The last post received such awesome feedback, that I figured I'd write up another post and not only finish my list, but also include a couple submitted by other agents/readers.
To recap from my last post:
I find myself somewhat shocked by the lack of professionalism in queries lately. I mean, it's always existed, but recently it seems to be getting worse and worse.
I feel that it has to do with either A) writers are becoming increasingly frustrated with rejections or B) writers are just getting plain lazy.
I'm not writing this to point fingers and say everyone does it, because that's certainly not the case. But a response to a form rejection last night was the icing on the cake for me, and I feel that a blog about Query Etiquette as opposed to "how to write a query" would be beneficial....or just plain amusing so you can see what people actually do and think is acceptable.
In a previous job, I was trained to read and critique resumes and cover letters for both students and professionals. Everyone compares queries with cover letters, and I think that's going to be the best way to illustrate the points I'm going to make.
How it's going to work is that I will write a sentence in bold that has actually appeared in a query before (all genres/specifics have been modified to protect the original author). I will then write how ridiculous it would sound if you tried the same thing in a cover letter and explain why you shouldn't write it.
To keep it uniform, I'm going to pretend the cover letter is for a job with Microsoft's XBox team (::prays that everyone knows what Xbox is::).
- I have almost completed my manuscript X. Would you apply to a job and say "I've just finished my freshman year at college and I really want to be a doctor/teacher/accountant/etc! Would you please consider me now and I promise to complete all of the necessary prerequisites!" 'Almost completed' means that they're only about a quarter of the way through to the submission process. Because that means, not only have they not finished writing the manuscript, but they haven't even thought about revising and polishing yet, which all writers should do before submission. (This one is courtesy of the most awesome Joanna Stampfel-Volpe).
- There's a lot of paranormal out there that sucks, so I thought I'd write one that's better. (I know I wrote this already in the last post, but Kristin Miller offered up an epic comparison that I just had to post. Just remember that if you're bashing the genre the agent represents, they will probably take offense). Would you say:
The game system you produce - gawd, not to mention the games - are such garbage that I have decided to lower myself to working for your company so that I elevate your poor-a$$ product to the quality only I can possibly produce. I await your million-dollar a year offer and remain your loyal servant, should you get your heads out of your butts and utilize my awe-inspiring services.
- CC: Undisclosd Recipients or CC: Agent1@agency1.com; Agent2@agency2.com; Agent3@agency3.com.... This is about as tacky as mass e-mailing your cover letter/resume to several prospective employers. It shows lack of motivation (because it's just lazy) and lack of preparation (because if you check out 'how to query' blogs and sites, you'll find this is a big no no). Instant delete, usually without response.
- When possible, let's discuss my book TITLE X. I think some authors may use this because they think of it as "I look forward to speaking with you in the near future regarding how I may benefit Company A." However, this is one case where in a query letter, it comes across a bit pompous. Because before we even discuss it, we're going to either reject or request a partial...and then a full....and then perhaps may or may not dialogue a bit via e-mail...so it's slightly different than a simple ::ring ring:: "Hello, we received your resume..." with a job. Best to just leave that part out.
- My book, TITLE X, can be considered a political romance western with a touch of sci-fi and dash of horror. When choosing a genre, try to think about where you see it shelved at Barnes and Noble - NOT BarnesAndNoble.com where it can be under a zillion categories, but at an actual, physical bookstore. If you give us a zillion genres, it's going to read like you're saying, "I'm writing in response to your ad for the game designer position with XBox; however, I also saw you have ads for tech support, copywriter, game tester and janitor - so I can actually accommodate all of them, as you can see by my skills outlined below." Just choose a genre and go with it. It shows us you at least know what your book's audience is, which is a great first step.
- This letter is a request for you to be my agent. Would you say, "This letter is a request for you to hire me." This is one of those scenarios where....well, quite frankly, "no duh." The purpose of a query letter is to tell us about your work so you can find representation - it's assumed you don't have representation. Same with a cover letter - it's assumed you're seeking a job.
- I shall be in touch within 10 days. Would you say, "I will follow up in 10 days." in a cover letter? I really, really, REALLY hope not. You can't give us this type of deadline. Again, our job is not to read queries all day - most agents will list expected response times so you're not waiting, and there are even web sites (see end of this post) that offer up the opportunity for others to post how long it took for them to hear back (for me, it's a day to 3 weeks on queries and 4-6 weeks on partials). Use your resources.
- ::knock knock:: "Hello. I'm here to meet with an agent, because I have a fantastic proposal that needs to be published." Ever see those job ads that say "no phone calls/walk-ins"? It's NOT appropriate to drop by. It's downright creepy, actually. Nathan Bransford has comments on this: This one falls into the "Yes, it needs to be said" category. I know 99% of you wouldn't think of doing this, but hopefully this will reach the other 1%. I made a comment on a YA Highway Video about this. Actually, I'll go as far as saying that I'm fairly confident that every single agent will back me up with saying that drop-ins to query are completely unprofessional and creepy. Don't. Do. It. Please. Same applies for phone call queries - not cool. Sorry.
- Attached are sample pages. Best. Please, please, please...include a query letter and don't attach something unless the agent's site says to. Most agents delete e-mails with attachments without opening them. Viruses are scary. We don't want them. If a job application says to fill out a form and instead you just e-mail the HR person directly (without a referral), you're most likely going to have your email deleted.
- How would you like to read the most amazing book ever? is kind of like saying, "How would you like to hire the most amazing person ever?"in a cover letter. You come across a teensy - ok, MAJORLY - full of yourself. Again...just be professional.
Some random FAQs re: questions some people asked/comments made:
- Query Etiquette? What about a form query, like your agency's submission guidelines? Form or no form - you should be professional. Our agency's form doesn't offer a spot for you to paste a query, and instead offers up spaces for you to place information that can be found within the query. Therefore, it's not necessary to say "Dear Ms. Ortiz," because it's clear that Barbara and I have our separate forms for query submissions. If an agency has a form where you should copy/paste a query, and it's sent to the agency rather than to a specific person, then yes I think you should specify "Dear Mr. X."
- Why should we use YOUR name when so many agents won't even respond to my query with a rejection? Here's my take on this. *Most* agencies specify on their web site whether or not you should expect to hear from them in the event they aren't interested in pursuing your work. If you don't like the fact that they say they don't respond to queries they don't want samples from, don't query them. I'm not saying they aren't good agencies because of that - don't misunderstand me. Everyone has their preferences, and I don't judge. I'm just saying that you should know, especially if you did your research, who does and does not respond to queries; therefore, don't be upset if you don't hear anything. You knew from the get go that there was a chance you wouldn't hear anything. And if you're curious about response times? Check out Absolute Write and QueryTracker. SO many sites out there to help authors with the road to publication. Again, this is your project - your craft and potentially your career. Would you stop applying to jobs because you didn't hear back if they didn't want you? Pickings would be slim. Guaranteed.
- Reading queries is your job. No. My job is to work with my clients and their writing careers. Do I find clients in slush? Yes, absolutely; however, I don't sit around focusing just on slush and jumping up and down every time my e-mail chimes. I love to find great queries - I do! However, my main focus is on my clients and their works. I guarantee if you have an agent, you'd want them to focus on your contract, your foreign rights, your line edits, your pitch letters, your publishing-related issues rather than reading queries eight hours a day.
- If Sir Paul McCartney were an agent, would 'Dear Sir' work in that case? I'd still say "Dear Sir McCartney." ;-)
- Why don't you respond to those responses like Mr. F-bomber? I do, but only out loud to myself. There's no point in starting a neverending dialogue with the person. It gets me nowhere. Instead I just hit "block e-mail" and continue to either focusing on my clients' works or reading other queries in line in hopes of finding something fabulous - better use of my time, no?
- What gives with the unprofessional agent who doesn't reply to my partial he/she requested? I have no idea. I can't speak for them. I'm sorry this happens, truly I am. But I think in this scenario, it's imho that this is why exclusives...well, suck really. But don't lump all agents together based on this - if we lumped all authors in the same catagory as Mr. F-bomber, well...I'd be a referral only agent...which I most certainly am not...
- You can kick back, pry open a can of beans and warm them over a rusty barrel of burning manuscripts. Nah. I'm environmentally friendly. So manuscripts come to me via e-mail. And I'm not about to burn my laptop.
Opinions? Anything I missed?