Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Query-go-round

By Julie Wright

Question: How do I keep from looking stupid when submitting queries, chapters, and full manuscripts?
Answer: By acting intelligent.

I went to the World Fantasy Convention in Madison Wisconsin a few years ago. I was new to the national market, having published three books in a very niche market, and I wanted to stretch out a little. So I contacted all the agents that were in the fantasy genre by querying them, and asked if they would be at the Con too. A few replied that they would and so I told them I looked forward to meeting them. Then I made what Miss Snark would call a nitwittery mistake. I took in a synopsis and the first three chapters of my book and hand delivered it to the agent of my choice at the Con. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to do that, and I still cringe when I think of the agent-who-must-not-be-named’s face. Nitwittery does indeed abound. I still wake up in the middle of the night, shuddering at my own stupidity.

Since then, I’ve done some homework. I research editors and agents before I ever submit and I read books on good behavior for starving authors. I did my homework before in that I knew the agents and their agencies, but I failed to learn the social etiquette of handing over portions of a manuscript.

I’m telling you to do your homework as well. There are thousands of manuscripts in the pile. You want yours to stand out . . . but not because the agent or editor has determined forever to hate you.

Find out what the editor/agent you are submitting to wants. Don’t submit fantasy to someone who has already declared NEVER to publish or represent fantasy. Let your story speak for itself. Be willing to work on requested changes. Learn what you can do to make the editor's job easier.

Pay attention to the following:
Do not bind or staple your manuscript. Do not use ring binders, clamp binders, comb binders, brads, string, or any other thing that cannot be easily removed. Paper clips or rubberbands are ok.

Always include a SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) that is large enough and has enough postage. And remember that postage costs are going up. I wrote a top ten reasons why you should never include a SASE. It was tongue in cheek, of course, but was dang funny. I'd post it here, but fear someone would take me seriously and actually NOT include a SASE.

Do not attempt to draw attention to your manuscript by using colored paper. Do not use specialty typefaces. Do not try to save yourself on paper by using an 8 pt font. Do not put each page of the manuscript in sheet protectors. Do not write in fake blood (or real blood) if you’re manuscript is a murder mystery or a member of the horror genre. Do not try to write a "memorable" submission letter that embarrasses the editor or agent and should embarrass you. Don't be cute. Don’t be cute. Don’t be cute.

Remember that editors and agents care about the writing, not the packaging. Remember that agents and editors are people too. Remember that they have personal lives and don’t appreciate phone calls asking about your manuscript. Be personable. Be friendly. Be professional. Be literate enough to read each agency's submission instructions and take a chance on actually following them. Be intelligent.


Heather Moore said...

I love this! When you read a publisher's or agent's guidelines, you need to follow them. :) I think there are more don'ts than do's when writing queries. Another thing I would add is to use high quality paper. I always make copies on recycled paper when I go to my critique group or pass a manuscript onto readers. But when submitting a query to an agent, I use high quality paper. They'll notice.

Andi Sherwood said...

I feel your pain with doing something so embarrassing (and/or stupid) that years later, you still remember it and it still gives you that sick to your stomach feeling. :)

Great advice. :)