Thursday, November 30, 2017

What do you do when two rules clash?

As I delve deeper into the writer world, I’m finding all the unspoken (and spoken) rules. What do you do when to rules clash?

Example 1 – Agent/speaker says to a group of aspiring authors: “Query me! I do my best to respond to everyone, but if you don’t hear from me in x amount of weeks, give me a nudge.”
Fast forward to query time: writer is furiously double-checking said agent’s submission guidelines 2 months and 23 days later. The submission guidelines say in no uncertain terms “if you don’t hear from us, DO NOT follow up [we thought your MS was crap]. Ok, clearly not verbatim, but you get it.

Example 2 – Twitter pitch party. Agent liked/faved your pitch. Their own tweet says something to the effect of “if I fave your tweet, email me here”. But, being a good little writer who does research on potential agents, sees that the website guidelines say there is an entirely different process. AND, those rules apply to twitter pitches.

Question is, what does the confused writer do?!

Oh how we love to torment you!
And this is such a clever way. Here are the rules, follow them. Wait no no, follow these. But we won't tell which set is them and which set is these. Can you hear me cackling with glee?

And of course we do it on purpose. Cause yanno, we pay careful close attention to what we say about queries.


My nose has grown and I've been struck by lightning. Ow Ow Ow.

The utter truth is that inconsistency happens across timelines and platforms.
And the people writing the submission guidelines for the website may very well NOT be the agent talking at the writer's conference.

And I've run into this since I moved to New Leaf. New Leaf says we don't respond unless we're interested, but I respond to almost every query.  And I've been known to respond to queries that were off the mark (a lot!) when it came to thequery guidelines if I was interested in the topic.

So, what does this mean for you? It means you're going to have to be ok with guidelines that vary even though it makes you anxious.

And what should you do? Do what is most proximate. If you are in the room when an agent says nudge, you nudge. If you saw the tweet that says email me here, email her there. The closer you are to the horse's mouth (and not the other end) the more likely you are to be ok.

And remember that sometimes agents vary the guidelines for specific events. Queries from a conference get a faster reader. Queries from #PitchWars go directly to an agent not the incoming query mailbox etc.

If you're fretting about how to best follow the guidelines  you're going to be ok. 

The writers who AREN'T ok are the ones who don't have a clue what guidelines are, let alone the reason for them, and have no interest in following them if they do know. In other words, they're pretty sure they're the answer to all my problems if I'd only read their entire 387K word haiku fantasy dino porn novel.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...




What ME worry?


Sherry Howard said...

When I was principal at a huge school my mother finally told me she couldn't get past my secretary (before we all carried cells everywhere) and how could she reach me in an emergency. I was mortified by this watchdog overzealously guarding my time. I think querying is karma's little payback for me. Yeah, conflicting guidelines are part of the process.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I feel this pain. So a certain agent requested a full from me at a pitch session. He gave me a business card and that is it. So i go to the agency website for how fo submit this precious full. Nothing. The only thing it says and in big letters is “no attachments”. Well, I do not think this is for full requests. Would it be ok to tweet/email agent and ask him, so I owe you a full, how do I send it? Word doc attachment? Carrier pigeon? Winged monkey?

It’s like the pirate code. It’s more along guidelines than rules and you have to be a pirate for the code to apply and we’re not so the rules are whatever the agent decides in that particular moment.

RosannaM said...

While fretting can be my middle name, I would only be mildly anxious setting aside the usual guidelines and following the "new" instructions the agent gave. But only in the specific situation.

Because rules can be bent or even broken, if the agent says so. Breaking them by your own arrogance is sheer stupidity and just plain old bad manners.

Amy Johnson said...

Congrats on the request, Elise! And yeah, what to do next? I wouldn't go with the winged monkeys. Those things creep me out. And that music that goes along with them. Eeek! Will you let us know how it works out, please?

Steve Stubbs said...

E.M. Goldsmith: It makes sense to put "Requested Full attached" in the subject line of the e-mail. Also if the e-mail goes to a community mail box, state to whom it is addressed. Then in the body of the e-mail explain that agent requested the full at a conference and you, being the courteous soul that you are, are honoring the request.

Sherry Howard: You were "principal at a huge school"? I envy you. I spent as much time at the principal's office as the principal did.

But I was just a student.

Kathy Joyce said...

Why not just email the agent: "You requested a full at x conference. What are your instructions for sending fulls?" Despite their attempts to pretend otherwise (sharks and such, ahem), agents are people too. How would you want someone to approach you if they* had this dilemma?

*I keep reading it's okay to use they, them, their as singular pronouns. When I do, I flinch, waiting for someone to slap me with a ruler.

Janet Reid said...

Please disregard Kathy Joyce's unfounded assertion that sharks are people too.

My seconds will be calling on her forthwith to demand we take to the field of honor to avenge this outrageous libel!**

Fins at fifteen paces!

** yes, I had to look up both slander and libel to make sure I had the right one!

cindilicious said...

SSSlander is ssspoken.

James Leisenring said...

Haiku fantasy dino porn novel. Ha yeah super funny, I mean who would write something like that?

(Furiously hits backspace key)

Kathy Joyce said...

Really, I didn't mean it that way. *hyperventilates*

How dare you threaten me! *googles for fighting fins*

How about we just forget about it? I'll send bourbon. *orders a case*

Oh, my life is a waste. I'm a disaster, always was and will be. *rolls over in bed and sobs into drenched tissue*

What does one wear to a shark feast? *calmly opens closet*

Hail Mary...

Lennon Faris said...

Ooh, conflicting things. Good to know the QOTKU's advice. I usually go with the directions I *want* to be true. :)

EM - I might consider a hybrid of Steve & Kathy's advice - put in subject line that your business is a requested full, but don't attach anything yet, just ask how to proceed in the email body. There are some agents who have separate email addresses for the attached things - if you send an attachment to the general query inbox it would just get deleted no matter what the subject.

Kathy - you'll probably be OK. The Shark said "field." How threatening can a shark in a field be? LOL, right?

Say, what? Who's listening right now?

Oh sh--

Janice Grinyer said...

Ahem, Kathy Joyce's frantic fin fighting finale dilemma aside,

THIS is exactly why I have not queried ANYTHING yet.

There are too many variables to get it all wrong, the rules are all over the place, and then possibly all is lost, except for a few manuscripts my children will find in the bottom of a drawer when I die (but on a flash drive, I'm not totally a feminine Jeremiah Johnson out in the middle of nowhere for cattle sake)

So I'm just going to quietly slink back to my writing corner, do some muttering, pet the cats, occasionally stare at the horses out the window and keep editing...

Good luck, KJ, you're gonna need it.

Joseph Snoe said...

I follow website guidelines on emails if I've not had any contact with the agent.

If the agent has told me directly either in person or in writing, including twitter, to do something outside the guidelines, I follow that direction. If I'm speaking with the agent, and I know or sense the agent told me something inconsistent with her guidelines, I'd clarify with her right then.

And that's the truth.

Craig F said...

I have done a considerable amount of research on agents and have discovered something. Most of them are actually human. That means that it takes all kinds. Some will exalt you and mean it, some will exalt you to get rid of you. Some also seem to think that writers don't belong at the adult table.

It also means that they have all of the quirks and foibles the rest of us have. They don't usually remember what they had for breakfast three days ago. They especially can't remember all of the promises made to little woodland creatures pulling their coat tails at writers conferences. That is because most of those woodland creatures go back under their rocks and don't send the requested schlock.

So, just keep querying. Someday it will all come together.

Elise: My suggestion is to put Requested Full in the subject line. Explain in the body of the e-mail that it is an attachment. Then say that if that is not acceptable, explain and you will follow that. If that doesn't work you probably don't want that agent any way.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I'm just here for the laughs...

Colin Smith said...

*whew* Okay... done with NaNo for this year. Now... my approach to this situation would be:

1) If the agent gave me a generic agency query address, I would send the query with "QUERY: A SHARK IN THE KALE FIELD AT MIDNIGHT--Attached full as requested."
2) If the agent gave me his/her query address, I would send them an email with "Requested Full from The Writer's Workshop" in the subject line.
3) Whatever the case, in the body of the email, I would open with a reminder of where the agent and I spoke, and that she told me to send her my ms. I would follow that with my query blurb, which serves as a reminder to the agent of what she requested.

And I wouldn't stress too much about breaking rules. I expect most good agents will understand why you've sent an attachment with your query if you explain. My fundamental operating assumptions when it comes to querying are: this is not supposed to be rocket science. Common sense should prevail. When the agent requests your manuscript, the query's work is done.

That's all from me. Time to work on my next novel: SHARKNOCCHIO. A retelling of a classic story about a young shark who dreams of being human... ;)

Leilani said...

Sharks might try to be people occasionally, but they get bored.

Megan V said...

I have decided that all of my future queries will written in pink ink, on pink, scented paper and shall be hand delivered as part of modified musical number called 'WHAT YOU WANT, Agents'

You can thank me later.

John Davis Frain said...

I, too, am returning from NanoLand.

I hope December is National Sleep Month. If not, I'm starting the movement. G'night.

rjwycked said...

Well, I feel silly now. Fortunately I'm querying a haiku fantasy dino porn that's only 85k. I'll surely be furiously beating off agents with Lucille's cousin. BTW - where do we get tickets to the fin fights??
Congrats Elise! Bestowing much maneki-neko luck (lucky cat) on you.