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've finally written a novel." Would you say "I've finally decided to sit down and apply for a job" in a cover letter? Let's hope not. We all understand that writers have other jobs that take away from their writing time, but there's absolutely no need to announce the fact you've "finally" taken the time to sit down and write. My immediate reaction is either A) you're too busy or B) it was a spur-of-the-moment decision - either way, that's something I don't need to know in a query.
- "Dear Sir" A lot of people actually don't know that it's inappropriate to write a cover letter to "dear sir." You should write it "Dear Human Resources," "Dear Hiring Manager," or "Dear ____" if there was a contact person in the ad. However, with agencies, the beauty is that you should already know the name of the agent to whom you want to query! So use it. Don't mass e-mail agents and tack on a "Dear Sir." I take the time to write your name in both form rejections and partial/full requests, so please take the time to write my name. It's just polite and shows me you meant to query me instead of just throwing your query into an abyss and hoping it latches on to something.
- "I'm writing to pitch my picture book." (note: I don't rep picture books). To me, this is like writing to Microsoft and saying, "I feel I would be a strong candidate for your position with Xbox because I love playing Nintendo games." (note: Nintendo and Xbox? Two TOTALLY separate entities.) Know which agents represent what before querying. It's not a matter of "oh we won't find anything good in that genre." It's simply we're either A) not interested in that genre; B) not familiar enough with the market to represent it; or C) have too many clients in that genre already.
- "With so many other poorly written paranormal books, I thought I'd finally sit down and write one." Would you say, "There are so many other video game companies out there that just suck, so I figured I'd apply for the position with Microsoft." While it's wonderful to hear that you feel highly of a certain project you're working on, it's completely unnecessary to bash the competition. Your query, just as your cover letter, should focus on what you can offer. In the case of a query, it's your manuscript. In a cover letter, your skills. Putting down the competition really doesn't add anything to your cause.
- "My number is 555-555-5555." Would you send a cover letter to a prospective employer with just your street address? I get so many queries - especially the USPS ones - with no e-mail, no address, no self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE). It's like writers think that if they include just a phone number, this will make me call them. Nope. I don't have time to call individual authors unless I want to offer them representation, and they will be left wondering if I ever even read their query.
- Not following guidelines. I've work shopped with enough HR employees to know that *most* companies will completely disregard a job application if you leave out information they want - especially when it comes to "expected salary." Same with queries - if an agent's submission guidelines states to include sample pages pasted in the e-mail and you decide to attach the entire MS, chances are you'll either get a reject or just be deleted.
- You send a query to FirstName@agency.com instead of firstname.lastname@example.org. If the Microsoft job application states to apply via a form on their web site only, would you bypass that and go straight to Bill Gates? Probably not without really pissing someone off and potentially having your e-mail black listed. If an agency's web site gives yo you a specific e-mail to use, use it. In our case, our web site states to "Use the form at the bottom of the agent's page OR send via USPS," and you decide to send it straight to my e-mail unless otherwise told, it shows that you completely disregarded the instructions which probably means your ability to follow directions once taken on is slim to none. An employer needs someone who can follow clear and concise directions, just as an agent would like a client who can follow directions when needed.
- "In the event you feel this project is not a good fit for your agency, could you please suggest someone who would be interested?" Would you put "In the event you feel I'm not right for your company, could you please suggest some other places to which I can apply?" I really hope not. If we feel it's a good fit for someone else, we will tell you. I do this, as do other agents. Because in the long run, if it looks like a good project that isn't for us and we think of someone who will like it, we'll tell you. Yes, technically agencies are competing against each other, but this is also a very tight group of professionals, most of whom have known each other for 10, 20, even 30 years. They know each other's tastes.
- "Attached you'll find, for your convenience, a pre-printed reply form." "Below is a pre-printed slip in the event you decide to not hire me." Ok. Seriously? Would you put that in a cover letter? You include an SASE to help us out to respond to you, but to actually print out your own rejection letter? It's unnecessary and shows little faith on your part.
- (to a form rejection) "Really? Ok. That's the frustration which you want to throw to me: you are a band of mother F-ers so F you. You have my middle finger as a response you @ss. Your agency's response is idiotic and inappropriate. Best unregards." Take a moment with this one. Allow it to just sink in. Yes, this is an actual reply I received to a form rejection. Except I cut the obscenities so I'm not blocked on any search engines. Our form rejection? Nothing bad with it. Clearly he/she is just upset they were rejected. First of all, most employers won't even tell you if they chose not to offer you an interview - they'll just toss your cover letter/resume and move on. So on form rejections, don't get mad. At least we're letting you know we've chosen to pass rather than letting you sit there wondering. Secondly, that type of reply is just going to get your e-mail blocked. And then I'm going to talk to my agent friends about your rude nature so that they're sure to be on alert. This gets nothing accomplished. If you were to send this to an employer who said "sorry the position has been filled," I guarantee there would be zero chance of you ever working there again. Ever.
Agents know that many writers work separate jobs. We don't expect you (actually, we really do NOT encourage you) to quit your day job to just focus on writing. However, it's a business, and this is our career and could potentially be yours as well. So we do expect authors to treat the process in the most professional way possible.
If you have one to contribute, shoot me a comment and I'll add it to the list.