The Agent Query Epiphany

Wednesday, July 31, 2013
I get writing-related emails from people I don’t know all the time.

Mostly, it’s people who have a product they’d like me to advertise on my blog. But occasionally, I get emails asking for writing help. Recently, I received an email from a wannabe published author—and got more than I expected.

I got an epiphany.

The email started with a long explanation of the writer’s struggle to get his work published, and a plea for help. The manuscript had been attached (and please, wannabe published writers, don’t send an attachment to someone you don’t know, hoping to get feedback. Nobody I know will open attachments under those circumstances) and an impressive author bio had been included, as well as contact information. But one very important piece of information wasn’t included: why the person had contacted me.

I racked my brain, wondering if I’d met this (local) writer at one of a half-dozen regional conferences. Was he a friend of a writer friend? Did he read my blog? Had we met at church? A restaurant? What was our connection?

I had no clue. In the end, I figured this writer had randomly sent out a general cry for help. Possibly, he’d sent a whole slew of random emails. And you know what? It annoyed me a bit, that he gave no reason for why he’d reached out to me. That’s when I had my palm-slapping-forehead epiphany.

I finally understood how frustrating or annoying it must be to agents when they receive a generic query. When it’s obvious that a wannabe published author has sent the same query to dozens of agents without a thought as to why the writer chose the agent.

Not that an agent has time to wonder over each and every query. I know that time-crunched agents will often skip the query and go straight to the pages. But if they like what they read, I’m sure they go back to the query. And I can see now how very important it is, to explain why you chose that agent, why you think you and the agent would be a good fit, or what kind of connection you might have.

Maybe you met at a conference, or you love the same books, or you love the books they’ve represented. Heck, maybe the connection is just that the agent represents women’s fiction and you write women’s fiction.

Even something that basic is enough to let an agent know you took a little time to be choosy. Because we want to feel special, I think, whether we’re a high-powered agent—or just an everyday plodder, sitting at her computer in her jammies.

P.S. If you have a manuscript and are querying, you might want to check out this swell spot for what agents (and editors) are looking for (and maybe mention the connection when you query!).

~Cathy C. Hall


BECKY said...

Ms. Cathy C. ~~
Great topic and interesting stuff!
You did a swell job! :)

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

As usual, you hit the spot. :) And thanks for the link. That's a great resource.

Anonymous said...

So writing "You're an agent, I'm a writer, 'nuff said." isn't going to fly? Hmmm...maybe you're on to something. Thanks for sharing. :-)

Cathy C. Hall said...

Glad y'all liked it! And yes, Lisa, that little wish list gem is my new favorite web hangout! :-)

Debra Mayhew said...

I love a good epiphany! Especially since I don't get them that often, so thanks for sharing yours. I'll keep this in mind!

Margo Dill said...

Okay, but I'm dying to know, did you ever write him back and say: WHY ARE YOU WRITING TO ME? I wonder if there's agent named Cathy C. Hall somewhere and he actually wrote to you instead? :)

Unknown said...

We live in a society of quick fixes, bad manners (learned or just ignorance), and a self-centered mentality that "I just couldn't *possibly* be subject to the same rules as everyone else!" Add that to the hoops you have to jump through to get published and it's disaster waiting to happen. This just reaffirms my mantra: read the directions at least three times. Then one more time before you send it off! This has served me well.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Margo, I did write him back--and offered (what I thought was) a little helpful publishing advice.

But I guess it wasn't the help he wanted. Never even thanked me!

Lisa Tiffin said...

Great post that illustrates well the good advice to find a connection. Agents are people, too! LOL

Another benefit I've noticed with making the connection is that you get more personalized rejections or even sometimes a bit of advice or encouragement.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--You should have sent Cathy-on-a-Stick after him. She would have given him a what-for!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Cathy ~ I also have writers emailing our editors addy with their manuscripts as attachments all the time--at least every couple of weeks or so. Um, we aren't book publishers...why do all these writers think we are? When I ask them why they sent this to us and tell them that we don't publish books, they never respond. The only thing I can think of is maybe they read an article where we're talking about book publishing advice or an agent interview and found the editors email addy on the printable view page.

It amazes me to think that a writer who spent months, possibly years, writing a book wouldn't spend any time researching the business and the right agent or publisher to send it to. I'm almost certain that these are mass emails sent out into the blue with the hopes of snagging some interest. I recall one man who had lost his job and ended up being homeless in Vegas who admitted to sending mass emails to everyone in the publishing industry because his book was bound to be a bestseller and he wanted to start a bidding war. =/

Great post! And nice resource! :)

Cathy C. Hall said...

Maybe we *should* write a book, Angela...remember back in the day (way back in the day), Art Linkletter's Kids Say the Darndest Things?

Maybe WOW! should compile a "Writers Do the Darndest Things--And What You Should Do, Instead."

Of course, *we* wouldn't be in there. It'd be all those other writers! :-)

LuAnn Schindler said...

I've received a couple notes from authors asking if I can help them since I write for WOW!

Thanks for the link. Definitely checking it out! :)

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