Without opening it, I was nearly certain the sender had wasted his money. He'd gone to a lot of work, a considerable expense, and also made more work for me. Not a win-win situation.
Inside I found a neatly done cover letter, a brief proposal, and a fifty-page fiction sample. Without reading it, I was nearly certain I'd soon be sending him a rejection. What a shame.
By simple arithmetic, any writer contacting an agent for the first time has the odds stacked against him. Agents receive far more proposals from potential clients than they can possibly represent.
The work of deciding whether to decline becomes easier if the writer proposes something in a genre outside my expertise. Or if the sample chapters are laced with material I find offensive.
But in this case, the writer simply hadn't paid attention to the information on the Hartline website that four of the agency's five agents “accept ONLY e-mail submissions.” So I was expecting the proposal wouldn't cover — at least in any depth — the required information. It didn't.
Not surprisingly, the fiction style didn't impress me. The prose felt flabby—loaded with telling and double attributions (both a tag and a beat) for every line of dialogue, plus funky punctuation. I didn't enjoy spelling out my major reasons why I thought the piece was not yet ready for publication, but I felt the writer deserved at least some return for his twenty-dollar investment.
I just wish he had invested his postage money in a book from Writer's Digest, learned more about the craft, then emailed me a proposal — for free.