Saturday, December 13, 2008

Surrogate writers

I've had a spate of surrogate queriers lately. I'm not sure it's just a fluke of timing or the Cuckoo Bird sign is rising** but I've seen three this week but only about ten all year. Surrogate queriers are high on my list of instant rejection.

By surrogate queriers I mean having someone not only write the query for you but also send it: your assistant, your publicist, your mom, your friend, your whatever.

A query letter is my first introduction to YOUR writing. Unless this other person is writing the book, it makes zero sense to have them write the query.

It's also rather dismissive of the agent/author relationship. Your agent isn't someone you deal with second hand. This, more than the actual letter, is why surrogate queries are instant rejection. I don't want to work with anyone who thinks this is how things work, or how they want things to work.

I don't bother explaining this anymore. I stopped after I sent an email to someone saying I only take queries from the author directly, only to have the surrogate simply sign the letter as if the author had written it and send it back using the same email address.

I was laughing too hard to feel too insulted, but it was a pretty good indicator the writer thought I didn't actually pay attention.

So, hang up your Cyrano nose, and put yours to the grindstone!

**cuckoos hide their eggs in other bird's nests


Jarucia said...

When I first saw the posting for this I thought, 'Strange. People who want to be ghost writers query agents?'

It's kind of surprising that someone insane enough to put themselves through the novel writing process AND think it's good enough to garner attention from an agent would actually defer to someone else to write their query.

Plain weird.

Unknown said...

This is funny. I'm a freelance editor, and I've had three separate people approach me recently to ask if I would manage the query process for them. I tried to explain why that wasn't something I'm willing to do, and why it's not a good idea in general, but not one of them wanted to hear about how publishing actually works. Go figure.

I feel like I should mention this--when I clicked on the link to comment here, my anti-virus popped up a malware warning and named a cookie from this blog. :(

SWILUA said...

I wonder if the query surge is because of NaWriNoMo? I know a few people rushing out to query because they finished writing their first novel Nov 30...

H. L. Dyer said...

**cuckoos hide their eggs in other bird's nests

I'm sticking with the Cuckoo Sign explanation because it is so appropriate on so many levels.

Anne-Marie said...

Wow, I would never have thought anyone would consider having someone else write their query letter- look it over, suggest something, sure, but actually hand it over to another person? Never.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Getting someone else to write your query. Interesting concept.

Elissa M said...

Um, I rarely am driven to colorful language but... WTF? Why would an author do such a thing? I can see having writer friends critique my query and maybe incorporate some of their suggestions, but I would still write and send it myself.

Now my brain hurts as I try to fathom what the authors and their surrogates were thinking.

BJ said...

I can see the reasoning - feelings that one can't write a formal letter well enough or doesn't know the business well enough. Basically, self-doubt and/or inexperience.

I can see why people would do it for someone else - confidence in one's ability to write formal letters, wanting to help a friend or family member, or maybe just the need for money. Oh, and inexperience in the publishing industry.

WE - and most people who know better - know that this is our way to sell our story, and to sell ourselves. Those not in the know may not realize it is anything more than a business letter.

Of course, this may explain the phenomenon, but it doesn't make it proper. Which is why it's great to have resources like Janet and her blogs - to teach those who don't know 'the rules of the road'.

After all, we were all newbies once. For some of us, it may be a very long time ago, even pre-Internet, but we were all there at some time. If we weren't, we wouldn't be here now.

Christina Farley said...

Ah! Sounds indulgent. Like eating Godiva chocolate, feet propped up while someone else does all my work.

Julie Weathers said...

Lawsy, I've had people offer to write query letter for me because I really struggle with this. However, only the author really knows the story and no one can write with the author's voice, good or bad. This would be as bad as those fill-in-the-blank plots for people who can't come up with a story.

I will definitely accept all help and incorporate suggestions, but it has to be mine.

Anonymous said...

I'll bet there are lots of queries that are written by ghosts, but not sent by them. Very easy to do. It does mean the writer will eventually be found out IF the book isn't in the same 'class'.

I'm not surprised by this phenomenon. And I agree with what BJ said about this being a business letter. Not all writers are good at all types of writing. I wouldn't exactly feel comfortable with some fiction writers preparing research or technical reports, for example, not contracts. They are completely different animals.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Janet Reid said...

JR - I have been trying to post this in your Blog's "comments" section with,
as usual, no success. I don't get it - my google account allows me to post
to Nathan's Blog, and used to let me post to yours, but no longer. df

Dear Ms. Reid,

This is not "neener-neener" but simply FYI - the European Cuckoo (from which
the famous clocks derived) lays its eggs in other birds' nests.

The American Cuckoos are far more responsible and upstanding. Otherwise we
could never have had "One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest", nest pas?

(Incidentally, I gather that "neener-neener" is a regional variation on what
to a native Noo Yawkuh would be "nyah, nyah, n' nyah-nyah!".)

The only American bird that dumps their parasitic spawn into other birds'
nests is the Brown-headed Cowbird, prompting the country-western lyric,
"Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowbirds". dylan

Julie Weathers said...

The cowbirds also carry the parasite responsible for EPM, which killed the greatest racing Quarter Horse sire of our time, Dash For Cash.

"Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowbirds". dylan


Margaret Yang said...

People who get others to write their queries for them have no idea how the business works. Guess what? Those people are going to get mixed up with scam "agents" and "publishers" who do nothing more than take the suckers' money. Sad, sad, sad. And so preventable with just a tiny bit of research.

Melanie Hooyenga said...

I can understand having other people look at your query before sending it out, but I'm puzzled why they would think it's ok not to send it themselves. That's the same as applying for a job but having someone else show up for the interview. *shakes head*

Unknown said...

What if the author has died? Seems pretty reasonable to have a surrogate querier then - unless they really are a ghost writer....

Janet Reid said...

If the author has died, his/her intellectual property is in fact property. The heirs own it. In that case, the heir/s write the query letter and explain how the author is dead.

This is so rare as to be not worth mentioning in a post that is targeted to the 99.9% of authors who are in fact, alive.

BJ said...

[BJ checks pulse]

Oh, good. I'm in the right place...

word verification: spigma -- the shame of liking pulled pork sandwiches...

Dal Jeanis said...

On the other hand, a smart friend can send you an email saying, "Okay, I'll handle your querying for you. Now, first, write me back a one-paragraph email about what makes your main character's story cool. But show, don't tell."

When that paragraph is done, then you tell them to put a one-paragraph "Seeking representation for Novel X in genre Y, complete at 60K words" in front of it and "Please contact me if you'd like to read it" in back of it.

Voila, a query.

After that, it gets easier.

BJ said...

I think it's that one paragraph that freaks so many people out. It's not hard, really. Just find main story question, figure out how the main character faces it, throw in a few intriguing words, and voila!

Five sentences of less than 10 words each = one paragraph of what your book is about. See? I learned something, Janet!