Caution: Cranky Agent Alert

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Before I begin my rant–I mean blog post–let me say for the record that I’m usually an upbeat, easy-going, glass-half-full sort of person. Right? I normally avoid snarkiness and try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I was a writer myself before becoming an agent so I’ve never been a slave to query rules. That said. . .

I’m pulling my hair out these days with inappropriate query etiquette. Here’s what’s bugging me:

Writers who query me using a Facebook message. Or pre-query me, as in, “Are you taking new clients?” or “May I send you a query?” Sounds harmless, right? It’s not. It’s a pain in the neck. Facebook is not where I do business. It’s about a fun conglomeration of family, friends, old college pals, missionary friends, kids I taught in Sunday school, clients, editors, cousins, and I could go on and on. It’s friendly and relational. I hate to think someone has “friended” me just to get their query under my nose.

And from a productivity standpoint, a query that comes in outside of the proper channel cannot be logged in, referred to, filed and processed correctly. We have no system to process a query that comes through Facebook. It feels like the writer is presuming a relationship that doesn’t exist. It’s like saying, “I know you want queries sent a certain way, but I’m your Facebook friend so it doesn’t apply to me.” Not a great way to make an introduction.

And speaking of presuming a relationship that doesn’t exist, we Christian agents get dozens of queries every week saying something like, “Michael Hyatt recommended you.” We immediately know this person got our name off the list of agents posted on Hyatt’s blog. Finding a name on a published list is not a recommendation. We give serious weight to a recommendation offered by an editor, a client, or a publishing colleague. If a writer mentions a recommendation in his query and we haven’t heard from the person referring, we always pick up the phone to verify and get more information. It’s part of our due diligence. A writer shouldn’t claim a recommendation where none exists. It makes him seem careless with the truth.

And back to Facebook. It makes me more than cranky when someone “friends” me and immediately posts a pre-query or a link to their book on my Facebook page. It’s an embarrassing breach of etiquette. It’s like a guest at a private party who whips out his Amway catalog to work the room for sales.

And can I vent about the writer who cannot take six minutes to open our website and read the guidelines for submitting? What are the chances that that writer would follow guidelines in preparing proposals, filling out a publisher’s marketing questionnaire, meeting deadlines, etc? An agency’s guidelines are not draconian hoops devised to make writers jump to our tune; they are part of a system to make sure every query gets logged and read.

I’m not even going to go into the queries like the one received this week that said: I am a writer.  I have a very short book. I am looking for a literary agent.  Please advise.  I have attached the book so you can see.  The writing is final.  And I do not want it changed.  However the pictures will probably be brighter.  The problem as I see it is that the colors will cause this to be an expensive book.  I hope not.  I guess it is up to the printer. Let me know if you want to take it on.  It is a very good book.  Very well written.”

When I sent a polite email outlining our oh-so-easy submission protocol, I got this response: “You know, you guys make it very difficult.  You must understand I had to send about a hundred emails, one by one. One by one… But if you want to work me to the ground, you can forget it.”

I concede that it’s silly for me to be ranting here because those who send these queries not only don’t read our guidelines, but they also don’t read our blog. Still, this community has become a safe place to vent. We feel we are among friends–among professional writers with high standards. So I knew you’d forgive my ranting and maybe even pat my hand and say, “There, there.”

See, I’m feeling better already.

Okay, I started the ball rolling today. How about you? Got a rant or two you need to get off your chest? How about a pet peeve?

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194 Comments

  • Productive ranting is great – this not only gets things off your chest, it educates those who would read this blog. I call that multitasking. Have a blessed day.

  • Penny McGinnis says:

    Wendy-what a great reminder that agents are people with a job to do and that we (writers)need to respect that. As far as ranting, it’s a good way to get out there what needs to be said. My rant usually involves poor parenting that I see in public or people who take too much energy because I have to walk on eggshells around them. –I feel better already :)

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      And vice versa. Agents need to always keep in mind that writers are people trying to get their job done as well.

  • Wendy, I usually don’t comment this late, but it’s been a crazy busy day and I’m just getting to sit down to the computer and read your post. I’m hoping that you will get this comment. I’m not going to say, “There, there.” I am sending you a virtual hug and many prayers and blessings. It’s good that you decided to “rant,” and indeed this is a safe place to do it. I can’t presume to call you a friend because you only know me from my comments, but please believe me when I tell you that I do feel that I know you a bit because of your posts, your replies to me and because of the personal card and wonderful tea that you enclosed when you sent me a box of books a while back. I have found you to be a kind, considerate, gracious person so if you express your frustration, I know it is with good cause–and you have demonstrated that through the examples you have given. Anyone who would query an agent via Facebook a)has no clue about professional behavior and b) is a user. It is not only unprofessional behavior; it violates a boundary.

    The person who sent you the “very short” but “very well-written” book is another person who is obviously clueless: no idea about the business of writing, no idea what an agent does, no idea how to write a query, no idea that he / she should probably do some research about these things. I know it’s hard when you’ve reached your tolerance level but hopefully in a day or two you’ll be able to re-read that letter and the response to your email and laugh or at least pray and feel compassion for these poor ignorant souls.

    Anyway, I don’t know if my comments have helped at all. Just know that if I lived nearby, I’d give you a hug, some chocolate and a good cup of tea in a proper china cup with a saucer. Also know that I am sending many blessings your way. Christine

  • Addy Rae says:

    That sounds frustrating. I’d be irritated too! (I know I’m irritated when Amway comes out and makes things awkward and full of pressure and disrespect.) It’s good to be open about it. It reminds people that you have boundaries, and you should have boundaries. :)

  • Patrice says:

    If folks are that casual when they don’t know you, can you imagine what they’d be like if they did? Yikes! Run!Ranting is necessary sometimes, and it feels great to get it out.:)Thanks for the laugh with “I’m a writer. I have a very short book…” Funny!

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      The funny thing is that when we do get to know one another everything settles down and gets normal somehow.

  • Larry says:

    Like you said Wendy, everyone needs a safe place to rant. As others have said, it can even be informative!

    And in this industry, whenever two or more writers, editors, or agents get together and it doesn’t turn into the Mad Hatters’ tea party, I’d call that a productive day! :)

    (Former) Pet Peeve: Social Media. A den of inequity if I ever beheld one! The Two-Faced Book and its soul-sucking dark legion of acolytes, the Blue Bird of Boredom that is Twitter, and the pinheads on Pinterest….nothing good comes of the Internet!

    Except for the recipe for makin’ bacon pancakes….

  • Jenni Brummett says:

    I’m amazed at the plethora of pet peeves I can relate to here. On another note, I’m encouraged at the way that you, Wendy, respond to so many of these comments personally and with great insight.

    Participating in this community inspires me to be a better writer.

  • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

    That is the nicest thing you could say– that being part of this community inspires you to be a better writer. We’ve come to enjoy our online community just as much.

  • Anne Love says:

    There, there, it’s okay Wendy. :o)
    I can relate to your feelings, when people approach me for free medical advice, or ask me to take a patient when I’m not accepting new patients. Couldn’t I do a favor? Who text me with a question, send me a note on Facebook, or drop the “oh by the way, I just have one more question”–after already taking beyond their allotted appointment time.

    These types of things suggest thoughtlessness, presumption, desperation, a lack of power, but feel manipulative–NOT the things needed to start a relationship. And isn’t that what’s most bothersome? It doesn’t feel as if the person needs you for who you are, but only for what can serve them.

    Being in the service profession, it feels ironic that I should resent that. I know. But let’s face it. We are only human, and not God. It gives new perspective to “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Wow Jesus, you mean they didn’t know it was wrong to kill an innocent man? I mean, it’s much easier to let these littler things go when I realize the person was merely thoughtless. But the intentional irritating, continuous breach of respect is much tougher to let go. Even so, it seems quite petty of me compared to other sins in the world.

    Sigh. There there, it’s okay. Shake off the dust.

  • Bonnie Smetts says:

    Thank you for the rant—and I’m a querying author type. I appreciate the detailed instructions for submittal on your web site. That shows me that I am dealing with people who seriously consider the incoming queries. Preparing a professional and complete package isn’t easy, but it means we authors must be prepared to do some of the heavy lifting too.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      The good thing about preparing a professional and complete package is that it focuses you a way that makes the book that much better.

  • Ms Lawton, I don’t see how you and other agents stay sane having to deal with the ridiculous types of queries you describe in your post. A tip of the hat to you.

    Wishing you well,
    Mike Addington

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Because 99.9% of all the people in our industry are professional and appropriate. And thanks for the tip of the fedora.

  • You didn’t sound cranky at all! Well, to me anyway. Thanks for a very informative post. And I must say, bacon pancakes are nothing compared to bacon corncakes!

  • Seeley James says:

    Sorry, I don’t feel sorry for you. You picked your profession and it comes with problems. Just like any other job. When I researched what agents called “the perfect query” and compared that to the known query letters of successful authors (Stephanie Meyers, JK Rowling, etc), they never match.

    No matter how someone reaches out to you, Facebook or scrap paper pushed under the door, you should be looking for the perfect story. Not a perfect query.

    Peace, Seeley

    • Seeley — I don’t know Wendy but I’m going to defend her here as a writer who has successfully completed the query process. She didn’t rant that she didn’t get a perfect query from that submitter, but that it didn’t conform to their submission guidelines which are there for a reason. If a writer wants to be taken seriously they need to be professional. And yes, story is what is important but where in that query was the story ever conveyed? Yes, successful queries vary but at the heart they gave a sense of what the story was about and enticed the agent to request to see more.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      You’ve got a good point, Seeley and we can clearly see your unspoken rant between the lines of your comment. Truth is you’ve hit exactly what we seek. It’s just that the first step to finding that– short of stumbling over that magical manuscript– is the query.

      And I did not want anyone to feel sorry for me. I love my job. Love it! If you could see the writers I work with you’d know why you don’t need to feel sorry. :-)

    • All professions have systems that have to be worked. What kind of businesses would there be without them? There would be chaos.

      I agree with Wendy. Agents have a system set up for queries because it’s necessary to make sure none of the queries fall through the cracks. As it is, going through queries correctly submitted is a time consuming process. While it’s true that constantly educating writers as to what is appropriate ends up being a hazard of her occupation, that could never be said to excuse the rudeness and self-centered behavior she described above. It was not being rejected that made this person act the way she did. It was her own lack of character. (When I encounter people like this, I make an effort to avoid them.)

      If an individual doesn’t want to follow the simple system set up for submissions, she identifies herself as unprofessional and something of a self-centered diva. Plus, if she’s not willing to operate under the system, it’s unlikely she’ll ever get published traditionally. And the worse case scenario is that by staying ignorant, she’ll make herself vulnerable and possibly end up the victim of an unscrupulous vanity publisher or bad agent. (And then her unfortunate friends, family, and followers will probably hear her woes about that, too.)

    • And I’ll add (although it may sound harsh) that I have zero sympathy for writers who don’t follow the system. I spend hours reading submission guidelines, writing careful queries, researching the internet and market books to make sure I have the right agent/publishing house to send my manuscripts to, going back over the submission guidelines before I send the query/ms out, having someone else read my query so I don’t miss some mistake, and FINALLY sending them. It’s a ton of work, and I generally can’t stand it, but it’s NECESSARY.

      I’m sure I don’t do it perfectly, but at least I try my very best to make sure that whatever I send is in exactly the format the agent or publisher wants it to be in. Their job is not easy, and if there is anything I can do to make it more pleasant, even if they send me a rejection (which is what they almost always do), I can still feel good knowing I operated with professional courtesy.

  • Ranting about this kind of thing is necessary- I went bug-eyed at the “don’t change my book” because there’s no way in hell it can be publishing-ready without proofreading or editing. And I speak as a proofreader on that one. I’ve read eslush for Baen Books, and some of it is *horrible,* like the author who managed to use every single fantasy cliche in the first paragraph- I’m *still* not sure how he did it. I had to writer “Please tell this author to remain a screenwriter” because the first chapter and a half was spent by the main character telling a vampire why he goes around killing vampires. I can see that as a movie, but not a book.

    I network via Facebook, but I don’t accept proofreading jobs through it. I also use Facebook to network with authors and chronic pain experts for a charity I’m building, and doing a book auction through my other website, but I don’t pester.

  • This is a very helpful post. I confess that I have friended important people in my field just so I could put a link to my books on their wall. The Amway analogy was a zinger. I won’t be doing that again. Thanks for ranting, it was actually worth while.

  • Nancy says:

    Well said, Wendy. The issue really isn’t cranky editors or touchy writers. It’s what my very British grandmother used to drum into us: “Decorum, girls, decorum!” The concept of appropriate actions is going the way of the horse and buggy, but as you’ve so aptly stated, its demise is premature.

  • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

    I love your grandmother. I may start quoting her.

  • Dave Freer says:

    (Dry comment) Depending on how you use your facebook page and how you choose those you accept as friends, this could either be a prim, modestly-dressed woman getting an indecent proposal in church (which would justify a ‘I don’t expect this’ rant, and kicking of, shall we say, the shins) or a case of the woman who put on her shortest skirt, no underwear, and went about picking up bottle-caps in the red-light district and then complained bitterly about the approaches she got. She’s entitled to do so, entitled to tell them get lost most rudely… but not entitled to be surprised, unless she wishes to show us that she is not very clever or sensible. My agent has a vast facebook presence, which he uses professionally for his business and his clients’ benefit. He gets folk approach him via this, and simply sends to look for his normal website. If he restricted his facebook friends to actual friends and people he knew reasonably well, and did not use it as a business tool, he’d have some grounds to be irritated by it. Being a publisher, an agent, or an author, your profession does require that you lose some of your private life in exchange for doing it, just as being royalty or politician does. I get facebook approaches to read their book, endorse it, tell my agent/publisher to take them – they’ve never read my books but they write better than me (yes really), quite often. It’s part of the job. Most authors know this and most learn to deal with it graciously or go out of business. I am afraid in the changing world of the internet and publishing, agents and publishers will have to learn to do the same. And yes – I got here via a facebook comment.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I’m glad you’ve learned to use Facebook in this way, Dave. For me, with the volume of correspondence I receive, it simply does not work. I have my email program set up to use as a filing system and a search engine. It’s the system that works for me.

      Each agent is different. We have colleagues who still only take queries by snail mail. We even work with one publisher who still requires us to submit hard copies of proposals. But you know what? If we want to work with that publisher and sell our clients’ work to them, we’re more than happy to comply.

  • Erynn says:

    Loved reading this and all the follow up comments. I always want to explain it as a generational thing, but there are quite a few in the younger generation who were still raised not to be obnoxious and self centered, and a number of older folks who missed that day in school.
    Apparently, one of the “ONE. HUNDRED” agents queried by your “friend” was the anonymous gentleman who runs Slush Pile Hell. I had to laugh at seeing it again: http://slushpilehell.tumblr.com/post/32259709442

  • youtube says:

    TY a ton for posting this, it was unbelieveably informative and helped me a lot

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