Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sad Truth: Why is it?

There seems to be something in the water lately—or maybe it’s airborne. It seems to be seeping into the minds of those who query us and it’s making them do strange things, which, in turn, makes our rejection finger want to hit the delete key rather than respond.

We live in an age unprecedented in the entire history of mankind, a time when anyone can connect to unlimited informational sources through the Internet. But it seems that with this wonderful resource, there are still literally thousands of writers, people who should know better by the way, who never utilize this wonder. With all this information literally at our fingertips, my question this morning would then be: Why is it that Wylie-Merrick still receives query letters from writers who get it all wrong?

WHY IS IT that we are still receiving queries addressed to “Dear Agent,” or “To Whom It May Concern” or “Hello There,” or to no one at all? Pure business etiquette should tell anyone who is trying to solicit anything from anyone that first impressions mean everything. Since it’s been expressed here on this blog that this is going to get you rejected, one would think that would be enough. There are posts on this blog that talk about why addressing a business letter (yes, a query is a business letter) in this fashion is not going to make much of an impression on most agents, or anyone in the human resources department of any company, for that matter.

WHY IS IT that we are still getting loads of snail mail queries when on our Web site and here we ask writers to only send us digital queries via an e-mail message?

WHY IS IT that writers are still sending chapters or samples of chapters when we have expressly asked that they not send them? When we receive chapters, we know immediately that the person querying us has never read anything about us—not a good thing when asking us, or any other agent, to represent your work. The reasons for this should be obvious to anyone who researches agents.

WHY IS IT that writers still send attachments when everyone knows that viruses are passed from computer to computer by attachments? Common sense would dictate to anyone who sits down to a computer on a regular basis (most writers live on computer these days) that you do not send unsolicited attachments to anyone. If someone requests an attachment, fine. Send it. However, if no one has requested chapters or a full via e-mail, then you shouldn’t send any attachments at all. We STILL get people sending us attachments with their queries in them. Needless to say, these are automatically deleted without response. HINT: Attachments can contain viruses, or worse, large attachments can really damage an e-mail programs ability to function.

WHY IS IT that writers believe that if they say they are a best-selling author, they suddenly are? There’s a new trend that when I send a rejection, I receive back an e-mail chiding me about the huge mistake I’ve made in rejecting a best-selling author and that I’m going to be really, really sorry that I did. Not really. We even have a post on this and why we can’t regret rejections. People who think we should don’t understand how the business works. Besides, let me put it this way: Best-selling authors who have queried us in the past have always given their name and their credits right up front so we know they aren’t yanking our chain. When querying an agent, put that information—the part about being a best-selling author—in the FIRST query letter, not in the rebuttal one. Also, if you wrote a best-selling novel in the 1980s but have written nothing since, there’s not much I can do for you. The audience created by the 1980s success won’t remember you unless you were really BIG.

WHY IS IT that agents are expected to have the knowledge of the publishing universe at their fingertips, and we do, but writers, those who readers depend on for a great read (fiction) and information (nonfiction) believe they shouldn’t have to do anything but put words on a page? This is called a double standard. Professional writers, of which one of us is one, have to have a certain knowledge base, and we find, oddly, that most new writers don’t believe this, at least those we have contact with.

WHY IS IT that when we do research, we cross-reference, double cross-reference, and then double check our cross-references for accuracy, so that even if we do miss something we know, deep in our agent hearts, we’ve at least tried to do our best to get the most updated information available on a topic, yet many writers look at one Web page from six years ago, query us based on inaccurate information, and then blame us? It is standard operating procedure here to research as much as possible before pursuing anything that has to do with publishing, and we’ve made it widely known that the most updated source of information is our own site. However, most people query us based on information on agent directories that we have little or no control over (and are outdated before they are published or never updated). We don’t expect writers to do anything we wouldn’t do ourselves, which is what most agents would expect. It is not an unreasonable request for us to ask you to give it your best effort.

To summarize all of this, before sending anything to us, please get to know us. Consider some of this information might actually be accurate and maybe make a note of it. We have gone to a great deal of effort to provide a blog filled with tons of information that every writer can use to help smooth the path to publication. It may seem harsh sometimes, but sugar-coated sweetness is like breakfast food that adds unhealthy pounds. We don’t sugar-coat anything because we know that what’s good for you doesn’t necessarily always taste good, but we think it will help your career, and therefore ours, which is the reason why we blog.

10 comments:

Scott Jensen said...

My best friend lives life by one principle: People are stupid.

He says once you truly take that principle to heart, nothing surprises you, no one disappoints you, and anything that anyone does that is even halfway intelligent puts a smile on your face.

Just food for thought.

Anonymous said...

What a refreshing and thoughtful idea. I have written fun things all my life but never thot to write even a small story that might be published. This is a wonderful blog and keep it up...but it is a LOT to read, esp. for a first time wannabee! As a writer I understand that each publisher and agent has specific needs and wants. But I am learning that there are maybe thousands of agents names and requirements to read and sort through before I send out anything. I found you in the 2008 Childrens Writer's and Illustrator's Market book. I read about each agent, then go to their website or another place where I can find out more about them. Requirements are varied: email queries - yes or No,some only snail mail w/SASE; submissions are either multiple or exclusive, and directions may say one thing in a book and another on the website. As a writer sends out so many queries in the hopes of finding just one that is interested, intentions are sincere, but slips can happen. We would ask that agents occasionally try to overlook these slips and understand. I have spent days and late nights trying to send out queries and follow the directions each one sets down. I would hope to have my manuscript judged on itself, rather than whether I misunderstood or failed to catch an important detail in the agent's material that I read. I know you are all swamped...perhaps I am too. I am a 72 year old wife with a house and yard to tend to, plus a husband who would like some of my time. But my story has become important to me and I want to see it through, something that is hard for my husband to understand.

Cutris said...

One reason could be that once we have followed the many rules of the really smart people, we find that no one really knows everything about how things work.

Karla said...

"WHY IS IT that writers believe that if they say they are a best-selling author, they suddenly are? There’s a new trend that when I send a rejection, I receive back an e-mail chiding me about the huge mistake I’ve made in rejecting a best-selling author and that I’m going to be really, really sorry that I did. Not really..."

Obviously, You haven't read the best-seller, THE SECRET. Basically, if you think you are something, then you are/will soon become that something...While I do believe in positive thinking, I hope this new trend doesn't hurt too many people...

Anonymous said...

"WHY IS IT that writers are still sending chapters or samples of chapters when we have expressly asked that they not send them? When we receive chapters, we know immediately that the person querying us has never read anything about us—not a good thing when asking us, or any other agent, to represent your work."

On your website, you request that a writer send 10 pages of the manuscript. That amounts to almost 3 chapters of my novel. Am I missing something? Where on your website does it expressly ask writers not to send chapter?

Joseph John said...

Most of this seems like common sense. Read the instructions, follow the rules, be courteous.

I'd think that anyone who takes the time to write a book would have the brains to know better. Unfortunately, it seems that is not the case.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

On your website, you request that a writer send 10 pages of the manuscript. That amounts to almost 3 chapters of my novel. Am I missing something? Where on your website does it expressly ask writers not to send chapter?

The reason we are very specific about differentiating between pages and chapters is that for most adult novels ten pages IS NOT three chapters. Three chapters can be one hundred pages, or more, and thus much more than we'd want to deal with, especially in the body of an email message.

Anonymous said...

WHY IS IT that agents are expected to have the knowledge of the publishing universe at their fingertips, and we do, but writers, those who readers depend on for a great read (fiction) and information (nonfiction) believe they shouldn’t have to do anything but put words on a page? This is called a double standard. Professional writers, of which one of us is one, have to have a certain knowledge base, and we find, oddly, that most new writers don’t believe this, at least those we have contact with.


Because if we writers did have your knowledge, wouldn't you be out of a job? Good thing, we are too busy "putting words on a page", huh?

WHY IS IT that people with connections and knowledge feel the need to lord it over those who seek their help? WHY IS IT that people need to be so darn condescending about it? AND WHY IS IT that professionals, like you presumably are, don't realize that everyone has a start, and every starter, so to speak, is an amateur?

And, by the way, the typos and lack of cohesive thought in your blog are so distracting that I had difficulty discerning what your guidelines are? For example, Twilight is a first person narrative. Also, you complain about looking through old posts, but you don't have clear submission guidelines posted on your site (so that we have to go through old posts). Therefore, you are most likely deserving of queries that do not fulfill your guidelines because you aren't professional in presenting them. Having to search through a blog -- the epitome of silliness.
In fact, I conclude that you are so nasty no one should want you for an agent. But, in the end we are all so darn desperate that we swallow our pride and grovel – like I will most likely do in the next couple days.
Sincerely,
Serena

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Thanks for your comment, Serena. You make my point without me having to. And yes, Twilight is written in first person. The narrator (narrative) voice is that of Bella, the character telling the story.

Comments like this one just prove that you cannot please all of the people all of the time, and being an agent, pleasing anyone drops below 1%.

Also, Serena, if you’ll go to www.wylie-merrick.com our official agency Web site, click on agents and see "Please click here to read through his needs list thoroughly." You will find our needs list and submissions guidelines on one page. If you do wish to read the blog, you will also find information on how to write a query letter and other useful information. This information is placed here to help, not lord it over anyone. However, if that’s the way you feel, please do not read the information here and go elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Pleasing everyone is always difficult -- no one understands that more than a writer.
I don't have issue with what you are saying so much as how you are saying it, especially the way you use "amateur," as though it is a bad thing. My comment may have sounded peeved -- it was -- but I am only trying to help professionals, like you, to better help amateurs, like myself, who are as fusterated with the world of agents as agents are with the world of writers. It is all very confusing and overwhelming. The multitude of do’s and don’ts, the extreme touchiness, the inability of agents to respond with a simple “no thanks,” the vague industry descriptions of genre. And, to top it all off, condescending attitude disguised as advice. Maybe it’s a New York thing versus a California thing. At any rate, there was no offense meant – well, maybe a little of it was meant.
Sincerely,
Serena