Saturday, August 09, 2008

Why La Telefono is not your ami

I'm not sure if you know this or not but yes, we answer our own phones here. All the time. Even in the middle of the night. I can't tell you the number of times this week someone has called my office at 9pm and stuttered something like "I thought I'd get the machine." Well, no, you got me. And that is not a good thing.

I had one very chipper lady call to alert me that she was sending a query by email. She knew a lot of email gets lost (it doesn't) and wanted to give me a heads up to watch for hers especially.

Then of course when I said "ok sure, you betcha" she said "unless you have time to talk right now." Well, the answer to that wasn't "ok sure you betcha" it was "remind me of your name now so I can go delete your query unread."

Please, I beg of you, do not call an agent. Don't call to pitch, don't call for advice. The only thing to call for is to confirm a mailing address if you get mail RETURNED AS UNDELIVERABLE to you. If you see several addresses for an agent (and there are at least four floating around for me) use the one on the agency website. Failing that use AgentQuery. They keep up to date better than almost everyone else.

Unless you are a client, stay off the phone. Every single person who calls me gets rejected. Every single one. I can overlook mistakes of all stripes but there's not a single reputable advice site that says "call" that I can think of. If anyone says that, they're just plain wrong.


JES said...

I'm not an agent but totally with you on this (for different reasons): phone calls when I'm at work drive me bats.

And if the callers (a) had good reason (with a little research) NOT to call but (b) called anyway, to ask me a favor which they'd have realized (with a little research) I'd never ever grant them... Well, the words just don't exist. (A lot of apt sound effects do, however.)

H. L. Dyer said...

You know, I think that exact "unless you have time now" tactic was listed in a book called "Selling Your Story in Sixty Seconds" that I read before attending my first conference a few months ago.

I ignored the phone-based advice, chalking it up to the book's alleged application to both novels AND screenplays. Although they also recommended rhetorical questions for the verbal pitch, so maybe it's just bad advice altogether.

That book also recommended closing query letters with "I will call you next week to follow up." or something equally frightening to me. I don't much care for calling strangers and nagging them to like me.

I know it frightens you too, from Query Shark #45. ;)

I promise not to call when I query you.

Liana Brooks said...

I was planning on sending my queries and let the good fates decide which e-mails went through and which agents responded. Between sending query and getting a request I really don't think it's my responsibility to worry about the matter.

Hopefully these eager callers will do some research and get their ducks in a row.

Cathy in AK said...

This is where a fear of cold calling actually works FOR me.

Maria said...

There are actually enough professions out there that advise "cold calling" or calling ahead to say, "it's coming" or calling after to say, "I hope you've gotten" that I think it is sometimes honestly misunderstood in agenting/writing by many authors.

Don't agents tend to call editors to tell them they are sending something? Publicists cold call to set up book signings/events? A writer could easily get the wrong idea from the "norms" in other parts of the business if they expect business works in publishing like it does in other businesses.

I've also read several books that advised calling ahead (to get the address, to let the agent know you're sending something--or after x months, calling to find out status.) Granted, most of the calling advice was pre-internet days, but I would imagine there are a number of people that were taught/advised to call a company to ask about job availability, requirements and the procedure for applying. Granted, with a bit of research, a person can figure out that it doesn't apply when looking for an agent. There are enough conflicting messages out there, however, I think it can still happen quite innocently.

Having been a hiring manager, I hated those calls, but there were those that stood apart--they obtained the information they needed, they were polite, let me know a few of their basic skills and then followed up by sending a resume.

Writing/agenting has its quirks. Authors may just be trying to apply what works in other professions without realizing what the expectations are. The internet does provide a lot of information and does it well, but the transition to understanding it might take a bit of experience.


Elissa M said...

I'm generally forgiving and understanding, but with all the agent and editor blogs and other info on the internet, it's so easy to learn the industry basics that I don't have much sympathy for people who do dumb stuff. It makes me think they're either lazy, or they believe the rules don't apply to them. I can't blame agents who find such behavior annoying.

Mags said...

It wasn't me.

Maria said...

Elissa M:

I agree, I think the info is available. What I think happens sometimes is people use what they have already learned from other industries without realizing it doesn't apply. They don't know enough to know it's different! In some cases, they're just using skills that are considered the norm elsewhere.

I was talking to another writer a few weeks ago--she had been asked for a full based on a query/partial. She was getting worried because it had been over two weeks and she hadn't heard back. That time lag isn't necessarily normal for a lot of industries that express interest (think: send resume, get call back interiew...hoping for personal interview, but then hear nothing for three weeks--it usually means lack of interest or some delay occured--and no one would think badly of that person if they followed up with HR to find out if there was still interest, especially in certain industries.)

I gave my friend some websites to check out, of course--and told her it could easily be 1 to 3 months or longer depending on the agent. She had wondered if she should send a follow up email or call to make sure the agent received the script. Again, in many industries, no one would think twice about receiving a "did you get it."

The best information on sending to agents is available on the internet and those that "read" the internet are going to have a decided advantage. Those that still rely on word-of-mouth or standards from other industries are going to be fighting against the tide. My friend is well-educated, late-twenties--she just doesn't happen to spend a lot of time on the internet. She used one or two books for finding agents to pick agents to query. Those books gave great advice on query letters, but not necessarily any advice on how long it might take to hear back!