Friday, January 18, 2008

Query 101

So I got this query last night. It was addressed to about ten agents, and the first paragraph read as follows:

Hello. I am looking for an experienced agent, with an outstanding track record of publishing with major presses. Only serious responses, please. I have prepared a book proposal, for those of you who want to read it. I will not pay any fees. I am not interested in self- or electronic publishing.

I don't want to embarrass the author of this query, but I thought it could be used as a good example to provide some guidance on querying. I'm not going to address the substance of his project, nor any grammatical errors.

First, I don't accept e-queries unless they are sent via my agency submission form.

Second, do not address your query to multiple agents at once. It doesn't take much to cut and paste your query in multiple emails and add personalized introductions. Imagine if I wrote an email to a bunch of editors at once about your book!

Third, start off with a sentence that brings us in, not one that turns us off. In addition, there are multiple resources now available to authors, so with a bit of research you could verify in advance whether an agent is experienced and has sold books to major houses.

Fourth, this is not a personal ad. No need to tell us to be serious - this is our job, our livelihood. Of course we're serious.

Fifth, you should only be submitting to agents who have made it clear somewhere that they don't charge fees. This author has done just enough research to know that he shouldn't pay fees, but not enough to know about the Association of Author Representatives,, etc.

Sixth, we're not interested in representing you if you want to self-publish or e-publish your book either.


D. Robert Pease said...

Let me make you feel a little better by telling you this doesn't only happen in the publishing world. I am a web developer in the day time, and own a small firm.

I got an email that said, "I am the author of "XXXXXX." Please see my web site at and call me at xxx-xxx-xxx. We have work to do." Aside from his contact info, that was the entire email.

My first thought is, if this is all this guy is going to tell me about his project, I really don't have time to deal with him. Web design is a two way street, and this is a red-flag that he wants me to do all the work. I plan to send him an email telling him my current backlog of work requires me to decline his offer to work with him. But because I really am backlogged, I don't get to the email.

A couple days later I get an email from him. "ARE YOU PEOPLE ALIVE???? Please call me."

Because I am the guy I am, I do send him the polite email I mentioned above, but what I really wanted to say... well I won't print that here either.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post for the millions of people out there who know nothing about publishing, or how the query process goes.

The thing is, though, most people truly don't understand the entire publishing process. New writers think hiring an agent is as simple as sending a few e-mails; average people who buy books think publishers make the choices. They honestly don't know what a literary agent does.

It's interesting to watch the expressions on new writers faces when someone tells them the publishing industry, and the books that are usually chosen for publication, is primarily based on the subjective tastes of literary agents. It's even more fascinating to see the expression on a book buyers face when they are given this information. Most people just don't know that literary agents are the forces behind what the public reads.

But thank goodness for blogs like this, where people can read and learn and gain valid information.

Anonymous said...

Seven, why on Earth would you want to represent someone who starts off by insulting you? Seems to me there are enough projects and clients in the world hoping for representation that you can take a pass on someone who already seems unpleasant to work with. Based on the post of your day, and my general knowledge of the stress of the job, it seems to me it's just not worth it to take on someone who seems like a jerk already.

But maybe that's just me. Or maybe you are just too polite to say it. (I've got this anonymity to hide behind, after all.)

And eight, wow.

Anonymous said...

Okay, and this made me think (perhaps this is changing the subject, but I think of a blog as a conversation)--how much weight does a writer's personality have in whether or not you take them on as a client? Now I realize that if the book is terrible, being the nicest guy in the world won't make you represent him--but let's say it's on the fence. Would your belief that a writer would be nice to work with, even a hoot, play a role in perhaps tipping the scales? (And let's assume said writer did not resort to using horrible cliches, while we're at it.) Either through the personality of the query, or if you met them in person? (I'm a terrible person myself, of course, so this is really on behalf of the nice people out there.)

Thanks for the insight! (Assuming you provide it.)

Jonathan Lyons said...

If I'm on the fence than an unpleasant author will certainly swing me away from offering representation. Unfortunately, I don't think the same holds true for the opposite (i.e. a pleasant author persuading me to offer representation).

Anonymous said...

Well, at least we know that being unpleasant will hurt. Note to self: avoid same in future. But don't bother with the Thin Mints and fawning compliments, either, as it won't help.

Anonymous said...

I had a different response than everyone here. I don't think it was an acceptable query, but I do think this person knows exactly how the business works and is simply messing with the agents. He/she is reversing the usual language in which the agent has all the power over the situation. I was tempted to do something similar when I finally got my university job: send a "I regret to inform you" letter to the universities who were obviously not going to hire me. I didn't do it, of course, and neither should this person have sent this, but I hardly get the idea that this person is clueless -- just bitter.

Jonathan Lyons said...

I don't think his intention was to mess with agents, as he had three additional paragraphs presenting his book idea. In addition, that seems kind of petty to me, as well as a waste of time for both him and me. I'd like to think that people have better things to do.