Apr 2, 2013

Posted by in Writing | 0 Comments

Submission Guidelines… For Agents?


             After eight years of writing books, submitting countless queries to agents, and learning everything there is to possibly know about the business of doing both, I feel there is a certain amount of neglect on the part of agents. Certain issues such as ideological differences between agencies, honest mistakes, and miscommunication aren’t addressed enough, while the most common issues are beaten over our heads. Every agency website’s submission guidelines include the standard warnings of not including attachments to emails or whether or not snail mail is kosher, but there are some things that are never addressed. I’d like to hash those out here, if not for my sanity, than to possibly discover whether or not I’m the only one concerned about them. In order of importance (to me):


  1. Please don’t judge my email font!


              Look, I’m not exactly a noob when it comes to computers, but am I able to tell you why an email I type using hotmail looks one way before I send it, and another way after? No. One of my biggest hair-pulling frustrations is using email to query. I love the concept, because it’s quicker and cheaper. But when agencies stress how queries should look, and I just can’t get it to look as professional as a Word document, it causes me stress to no end. I recently acquired a new email address with my name and everything, but using it to type a professional letter is as challenging as deciphering the Chinese language using a calculator. So I switched back to using my work email, because the letters just looked incredibly ugly. Every time I got a rejection letter and I saw what they saw below… it makes my heart plummet. I spent tons of time on the letter, only for my email service to butcher it into something unrecognizable. So please, agents of the void: remember that most of us don’t know why this is happening. We really are trying! Perhaps encourage us by telling us you will overlook such an unimportant thing, because we currently have no clue. Or if you insist on having things your way, at least tell us what we’re doing wrong and perhaps include instructions on how to fix it.


2. Be even more specific


             When it comes to queries, I hate guessing. I recently sent a query to an agency I was excited about submitting to. But the submission guidelines asked me to include “a short description of the project” and a “brief author biography, even if you have no previous publications.” Seriously? Am I supposed to guess what you prefer? To me a short description is a synopsis, not a pitch. And what is the point of a bio if I’m not previously published? Tell me what you’re looking for, and I’ll give you what you need, even if it’s my life story! Writers looking to get published will tell you anything, but we have to know what it is. Needless to say, I was filled with worry and doubt about my submission to that agency, because I diligently worked for a home run, but I felt like I hit into a double play.


 3. Check your own guidelines, not just for mistakes, but to ensure they are perfectly clear


             Another fun example. A few weeks ago, I submitted to an agency that has the following guidelines:

“E-mail queries can be sent to xxx@xxxxxagency.com and should include the word “query” in the subject line. Please know that we promptly and carefully read every e-query that we receive.  We will respond to every e-query that is properly addressed and follows the submission guidelines below.  We will not respond to e-queries that are addressed to no one, or to multiple recipients.

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.

Alternately, you may wish to send your query letter by snail mail. We respond to every posted query that we receive. Please include your synopsis and the first five pages of your manuscript. Be sure to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) for our reply.”

           I want to note that in the first paragraph, there is no reference to anything except submitting a query when using email. However, in the third paragraph, when the agency begins to discuss snail mail queries, they state the submitter can include a synopsis and manuscript sample. So can people also do that for email queries or not? It’s totally unclear! Luckily, I took the time to research the agent I was submitting to and read her blog. What’s hilarious (and also sad) is that she actually wrote a blog post, specifically decrying how many queries she receives that do not include a synopsis and manuscript sample! How many people, I wonder, did she reject solely for the fact that an otherwise well-written query did not include those materials? It makes me sick to think about. So please, agents of the void: make sure to be super specific and check your own guidelines from time to time if something seems to be amiss. We’re not all stupid… I think.


4. Host Q&A Sessions


            One of the best things I’ve ever seen an agency do was host a Question and Answers interactive session on Twitter. So many interesting questions were asked, and I got more information from that tiny hour than I’ve gotten in all the time I’ve spent reading submission guidelines combined. It really spoke to the condition of the industry: writers have questions, and they want to submit the very best queries. Standard guidelines just don’t suffice sometimes, especially when there is turnover in agents and the industry is changing all the time.