Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sorry, I wont go prowling around your online site looking for stuff - by Terry Burns

I’ve gotten several lately that said “I have a book I’d like you to represent, go to my website and you will find all the information you need there.” I try to always be as polite as my momma raised me so I wrote back:

I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound snippy but I don’t go visiting sites checking out projects. I review proposals to see what sort of a document I would have to work with pitching editors. (Besides, responding to links in emails without really knowing what it is simply is not a good idea).

I would such be happy to entertain a proposal on it per the submission guidelines at our website at which shows exactly what our agency needs to receive in order to properly evaluate the work in terms of the markets in which we are currently working.

A professional proposal is a single word or .rtf document that is a quality presentation, yet preserves the proper formatting in the requested first three chapters to show how the actual work is formatted. To see if it's something we could easily base a submission on to sell an editor on the project. The three chapters give me a feel for the writing and the rest of the proposal the marketability of the project and the platform and promotion ability of the author. I accept this file as an attachment to an email and do not accept hard copy submissions.

We look forward to seeing more on this project, and having the opportunity to evaluate it up against the markets that we are currently seeking work in order to fill the needs we know exist, as well as new market needs which surface daily.

Undeterred, in each case they wrote back and said “Go to the site or don’t go to the site it’s the most efficient way to present it.”

The first one that said that I wrote back and just said “don’t.”

I was in a better mood the second time and said : Sorry, but as I said it wouldn’t give me what I need to pitch it for you so there is no point. Good luck with it, although I would highly recommend you check submission guidelines for any agent or editor you want to pitch to and send them what they want the way they want to receive it. Strictly up to you however.

I know, I know, if I’d just said “it’s not a good fit” the first time I might not have heard back at all, but then again, a lot of people want to discuss that too and point out the error of my ways. But you see, I really am driven by wanting to help somebody make a successful submission so I very often say something that to them seems to invite discussion instead of them realizing they got a useful tip.

But can you believe it, he came back a third time still wanting to argue about it. He seems to feel that I have an obligation to read his material and not only that that I MUST do it his way rather than how we publicize all over as the method we use to properly process submissions. There are reasons we do things the way we do, as with most agencies and publishing houses. Perhaps he will find someone who will do it his way instead of the way he wants them to do it. I hope so, but it's not going to be me.

The bottom line is that I get more than a hundred submissions a month, a lot of good books, and all were careful to follow the submission guidelines to give me what I needed to see to make a decision, and to be sure I had a great base document to build an agency proposal on. Why with all of those folks that did it right would I go to some website where I’d have to lift pieces right and left and try to piece some sort of proposal together to be able to submit it? And why would they think sending me that little abrasive reply would make me say “Oh my, what am I thinking? I better run over there and dig through that site.”


Jessica said...

Wow, that's pretty rude. It makes me think the authors just don't want to go through the pain of putting together a proposal.

stephhov said...

Had he put as much effort into writing a proposal as he did arguing, you might actually be checking out that story today.

Diana said...

My question is, "Who is advising the authors to do this?" It happens often enough to make me think they read it somewhere or someone is teaching this style at a conference?
I agree with Jessica, some authors are not willing to spend the time it takes to present a professional proposal. It is hard work, but as Terry says here so well- a necessary project.

Terry Burns said...

My fault it went on that long as I kept answering him trying to get him to see it just wouldn't give me what I needed. He came back a 4th time saying I had talked to him that much why didn't I just go look? I just hit the delete key.

But this morning, here's another one. I'm just going to say "not a good fit."

Stephanie said...

It never fails to astound me when I hear stories like this!! Do writers seriously think these tactics will get them where they want to go?? Agents have submission guidelines for a reason!!

Martha Ramirez said...

Icannot believe writers are actually sending you messages like this! Everyone knows that every agent has their own guidelines. Besides, we've been all told NOT to direct agents to websites. Not to mention I cannot believe there are people out there that seem to think agents owe them representation. Very disrespectful. Just think if they are behaving in this manner now, how it would be to actually work with them. I wouldn't want to know!

What a job you have, Terry. You truly are an amazing person. May God give you patience!

Shmologna said...


These two diseases are infiltrating our country's good sense. People don't want to put work into ANYTHING and they expect you to bend over backwards to help them out.

I work for a District Attorney and you wouldn't believe how many people commit crime repeatedly just because they think they are "entitled" to your wallet or cash register.

Same with guy. He believes he is entitled to your representation and that you're just lucky he picked YOU.

God help us all.

DebraK said...

Internet strain of “throw something on the internet and wait to be discovered” self-indulgence disease! Sad thing is this trend will probably make it even tougher for those of us that have done the work to meet submission guidelines, respect agent time and LONG for agent criticism. Sorry you had to go through that Terry.
Debra K Wilson

patriciazell said...

The parameters of becoming published are quickly changing (as if you didn't already know that). I think one of the reasons authors want to have you go to the website is because we are told a writer has to have an online presence in order to be published. In a world where everything is just a click away, it seems counterintuitive to labor over a proposal that may never see the light of day. At least by clicking on a website, an agent and/or publisher can get a feel for the book. I guess one could say it's a matter of showing, not telling.

Personally, I am writing a book online that I have written a number of different proposals for. Writing the book this way has set me free from sounding like a professor. I am praying about writing a proposal after I finish it early this summer, but I might not. Who knows what doors God will open.

Terry Burns said...

Good luck with it and everybody is certainly free to pitch a book with just a website - I would encourage them to check submission guidelines and only pitch those who will accept them that way. I don't know any who will but I'm sure there must be some.

patriciazell said...

Thanks for wishing me luck--I have site analytics for my blog and it's fun to watch how many people are reading what I'm writing (about 500/week). I'm happy that people are reading my posts and that when one googles my brand (God's absolute love), my blog is listed first and second. This summer I am tentatively planning to firm up my posts into a real, live manuscript and then write a proposal (which I already know how to do). I am also planning to promote my blog much more then--during the school year, I don't have a lot of extra time.

Kristen said...

I couldn't help but smile while reading this post and the comments that followed. I could just imagine the exchanges between you and the author as he (I don't know why I'm assuming it was a male)kept arguing you should go to his site, instead of spending the 30 seconds it would have taken to attach the documents to one of those multiple e-mails.

I wonder how many agents roll their eyes when they see his e-mail address in their inbox.

On the up-side, it does serve as good warning for the rest of us.