile; they don’t get special treatment for not following the guidelines).

    • I find them puzzling mostly. One wonders why they didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to submit a sample when most people seem to want that. Perhaps they just didn’t know they could (i.e. they didn’t read the guidelines).
      The thing is that it puts the burden of proof on just the pitch in the query.

      • Well, my guess is that at least some people who don’t follow the guidelines actually base their queries on information from third-party sites, such as Agent Query or PublishersMarketplace. Often, these sites have broken or missing links to agents’ websites. Of course, writers could still Google the agents to try to find their websites, but my guess is that some don’t bother.

        • And why would one truly want to work with an author who doesn’t care enough to spend the thirty seconds or so it takes to google someone who said author is asking to represent their professional interests?
          Might as well stamp “Please Just Toss In The Recycle Bin” on it in large, friendly, red letters.

          • I suspect many aspiring writers have no idea how hard it is to get an agent, and how much work they should be putting into it. That said, finding an agent’s website, figuring out their submission guidelines, and tailoring one’s query to the guidelines takes a lot more than 30 seconds — especially if the guidelines say something like, “Enclose a two-page summary of your book,” and what you have is a twenty-page summary of your book.

  9. Following Simple Directions
    You’re welcome. And, thanks for reading. It means the world to “us.”

  10. I keep hoping there will come a time when I am old and jaded enough to no longer be surprised by how stupid people can be.
    But as long as people are still being surprisingly stupid, I’m glad there are still people willing to bitchslap them a bit for it.

  11. Wow Jennifer, why don’t you tell us how you really feel. LOL -That’s so great. I had someone tell me recently at a conference that they sent an agent more than what they asked for. My first thought was automatic rejection.

  12. It wasn’t me. But I did go back to my email to make certain. Thanks for all you do.

  13. Breaking The Rules
    I think part of the problem is that there’s an underlying lesson we’ve learned through anecdotal evidence — not that rules are meant to be broken, but that some of the most successful people have gotten to where they are by breaking the rules.
    Aggression and perseverance are frequently rewarded in many areas of society. Thanks for not being one of them (at least re: aggression).

  14. Only 8000% better? I seriously think your standards are too low there.
    I’m thinkin’ at least 10,000%, and even that seems pretty minimal. Of course if you can’t read and follow directions, you probably can’t write to that standard anyway, so….what the heck.
    As an aside, do you get people who quibble over how to measure a page?
    Well it was just five pages when I sent it. Of course, it was single-spaces in 4 pt font, but…it WAS just five pages. Double sided.
    I’m reminded of that old line in grade school. The one that the teachers had to read before you took an “achievement test.”
    I will now read the instructions. The instructions tell you what to do! Doh!

  15. What the publishing industry needs is agents and editors that are more Simon Cowell, less Fluffy Bunny.

  16. As always, I’m shocked at how impolite and/or unprofessional these alleged professional writers can be when querying. What’s wrong with just reading the submission instructions and going with that?

  17. I was going to make a comment here but obviously there is not enough space to do so in my usual brilliant and lyrical fashion, so Jennifer please visit my website to read my 10,000-word commentary on what I think about people wasting your time.

  18. This letter is made of awesome. I hope it helped you let off some steam.

  19. As my personal monster says: cheetahs never popper. Glad you’re fighting the good fight. I’ll keep fighting, too, hoping tenacity and manners will win the day.

  20. You’re welcome. I appreciate you being so caustic with those who don’t follow your guidelines … It takes a while to get everything in order and personalized to an agent’s requests/requirements. Doesn’t make my polite refusal letter any more palatable after putting out the effort, but I do appreciate that you considered it. –Amber

  21. Your respect for anyone finishing a novel is validating to those of us who have done exactly that. Thanks!

  22. Reminds me of the time I saw this blue pickup driving through the neighborhood.

  23. I find myself wondering how old these people are. I could totally see a college student, teenager or younger sending something like that out and being a pain about it…
    …Oh, wait. Who am I kidding? I know people in my own age group who act more like kids than most of the kids I know.
    Aren’t the “sense of entitlement” and “I’m better than you are” issues the primary reasons behind the fall of the Roman Empire? The barbarians are knocking at the gates of the agents. Soon all of literary creation shall be pillaged, plundered, and ransacked. Then what shall we read for enlightened entertainment?
    Besides the phone book, that is.

  24. Sorry that you keep getting these kinds of submissions, Jennifer. Some people will never get it.
    Why wouldn’t someone want to get it right? It’s hard enough to get published while doing everything correctly.

  25. I read stories like this and others from several agent blogs and I must confess…I just don’t get it. I really don’t.
    I simply cannot understand how an individual hoping to get published does things like not reading submission guidelines or intentionally ignoring submission guidelines (because they know better). Or, better still, explaining how the agent can’t possibly do their job properly by following said guidelines.
    (shakes head)
    Half of my family is from the south and I’ve found the following two tidbits of advice work very well for me in life:
    1) treat people the way you want to be treated
    2) you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar
    Folksy sayings, yes, but surprising accurate in real-life situations.

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