letters from the query wars 3.16.2012

# of queries responded to week ending 2.24.2012: 139
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 0
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: n/a

# of queries responded to week ending 3.2.2012: 141
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 1
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: YA-dark fantasy

# of queries responded to week ending 3.9.2012: 159
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 0
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: n/a

# of queries responded to this week: 184
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 2
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: urban fantasy; YA-supernatural

Sometimes someone has done all the research, followed the guidelines perfectly (even though they vary from agency to agency) and submitted to agents that list their genre as an area of interest, and yet still hasn’t gotten any materials requested. I just wanted to take a moment here to say that even though that might be frustrating at times, I appreciate those who make these efforts.

Occasionally, I get frustrated with the query system too and with the people who attempt to take advantage of it. Once in a while I feel like I’m repeating myself in these entries. But some weeks it just feels inevitable.

This week I got an inordinate number of queries with attachments of various types, labeled as everything from a synopsis to a full manuscript, some lacking any sort of letter or introductory material.

Since our submission guidelines clearly state: “Because of security concerns we do not open or respond to any e-mails that have attachments, so please be sure to put your query letter in the body of your e-mail. Please also paste your synopsis and the first five pages of your manuscript into the body of your e-mail” — the agency policy doesn’t require me to even acknowledge these. My own website also says: “As per instructions on our website, it specifies that we do not read attachments.” My profile on agentquery.com says “no attachments.” Overkill on citing sources here, probably, but it’s certainly not hard to find. Ergo, one tends to conclude these people are either doing no research, are incredibly careless, or think the rules don’t apply to them. It just seems like they aren’t taking the submission process seriously.

Many agents say on their websites or other social media that they delete queries unread if they have attachments. Sometimes I give in to that temptation. This week when I instead responded to those queries that came with attachments and let them know we didn’t open them and gave a link to our guidelines, they still weren’t followed. Either I was told that it wasn’t fair of me to have the requirement (and I’m putting that much more kindly than it was put to me) or if the person bothered to send anything back, it was clear they hadn’t gone to read the guidelines as they still weren’t sending the requested materials.

For the most part, it seems evident that it’s pretty useless to try to help those who apparently don’t want to be helped. The silver lining, I guess, is that it makes me appreciate those who read guidelines and send the materials as per those guidelines, all the more.

8 responses to “letters from the query wars 3.16.2012

  1. John Hawkinson

    I must say, I kind of wonder to what extent a little automation would go a very long way here. It could be attacked from several fronts:

    (1) An autoresponder that automatically rejects emails with attachments.
    (2) A web form for submitting queries that merely permits entry into a large text box (with the expectation that submissions that will be copy-pasted in).
    (3) Some automation that makes it very easy to send “You have failed to comply with our rules” -type boilerplate email messages en masse, so they take zero of Jennifer’s time but provide some benefit for the “wooden ears” who are sending such things.

    Of course Jennifer (and other agents) don’t have to do these things. But it seems to me that it might save a lot of aggravation to consider of them. But I guess I spend a lot of my time automating systems in ways that are not always practical for everyone… 🙂

  2. @ John Hawkinson

    I realize this is meant to be helpful, but…

    1- Would then also reject any requested manuscripts.

    2- Wouldn’t do a thing for the people mentioned here as it doesn’t sound like they went to the website at all. Even when directed to.

    3- Would take only a click or two but might save nothing in aggravation.

    Besides, do we really want to have agents automating queries even more than they already have to?


  3. John Hawkinson

    Elizabeth: Please note that the 3 are independent suggestions and are not connected. I originally intended them as alternatives, but they are not mutually exclusive. But to clarify:
    1) Requested manuscripts can use a different submission address. Or a secret code in the message body. No problem.
    2) Works fine if you stop allowing email query submissions. Or change the email address — make query.jjackson@ turn into an autoresponder that says “New guidelines. Use this webform [url here], or use this other email address and follow the instructions.” (only more verbosely)
    3) My sense is that much of aggravation comes from having to deal with the people who can’t follow simple instructions. The less effort it takes to deal with them, the less aggravation.

    I’m absolutely happy to have agents automate the drudgery of the query process. The most drudgery they automate, the less drudgery they do, and the happier they are and the better their job is. And the more time they have for the people who deserve it.

    I don’t think the 3 things I suggested lead to some kind of slippery slope where the next step is a program that tells Jennifer the submission’s most-frequent word is “sword” and 2nd-most is “elf” and therefore judges that it is high fantasy and then performs some evaluation and — while such things are possible, I think automating the drudgery of submissions is not going to lead to them. If they were going to happen, they would happen on their own, too.

  4. I think the easiest way for Jennifer to at least separate those who’ve read her guidelines from those who haven’t is with rules or filters. You can have emails with “query” in the subject put in one folder, those with that word and attachments in another, etc.

    But don’t worry Jennifer, I’ve read all the guidelines! My submission’s coming soon!

  5. If I’ve said it once, I’ll say again a thousand times; thank God for people who either don’t bother to follow the rules or think that said rules do not apply to them. There’s enough competition out here as it is without adding in another group of potential adversaries for contracts.

    I realize this sounds heartless and cold, but I stand by it 1000%. This racket is hard enough.

  6. Gavin Cramblet

    It baffles me how someone can think utilizing a copy/paste function is ‘unfair’ and beyond their means.

    Just think of it as a test of IQ and/or social skills. If they can’t follow instructions at this early stage, they’ll never be able to handle something as complex as advice from an editor.

    On a completely separate note, I just wanted to thank you for your personalized rejection during the Month of Letters. Your succinct, specific criticism let me fix a problem no one else could put into words. The extra time you spent is greatly appreciated. (I’m thanking you here in order to save you email space.)

  7. chrisjohnstone

    A number of small press short story markets have moved to automated submission forms that might suit that bill. Clarkesworld, for example uses a form system that seems to work well.

    I notice that Strange Horizons has a subs per day limit… the form politely asks you to come back later if the total number of subs that can be read in a day have been exceeded.

    Another possibility might be to look at a submission system like those used by academic journals. These are much more complicated and involved, but that might even be an advantage–they (for example) won’t let you submit to multiple editors at a journal and won’t let you hit the submit button if essential information is missing. They can handle revisions, returned M/S and rejoinders. Of course, there is a downside: my experience is that it takes about 5-6 hours to prepare a M/S for an academic house and submit it/review all the details/check pdf conversion quality and so on.

    But, having said that, there must be a package that can be purchased via a provider for not too much expense and can be tailored to suit (not for profit journals of scientific societies use submission forms as well, and they would not be flush with cash nor want great complexity in their forms).

    Just checking online… Allen Press, for example, provide a functional submission system for Journal of Mammalogy (Allentrack). I’ve published a paper with J.Mammalogy and found the process to be straight-forward.

    Anyway, just some thoughts. I read this blog often but don’t comment a great deal. It’s always interesting to have some insight into the other side of things.

    Thanks. Chris J.

  8. Can I ask what is expected in a synopsis? Is that like a paragraph for each chapter or an overview of the book? I’m having a hard time nailing that down and I suspect its different for each agent.

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