Monday, December 05, 2011

Again, la telefonita is NOT your friend

Two phone calls today, neither from people who were clueless, but they absolutely did not get the help they thought they should get.

First was a very nice woman I met at a conference. As at all conferences, I handed out my card and welcomed queries. She queried and received a reply; sadly it was a form rejection.

This morning she called and said her name. She needed "just some advice on why her novel was rejected." I had no idea who she was.  Her shocked tone when she replied "but you just rejected this on Sunday" led me to believe she had no idea that she was one of a 100 people who heard from me yesterday.

And of course, even if I was going to give any kind of feedback it would NEVER be on the phone. And certainly not in the middle of the day when I was doing other things.

I know she thought I was rude. I know she hung up feeling bad.
Honestly though, I'm astounded people think this is Undergraduate Lit 101 and I'm some sort of prof with office hours for writers to drop in and get help.

This is a for-profit business and I spend my time doing what I think is going to make me boatloads of money. Shiploads would be better. Helping you figure out why your book doesn't work is not going to make me any money. It makes you feel better. Those are NOT the same things.

The second caller gave me his name and said he'd like to speak to an agent about his book.  I told him that all initial contact with agents and the agency is in writing.

Well, who should he contact?
Look at the website. All the info is there.

And I'm not going to give you anyone's name to contact because I don't know what my colleagues are looking for.  In a smaller agency everyone might know that stuff.  I don't.  I know what *I* am looking for and that's it.

You'd think people would figure out they are not calling the main number for FPLM when I pick up the phone and say my name. But they don't.

The second caller was clearly used to dealing with more retail kinds of business; he was befuddled that I wasn't eager to help him.  He was a writer, I made money from writers...why was I being such a Cruella DeVil?

Because if you can't follow really simple directions, OR it doesn't occur to you to LOOK for directions, you're not ready to query. It's really as simple as that.

Yet, it's not a great feeling to know that both those people went away unhappy, and blame me for that.

I guess I'll dump some extra money in the bell ringers kettle today to adjust my karmic balance. And write a blog post to remind everyone that "do not call an agency at the initial query stage" is pretty much a hard and fast rule.  And if you think you're the exception, you're EXACTLY the person who needs to read this again and say "She's talking about ME" out loud. Ten times.


Darci Cole said...

"She's talking to me"
Out loud.
Ten times.

I love it. I'm not at querying stage yet, but I'm so glad I've come across your blogs. I'm totally the person who would have done this, but reading it from your POV it makes complete sense. I'm sure they'll line. Great post!

Feaky Snucker said...

Karmic balance? Excuse me Ms. Reid, but I think you have already tipped that balance in your favour by all the hard FREE work you do for writers over at Query Shark.

It's business. Your time is valuable, your experience invaluable. You provide an amazing service to people, and screw anyone who pulls the whiny, clueless, 'I'm a unique snowflake, and above the rules' card.

Pamala Knight said...

Call you?? Riiiight! I wouldn't call you even if you left a hundred messages asking me to do so. I'd just figure that one of your insanely (emphasis on insane) talented clients like Sean Ferrell or Dan Krokos had hacked your account and were pranking me.

So, sorry lady, no phone call from my end. ;-)

Happy Holidays and I think your karma is just fine.

Josin L. McQuein said...

So, what's the Herpat-American assistant's stance on taking calls? So long at they're in Parseltongue, of course.

SWILUA said...

I actually *am* a college writing teacher and I don't let my students call me to talk about their papers. It's on the syllabus.


Still, a little kindness goes a long way. People honestly don't know how to go about things until they're given the information. Please don't always assume they know. I have to deal with people in my line of work too and I find that they are usually really grateful when I'm polite and courteous.

Keith Popely said...

Hell, I don't let my family call.

Judith Gonda said...

Sometimes people play dumb, pretending they don't know any better when in fact they do. They just hope against the odds that the phone call might just work. We all make mistakes, but seems like most authors are detail-oriented and would read up on how to approach agents. They wouldn't need to go too far to find out phoning is a no-no. That being said, being pushy isn't kind either, so your karma thing cancels out. I'm pretty sure that's what Larry David would say anyway.

ryan field said...

I'm with @Judith Gonda. I think they pretend they don't know. Or, it's denial.

SM said...

I think if someone does this, it indicates they don't understand the market in which they are trying to participate. If the path to traditional publication was less competitive, then we could all call agents like Janet and chat about the weather. But there are so many people hitting all these folks with queries, it is impossible to handle them all via some sort of literary agent call center (I envision an agent boiler room in a basement in Florida...all smoking cigars, answering black rotary phones).

Hazel Keats said...

These must be for Amish memoirs.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

Wow, Janet, I didn't know you knew Spanish!

Annalisa Crawford said...

As a writer who's only had small short-story success, even I know you never phone an agent/editor, at least until a relationship has been established. I can't believe there are people who don't know this! But the subsequent posts are fun to read.

Ali Trotta said...

This kind of thing fills me with frustration, because it shows a basic lack of respect and an inability to put in the time. If I'm going to try to make a new recipe, I don't guess what ingredients go in, throw them all in a pot, and then get annoyed that it tastes like burnt yuck. That doesn't yield the results that I want. Instead, I read the recipe multiple times, do the prep work, and follow the instructions -- making adjustments as necessary.

It isn't your fault that these people cannot follow directions. When I taught lit, there were two kinds of students: the ones who said, "Why did you give me this grade?" (thus putting blame off of themselves) and those who said, "Why did I get this grade?" (owning up to the work they did or did not do). One takes responsibly for their actions; the other does not.

It's not you, Janet.

Miss Sharp said...

Being honest about your corporate greed is laudable. Your deliberate rudeness to those underneath you is quite another thing. Even Donald Trump has better manners.

Well at least you're aware and nervous about how that whole KARMIC thing plays out.

And why on God's green earth are you handing out business cards to aspiring nooobs with your PHONE NUMBER on them???? And then acting surprised when the noobs CALL!!

You can beam me up now Scotty.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ring, Ring.
Ms. Trite here.
Ms. trite you’ve got to help me. People keep calling me, asking for advice. They seem to think I am their buddy and that I have all the answers.
Who Is this?
Oh sorry. I’m Page Rep a literary agent admired and followed by hundreds, if not thousands, actually by millions of aspirating New York Times Best Selling authors.
Well Ms. Rep, I suggest you remove your number from your business card, purchase an answering machine, hire a secretary, or pretend to be one, OR you could always do what I do.
What’s that?

Guilie Castillo said...

LOL :D Hard to believe that there's people out there seriously believing this behavior will get them anywhere. i agree with the person that commented they're just pretending--it just doesn't seem common-sensical, but... Well. In any case, you did the right thing. Don't be so hard on yourself. No need for balancing karma--I think you did these two a favor.

Elissa M said...

I can almost understand how the writer who is given a business card at a conference and told to query might confuse this as the start of a personal relationship where phone calls are welcome.

The writer who was cold-calling was simply clueless about how publishing is not like other businesses.

Either way, it isn't necessarily a bad thing that they got their feelings bruised when they called. People need to understand that publishing isn't about coddling writers' delicate egos. If you can't take the heat...

KS said...

In the first caller's defense, how was she to know that you also rejected 100 submissions the same day as her's?

Your reaction to her calling you made me do a double-take.

Sad, really, when the expectation is that we cannot call agents. This woman did! Bravo to her.

Michael Seese said...

"Hello, and thank you for calling FinePrint Literary Management. Your call is very important to us. So that we may better serve you, please listen to the following menu of options. If your book is non-fiction, press 1. For fiction, press 2..."


"OK, you've chosen fiction. For YA fiction, press 1. For lesbian fiction, press 2. For 'general' fiction, please press..."

I really think you should set up your voice mailbox like that.

Ali Trotta said...

KS, I believe that when Janet referenced the number of rejections she had on that day, it was merely to illustrate that she couldn't have memorized who wrote what. The woman wasn't supposed to know how many submissions were rejected -- that was most likely meant to illustrate Janet's point to her blog readers. That's obviously my two cents, not Janet's. Additionally, agents read a lot of queries. That's common knowledge. To automatically assume that someone would remember hers is rather self-involved.

With anything, it is good to follow directions. If you apply for a a job, and the add says 'no phone calls please,' it is reasonable to assume that calling would be a bad thing. Anyone who had done research on Janet, or even agents in general, would know that calling isn't a wise idea.

P. J. Casselman said...

But my mother always helped me. You're female, therefore you are suppose to help me just like her, right? :-P
To be fair to the callers, they are simply writers who may or may not know how to pen a good book, but who simply have no clue how the book industry works. Unfortunately, you're a nice person (yeah, it slips out) and it bothers you to have them hang up feeling that way.
Janet, you are extremely helpful to the masses of authors out here who need to learn the business of publishing. You give us tons of free information on a regular basis and for that we are grateful. As for clueless callers, remember the words of Ron White: "You can't fix stupid."

Anonymous said...

I'm greedily grateful for the clueless writers out there who don't bother to read submission guidelines (or believe that they are truly special and don't need to play by the rules),or learn how the agent/query/submission/rejection process works.

Because those of us who take the time to read, understand, and follow that process have immediately increased our chances of getting considered by an agent when submitting a query letter.

I'm not saying being asked for more chapters or a full manuscript, but just getting our query read because we followed the rules at least to the point of getting the letter read--hopefully all the way through because we didn't spell Janet's name wrong, address her as "Dear Sir," or have three typos in our first sentence.

So keep it up, clueless writers. You make the rest of us look that much better.

annievictory said...

Thanks, no one especially loves a cold shower to shock them to their senses, but when it keeps you from doing crazy things, a cold shower can be the most welcome thing in the world.
Janet Reid thank you for the shower.
Writing is so personal, but publishing is public.
It you want to be part of the public/publishing world you have to abide by it's rules.
Thank you, maybe you made two people feel bad, but you saved many more from doing something that would be professionally unwise :)

jesse said...

If a writer's any good, (s)he'll be able to put themselves in the agent's shoes and see the impossibility of offering clarification or advice to 100 rejections a day.  If (s)he's any good, (s)he'll realize that it's rude to even ask, and doing so suggests either a lack of common sense or a serious sense of entitlement.

But, here's the thing.

In the age of social networking, we humble writers build (or at least feel we have built) relationships with our perspective agents.  We read their twitter feeds, comment their blogs, enter their contests, etc., every day, for what could be years.  We develop these odd relationships and feel a connection, often long before we send our queries.  As such, it's easy to forget that the agent is busy and trying to earn a living.  It's easy to think, at least for a moment, that the agent knows us:  that the relationship is reciprocal.  It is
not.  It's an odd, one sided relationship the technology creates, similar to fandom.  That understanding may not be immediately apparent to the querier.  So, yeah, it's rude to expect personal attention in the sometimes scary, sometimes hellish process of querying, but I can understand if they feel close enough to ask.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I think this fits in with the worst query you posted on QS when someone sent you their book and wrote their telephone number and initials with a sharpie telling you they needed an agent.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Jesse, it is an odd kind of relationship because it isn't a relationship it all, it's an info-lationship, dream-lationship,wish-lationship.

There's a we, and and a them. The us, as a team, takes a hell of a lot of effort and understanding.

For anyone to think a phone call is in order is naive in a very damageing way. That's what this is all about, learning and damage control.

Ms. Trite says, if you learn something new everyday than you learn something new everyday. Live long enough and you'll forget it anyway.
I'm not sure what that means but Ms. Trite has had too much coffee this morning.

jesse said...

Wry, I agree, a cold call is out of order and counter productive. That was the point of Janet's (and about a dozen other agents) blog. But as every child knows, dream relationships can still be meaningful, to the dreamer. Or do your kids not plan on marrying Justin Beber?

Christiane Von Linz said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to inform us hopeful, unpublished authors. I came across your wonderful blog today and I am so grateful for the knowledge you provide.
Thanks again,
Christiane Von Linz