Bad Advice and How to Ignore It

As an attorney (and an eldest child), I am naturally a rule follower. I spend most of my time interpreting or creating rules that govern the nature of the relationship between my company and the other companies it does business with. These are called contracts. So, naturally, when it came time to start submitting queries, I went online and dig a little investigating to see if I could figure out what the "rules" were.

If you are an author who has gone through the submission process, you know what I found - chaos. Some agents want this; some want that. Some want pages; some want chapters. Some want the query letter this way; some want that. Some want you to swear fealty to them and only them. Some want you to submit in goat's milk on a parchment written by the light of the full moon. You catch my drift.

As a result, some authors have rebelled and decided to do things their own ways. One author--I honestly don't remember who--did a whole submission package that correlates in no way to any guidelines I've ever seen an agent request (he included a head shot! there were book cover ideas!) and sent it out and snagged an agent that way.

Good for him.

But I'm a rule follower and I don't believe in intentionally disregarding the preferences someone explicitly expresses. I don't go up to my friend Ronald and say "what's up, Ronnie?" because he has expressed to me that he hates being called "Ronnie" so to call him that is rude and disrespectful.

To me, failing to follow an agent's guidelines intentionally is similarly rude and disrespectful. If I can find your submission guidelines, I will follow them. I want to have a business relationship with you, and I don't want you to have to overlook my intentional rudeness to start that. If you have an email address, but your AgentQuery entry says "no email submissions", I won't email you. If your agency requires me to submit electronically through a central email address, I won't email you personally. If you accept email queries, but prefer snail mail, I will send you an actual letter.

And I will include an SASE.

Now, some people say "never include an SASE! The only thing agents use it for is to reject you!" I can see their point. Why on earth should I pay for the privilege of someone sending me a photocopied letter saying "not for me"? It's laughable, right? Except that I would rather have an agent send back a form letter that said "no WAY, no DAY! HAHAHAHA!" than hear nothing at all and, rest assured, not putting an SASE in the envelope is a sure way to hear nothing at all. Plus, I bought 500 #9 envelopes (and how cool are those puppies, by the way? I love #9s!) and a book of Forever Stamps, so I might as well use them. "But Jay!" those people will say, "you are wasting your time! No good news ever came from a SASE from an agent!"

Yeah, um. Those people are wrong.

Because yesterday, one of my SASEs showed up in my mailbox. "Oh, boo," I thought. "A rejection. Let's see who it's from." I opened it. And lo, and behold! It was NOT a rejection, but a request to see a partial of The Book! To quote my dear friend, Kanye West* "take that, haters!"

Now, I don't know why this agent chose to use my SASE to send me a request for a partial. Maybe she thought it would be a shame to waste my Forever Stamp. Maybe she didn't want to get my hopes up with a phone call when all she wanted was a partial. Maybe I forgot to put my email address on the letter (note to self: check that). Maybe she prefers snail mail because it feels more civilized (I do, after all).

This particular agent accepts email queries, but she prefers snail mail. Since she made her preference known, I followed it. Now, whether or not this had any factor in her decision I can't say. Maybe she requests partials from all people who send snail mail queries as a thank you or something (god, I hope that's not true). But the point is that good news can come in SASEs just as easily as bad news. That following the rules does work. That nice guys don't always finish last (who am I kidding? I'm no nice guy). That ninety-nine percent of success is just showing up, in 12 point font, with an SASE and a Forever Stamp.

*Jay does not actually know Kanye West.


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