Saturday, September 20, 2014

Query: whackadoodle submission guidelines anyone?

I am about to (re)start my query process and when checking agencies, came across this submission guideline:

Highlight your vision for marketing your book, your writing experience, the name of the person (if any) who referred you to (redact), and whether you’re currently submitting your query to other agents.

I find these requests curious for several reasons. One, I think it's premature at the query stage to ask my opinions on how I would market my would-be book. (I wonder, is the agency trying to gauge my expectations as to what I think an agent/publisher will do for me, or do they want a five page business plan, addressing the 4P's of fiction marketing?) Secondly, regarding querying other agents, isn't that a given?

Part of me is inclined to ignore this portion of the submission guideline and submit my query letter as is, and part of me is inclined to ignore this agency altogether. While some of their agents do appeal to me, I almost feel as though this guideline is some sort of stealth Meyers-Briggs test, given to would-be clients. Plus, I honestly fear what could come next: Before we can sign you potential author, we need you to answer the following: You are locked in a room with an angry agent, an emaciated alligator, and an African ape. Which creature scares you most?

It's all I can do to drag a coherent query letter out of y'all. I'm astonished that any agency wants you to try for more.

I'm with you on this. I think this is not just getting the cart in front of the horse, it's so far ahead the horse is still in the pasture with his breakfast oats and apple, contentedly reading the Equine Morning Post-Rider.

The idea of a "vision" for marketing annoys me as well. For starters the idea of "a vision" for marketing is just sloppy. You have a plan for marketing. Visions are what you get when you're doing peyote during research, not when you're actually back at the office writing the marketing plan.

And holy hell, marketing? That's the PUBLISHER'S call. I often ask writers of non-fiction proposals how readers will know about them (platform) but I don't ever ask them how to market their books. I much prefer the sales and marketing department tell me their plans for the book, and then if there's other things to be done to fill in, well, there's the list again (no peyote required here either.)

As for writing experience, Double Holy Hell. I've been trying for years to get writers to quit telling me they've been writing since their mom swallowed a pen and paper so they could write in the womb. I don't care about your writing experience. I care about this book you want me to represent. I always thought most agents were of like mind--maybe not.

As for "the name of the person who referred you" well, that's clearly designed to make writers crazy. I can hear your little mental rodent wheels spinning on this one: do I need a referral? What if no one told me to query? Does this mean they won't even consider me?

Much as I love tormenting writers (and I do, yes indeed I do) it's really only fun to torment them when they're wilfully ignorant. That means you don't actively try to confuse them. That's just mean.

As for who else is reading, that's clearly how they're prioritizing their reading and that's just stupid. Exclusives are bad for business. Any agent or agency who asks for one at this stage clearly thinks their time is more important than yours, and that tells you a lot.

I have no idea why an agency would ask for all this material. Since I know an agent who works there, I don't believe they're actively trying to make you crazy or cranky. They just haven't fully realized how this can make writers fret.

The trouble with guidelines is the clearer we try to make them, the more y'all parse them out and become fretful.

If I could I'd just say "send me your best work. Make it so I can read it. Try not to be fancy" and leave it at that.  Of course, we'd then find ourselves in a long drawn out discussion about whether times new roman is fancy.

I've said this before, I'll say it again: if the submission guidelines for an agency make you think they're hard to work with, don't query. There are a lot of us out here.  You don't have to query someone you don't want to.


Jennifer R. Donohue said...

My marketing vision is Dave Grohl recording an album as my main character, customized guitar picks, and maybe a candy apple red Fender with a Marshall stack giveaway for one lucky winner. Oh yeah, and the book tour itself that kicks off in Detroit (where my novel is set) done like a rock tour, with a bus and champagne and stuff. And only red M&M's. Do you think I can meet Bruce Springsteen? I'm from where he's from. My aunt sold him socks once.

Think that's good enough? Think they'll know what I'm referencing with the M&M's? I have trouble with people getting my references...

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey Jennifer R. Donohue, I drove by Stephen King's house in Maine about twenty times until the person in the car with me mentioned if we did one more drive-by we'd probably get busted for stalking.
I could show you where he lives. Would that count?

"I can hear your little mental rodent wheels spinning on this one..." That squeaky sound, it's me...thinking.

Lance said...

Great post with lots of good information. But, let's parse this out.
1. Coherent drag letter: do we need a photograph of us in drag?
2. The term y’all was used, so we need a southern tie-in, maybe moonshine and grits.
3. She talked about using peyote, but only told us where it wasn’t needed, but it’s clearly one of the 4 p’s.
4. Mental rodent wheels: get a gerbil and one of those wheel thingies.
5. Fretting is mentioned a lot: take guitar lessons. Maybe banjo with that southern tie-in.
6. Try not to be fancy: again matches with the southern tie-in.
7. Not Times New Roman: so maybe just Times Roman.

I liked the horse newspaper title: Post-Rider. After the rider fell off, right?

Janet Reid said...

The Horsehair Falls Post Rider is when the rider fell off. The Morning Equine Post-Rider is the other paper for horses (the one without all the neigh-saying editorials) that is delivered the old fashioned way: via Postrider.

Also, you guys crack me up.

. said...

I skipped querying an agency because their submission form required detailing potential market competition for my book. If I wanted to care about that, I would just self-publish.

Anonymous said...

I think the agent is new and possibly not legit.

Some agents have "special" relationship with "innovative" publishers (read: are shills for pay-to-play publishers). I can picture such an agent being interested in a marketing plan. A legit agent asks a *publisher* for a marketing plan, not an author.

I would skip.

Anonymous said...

As for "the name of the person who referred you" well, that's clearly designed to make writers crazy.

Make? I've been operating under the assumption I already am... least that's what most people say when I tell them what I'm doing.

Update on rodent wheels - the clear, plastic ball, in which said rodent rolls across floor bumping into things requirinf additional problem solving skills. I highly recommend you put your brain on this vs the proverbial squeaky wheel. All data reported supports enhanced mental acuity.

Ya'll...the QOTKU has finally come over to the dark side... collards anyone?

Colin Smith said...

I think there would have to be an agent I really wanted to work with at this agency for me to query... and even then, I'd just give them my query (a la QOTKU-style--and that's pronounced "Kotcue" which is now Janet's code name. She is Agent Kotcue.)

Perhaps the question to ask an agent at this (or one such) agency is: "If you read my query blurb and fell completely and irreparably in love with my novel, would you care that I didn't give you plans, references, blood type, etc.?"

Also, I thought marketing strategies and things like that were part of "The Call"--either when the agent calls to offer rep, or the agent calls to say the novel's been sold? Definitely not query stage. Cart before the horse? The horse is munching oats in Florida while the cart is doubling as Agent Kotcue's whiskey bar in NY.

Anonymous said...

Colin - on board with Agent Kotcue. This will be fun to use when referring to JR on other blogs - which I have done as JR. I bet "Agent Kotcue" references will cause Google searches to go up exponentially.

Adib Khorram said...

I always liked "AGENT SNOOKUMS" (in all caps) better as a code-name. But "Agent Kotcue" works, too.

You know, now that corporations count as people, it's totally legit to tell this agency that the name of the person who referred you is Google.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Sorry, what were we talking about? I'm still processing that Jennifer's aunt sold socks to Springsteen.

Let's see:

I read the Shark's blog.
Jennifer reads the Shark's blog.
Jennifer is related to her aunt.
Jennifer's aunt touched socks that ended up on the Boss' feet.

That's like 4 degrees of separation . . .



Jed Cullan said...

Whenever I query I put The Sharkness as the person who referred me.

Well, she did. She specifically told me to query any agent except her. I'd call that a referral.

DLM said...

alaskaravenclaw, I thought it sounded noob-y, too. It sounds almost like the imaginary guidelines uneducated authors FEAR they're supposed to be living up to. It's weird.

Short of SERIOUSLY compelling interest in a particular agent there, I would not submit. There are too many professional and intelligent fish (... and so on!) in the sea.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

If you were to highlight your vision for marketing. I suggest you write peyote soirée at the Burning Man festival. Gotta start somewhere. I think Janet has a point.

You could then highlight the text in pink or better yet rainbow neon.

Gosh, or should I say f*ck, are we multitaskers? What's the agent for?

And if we're talking marketing, sorry I would really avoid calling a demigodshark: agent Kotcue. It doens't translate well.

Sort of fanny-like.

I know someone named Fanny, she avoids England but has a boyfriend named Randy. OMG!

Colin Smith said...

@Angie: If you're not comfortable with Agent Kotcue, we could go with just Agent K. Or Agent Q. Or we could go completely Phineas and Ferb and call her her Agent S. :)

Oh, and as a former Brit, I totally understand the Fanny/Randy thing. And I'm so glad I put those words *that* way around...

Janet Reid said...

Two things:

1. The agency IS legit. I know one of the agents who works there, and I like and respect her a lot. My sense is they haven't even thought about those guidelines in 400 years.

2. Your comments will be deleted with prejudice if you start correcting grammar, syntax and/or spelling in other comments. I'm fair game, but leave my readers alone, or you won't get to comment here ever. (ONE warning on this.)

LynnRodz said...

Dear Janet, a.k.a. QOTKU, Snookums, etc.,

Is it my imagination or are your comments getting wackier by the day? !


Wheels Spinning But Only In My Mind

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

LynnRodz, I have noticed the same thing. Actually, I believe I may have occasionally contributed to the wackiness of which you speak. Some are convinced it’s due to the vernal equinox and because Kate is pregnant again.
Seriously, it’s because The View has changed.

Colin Smith said...

Lynn: I think familiarity breeds distemper. Or something like that. It's late...

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Hey Carolynn, any time you want to show me Stephen King's house and I'm in the state, I'm up for it! Steve's in a band too, from what I understand. With Amy Tan, I think, and some other writers?

Terri: My aunts and dad each had their own Bruce Springsteen Encounter™ story, of varying levels of impressiveness. Mine is much less impressive, just that I was four people back from the stage at a holiday show at Convention Hall. His concerts are still the best I've been to!

Lance said...

The term agent implies that the person so named is acting on behalf of some other party. I think we all understand that the QOTKU is her own boss. By definition.

Adib Khorram said...

I am not sure if I missed something...if my joke about AGENT SNOOKUMS came across as trying to correct someone I'm very sorry.

Maybe there was a comment that already got deleted and I missed it. I am super confused. Or super paranoid.

Probably both.

Elissa M said...

I'm not sure what paper my horse reads. He eats it before the help (me) comes in.

Janet Reid said...

Adib, not to worry. It wasn't you. It wasn't your comment. If it had been your comment, you'd have found it deleted.

Adib Khorram said...

I'm glad I didn't stick my keyboard in my mouth...but sad to have provided such a public example of the archetypal paranoid writer.

Anonymous said...

"It's all I can do to drag a coherent query letter out of y'all."

Well, we are secretly scared sharkless of all of you agents, and that kind of deep-sea pressure tends to make us writers babble and do other stupid things. Thank God most querying is done with the mailman or internet as an intermediary and not in-person.