Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Please Follow the Directions by Andy Scheer

First thing this morning I rejected three inquiries from people who wanted to be my clients. They made my choices easy.

While none of the projects were in genres I felt well-positioned to represent, that's not what made my decisions easy. None gave more than a hint of having read and followed the directions.

The Hartline Literary website details what we need to see from a potential client. It spells out the vital elements of a book proposal. There's a reason for such specificity. Without a complete picture, we can't correctly assess a project's potential—and neither can a publisher's acquisitions editor.

I just returned from the annual convention of a book collectors group. In my five years with them, I've gotten to know the people—and what to expect from them. Some I can count on to do the right thing. I enjoy being around them and try to help them if I can. Other think they deserve special privileges. I try to be polite, but ...

I was reflecting on that convention experience as I reviewed this morning's emails.

One person concluded her query by asking if I'd like to review the full manuscript. (Nope. If I were interested, I'd like to study her proposal.)

The next (a retired CIA agent working on a spy novel) sent his resume in the hope I'd take him on as a client. (I told him to wait until he'd finished his novel, then send a proposal for it.)

The third, who'd written a combination memoir/devotional, send three attachments: a table of contents, three chapters, and a sample devotion. All important elements, but lacking key ingredients—especially in a buyer's market.

Maybe they are fantastic potential clients—just too new to writing to know the expectations. So in my responses I tried to educate them. But I'd rather work with someone who comes across as a serious professional.


Joanne Sher said...

It still amazes me that folks don't follow directions like that. Guess it shouldn't but it does. Praying you get some "rule-followers" soon. :)

Linda Glaz said...

You definitely said it right, Andy. So frustrating, and embarrassing for me for having been on the other end too often. errggghhh

sally apokedak said...

I'm a brand new agent myself and I'm getting queries every day from people who don't follow the guidelines. I think there is a difference between people who don't know any better--those I try to steer toward resources that will help them, and people who simply don't care to educate themselves because they can't be bothered with learning thing the rest of us little people have to learn. Those people make me enjoy form rejections. :)

Terry Burns said...

Just five minutes ago I got a submission. I went back to him and said I don't like to read a bunch of stuff pasted in an email so could he send me a proposal (not just a couple of chapters) per the submission guidelines at our website. A few minutes later the same writing sample came attached to an email. I asked him if he looked at the writing guidelines I referred him to and he said no. I told him this was nothing I could work with. I really don't need clients that can't follow simple instructions, there are too many that do.

Becky Doughty said...


I'm going to vent here....

I'm an author who has spent HOURS AND HOURS putting together customized proposals and queries for various agents and editors according to their specific requests (requests that are usually spelled out pretty clearly on their websites), and reading posts like this really frustrates me.

Why? Because I have made the often-tedious and time-consuming effort to do things right, yet agent and editor emails are flooded with people who refuse to do so, crowding authors like me out.

Don't get me wrong - I've turned in my share of amateur queries. It was not because I felt that I was above the rules, however, but because I was still naive and learning, and to those agents who referred me to resources to help me grow, I am forever grateful. But people who ARE given good feedback (like Sally indicated, or like the example Terry posted), probably don't even read posts like this.

And honestly, in the end, after I read these posts and rant a little, I go back to the drawing board and look over my work again to make sure I'm following the rules, etc. Even in my frustration, I'm looking for ways to BETTER myself and my writing. I wrote about this exact thing yesterday - Expectations vs. Goals.


It's obviously a subject near and dear to me.

SO... thank you, Andy, for posting this. Really. You're motivating me to keep pressing on to the goal, and to take my training seriously.


Andy Scheer said...

People who send obviously deficient submissions don't really take a lot of time individually, as they're all fast rejects. It's the number of them that clogs the system

Kimberly Rae said...

Even magazines and smaller publications have specific guidelines. It seems a lot of people decide to become "a great writer" and assume the first thing they put together should go straight to the top. It's a nice hope, but just doesn't work that way. I started out writing for non-paying magazines, then paying ones, and now am on to books after 10 years of practice. Starting at the bottom was a great way to get used to doing my homework (finding out what the guidelines are for each publication) and trying to adapt my work to what they wanted (not the other way around!).

Some days I really feel for ya'll! =)
Kimberly Rae

Terry Burns said...

Yes, Andy, and heading the list are the ones that come in with a list of 50 agent addresses in the to box and with a salutation of "Dear Sir or Madame" - to us that might as well say "Dear occupant." Let me ask, what does everybody do with mail marked "Dear Occupant?"

~sharyn said...

In the late 90s I worked in the correspondence department at Focus on the Family. Occasionally, I would get manuscript submissions.

To be honest, I'm not even sure what Focus's submission guidelines were at the time. And it didn't matter. I never passed a manuscript on to the publishing department because they were never even remotely ready for consideration.

Still, I'm sure guidelines were harder to find then, before the Internet gave you answers to anything with just a few keystrokes. But even then, writers had a responsibility to do their research before submitting a manuscript.

All that to say, we don't have any excuse today when it's as easy as a quick Google search to find all you need to know about publishers and agencies. Do your homework, people. Don't waste your time or that of the professionals you want to work with.