Thursday, January 12, 2017


Recently, on a respected publishing blog, a reader asked, “Is it permissible to query an agent by phone?” The expert answered no. I couldn’t agree more, and I am confident that you will get that same answer from most agents and editors.

The expert went on to give a long and convoluted reason for that policy, and I agree with most of it. But in my view, he severely overthunk it. I have a better reason:

Because I said so, and that should be enough. 

Here’s the thing: every agent has a process for evaluating submissions. Some want a one-page query, period. Some want a query and sample chapters. Some want a proposal and sample chapters. Still others are content to start with a Tweet. Some want a package by postal mail, others email. Attachments, or no atttachments? Whatever the case, this is how we roll. Almost every agency has a website with instructions on how to submit your work. If you want to catch our attention and maximize your chances, the best thing you can do is to follow instructions.
And if they don't have a website? This is probably a sign that they are not interested in entertaining unsolicited submissions.
So why not a phone call? Because it’s a very inefficient use of my time. In order to give you a fair hearing, I will have to write down everything you say. I tried it for a while, and I never got off the phone in less than a half-hour. But if you send me the one-page query that I ask for -- with the information I need -- you'll empower me to make an intelligent analysis.

Of course this is no promise that I will take on your project, or that I will succeed in getting it published. But at least you'll know that you made an honorable effort. That the book sank or swam on its own merits, not because you disrespected the process.

Think about it: If I was your agent, how would you want me to spend my days? I’m thinking that you would probably prefer that I use that time selling your work. Yes?

This week I received a query with a strange genre, uninformative synopsis, no target audience, tiny word count, and no platform. I politely declined. This morning he responded with a spiteful rant that began Dear Complete Waste of Time. Of course, this didn’t help his case. But the greatest tragedy here is this:

If he continues on his present path, he will eventually wear out his welcome in the business. His anger will be his undoing, and no one will want to return his calls or emails. Publishing is a very small community; people talk; word gets around. I've seen this happen a few times.

He might have a wonderful story, but I can’t tell. With a bit of homework, he could have learned how to write an informative query. And I would have read the manuscript. And a couple of weeks from now, I could be sending him an agency contract.

It all begins with the first contact, and knowing what to say.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know what to say, but I am looking for your submission guidelines :)