Query Rules–Law or Grace?
Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Last week a number of you asked questions about submission etiquette. We always give a stock answer when writers ask us about how to contact an agent for possible representation. We tell them to check the agency website. Nearly all agents tell you exactly how to submit and what they’d like to see.
For all Books & Such agents, our queries all go to a central address. When I receive a query at my working email or *gasp* on Twitter or Facebook, I send a simple form letter that says:
Please see our guidelines before querying: http://www.booksandsuch.com/submissions/
Queries go to: [email protected]
I”ll never forget the reply to that form letter I received from a frustrated writer. He wrote: “Is something wrong with your finger? Just forward the query to the correct address instead of telling me I sent it to the wrong address. Mine is one of the greatest stories EVER told. I dont have time to waste.”
Let me tell you about submission guidelines. We have them for a number of reasons:
- They guide a writer into the system so his query gets logged properly and read promptly.
- They tell us whether the writer can follow instructions. The reply I received above is a case in point. Chances are that that writer and his sense of entitlement would not make the ideal client. We look for a client who will work hard and follow direction just as that client needs an agent who will work hard and give direction.
- It clues the writer in to our preferences, giving the writer willing to do the research an advantage over the scatter-shot query.
That said, I’ll let you in on a secret. We try to practice grace over law. If a great writer does it all wrong and we love the writing, all is forgiven. It helps when a writer follows our guidelines but we are not sticklers. We’re not looking for submission perfection, we’re looking for great writers and excellent manuscripts. Here are a few things you should know:
- We do not set up the guidelines to trip anyone up. There are no gleeful chortles over each submission faux pas.
- We do not keep score or keep records of the writers who did it wrong.
- We do not hold mistakes against anyone.
- The submission process is meant to serve the writer and the agent, not the other way around.
- If you’ve submitted once and did not hear back– which is the response when we are passing on a query– you are welcome to submit your next project.
- We ask that you only submit to one agent at our agency at a time, but since we all have different tastes, please feel free to query another agent in the agency if the first one is not interested.
The truth is, we are looking for writers and books we love. We ask you to submit because we want to see what you have. It may not be right for us at the time but the next one may very well be the perfect match.
Do you have any questions about the submission process? I’ll be glad to tackle them.
Do literary agents make the query system complicated on purpose? Click to Tweet
When it comes to querying a literary agent, must a writer stick slavishly to the rules? Click to Tweet
The submission process is meant to serve the writer and the agent, not the other way around. Click to Tweet