No, no. It’s not responding to queries on the same day and with an extensive explanation as to why they’re rejecting us. Okay, we do wish agents would do that (better yet, we wish they just wouldn’t reject us at all), but that’s not what the post is about. But, yes, this is a post with tips for agents (pause for all the gasps and whispered comments about my lack of mental health).
Just picture this. You've finished your beloved manuscript sent out your queries. If you're as neurotic as I am, you have an agent wish list, and you want to make sure you've reached the ones on top. You wait and wait. Nothing. And suddenly, a couple weeks later, you send an email to a friend and they say they never got it. Panic and hope arise together. What if that great agent I want to work with so much just never got my query? What if I'm sitting here, waiting for their reply, and they're just blissfully unaware that I exist? What if? What if?
That is when, against all advice, against all common sense, we shoot you that e-mail asking if you did get our query, and re-sending it in case you didn't. Annoying, right? I know. I've seen many of you complain about it on twitter. If only we were just a little less insecure...
Well, you can't change writers (although we do try to improve, but we’re just stubborn little creatures). But you can find ways to make us run out of excuses. You can be so specific that, every time a "what if" crosses my mind, the objective and helpful words from your website will come back to me, and I'll find no excuses to e-mail you.
Here are some tips that I gathered from paying attention to what works for me, reading complaints from other aspiring authors AND reading complaints by agents (yes, I do pay attention to agents’ complaints on twitter and I do feel for you). Just some tips that might help agents avoid those follow-up emails and other things that annoy you so much (with good reason). I wrote them in the format agents usually write their tips for writers, which I think works pretty well (even though I know sometimes you wonder if all the tips you write really do work).
Of course, I can't keep the nutcases away from you. Those insane writers who yell at you because they got rejections and send follow-up emails every five minutes? Don't know how to deal with them. Sorry. If I ever learn, I’ll make sure to write a book about it and make a fortune (if I can find an agent for it, that is).
But there are some of us who don’t think your job is to solely read queries and respond within five minutes of receiving an e-mail. These are tips that will help you deal with this kind of normal writer – understanding and reasonable, yet insecure. The crazy ones are for a whole other post (when I figure out what to say about them).
Let's start with the basics (most good agents have this, but I’ve seen some who don’t, and then complain we don’t follow their guidelines):
1 - Have a website, a blog, a twitter account - preferably all of the above. The more accessible the information, the more likely we are to see it.
2 - Have your submission guidelines visible, clear and updated on your website/blog. You might want to have it blinking on your main page, in huge bright-colored letters or something. And never count on our common sense to understand what you mean. Explain it to us like we’re five year-olds. Some of us really seem to be.
3 - Try to keep all sources of information about your guidelines coherent - or at least one official source to be the one to be trusted. If your blog is the way to go, have all guides direct writers to it. I know it's hard to keep track of all guides, but the less confronting information you have on them, the better. We just love guides, you know.
4 - Keep your guidelines as specific as possible. It increases your chances of getting what you want. Really, 5 year-olds, I'm telling you. If you only like one specific type of thriller, or only paranormal romance and absolutely no other kind of romance, make sure to put it there. Don’t say you’re more inclined towards this and this specific genre, but then have your “what I’m looking for” area (you do have that area on your submission guidelines, right?) read something really generic like “commercial fiction”. You’ll just get all kinds of queries. Saying you’re just "looking for a novel that will blow your mind, no matter the genre"? Probably a bad idea too, unless you really want to get queries for every existing genre. We all tend to think our novel is the one that will blow your mind. Just like the girl in "He's Just Not That Into You", we all believe we are the exception. Make sure you're the one to tell us we're the rule.
Those are pretty standard and most agents do them, right? And still, you get tons of queries from people that don't even bother to read your guidelines. I know. I feel for you. But please, give us, normal, researching, non-aggressive, non-clueless writers a chance. I promise, if your guidelines are out there (in huge block letters), we, the normal ones, will follow them.
But even when we do follow your guidelines so nicely, we still get those "what ifs"... So, here we go to the stop-what-ifs-on-otherwise-sane-writers part.
5 - Establish response time. We're insecure. So if you just leave on your website "unfortunately, I can't answer every query", and expect us to leave it at that... Well, we probably won't. I'm not asking for immediate or personal answers. You're busy, I get that, I really do. I don't expect to get a review from you (okay, fine I'd love to, but I know it's not likely). Only you can know how busy you are, and it doesn’t bother me if you say you will answer in 12-16 weeks, or even that you are closed for queries. But just have it clear on your website that it will take time. Something like "if you haven't heard from me in X weeks, that means I didn't get your query". That will lead me to put on my planner a far away date to follow up and let it rest. By the time that date comes, I'll probably have heard from you already and you won't get the annoying follow-up email. Another helpful thing is to have the "responded to queries until xx/xx" on the corner of your blog or announced from time to time on twitter. That really lets us know whether you've seen our query or not, so we won’t follow up unless our query was sent before the date you mention. The "assume rejection" line is fine too, but it does leave us wondering if you're really rejecting it or if you just never got it. If you can get a time-frame for response (it can be several weeks, that’s fine, as long as you give us a time limit) and send out a rejection letter once you've read it (it can be a standard, non-personal one, that's fine), you're certainly more likely to reduce the "what ifs". You can just create a label that says "reject" on your email account and have it set to send out rejection emails at the end of the day to everyone on that folder. It’s probably less time-consuming than having to delete all of those follow-up e-mails.
6 - Please, oh, please, set an auto-response. Really, some agents do that, and I can guarantee you that never has an agent who has one of those gotten a follow-up email from me. You just simply have your query account send out an automatic response every time a new e-mail comes in, saying that you have received the query. There! I have no excuse to wonder if it ever got lost, you just told me it's there. Once you've told me that, you can say anything else you want - including telling me to assume rejection if I don't hear from you in X weeks. I know it's there, and now I have no reason to e-mail you again asking if you've got it. Really, this is something marvelous all agents should do.
And that's it! Easy, right? If this doesn’t seriously decrease your follow-up e-mail rate, I’ll tell you… Well, I’ll tell you that you’ve been sending out a weird vibe that only attracts nutcases or something. Maybe you should try using numerology to change your name or something. Or maybe name your child Shiva…
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