Pub Rants

Was That Requested Material?

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STATUS: I made quite a few editors excited with the submission I sent out today. Love that.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? AND WHEN I DIE by Blood, Sweat, & Tears

I have to say that most of the writers I talk to and interact with are wonderful. They are interesting, engaging, ask smart questions, follow guidelines, and don’t waste an agent’s time.

I just had to chuckle when my agency received a full manuscript out of the blue via the mail two days ago. First off, we never ever ask for a full manuscript to be snail mailed to us. Ever. Even from day one of my agency, I’ve always allowed a writer to send it to me by email. It’s the only time I allow a submission via that medium. Mainly because I don’t ask for that many fulls (54 total last year if you read my statistics entry) and I can do an intense virus scan before allowing that sucker to download.

And as y’all know, even snail mailed paper submissions are a thing of the past here at the Nelson Agency. I’m launching the new electronic submission database this week. The first request emails are probably going out tomorrow. Now if something comes via snail mail, we’ll KNOW that it wasn’t requested.

But I highlight this simply as a gentle reminder that it doesn’t help you or pay to circumvent the system. We really don’t want to read your work unless we’ve asked for it via the query process. Most agents simply discard unrequested material—no response sent.

I know that sounds harsh but I’ve said it here numerous times and I’ll say it again, the sheer volume of what we receive (even when we have actually requested it) is so large, we haven’t got time for the unrequested stuff. And now for us, the unsolicited stuff will be pretty darn obvious and I’m warning you now, we plan to discard it.

It’s also a small test. Do you understand publishing, agenting, and how the submission process works? Can you follow directions, instructions, or guidelines? Even these annoying steps (and I know they are annoying because every agent has his/her own unique, jump through the silly hoops, guidelines) acts as a filter for those who are truly serious about writing and publishing. Only the really serious would take the time to learn the biz and navigate the submission process.

Right there that’s an indicator to us that you have the fortitude and fortitude is an essential quality to becoming a future client.

19 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    It’s the same in the music biz, there are always some who do no homework and expect great results. The company that gave my husband a record deal went belly-up and so he and his friend started a small label to produce their next CDs and a few other select ones. They get tons of unsolicited demo CDs in the mail without any SASEs or really any clue as to what kind of music he produces. He doesn’t even open most of them. At first I thought “Cool! Free CDs” but then I learned it’s much like your pile of queries! I don’t play them anymore either. In the garbage they go. I half feel sorry for these people for spending all that money, but then I think they need a shot from Miss Snark’s clue gun if they expect to make it.

  2. Eileen said:

    The additional problem is there is always a story where someone broke all the rules (glitter in their query printed on kitten paper attached to an unrequested manuscript)who got a great deal. Instead of focusing on how 99.999% of people get a contract they focus on that one rule breaker as “proof.”

  3. ian said:

    Oh, but we HATES it, Precious, we HATES the process.

    But we does it anyways because we wants to be published.


  4. Anonymous said:

    The problem with feeling so self-satisfied that you’ve gone electronic is that that information that you have done so is not available to all people. Some people have gone this route. some people have not. and some are on the fence about it. How’s a writer to know that, between the time we began the querying process and the time you recieved it, that you had completely changed your rules?

    Plus, if/when an agent responds by e-mail, most of us won’t open it because 1) it’s from a stranger and we don’t open strange e-mails or 2) it got caught in the SPAMcatcher and we never saw it.

    A more considerate arrangment would be to go to e-mail once each person knows the other’s e-identy.

    But no. Anybody who has been around long enough to learn the publishing rules in the 1980s and 1990s is now considered to be a dufus when they follow the rules of manners they learned so carefully.

    Not responding to queries is just plain rude.

  5. Jeff said:

    I enjoy reading your posts. Always interesting, and I usually learn a little something about the publication process.

    But I what I really want to say is that my iPod could be your iPod. They seem to play exactly the same music. Twin iPods! iPods seperated at birth! 🙂

  6. Anonymous said:

    anon 9:10,

    The query process is a great criteria for selecting an agent. It sounds like you and Agent Kristin have incompatible communications style. Now you can weed out agents who have gone all-electronic from your list of targeted agents. No time wasted on either side of the query letter.

    I check my SPAM filter daily, and if there’s was a remote possibility an email is from someone in publishing, I open it. The e-mail itself usually doesn’t launch viruses, attachments do. Updated virus protection can reduce that threat.

    Info on an electronic agency shouldn’t be hard to find on the agency website or other online sites. In the 80s & 90s, everyone with a word processor didn’t feel they should write a book. The query volume agents see today makes the shift to some level of e-comm almost inevitable.

    Staying on paper until some point in the relationship would mean tracking a lot of paper, and in most cases, no relationship evolves beyond that initial query. It’s a buyers’ market; we the sellers must adjust to it, at least until there is a dearth of aspiring authors.

    A successful business is run profitably. It might be considerate for the querier to stay on paper (and only some queriers – there are many of us who prefer e-comm), but not for the agent who prefers e-comm. The priority is the existing client, the one who needs a manuscript read, a contract negotiated, or a book cover issue resolved. The client generates income that keeps the agency viable so the agent can find the next client in the electronic slushpile.

    BTW, if I have a ‘no solicting’ sign on my front door and a salesman knocks anyway, I’m not being rude if I don’t let him in. He’s being rude for disregarding my sign.

  7. Anonymous said:

    Also to Anonymous 9:10…

    You said, “How’s a writer to know that, between the time we began the querying process and the time you recieved it, that you had completely changed your rules?”

    The one rule that you follow before all other rules is “Read and follow each agent’s individual submission instructions.” It’s highly unlikely that an agent is going to decide to change how they receive queries between the time you mail a query to them and they receive it. And if they do change it, in that time, they will still accept queries of the latter type until that information has a chance to make its way across the internet.

    Maybe in the ’80s and ’90s the rule was always snail mail. But that doesn’t change that first rule–find out what *this* agent wants before you send (you should have been doing that even when it was all snail mail–one agent wants a synopsis with the query, another sample pages, another just the query…).

    How do you find out? Well, I don’t know how you can say, “information that you have done so is not available to all people.” Most agencies have a website with clear submission guidelines (as Kristin does). If an agency doesn’t, you can usually find submission guidelines on a website like Publishers Marketplace or Agent Query. If you check each agent’s guidelines before you submit, then there’s no danger of making a mistake. If you can’t be bothered to check because you want everyone to have the same preferences and accept the same type of submissions… well, then obviously getting representation isn’t very impotant to you.

  8. Anonymous said:

    To the anonymous who doesn’t quite get it –

    So what you’re saying is that you should be able to submit what you want and how you want. Now, imagine if EVERYONE figured they were special enough that the rules didn’t apply to them? It’s a agent’s right to set their guidelines as to how THEY want to do their business. Could you imagine how much paper these people would be buried under if EVERYONE submitted (unsolicited and most likely unwanted) complete manuscripts?

    Most agents email addresses seem to bear some resemblance to their actual name, so the whole spam thing is just plain wrong. And if you email first, common sense would suggest you knew who you emailed to and, ergo, would expect an email from that same address, no? And the last time I checked, an agent isn’t in the business to be considerate of YOUR way of wanting to do something. I think it’s the other way around, isn’t it? It’s pretty rude to ignore their guidelines in the first place and even more so to send an entire ms – which seemed to be the crux of the post anyhow. I can’t imagine sending 400+ pages blindly. You do that and you definitely need a whap with Miss Snark’s clue cannon.

    As to their rules changing, do a little research. I don’t think agencies are changing their guidelines so often that you wouldn’t have access to relatively recent information. Go to the library and use the internet if you have to. If you’re serious about getting published, this is probably about the easiest part of the entire process.

  9. Anonymous said:

    Anonymous 9:10, do you really think that industries should do everything the exact same way they did things 10-20 years ago? Seriously? Not just because you want to be stubborn and/or pick a fight?

  10. Patrick McNamara said:

    Less than a decade ago is was unusual to find anyone willing to take e-mail submissions, with the exception of e-book publishers. Publishers would insist on postal submissions, and there’s still some that do. It can’t be totally blamed on the writer, especially since many novices just don’t know that the information is out there or where to find it. With time they learn. The fact that someone does use an outdated method is often a sign that they are inexperienced, not irresponsible.

  11. Anonymous said:

    I see nothing rude about ignoring a submission that wasn’t requested.
    Personally, I’d do the same thing, chuck it in file 13.

  12. Anonymous said:

    Good discussion here — but off the point. Agent Kristin was talking about what used to be called, unsolicited, over the transom submission of full manuscripts. And I took it one step further to point out that it’s difficult to discover how agents and publishers want writers to submit these days because everyone is different.

    Anon 6:34 said:
    Most agencies have a website with clear submission guidelines (as Kristin does). If an agency doesn’t, you can usually find submission guidelines on a website like Publishers Marketplace or Agent Query. If you check each agent’s guidelines before you submit, then there’s no danger of making a mistake.

    Unfortunately Anon, the information on all three of these sites quoted vary greatly. Which is my point. You can do all the research in the world, trying to discover how to submit to an agent or editor, and be wrong on all counts because they’re changing their minds and your carefully researched smail mail query arrives after the change.

    The changes are across the board. Publishers too have changed. Example: Your contract says that you are required to submit your next ms. to your previous publisher — so you do. no response. so you send another ms. no response. another. no response. Hey — YOU, mr. publisher, were the person who required the writer to send the next ms. to them. A simple “no” would get both of us off the hook. A simple insert in one of those SASEs telling writers that you have changed your policy and now don’t respond would have been nice. But no — the writer is left hanging with a big hole in his publishing career waiting for a response.

    To another Anon — since many responses from agencies and publishers come from people you did NOT submit to (assistants, etc.) there’s no way you could be expected to recongnize their e-address. And if you don’t know how the agency or publisher abreviates their ‘dot com’ name of their business in their e-address, it’s hard to tell who is who.

    Anon 9:10 (who isn’t a beginner, but is an award winning, multi-published writer)

  13. Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little said:

    Hi, Agent Kristin — thank you for your excellent and informative blog. I have a question for you regarding this post: not to equate 5 pages with an entire unsolicited manuscript, of course, but… How do you feel about the Miss Snark rule of thumb that the term “query” should be understood to mean “letter with hook + first 5 pages”? Do you agree, or do you think that any material too much unsolicited material, or [fill in the blank]? I’ve been wondering about how other agents feel about that ever since being surprised by Miss Snark’s “thou shalt always send the first 5 pages” commandment.

  14. Zany Mom said:

    Several years ago when I first started querying, Writer’s Market (print copy) was the bible.

    Though I googled many of the agents and agencies I wanted to query, I found that most did not have either a website or submission guidelines online. Fast forward to now, where I see most of the agencies I considered back then DO have a website, DO list their agents and what each individual prefers, and DO have submission guidelines.

    Also, Agent Query seems thorough, and I’d assume easy to update as well (rather than waiting for the next edition of a bound copy to hit the shelves).

    I think this go-round will be a lot easier to find each agent’s guidelines for submissions.

  15. Diana Peterfreund said:

    If Nelson has changed anything, it’s only how she accepts requested material.

    I queried her in 2004, and she was only taking e-queries then. I find it hard to believe that any reputable agency listing has it listed any other way three years down the line. She responded with the same address I sent the query to, so her identity was unmistakable. And in her response, she detailed exactly what she wanted me to send to her and how she wanted me to send it.

    I really don’t see what is so difficult about following directions. If KN only requests manuscripts over email, then she knows that anyone sending a manuscript through the post is either NOT following directions, or is NOT sending a requested manuscript.

    Anon at 9:37 said: Unfortunately Anon, the information on all three of these sites quoted vary greatly. Which is my point. You can do all the research in the world, trying to discover how to submit to an agent or editor, and be wrong on all counts because they’re changing their minds and your carefully researched smail mail query arrives after the change.

    I would think that if an agent has recently changed guidelines, they allow for quite a bit of time in which listings appear both ways. After all, it takes a year or more for guides like Writer’s Market and Herman to be updated.

    When I was researching agents, if I happened to note contradictions in guidelines on listings, i did the following: 1) went by the agent’s website, if available, and 2) if not direct listing from the agent was available, I listed the source of my info in the query letter, e.g.
    “as per the guidelines listed on the RWA website, I’ve enclosed the first three chapters of my manuscript.” That way, if I was wrong, they’d know I wasn’t just being a jerk and ignoring guidelines, and if they didn’t want it that way, they’d know where I’d gotten my mistaken idea from and could fix it. Agents are aware that contradictory listings exist, and they appreciate writer’s who do their research, even if the research is wrong. At the very least, they’ve found the source of the misleading info, so they can get it corrected and others won’t make the same mistake.

  16. Anonymous said:

    IMHO, what’s irritating about the unsolicited over-the-transom manuscript isn’t that the writer didn’t follow directions; it’s that the writer is trying to deceive the agent into thinking that the MS was requested. Anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to start a business relationship by essentially lying to the other party deserves to be rejected and probably has integrity issues that will resurface over the life of the book. You don’t want to work with an author who thinks that deception is an acceptable way around policies they find unpalatable.

  17. Anonymous said:

    Zany Mom,

    I’ve discovered that the “Writers’ Market” books (the agent one, too) are largely a load of hogwash. I swore by the things for a year, until I attended a conference and met agents and editors face to face. What I heard from them was at stunning opposition to what the Writers’ books said.

    I heard no less than half a dozen Es & As say that it was a good idea to compare your work to something successful, to give them an idea of what market you were aimed at… the guides say that’s a no no.

    The guides say query one agent at a time (ensuring you’ll be at it for three decades); this is a stratagem for failure. Accept the fact that most are going to reject you, and send a gross of query letters.

    The guides talk about all the things you need to include in your letters, while agents and editors alike will tell you to tailor your letter to them, and to leave out negatives.

  18. Anonymous said:

    I’ve seen this phenomena with writing books giving out bad writing advice. I even read one (And it was a book put out by a major writing magazine) that said not to “waste your time with query letters”, just call. And I was like WTF? Is this person insane?

    I’m assuming when these books are published by an actual legitimate publisher, surely an editor must stop and scratch his head. How do books on publishing give out so much misinformation when they go through the publishing gatekeepers to begin with? Unless it’s a conspiracy, it completely boggles my mind.