Monday, July 09, 2012

The Bad Query Paradox

Look I'm NOT talking about you here.

YOU are somebody who is seeking out knowledge and absorbing it like a sponge. YOU are somebody that knows about research and takes the time to do a little before sending out query letters. YOU have a basic grasp of how the English language works, and how to be polite and sane in correspondence.

Sadly, YOU guys, the awesome folks reading this right now, represent less than half of those who send me queries. Less. Than. Half. The majority are sent by people who will never see this. And they pretty much all have one or more of the following problems:

* They do not understand who I am or what I do (generally they think I publish books... which I do not) -- or they DO know I'm an agent, but are sending me material not even close to something I represent, which the simplest google search or website glance would have revealed.

* They betray an inability to write in English. I'm not saying "they aren't brilliant" - I'm saying, they are barely coherent. I have several each day that have been seemingly run through Google Translate or Babelfish and are just nonsensical. Is it spam? I have no idea.

* Mega-typos. I really am not going to get judge-y about the occasional typo in a manuscript. Look, it happens, that stuff can get fixed, no biggie. But if you have multiple typos in a three paragraph letter... I'm going to raise an eyebrow. And if you've inconsistently spelled your own TITLE... OR YOUR OWN NAME... That's a problem.

* They are rude, psychotic, scary. ("I'm sure, as a woman, this will be hard for you to understand" -- "Jesus was a Dinosaur!" -- "My book is about MURDERING LITERARY AGENTS", etc)  (note: actually I changed these somewhat... nobody sent me these EXACT queries... but the idea is similar. And in fact, I thought I made up Dino Jesus, but apparently it's a thing. And I kinda like it.)

*  They don't follow directions. They are addressed to somebody else, or to no-one at all. There is no query letter (the pages start immediately). There are no pages (we ask for 10 pages in the body of the email). There are a query letter and pages, but they are all as an attachment (which I don't open). There is a query letter, but I have to sign on to some site to see it, or it comes in a block of graphics that I can't read, or similar.

I understand, honest mistakes happen, and I'll happily overlook it if you get my name wrong, or the formatting is weird, or you've use the wrong form of it's/its. If I like the query but you haven't put pages, I'll ask for them. 

But let's be honest. If you've got multiple gaffes in one email, what that shows me is that you don't really care about this. If you can't be bothered to proofread a short letter that is theoretically extremely important to you... how shoddy is your book?

Our official agency policy is "no response means no" -- but time permitting, I do try to just at least send a form response to everyone who seems sane and like they are trying. I don't respond to people who blatantly don't follow query guidelines, or who query with stuff I don't rep, but other than that, I do my best.

But I'm just... I'm just really burnt out on this part. I spend my entire Sundays doing this most weeks, and it is making me bitter. I REALLY DON'T WANT TO BE BITTER Y'ALL.

At the same time, I really don't want to close to queries.

Understand this: MOST of my clients came from slush, especially in the beginning. I didn't know them, they weren't referred to me - I just liked their query letters and asked to see more. I KNOW there can be gems in there. So I never want to palm off query reading to some third party, or say I can't look at all... I want to look! I have a strong desire to find awesome stuff in the box!

And this is the paradox:

Everyone will think I am being mean about THEIR query... but I promise you I am not. If you are reading this, there is a 99.999infinity% chance it is not addressed to you. Because I am not frustrated with "people who are decent writers but their story just doesn't tickle my fancy" -- or "beginners who mean well but are off-base" or "people who messed up one piece of the directions but otherwise had a pretty good query" ....  I'm really frustrated with the actual bottom half of the barrel.

The people who send me emails (or worse - find my phone number and call me) demanding information on... how to send queries. The people who send insults or screeds or threats. The people who have no sense of boundaries, or self-awareness. And those people are not reading advice blogs.  



Every time I find something awesome to request? ALL of the bad feelings go away.

AND... All of you are automatically in the top 40% of queries. YAYYY!