Saturday, June 23, 2012

Authors Behaving Badly: How authors miss opportunities to learn and connect


The other day my Agency received a query that was, lets say, subpar. It was lacking in format, skill, and organization. The author did not follow any of the rules for writing a good Query letter. It included marketing plan information, and failed to tell us the genre and word count of the manuscript. Not to mention that the plot was barely comprehensible within all the self-proclaiming accolades and an endorsement from Chloe, the manager of a Barns & Noble. 


My Agents declined this query by telling the author that his story is not what we are looking for at this time. Naturally, this clever author wrote back a two page e-mail about how short sighted agents are and that our agency is typical, and callous, etc, etc, etc.... sigh

This made me unhappy on multiple levels. First let me say that we at the Corvisiero Literary Agency seriously, and often to a fault, try to help authors as much as possible. Unfortunately, given the volume of queries that we receive, it isn't possible to tell every single author exactly why they are declined and how to fix the shortcomings. So it is inevitable that not everyone will be satisfied. 

However, once in a while, someone comes along with an inferiority complex and upon rejection they go beyond the, "I'll get this published with out you" disgruntled response. This week we had one of these such incidents... The author wrote back a fairly obnoxious letter addressed to me personally... so naturally I had to respond. 

...Well, I didn't have to, and most of my colleagues and clients think that I'm crazy for taking the time to address these things, but I guess that this is part of what makes me. I like to help people. So I wrote the following response:

Dear John,

It has come to my attention that your story was declined by our agency because it does not fit our list. When an agency says this to you, it simply means that we either are not looking for your type of story at this time because they are not selling, or because we have too many of them, or it means that we don't like how you presented it- meaning that the story itself did not sound interesting. I am personally writing to you because you and I had previously communicated, and after seeing this, I am honestly upset that my agents failed to notice that from your query and that you received such generic response.

Unfortunately, when we work with thousands of stories, it is sometimes difficult to provide as much feedback to each deserving author. I'm sorry about that. I think that your skill has potential and that the story could be interesting. And given different circumstances, I would have liked to read your work. However, after reading your e-mail I have to say that I'm dejected by the disparaging tone of response. I'm sorry that you are disappointed, but publishing is a tough business and we as the readers of your work, and the people who will enthusiastically sell that work, have to choose things to represent that truly touch us, appeal to us, and capture our interest. Reading thousands of manuscripts per year otherwise would be torture! Also, there are several books out or about to be released with a common theme (from what we gathered from your query) in the market. So that's the reason why would not it add you to our list. 

On another note, your query also lacked the formalities of standard query letters. The format made it difficult to assess the value of your story or understand the plot and genre from what you wrote. Your blurb sounds like a synopsis and it is difficult to understand. You also don't have a catch phrase, a genre, or word count. I'm sorry to say that your query letter will not help you get this book represented. You're right about the marketing comment, but wrong to have included all of that info in your letter. The query letter is not a proposal. And no one will pay any attention to Chloe from Barns & Noble's comments even if she thinks that you are the new Stephen King. Choose the words carefully. Remember that less is more. If you go to WritersDigest.com, LiteraryPowerhouse.com, and my blog you will find lots of tips and workshops available that will help you work on this. I hope that this is helpful to you. 

Best of Luck!
Marisa


So how would you react if you received this letter? Would you be satisfied with the answer? Would you go look up the suggested resources? Would you ask how you could change your letter to make this more interesting? Would you take advantage of having the agent's ear and ask if you could fix it and resubmit it? Would you appreciate that the agent took the time to read all of the correspondence and replied to you even though you were so rude to her without knowing that she hadn't even been the one to decline your work? 


I guess I'm still too gullible, because these are the sort of responses I expected. Instead, I received an even longer e-mail from this 'gentleman' with disparaging words and commentary about how he is so much smarter than agents and that all we have to do is decide to sell something to actually sell it, and that we don't have to love the book!

These are the only 2 out of 27 bullet point comments that I had the patience to read in this letter before responding to him, this time with a much shorter response which basically told him that he has too much time on his hands, and that he should better utilize that time to learn to write a query letter. 

Alright, alright... this time I wasn't polite at all... I also told him, "get off your high horse, it has stiff legs and it will get you NO where." 

Then I marked him as Spam. So he will never get a chance to resubmit to our agency again. Although this should be as satisfying as 'defriending' someone on Facebook, it wasn't. It was bitter sweet. 

It made me sad actually, because this author, with a potentially good story, is wasting his time on fighting back the decline letters instead of learning from the feedback. This means that he will have a very hard time selling his work, or even getting it read, simply because he is too proud to take a step back and reconsider his query letter. He looks down upon and resents agents, and does not understand the business. His inflexible attitude and bad behavior are his proverbial horse. 

In my case, it's just as well, because clearly he is not the type of person I want to work with. And I'm not alone in this thinking. In fact, not many of my colleagues would have bothered to reply at all. But I am who I am, and I hope that one day my feedback will help someone get that right agent or that big deal. 

My advice to you is to learn from anyone qualified who is willing to help. Don't get caught up in your feelings of rejection. Use every contact as an opportunity to move forward. Your goal is not to get even, or to get the last word in. Your goal is to get published... that's when you get the last word! ;)

All my best,
Marisa