PDA

View Full Version : How are email & postal mail queries different?



Laer Carroll
02-08-2015, 08:49 AM
Agents are increasingly requesting emailed queries. Some even say they only read emailed queries. What are their important features?

Helix
02-08-2015, 09:08 AM
No paper?

Old Hack
02-08-2015, 12:29 PM
Laer, read the guidelines the agents give, and check out our Query Letter Hell. There's all sorts of information there.

Laer Carroll
02-10-2015, 04:52 AM
Thanks for the suggestions. I did a search for Query Letter Hell and the following link came up, plus the note to use the password vista to access it. AW automatically inserted it for me.

http://absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=174

I read the How to Write a Query Letter (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=59255) sticky. Nothing new to me, but useful to review. No answer to my question, however. The remaining threads seemed to offer no better place to find the info. So I Googled all of AW using the search terms "email query" but of the literally hundreds of results I found no answer. Maybe I missed it in the vast ocean of information returned to me. I don't want to spend hours of time further reading all the places where the answer MIGHT be. If you do know, please give me a link.

I recently read the submission guidelines for several dozen agents who handle the kind of books for which I want to get representation. I don't recall any of them addressing this question, so I called up my top ten preferred agents' web pages. No answer there, either.

There WERE a number of links to general info about queries. But, the only facts relevant to my question was that of the ten only two accepted postal mail queries. One only accepted postal mail queries, no email. All but one said not to include synopses & chapter samples as attachments but to insert them inline after the query. That one said to include the synopses and samples as attached Word files.

In all I've spent more than two hours to get an answer to my question, with no success. Anyone have a some info or opinions?

Sage
02-10-2015, 05:02 AM
Their important features are that you save time, paper, ink, and stamps by sending out a query via e-mail instead of via snail mail. You don't have any header before "Dear [Agent Name]" and you put contact info after your (typed) signature.

Everything between "Dear" and "Sincerely" should be the same.

Laer Carroll
02-10-2015, 05:19 AM
Everything between "Dear" and "Sincerely" should be the same.

Right. The basic purpose & core content are the same regardless of format: print, electronic, even speech.

One comment I came across a few weeks ago in an interview by an agent was that her agency uses smartphones a lot nowadays. So I created a test query that ended in

phone number
email
website

If you touch the first my smartphone & my computer dials the number for you. Touch the second and a Composition screen comes up with the From field already filled in. The third opens a window containing the website.

This suggests to me that some kinds of business could speed up a lot. Not sure I like the idea.

Sage
02-10-2015, 05:30 AM
I guess I don't understand your original question, then.

Becca C.
02-10-2015, 07:11 AM
Their important features are that you save time, paper, ink, and stamps by sending out a query via e-mail instead of via snail mail. You don't have any header before "Dear [Agent Name]" and you put contact info after your (typed) signature.

Everything between "Dear" and "Sincerely" should be the same.

This.

Email queries save everyone on both sides of the desks a lot of time and effort. That is their feature: speeding up an already lengthy process. It's great. I'm not sure I understand your question.

Old Hack
02-10-2015, 11:32 AM
Laer, you've told us a lot about what's not helpful but you've given us very little about what it is you're looking for, specifically.

Perhaps if you gave us more information we'd be able to give you the help you want.

Laer Carroll
02-10-2015, 01:29 PM
I'm puzzling about how queries have changed recently, mostly. And how that effects me since I've just started the process. Here are some thoughts which came to me this afternoon.


__________________________

I'm a systems engineer, which means trained to look at the big picture of any system. This includes the hardware, software, and "peopleware." That last includes the psychological and sociological aspects, which includes emotions as well as thinking.

The surrounding conditions of a system affect it in several ways. For queries the increasing use of emails will affect the form and content of queries.

An important factor is the number of queries agents receive. In an interview with an agent a few weeks ago she said she gets up to a hundred email queries every day, and two or three times that on Mondays - numbers which have been steadily increasing for the last several years. In another interview an agent said her medium-sized agency gets "several thousand" queries every month.

Another factor is the increasing use of smartphones. In the first interview I mentioned above the agent said she reads almost all queries on her smartphone. Because she can do it on the subway to and from work, at lunch, and at home - necessary because of the large number of queries she gets. And by the fact that reading queries is only one of many tasks an agent has to do every day. Getting through this important task quickly is vital.

One result of this is that the content of each query must be very compressed. Every single word must count. The very first sentence must count, maybe more than any following. If it turns off the agent s/he may instantly go on to the next. Not because s/he wants to reject queries. But because she wants to find the rare golden nuggets amidst the query stream.

That's all pretty scary. Makes me want to forget all about finding an agent. How can I distinguish myself when I surely have lots of brilliant competition, and so little space in which to do it?

Putputt
02-10-2015, 02:12 PM
You can distinguish yourself by following their guidelines and writing a stellar query. Do that, and you'll already be ahead of the curve.

Old Hack
02-10-2015, 03:23 PM
I'm puzzling about how queries have changed recently, mostly. And how that effects me since I've just started the process. Here are some thoughts which came to me this afternoon.

<snippety-snip>

That's all pretty scary. Makes me want to forget all about finding an agent. How can I distinguish myself when I surely have lots of brilliant competition, and so little space in which to do it?

Laer, good writers, and good books, have always had to find a way to distinguish themselves from the other writers in the slush pile.

The increasing use of smartphones is not an issue which you can manipulate to your favour. Nor is the increasing number of queries which agents receive.

What you can take pains over is first, writing a great book; second, writing a great query; and third, submitting it appropriately, and to the right people.

There's a lot of good advice about query writing in Query Letter Hell. There's a lot of good advice all over AW about writing a good book, and finding the right people to send it to. Now, you've said you've looked at the stickies in QLH and they didn't help you: what more do you want, specifically?

I appreciate it's difficult and must seem overwhelming when you've not done it before. But we all have to fight this particular battle if we want to find a good agent, and then a good trade publisher. Take it in little bites, and make it personal. Don't try to work it all out in one go: write your book first, then revise it, then write your query. And don't worry about all those thousands of queries every agent receives every week: worry about yours.

Old Hack
02-10-2015, 03:33 PM
It occurred to me that you might not fully understand how awful the slush pile can be, Laer, and how relatively easy it is to rise to the top ten per cent of those many hundreds of queries. I've linked to this before, (http://www.bang2write.com/2013/03/29-ways-not-to-submit-to-an-agent-by-carole-blake.html)but it's worth sharing again: it's an article in which UK literary agent extraordinaire Carole Blake gives a few pointers on things to avoid when submitting: and right at the bottom of the page there's a photo of a submission she received. Bear in mind when you read it that she has never represented writers of children's books, and makes this clear on her website and just about everywhere else she can. It should give you an idea of the level of professionalism you're up against.

Also, take a look at Slushkiller on Making Light (I think there's a link to it in our Publishing FAQs room, but if not, it's easy to find online) as it gives a great breakdown of the slush pile. Very interesting stuff.

Ken
02-10-2015, 03:56 PM
For me, it is a matter of the agent themselves. If they still prefer postal then they've scored points with me from the get-go, possibly indicating they are behind the times like me: grudgingly accepting modern technology, but secretly despising the new-fangled contraptions they keep coming out with along with the new mediums of communication. Emails, tweets, instagrams. Ugh !

My two cents of course and a shameful perspective to be sure.

Sage
02-10-2015, 04:49 PM
The query always had to hook them, and authors should be spending just as long on developing the query itself, even though the process of sending it (and opening it and replying to it) is easier.

Whether by paper or by e-mail, the job of the query is to hook the agent into wanting to read more. Just because she was reading the pitch on paper, doesn't make her more likely to request.

mayqueen
02-10-2015, 05:37 PM
A couple of years ago, when I was new to querying, I thought that since agents receive so many email queries, surely sending more postal queries would make sure my query got the attention it deserved!

Ha. I didn't get any better response to postal queries. I did, however, waste time, money, and paper. Because ultimately the manuscripts weren't strong enough.

Write a great manuscript. Write a great query. Follow the agent's guidelines for querying.

Laer Carroll
02-13-2015, 01:20 AM
The increasing use of smartphones is not an issue which you can manipulate to your favour. Nor is the increasing number of queries which agents receive.
Never thought it was. If anything I've the impression it makes it harder on us since we have more queries competing for agents' attention. I suspect agents more & more are quicker to reject queries, not because they are sadists but because they have so much on their plates. I recently read a short diary of an agent & the workload she described would kill me!

...you've said you've looked at the stickies in QLH and they didn't help you: what more do you want, specifically?
It didn't help answer my specific question. But just reviewing the material (which I've seen elsewhere several times) was useful reinforcement of the basics. It's rarely a waste of time to return to basics. Which includes the following advice.

Take it in little bites, and make it personal. Don't try to work it all out in one go: write your book first, then revise it, then write your query. And don't worry about all those thousands of queries every agent receives every week: worry about yours.

Good reminder that the formats may change a bit but the basic process does not.

The query always had to hook them, and authors should be spending just as long on developing the query itself, even though [nowadays] the process of sending it (and opening it and replying to it) is easier.

It just struck me that writing a query has a lot in common with writing a poem. The goal is to say much with very little but with great power. Maybe that's why it can be so hard to write one.

popgun62
02-13-2015, 02:51 AM
I think I found your problem - "I'm a systems engineer." LOL! Sorry, I'm a huge Dilbert fan.

Jennifer_Laughran
02-15-2015, 06:34 PM
How can I distinguish myself when I surely have lots of brilliant competition, and so little space in which to do it?

To be blunt - you DON'T have lots of brilliant competition. You have tons of shitty competition, plenty of ok competition, and some very good competition. Brilliant competition is 1% of your competition, if that.

Filigree
02-15-2015, 09:26 PM
What Jennifer said, Laer. I've read some of your work; you're better than you think. Polish the mms, hone the query, target agents - and you'll almost instantly put most of the slush pile 'competition' behind you.

Old Hack is not wrong about slush. It's generally awful. And by the way, I've seen cover letters nearly as horrible as the one Carole Blake showcases.

Kasubi
02-23-2015, 02:43 PM
Hi Laer Carroll,

I've always loved e-mail submissions. For one thing, they're cheaper. When I start submission rounds I've always started with e-quiries first, unless there's been an agent or publisher I really liked the look of and felt they were worth the ink, paper and postage. If you do a blanket mail-out it starts to cost a lot of money by snail-mail. Samples can run from 'the first three chapters' to 'the first 50,000 words'.

Every agent and publisher will have their own submissions guide on their website (as you've discovered). Read it, follow it to the letter. Mostly, though, the content of an e-submission is exactly the same as snail-mail: cover letter, front sheet (with contact details) and sample. Sometimes as two separate documents, sometimes as one, depending what they ask for.

I'd advise, unless told otherwise, to submit your work in PDF format, especially if you've got funky characters going on there (i.e. Fantasy names using characters outside your standard A-Z) or illustrations. A PDF is basically a snapshot of the page. It looks exactly the same on any machine, regardless of the software. Whereas a .doc can jiggle itself about if it's opened using a different version of Word, or Open Office.

Again, though, stick to the guidelines each company asks for (usually on their website).

Other than that, the only difference is the e-mail itself. If you're attaching a cover letter you can be really succinct about this:

Dear [whoever],

Please find attached my cover letter and sample chapters for my novel [title, word count]. [Brief sentence on what it's about].

Yours Faithfully/Sincerely,

[Name]
[Contact info]

If there's no cover letter attached, you can make your e-mail your cover letter. But short and sweet is usually good. It's a nod that we're all professionals here and we know what we're looking for.

I would like to say that e-mail submissions have a quicker turn-around, but, taking the postage time out of things, the same agents who won't bother replying to snail-mail tend not to reply to e-mails either. Perhaps it's also easier to hit 'delete' on an e-mail than it is to shred a document... who knows ;)

I'm smiling at what Jennifer_Laughran said. A publisher recently told me that 98% of what lands on their desk is (in polite terms) unpublishable. So, yes, you don't have to be that much better to be better.

Old Hack
02-23-2015, 06:54 PM
I'd advise, unless told otherwise, to submit your work in PDF format, especially if you've got funky characters going on there (i.e. Fantasy names using characters outside your standard A-Z) or illustrations.

Good grief, no. Don't do this.

Submit your manuscript as a Word file. Nothing else. Don't include "funky" anything. If you are including illustrations in your submission, put them in a separate document, not in the Word document, and mark where they fit in your Word document ("insert illustration 5 here" or similar).

More and more agents and editors read submissions on their phones or tablets. If you submit as a PDF, it makes it much harder for them to read your work; and it makes it much harder for them to annotate your work as they read, if they want to give you any feedback.


Other than that, the only difference is the e-mail itself. If you're attaching a cover letter you can be really succinct about this:

Dear [whoever],

Please find attached my cover letter and sample chapters for my novel [title, word count]. [Brief sentence on what it's about].

Yours Faithfully/Sincerely,

[Name]
[Contact info]

I think you need to read up on what to put in a query letter. That sort of cover letter was standard in the UK a decade or so ago, but now we've moved onto something far closer to the US query. There's a lot of good information in Query Letter Hell.

Jamesaritchie
02-23-2015, 07:29 PM
A couple of years ago, when I was new to querying, I thought that since agents receive so many email queries, surely sending more postal queries would make sure my query got the attention it deserved!

Ha. I didn't get any better response to postal queries. I did, however, waste time, money, and paper. Because ultimately the manuscripts weren't strong enough.

Write a great manuscript. Write a great query. Follow the agent's guidelines for querying.


Bad never gets a good response, however you query. God can, and often does, get different responses, depending on how you query. Bad is bad, and just don't matter. I've found good can get lost in the mountain of e-mail queries.

Jamesaritchie
02-23-2015, 07:32 PM
I'd advise, unless told otherwise, to submit your work in PDF format, especially if you've got funky characters going on there (i.e. Fantasy names using characters outside your standard A-Z) or illustrations.

.

I can almost guarantee a quick rejection for any unrequested PDF. I don't know anyone who wants them, and most I know won't even try to read a PDF. PDF is not only low on the list of wants, it's high on the list of defnitely do not want.

Jamesaritchie
02-23-2015, 07:35 PM
All things being equal, I greatly prefer snail mail queries. E-mail queries are cheaper, more convenient, easier to do, and this is why I don't like them. It is remarkably easy to skip ofer e-mail queries and submissions, to delete them in bulk, or just to have your eyes glaze over with the never-ending sameness.

It's much easier to make a snail mail query look professional, and my experience is that they get much closer attention on an individual basis. It's what they say that matters most, of course, but all things being equal, I think snail mail queries, where accepted, can separate you from the crowd, from the never-ending sameness.

Laer Carroll
02-28-2015, 10:42 PM
As always, read each agent's submission guidelines & give them what works best for them.

More and more agents and editors read submissions on their phones or tablets.

I recently checked the top 10 on my list of 61 prospective agents who handle the kind of book I've querying (sci-fi/fantasy). Of them 8 said email queries only were accepted, printed ignored (presumably trashed). One said either were accepted. The other said ONLY printed queries were read.

Possibly SF/F agents are more prone to use electronic communications. But I suspect not.

One agent (in an interview to a question about her daily work schedule) said the main reason she insists on equeries is because her work load is 10 or more hours a day, and maybe half that on weekends. Agents often have killer schedules, and this one reads queries mostly out of her office, riding to and from work and at home, on her smartphone.

(When asked if the noise and busy-ness of subway cars is a distraction she said - as a joke I suppose, but she IS a long-time NY City native - "What noise?")