Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, June 29, 2009

Breezing Through Voicemail

I don't like to complain. I don't.

But this one is kind of funny.

For as long as it was in development I had been looking forward to the new Curtis Brown website like a kid waiting for Santa Claus.

Why? Submission procedures online. Bios. Specifically my bio.

I was dreaming... DREAMING about the moment I could just refer one of the many time-consuming query calls I get every day to the website. Finally, finally I would be able to say: "Have you checked the website? No? Curtisbrown.com. Everything you need. Bye bye. No, really, go to the website, I'm... no... website... I'm hanging up now."

Better yet, I changed my voicemail message to mention the website. Here's what it says:

"Hi, you've reached Nathan Bransford blah blah blah (paraphrasing!), if you are INTERESTED IN SUBMITTING A PROJECT FOR REPRESENTATION OR IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, PLEASE VISIT OUR WEBSITE, CURTISBROWN.COM." (I don't actually shout, I restrained myself.)

Problem solved, right?

Nope. Problem not solved. People just breeze right through the message. I get these voicemails constantly: "Hi, I'm so and so from such and such place (for some reason they always say where they're calling from) and I'm looking for a literary agent." Some people just call back later.

Foiled. Better yet, I don't think I can make it any clearer, but I'm open to ideas in the comments section.

I don't think this post will cure the problem, but.... just wanted to share. Happy Monday!






143 comments:

Liana Brooks said...

Repeat after me: Unlisted number.

Douglas L. Perry said...

No matter how hard you try to get the information across, there are those that either don't know how to follow directions, or don't even bother to look. Unfortunately most of those are also the projects that you don't want to represent, so they end up wasting your time. No good answer here....

twitter.com/thenextwriter

reader said...

Let your voicemail say, "Only clients can leave me a voicemail. If you are not a client and leave a voicemail I will have you blacklisted in this idustry which I own."

Elise Logan said...

An unlisted number as Liana suggests is a possibility. If not, then you might consider having a female coworker do the voice mail message for you. Why? Because the female voice is going to make the caller look at the phone and go "Wait! I called Nathan Bransford. Who is this?!" Which will make them more likely to listen to the message. Well, I think it would, anyway. Plus, just consider the fun factor of messing with so many callers.

note: spam word is intesina. Why do I think that should be medication for IBS?

clindsay said...

LAUGHING MY ASS OFF! As someone who gets similar calls from folks who ignore everything that even slightly resembles simple instructions, I feel your pain. =)

Bane of Anubis said...

I feel your pain... I hate people, too :) j/j... mostly

Been off the grid for a week - from reading through the twilight thread - is it okay to reference older books in your query (e.g., a book from the 80's, 90's that was a bestseller by a well-known author)?

Bryan, IMO, the Shaq trade was idiotic - Um, Bron Bron drives the lane and dishes or finishes (b/c he doesn't have a mid-range game)... The Big Aristotle will henceforth be known as The Big Clog. Maybe it'll work out better than that - at least it'll be exciting.

Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

It's like submission spam! No matter how many walls you put in place, they always get through a chink.

Anonymous said...

Years ago, I had a phone number one prefix digit different from that of a big hotel. I got room reservations, attempts to secure lifeguard employment for people's teenagers, and messages for job interviewers. This on an early answering machine that recorded 30 seconds regardless of what you said or whether you just hung up, and despite an outgoing message that began, "If you're calling the XYZ Inn, the number is 12_3_-4567. If you're looking for me, please leave a message."

Nathan Bransford said...

BofA-

There are differences of opinion among agents about the utility of book comparisons. I personally feel like it's fine as long as you're not comparing yourself to the bestseller du jour. Other agents feel like they might not have read or recall the book you're referencing, so the reference is lost. So... up to you.

Jabez said...

How about saying specifically in the voicemail message that for those interested in finding a literary agent, you do not accept those queries over the phone, only via email, and they can get the details for submitting them on the website?

It could be the that people who are calling you figure that your currently phrased voicemail just refers them to the website for more information on submitting a query that can eventually come through the phone, and think, "why make two calls when I'm already on the line?" Perhaps spelling out explicitly that the phone isn't the way would help a little.

Bane of Anubis said...

Thanks!

RW said...

It sounds like your natural courtesy is taking you further than professional etiquette requires. There is no rule that you have to return or even pay attention to cold calls from people who want to do business with you but who you haven't invited to pitch you. People ignore my cold calls in my business all the time except in the rare instances when I'm offering something they didn't know they wanted. I ignored them when I was on the other end. In this case, no answer means no. Just hit the delete button and move on.

Joel Q said...

Life is too short to suffer fools, or so the quote goes. But until there is a law against stupid people were all stuck suffering.

joelle said...

"If you are interested in representation, please press 1" which automatically puts them on hold with some really obnoxious music for like...forever? Or better yet, just keeps repeating, "Hang up and go to our website."

Aimee K. Maher said...

I am never calling you. Ever.

*looks desperately for printer cable and envelopes*

Superfast said...

Google Voice. You can set it up to have different voicemail messages for unknown phone numbers, and it will also transcribe your voicemail to text so you don't have to listen to "umm"s and "ahh"s.

Christopher M. Park said...

It seems like you could just add the following to the end of your existing message: "On account of the high volume of submissions we receive, we cannot discuss unsolicited submissions via phone. Please visit our website and following the submission guidelines you find there."

Seriously, I'd repeat the "please visit the website" message twice. When it comes to instructions, people neither read nor listen, but sometimes repetition can help.

Part of me wonders if the people who are calling back are doing so because they don't have access to the web, or something like that. We tend to think of it as ubiquitous, but it's not in certain areas (particularly with certain income levels or age groups). I don't really know what to do about that possibility, but maybe it gives you something new to imagine other than just that the callers are just ignoring your request.

Annalee said...

Maybe an options menu? They're not that hard to set up. That way, your voice mail can go like this:

"[greeting and introduction]. If you're an author seeking representation, or have a question about my guidelines, press two. All others, press one." One goes to your voicemail. Two goes to another message directing them to the website. Some of them might call back and press one, but it might cut down a bit.

The catch here is that you're already dealing with a group of people who are calling to query--the vast majority of whom probably got your number from someplace where your guidelines are clearly posted. So you've probably got a higher-than-average snowflake hurdle to surmount in getting through to them.

Suzanne Young said...

People call to query? I've never heard of that. Hm... maybe say the blah, blah, blah and then, "I do not take submissions via phone. Please go to..." Although, I guess that's the same.

Really? Calling? What do they even say?

Kathleen MacIver said...

I think the problem might be that many of us, when we call someone, we're consciously listening for one piece of information...the name of the person we want to reach. Everything else gets unconsciously tossed aside.

Try starting your voicemail along these lines, "You've reached an agent who will not respond to anyone who has not first checked my website. Have you been there? It's curtisbrown.com. Now, if you HAVE been there, and still need to leave a message, follow these instructions. First, tell me which part of my site says you should call me. Second, leave your name, and third, leave your number. Thanks!"

Or maybe, "You've reached an agent who really needs you to listen carefully to this message."

In other words, get the listeners attention BEFORE you say your name. :-)

(I'm really curious if this would work!)

Inmodify said...

Google Voice provides a transcript of the voice mail.

Ink said...

Bane,

Yeah, Shaq is tricky. Even at his best, he wasn't a guy you could just slot into your system. The system has to shape around him. He reminds me of Iverson. Physically opposite, but their games are so unique (and not particularly adaptable) that they need the right situation. (I'm curious to see what offers Iverson gets this summer...) It'll take some offensive cleverness for Mike Brown to work in Shaw properly... something he hasn't really shown. Z can clear out and hit the jumper... whereas Shaw will not be shooting jumpers. But he can post up, he can catch the ball when LeBron is double teamed... and he could provide an offensive focus when LeBron rests (which might allow LeBron a little more down-time).

The key, for me, is that they gave up nothing. Two guys playing spot minutes (when they got off the bench). This isn't like Phoenix, who gave up an all-star who was key to their style. So, he costs nothing, his contract is up at the end of the year... or as a trading piece mid-season when other teams want to clear a star and see Shaq's ending 20 million contract as godsend in difficult financial times. I mean, the Bucks and Nets trading Jefferson and Carter... those weren't basketball trades, but financial deals. And I'm guessing there will be a few more before the year is done.

Plus, can you envision the pre-game antics? Should be interesting to watch.

Julia said...

Hi Nathan,
I can see the predicament. But, I believe, there is a cure. See, most writers are so eager to submit their work and get a response from a 'real' person, not a 'query department’ they do not comprehend the simple connection between you and your email address on your profile.
Here is what they think (or at least what I think they might be thinking)
Oh, submissions online! {clicks on the link}
Oh, ☹ that’s just the same mailing address. Do they mean, they don’t do electronic submissions? {looks at profile, sees email address}
Long contemplation. But, probably be better to do it personally. Like, MORE personal, since I have this phone number…

I think it would be easier if on a page where the agency talks about submissions they would stress their preference for electronic submissions or just say something like “If you would like to submit directly to Mr.A or Mr.B please do check their personal page for their preferred way of communication.”

Other way would be to make your voicemail divided.
“If you are a client or returning a call, press one; if you are calling about your submission or with any questions regarding one, please check the website. If you are absolutely sure the website does not answer your urgent question or you have no internet access, press two. “ And never check mailbox two.

You probably still will get stupid people calling you, but hopefully, fewer would actually get to you.

Cheers,
Julia

Ink said...

Nathan Bransford, Agent...

Those are dangerous initials, you know. I automatically start hearing swishes in my head, the buzzer sounding, the cheers and catcalls, the calls of the arena hotdog guy...

Hmmm, hotdogs...

Reesha said...

Nice.
Nathan, don't touch that phone message! You've inadvertently created a brilliant stupid people trap! Haha. Another one to add to the National Insitute for Tracking Stupid People's arsenol. I wouldn't be surprised if NITSP contacted you soon.

Vacuum Queen said...

This is a theme in many agent posts lately. Doesn't sound fun. :(

Maybe if your phone doesn't mention your name, but only Curtis Brown..then it would give the feeling that you can't be reached. ?? And maybe just blunt and straightforward..."we do not discuss queries via phone. Please visit our website for that." Beep.

Then you have to right to hang up.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

No ideas. I have similar problems with people when they meet my Win a Book Blog. "I post your links" somehow becomes "I will hold a contest to give away your book."

I think the only thing to do is smile and try to be gracious.

Anonymous said...

Change the message again:

Ignoring this warning will get you immediately blacklisted from all publishers in the NYC area.

Rick Daley said...

Hi, you have reached the desk of Nathan Bransford, Literary Agent with Curtis Brown. My desk is where I check my email. My email is where I receive queries. To find out how to email your query to me, go to www.curtisbrown.com.

For all other callers, please hold the line and your call will be answered by the next available representative.
*BEEP*

NOTE: Anyone who has a legitimate reason to call you will understand why you have this message in place and will not begrudge you for it. You may get some long, silent messages from people who think they are on hold, though.

The next time your phone rings, that will just be me, calling to discuss this in greater detail. We can call to chat as long as we aren't pitching you, right?

Margaret Yang said...

Janet Reid was complained on her blog that often, in response to a rejection, she gets "thanks for reading" e-mails that she does not want. Her readers suggested that she specifically include a line in her rejection letters that said, "No response necessary." That seemed to help.

You have to really, really, really spell it out in your voice mail message. Not just "go to the website" but "I DON'T TAKE CALLS." Saying "Go to the website" still makes it a both/and option. People think they can both go to the website and talk to you.

And FWIW, color me flabbergasted that writers call agents who don't represent them. I always hesitate before calling my own agent, and only call him if I have a damn good reason. I hate it when clueless writers give the rest of us a bad name.

Mary said...

From my own experience, some people do not listen to one’s outgoing message. They don’t hear whatever information is contained therein. If the message told them they were about to be shot, they would still wait for the beep, then say whatever they had pre-planned. :)

Duluk said...

They've been told "persistence pays off" too many times. :)

I don't think there's anything you can change to make it more clear. I'm sure it's quite clear enough. They are just deliberately ignoring you because they think they have a better chance if they actually vocalize something to you personally, your admonitions to the contrary are for everyone else. :)

Carol B. said...

What about: "If you're calling to pitch your project, please visit our website. For callers who insist on voice mail despite directions to the contrary, use our "Authors' Hotline" at 555-5555." The number goes to a separate voice mailbox which you never check.
Might stop some of them if they think they're being directed to a more "important" line.

Ieva said...

I suggest you use a form like "www.curtisbrown.com - please visit the site if you want me to represent you. w-w-w-.-c-u-r-t-i-s-b-r-o-w-n-.-c-o-m. Thanks!"
Basically, I think that the information you *want* them to hear has to go in the first word of the message (since it's when they're listening) and at the very end, if they didn't catch it at the beginning. Also, clear action verbs and clear, active "what do you want" message ("if you have any questions" is sorta redundant, people don't call if everything is clear for them, not in this case).
Alternative:
"Do you want me to represent you?.. Visit www.curtisbrown.com and click on 'submissions'."
Perhaps the question-answer format would feel more natural for a caller who expects communication, not instructions.

Mira said...

Lol. This is really funny.

I'm so sad that your dream was foiled.

I have two thoughts about this. One, you'll never get most people to stop. Hope springs eternal, no one listens to voice mail, and there you go.

Two, you might get a few people to stop by moving that part up to front of the message. And making it abit more forceful, which you may or may not want to do: "This is Nathan B... If you are looking for representation, please go to CB website for correct instructions and answers to questions. Please do not leave a message here. All other callers, I would be.....

You have my sympathy, Nathan. A million queries plus voice mails does add up to time spent. Good luck.

Lunatic said...

Hmm, hey, Nathan, what ARE your submission guidelines?

Fred

p.s. I tried the same thing with my girls when they were in college. "Girls, if you're calling to sqeeze money out of daddy's turnip, forget it. Make do." It didn't work either.

Anonymous said...

Here's what your company's contact page says:

Contact Us:

Curtis Brown, Ltd.
Ten Astor Place
New York, NY 10003

Telephone: (212) 473-5400
Fax: (212) 598-0917

Nowhere on this page is any text about what the consequences of calling an agent of the company might be. Here are some suggestions that might get the point across that a call is not welcomed:

Telephone queries are not accepted by the following agents of Curtis Brown, Ltd: Nancy Drew,
Tom Mix, and Nathan Bransford.

The last agent who accepted a telephone query died in 1932. My grandpa had a sign like this, referring to tool-lending, in his farm equipment repair shop. Grandpa's sign was on a board shaped like a tombstone. Maybe one of your illustrators could draw a neat graphic for your webpage.

Hope this helps.

Mary Jo

R Chazz Chute said...

Check where your phone number is listed. It may be over-represented.

When I worked for The Canadian Book Information Centre (an ineptly-named publicist/lobby group that worked for publishers) we got a lot of kooky calls from would be authors looking for information we didn't have, though making up answers to really pesky callers was sometimes entertaining. One thing that cut down on those calls was to cut down on where it was listed in the first place since we worked for publishers, not the public.

Ubiquitous website listings free you up so people approach through that channel. Only people you already work with need to speak with you directly.

Or, as Bill Maher says, "Leave a message...although if you were really a friend, I'd have given you the number to the phone I actually answer."

Still, no device has yet deterred idiots for long. You could try being ruder. I'm too nice myself, so when a telemarketer gets through I hand the phone to my wife.

Cheers,

Chazz

Thermocline said...

It’s not that I don’t feel for you, but I think the CB website is contributing to your problem. The submissions page and your bio don’t have the same information about querying that you list in your blog profile. Maybe some people are calling because they’re confused as to what to submit based on which page they first learn about you.

Piglet de' Erin said...

So um . . . are you saying I should stop calling?

ha ha ha. I haven't actually ever called you, but your posty is too funny.

The Decreed said...

I say, call the people back, tell them that if they give their address you'll send a contract to sign. Then you have their address, and options. I generally don't recommend arson...

Janet said...

Nobody has yet invented a method of short-circuiting cluelessness. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

People only listen to the first thing said on voice mail, then they ignore the rest until they hear the beep. Just turn your message around.

"If you are INTERESTED IN SUBMITTING A PROJECT FOR REPRESENTATION OR IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, PLEASE VISIT OUR WEBSITE, CURTISBROWN.COM (wait two beats) Hi, you've reached Nathan Bransford blah blah blah"

Anonymous said...

The suggestion above about mentioning on the website about not calling agents re: submissions is a good one. People still will, but maybe it will help at least a little?

I sympathize, because I'm fairly sure whoever had my personal phone number before me was a drug dealer. I've had some of the strangest "wrong number" calls ever since I got this number.

Bane of Anubis said...

Bryan - very true about not giving up anything... and excellent point about pre-game antics -- I think they'll definitely be more fun to watch... now I'm trying to think of Shaq's new nickname... "The Big Break by The Lake" or something along those lines.

Chaff said...

How about an addendum to your message: "If you leave a message anyway, I swear I'll hunt you down. And it won't be for an offer of representation."

Dawn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dana said...

Oh man... too funny! I second (or third) the Google Voice recommendation, but I'll also give my personal tip. As a teacher I got a ton of dumb calls from parents. I finally changed my voicemail to say: "I do not check my voicemail more than once a week. If you need a reply sooner than that email me at blah, or send a note with your student." Then I never checked it. :) Never became a problem.

Thomas Burchfield said...

People actually have the nerve to call an agency cold? Good Lord, I get the sweats just calling time and temperature.


I wrote about Monty Python this week at the Red Room (click on my name; you can leave a message there).

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that not a single person has mentioned how new the 'Curtis Brown' website is. Or how it's so uninformative. BTW your agent profile says you welcome queries by e-mail. Nowhere does it say that it's required. And, the CB home page lists little info other than their address and phone number. Even intelligent, web-savy folks might call just to get more information. There's nothing like a simple, informative website for answering even the dumbest of questions.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

The general query procedure is listed on the website, and if someone wants to send me a query through the mail, that's how you'd do it. It's not "required" that people submit to me via e-mail.

If someone does their research and visits either my agent profile or my blog (which is mentioned in the agent profile) they'll note that they can submit to me via e-mail.

And trust me, there is no antidote to the dumbest of questions.

Anonymous said...

Have a recording that sounds like a fax machine. That'll scare 'em off!

Nathan Bransford said...

By the way, I also want to point out that the submission procedure works as a filter process. Anyone who doesn't know what they're doing will submit to me via the Query Department and won't clog my inbox. People who do their research know to submit to me directly.

And I don't return query calls.

clindsay said...

Anon 12:56 -

The Curtis Brown has actually been up for about three months. And the website is actually very clear in the instructions for submissions, as well as what each agent does and does not handle. Am somewhat confused by what you consider uninformative, as this is one of the better organized and most user-friendly agency sites you'll find online.

Best,

Colleen

ryan field said...

Can't offer any solutions to the VM problem, but the web site looks great. And it's easy to navigate.

Ulysses said...

"Hi, you've reached N.B. If you're a client, press 1. If you're an editor or colleague, press 2. If you're seeking representation press your handset firmly back in the cradle."

I paraphrase Einstein. He was smarter than me, but I have better hair. "Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And I'm not sure about the universe.

MzMannerz said...

I like Liana Brooks' idea, but barring that...

At work, when I want to ensure people listen to the message, the first words of the message are "Stop. Please listen to this entire message." It keeps most people from pounding out past the recording, and so far the only people to have an issue with it are the same people who tend to be prime don't-listen-to-the-greeting-for-important-information offenders.

Ink said...

But what if Tyreke Evans calls you about his book proposal, the stunning I'm Better Than Ricky Rubio: Sex, Dunks and Hazing Rituals in the Life of an NBA Rookie?

Nathan Bransford said...

Bryan-

Tyreke has my cell.

Also he is better than Ricky Rubio.

Ink said...

Certainly he'll be much richer, if Rubio doesn't get that giant buyout taken care of...

I bet Rubio's praying for a giant Nike deal. And planning his bestseller How I Broke the Ankles of the Bums Who Got Drafted Ahead of Me and Do Not Have the Hair of Pistol Pete Maravich.

Ink said...

Ole...

Neil said...

Nathan, you gotta change your name to Notinterested Bransford. That way when you answer the phone you can say, "Notinterested" and people will just hang up. Also, with a name like that no-one will be sending you emails. Imagine something like NotInterested@curtisbrown.com. Who's going to submit to that? Only the intelligent few who see the irony, or those who were so pigheaded and stubborn that they just had to email you their query for the hell of it. C'mon, don't you want more queries from people who're pigheaded, stubborn and think they're intelligent? What d'you mean no?

allegory19 said...

People query over the phone? Seriously?

I've never heard of that and I'm surprised to find that it's a problem for agents in general.

Phone queries go against everything I've ever read/heard of regarding querying. I guess there's a chance that some people don't have Internet access, but the prevalence of the problem makes me doubt that.

You're right, this post isn't going to solve the problem. But once again, you've shed light into the mysterious world of agents - and all the crazy, pain-in-the-butt messages they receive. Thanks!

wendy said...

Hmm, how frustrating for you, especially when it's a problem that repeats daily. Perhaps part of the reason is that when people are nervous they're not as receptive to information as they might be. And...the other reason might be that your fans want to speak to you. *g*

Marilyn Peake said...

It’s possible that some people listen to your message, check out the website, then call back to speak with you. I feel very lucky that I have high-speed Internet and enough hours in the day to thoroughly read all the helpful information on agents’ websites and blogs. I know to query rather than call, but the Submission Guidelines don’t specifically say not to call. Some writers will be working with dial-up; some don’t even have computers; some will be overwhelmed by holding down multiple jobs and caring for sick family members. Even J.K. Rowling didn’t know how to use email when she wrote HARRY POTTER, and she wrote her manuscript in longhand. I don’t think you can stop phone calls from coming in, although stating on the website that questions will not be answered by phone and then deleting phone messages might ease your workload a bit. :)

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Crawford said...

The publishing business seems to be very much about networking.

Authors need agents because agents have contacts with editors. Authors need publishers because publishers and their marketing people have contacts with bookstores.

The whole industry seems to run on going out to lunch.

Several agent bloggers have stated outright that networking at conventions and finagling referrals from published authors is a key way to significantly improve one's chances of obtaining representation.

All these authors who e-mail too much or try to call you are probably just trying to network. They think, not unreasonably, that, all procedures notwithstanding, establishing some kind of personal connection will help get their novel published.

Granted, these people aren't exactly Cary Grant on the cocktail circuit, but that is why authors need agents to deal with people on their behalf.

Anyone with a good novel living in his head is probably kind of poorly adjusted. That kind of thing doesn't grow spontaneously out of a healthy mind.

I have to say, when I look at the Curtis Brown website, and it tells me to mail my query to "Attn: Query Department," I kind of picture that label affixed to a furnace in your office basement.

Renee Collins said...

On the upside, that's one shiny new website you guys have! :)

Peri1020 said...

Unfortunately, people just don't pay attention these days. At my office, there are four different signs that tell you the name of the company whose doors you're about to enter, and yet people still come in asking to rent an apartment (the former tenant was an apartment leasing agency). It's been two years and I still get at least one person every month looking for an apartment. That's not counting people looking for the food bank or wanting to know why there's a dance studio where the paint store used to be, etc, etc.

Eva Gale said...

Remember Kramer answering the movie lines? That's what you gotta do. But of course you won't really answer.

If you want to leave a message concerning your manuscript please press one. *beep* If you pressed one, please press two. *beep* If you are calling about representation please go to www.curtisbrown.com and e-mail me your query. If you understand these directions please press three. *beep*

Anonymous said...

I think people call because they are from the traditional business world where a direct conversation is given higher value than websites ro email. Many people feel it is okay for some reason to put email off indefinately or ignore it altogether (i.e., "If it's that important, they'll call." So when they have somehting important to them, they don't want to wait in line with the herd, they want to call for direct access.

My guess would be you get more NF writers who call than novelists, because these are your business world peeps who value face-to-face networking and aggressive marketing.

The callers probably figure that the email and web are for timid folk who are scared to call. They envision success stories like, "How'd I get my agent? I just called him up on the phone one day, said I had a project about xyz. Direct, no-nonsense approach, son. It's always the best way to go."

jjdebenedictis said...

I don't actually shout, I restrained myself.

I don't think I can make it any clearer, but I'm open to ideas in the comments section.


Shout. I think you're pretty much going to need to shout.

Anonymous said...

"I don't think I can make it any clearer, but I'm open to ideas in the comments section."

The people calling, as the anon post abaove points out, will often be "real world" types who haven't even been to your website or blog, and who consider those things to be 2nd-tier mediums anyway.

Only thing I can think of is to have separate phone lines: a private number for your boss and co-workers, and a public line that is not even listed on the web anywhere, never publicized, but kept for those who feel they must track you down, and in case you do get Michael Jackson's Dad wanting to shop a memoir or some other windfall like that).

On this unpublicized public line, you would never answer it. All calls are screened, and the voice mail referes all questions about representation to the website. Then once a day you ahve your interns screen the sluch voicemail line and only forward you anything of potential value.

Anonymous said...

"I think people call because they are from the traditional business world where a direct conversation is given higher value than websites ro email."

Yes, ESP. with an initial contact, many people feel this way.

rasheeda said...

I can only assume such calls do not get returned.

Cameron said...

You need to skip the blah-blah-blah introduction at the beginning of your greeting. People KNOW whom they're calling. If they know you, they'll recognize your voice. Get to the meat of your greeting from the outset:

"Hello. If you would like to contract a flesh-eating virus, please leave a voice message stating that you're looking for a literary agent. If you're calling to reach Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown regarding a separate business matter, please leave a brief message. Otherwise, please visit (web site or blog) and (enter blah-blah-blah part here)."

MitMoi said...

After reading your bio on the new CB site I am still boggling over the fact you grew up in Colusa ... Oh the stories we could swap.

(and also giggling) To think someone from "my" part of the world is in publishing.

Life is delicious ... Did you grow up thinking rice was the only acceptable side dish too?

Bane of Anubis said...

Tyreke better than Rubio? Next thing I know, you'll be telling us Cormac McCarthy's a better writer than Stephanie Meyer - as Shakespeare once said, "It's all about the benjamins, baby," though in his hoity-toity old english sorta way.

C. Patrick Schulze said...

Dear Mr. Bransford,

If I faced this issue, I'd have them "dial 1" for "project submission or representation." It won't take long for this voice mail to fill. (If there even is one.) Never empty it.

It won't solve the problem, but sure would be fun to see how long they'd keep trying.

C. Patrick Schulze
"Born to be Brothers"

Terry said...

Do what the insurance companies do.

The local agents hire bitchy secretaries (yes they can still afford secretaries, funny that)to stonewall callers and eventually tell them to blow it out their asses, if they bother to answer the phone at all between inane chats with their friends. And they never answer messages left.

Insurance company executives, if you are ingenious enough to ever get a hold of their coveted phone numbers,don't even bother with the personal touch. They simply put on a recording of a bitchy secretary telling you to blow it out your ass.

Jen C said...

Anonymous said...
I think people call because they are from the traditional business world where a direct conversation is given higher value than websites ro email. Many people feel it is okay for some reason to put email off indefinately or ignore it altogether (i.e., "If it's that important, they'll call." So when they have somehting important to them, they don't want to wait in line with the herd, they want to call for direct access.




This was my thought too. From an HR point of view, if someone is applying for a job it's always a good idea to give the recruiter or interviewer a call when you apply, because it adds a personal element to your application and you're more likely to be remembered.

I always remember the people who call in to check whether their application has been received, or who call to get more information instead of just applying online.

So most probably this is what a lot of those people are trying to acheive when they call, a little extra advantage.

And honestly, I don't think there's any way of deterring people from doing what they think will give them a leg up in the query game...

minnesotasnowgem said...

Three words...get an assistant.

:)

On my voicemail, it says my name and I am female and as far as I know, I sound female. And yet, I still get messages for Dave, Brad...you name it.

*sigh* people just don't listen

Laura Martone said...

Ah, Nathan. I must admit that while I've never desired to be a literary agent, your funny tales of poorly researched queries and ignorant callers only make me MORE determined to live my life in obscurity. I'm so happy that I don't receive a ton of emails and phone messages... if only because I'm too nice to ignore people and too easy to overwhelm.

I wish I had some advice for you - to ease your work week - but I agree with so many others here... there's little that anyone can do to deter the persistent from doing what they feel they must. Sad, but true.

I must say, though, that I'm surprised by allegory19's surprise - while it might not be an acceptable way to query agents, it doesn't floor me at all that people would call instead of following submission guidelines - whether it's because they are used to cold-calling in their field, hoping to differentiate themselves somehow, or convinced that rules do not apply to them.

Regardless, I wish you lots of luck, Nathan! Just don't let the turkeys get you down. :-)

M.W. Paez said...

Nathan,

It's similar to the large sign in stores that says "Line forms here," and a few fools think they are going to outmaneuver the other people in line. You can see it in their eyes as they walk in, sizing up the line; they have plans.

Many moons ago I was in line at the Patchin Station post office in NYC. A tiny, yet aggressive line cutting woman--she was trying every conceivable trick in the book--was shouted out of the lobby by the whole queue for her bad behavior.

Now all you need is an angry line.

Ben-M said...

Happy Monday, Nathan!

I wonder if you might sign off your voicemail message with a request for more interns with which to screen your voicemail messages.

word verification: nostrel. It had to pick that one!

T. Anne said...

Oh great! I didn't realize I could call you. ;)

Claire said...

Nathan,

Why don't you get an airhorn. Start your greeting with your name and blah, blah, blah part of it. Then blow the airhorn and say, "Now that I have your undivided attention, if you are interested in submitting a project....." - continuing with the message.

I'm sure this is not the behavior of a professional, but I bet you'd LIKE to do it sometimes. I know I would.


http://claire0803.blogspot.com

Deb Markanton said...

You need to take the dealing with an 8yr old boy approach:

"Stop. Pause the video game. Look at me. In the eyes. Good. This is what's going to happen now. Blah, blah, blah. Got it? Great. Now, what did I just say?"

Lisa Schroeder said...

I think some people have been taught that when one wants something bad enough, personal connection is the way to make it happen. Want a job? Don't just apply via the want ads like everyone else, call and get them to talk to you. Make an appt to speak to someone in person, etc.

I do think you have to be clear and annoyingly slow in your phone message. Like Suz said - we do NOT take queries over the phone. Let me repeat, we do NOT... :)

Vic K said...

Having been to the Curtis Brown website and checked out the submissions info, I can see the issue.

In my opinion, people, rightly or wrongly, want to make a personal connection to an agent. It makes them feel like they have a better chance of acceptance. They forget the 'write brilliantly' advice and think it is all about who you know and not what you write.

The submissions info on the website just says submit to the agency in general via snail mail. I can imagine heaps of desperate writers ringing to say, 'But Nathan, buddy, I KNOW you. I read your blog. Can I email my stuff straight to you? Talk you through it? Explain some of the iffy bits?'

In my opinion, any time you get a glaring difference between instructions, (blog vs website)you're going to get phone calls and emails asking for clarification. And Nathan, you're so... approachable! That can't be helping! : )

I must admit I did just have a cursory look. (I'm not submitting at the moment, so I wasn't researching for myself) and at a glance, that was how the submission instructions read. They might not be different from your blog... but in a way, that's the point I'm making.

It's the people who don't research who jump to conclusions and rush to the phone that are causing the problem.

Not sure if this feedback will help... hope you find some solution.

Vic K said...

Having been to the Curtis Brown website and checked out the submissions info, I can see the issue.

In my opinion, people, rightly or wrongly, want to make a personal connection to an agent. It makes them feel like they have a better chance of acceptance. They forget the 'write brilliantly' advice and think it is all about who you know and not what you write.

The submissions info on the website just says submit to the agency in general via snail mail. I can imagine heaps of desperate writers ringing to say, 'But Nathan, buddy, I KNOW you. I read your blog. Can I email my stuff straight to you? Talk you through it? Explain some of the iffy bits?'

In my opinion, any time you get a glaring difference between instructions, (blog vs website)you're going to get phone calls and emails asking for clarification. And Nathan, you're so... approachable! That can't be helping! : )

I must admit I did just have a cursory look. (I'm not submitting at the moment, so I wasn't researching for myself) and at a glance, that was how the submission instructions read. They might not be different from your blog... but in a way, that's the point I'm making.

It's the people who don't research who jump to conclusions and rush to the phone that are causing the problem.

Not sure if this feedback will help... hope you find some solution.

goldchevy said...

Each time you get one of those voicemails, just say to yourself that person is totally funny, then laugh, then wonder at how funny human beings can be, then laugh again. I have taught high school English for twenty years--trust me there is nothing you can do to keep people from ignoring your instructions. And by people I don't necessarily mean just teenagers.

Link said...

"Press option 1 for an immediate response." I'm pretty sure Google has a more effective feature available that will send a highly charged electric shock back through the phone that'll zap the stupid person! Or, the ever-popular option 2: Google rabid dog - they send a pack of canines to the caller's house. Google option 3: night time earwigs. You don't want to know what option 4 is.

Anonymous said...

"This is what's going to happen now. Blah, blah, blah."

And that's exactly what they hear!

The content of the message needs to be up front. Don't preface it with crap, cuz then they listen to the crap and they've tuned out by the time you get to the content.

Same goes for writing, btw ;) Lots newbs put the "blahblahblah" which is the content--way in the middle, prefaced with what they think is attention-grabbing setup, but it has the reverse effect.

Central Content Publisher said...

"I don't return query calls." - Nathan Bransford

Should be the first thing you say on the message. Followed by an obliquely framed URL. Something like...

"You've reached Nathan Bransford. I don't return query calls. www.curtisbrown.com. Puppies are over-rated. Beep."

Actually say "beep". That's important.

Donna B said...

Good luck! They only hear what they want to hear - and that isn't that you don't want to talk to them!

By the way, I'm looking for an agent...lol. I am - but I'll check the website!

Anonymous said...

How 'bout this:

"Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown. Please note that I do not respond to submisssion related calls. Complete submission instructions may be found on our website at www.curtisbrown.com. For all other matters please leave a mesage. Submission related messages will be deleted without consideration. Thank you for your interest in Curtis Brown."

The Deepening said...

Easy one. On your recorded message, simply say: "If you're a writer looking for representation, and you called me, I guarantee I won't call you."

That should do the trick.

;D

wendy said...

I just want to add that in Australia many agents request you query them initially by phone before you send in your sample chapters and synopsis.

Kelly Guentner said...

Well at least now you don't have to feel a moment's pause for guilt at deleting those messages without listening to them :) It's not YOUR fault that people don't know how to listen properly after all!

Jen P said...

Some people might not have regular access to email and want to submit by snail mail directly to you, but the only address on the website is a New York and not San Fran office perhaps?

No, maybe I'm being too optimistic for you.

"I do not accept telephone queries - email at X or by post, see the website Y - pause, ah, cchhh."

Assuming you get Darth Vader to record your voice mail.

Anonymous said...

You could just not have a phone.

Is it really necessary anyway? if so, you could have an outgoing line only.

You probably already have a separarate email address for clients, so...ditchthe phone. So 19th century.

Plus you'd obtain the added advantage of having a record of everyhting.

Mike said...

On your voice mail leave the cell phone number of your least favorite competitor or that old gym teacher you hated. If you have more than one deserving person maybe you can rotate the different numbers or make it into some kind of contest. I think one of your prior blogs mentioned a contest you didn’t actually have. Don’t you think it’s about time that you did.

Laura Martone said...

Cool, Wendy. Now, I have another reason to move to Australia!

Anonymous said...

Ooh - if we're giving vmail suggestions, how 'bout this - "if you're not a client, bugger off. If you are, wtf are you doing call this line?" :)

anniegirl1138 said...

People choose phone over web and email and such? Insanity.

Anonymous said...

Make this minor change and see if it works.

"Hi, you've reached Nathan Bransford blah blah blah (paraphrasing!), if you are INTERESTED IN SUBMITTING A PROJECT FOR REPRESENTATION OR IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, PLEASE hang up and VISIT OUR WEBSITE, CURTISBROWN.COM." (I don't actually shout, I restrained myself.)

Marilyn Peake said...

Ah ha! I’ve got it. You could have voice recognition software that will interact with the caller. It could sound like HAL from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and use some of HAL’s famous lines ... with copyright permission, of course. A conversation might go something like this:

Phone Answering Machine: "Hi, you’ve reached Nathan Bransford. Well, not really Nathan Bransford - just me, his phone. Call me Dave; you’ll see why if you keep talking. Are you calling to ask questions about how to submit a manuscript? Sorry, but answers to those questions can be found on my website or blog. I’m going to hang up now."

Caller: "Oh, hi, Dave. I have one hundred questions I’d really like to discuss with you. I’m not big on reading. Here’s the first question ..."

Phone Answering Machine: "OK, I’m going to hang up now."

Caller: "But ..."

Phone Answering Machine ... Wait for it: "You may question my decision to hang up by simply asking, 'Are you sure you want to do that, Dave?'"

Caller (quoting HAL without knowing it): "Are you sure you want to do that, Dave?"

Phone Answering Machine: "Yes." Followed by insane laughter and sound of phone hanging up.

If nothing else, this method could provide hours of amusement ... and you could add new phone voices from various movies and books, change things up a bit from time to time. :)

Laura Martone said...

I love it, Marilyn! Although Nathan seems too nice and professional to do something so wacky, I find it terribly amusing. And what fun he could have!

Keren David said...

Someone mentioned that JK Rowling didn't contact agents by email - it was the mid 90s. Hard to remember, but hardly anyone had email!

sylvia said...

If you are contacting me regarding representation, press 1.

Where 1 leads you to one of those text-to-voice synthesisers which is set up to read the website :)

Marilyn Peake said...

Keren,

I was the person who mentioned J.K. Rowling. She still doesn't have an email address and describes herself as not being Internet savvy. Last I read, she was also writing her manuscripts in longhand, not on computer or even typewriter.

Lydia Sharp said...

I don't have any suggestions for you, but this blog post did prompt me to check out the new site. Impressive.

thoughtful1 said...

Whoa! People can call and leave you a message?! How cool is that! I'll clue my literary pals in to this, yeah!

Just kidding.

Try telling folks exactly what to leave you in a message so that they follow directions for an end that you can live with: It is important that you tell me exactly when you looked at the website so that I know how to respond to your call, or please register at the website and call back, or Choose option 1 if you are a client, option 2 if you need my web address (and leave no option to leave a message).

Oh so sad to be helping you get more distant from me....

BookEnds, LLC said...

Easy, you just don't return the calls and Caller ID certainly helps choose which ones to pick up in the first place.

If they get through anyway, I interrupt to say I don't take phone pitches and they should look at the web site. Click.

--Jessica

Stephanie Faris said...

I work in tech support. We have a help desk in place and all calls are supposed to go to the help desk, where a ticket is placed and the next available tech person grabs it. My voicemail message clearly states, "If you need technical support, please call..." with the phone number. Still they keep calling. They call and I direct them to the other phone number over and over, and still they call.

Just wanted you to know you aren't alone. The truth is, idiocy exists in every outlet...and you may get the majority of people to listen but there will always be a percentage who do things their way. I'm guessing they're hoping their name might stand out (in a good way) if they speak to you personally.

Mira said...

Marilyn, that was pretty funny. I think you've got a real idea there. What about one with Darth Vader? Lex Luther?

Or since it's Nathan....Dick Cheney. Or maybe that would be just too scary.

Etiquette Bitch said...

Can you start your vm greeting with: "Please listen to this entire message..." and then state that you do not/will not accept queries (or requests for representation) over the phone.

Does your vm system have a "vacation" outgoing message option? This makes it so the caller MUST listen to the entire outgoing message and can't hit # or 0 to skip it. May be worth a try.

nkrell said...

It's not complaining. You're simply stating a fact.

s.w. vaughn said...

I don't have any suggestions for you, alas. Some people just won't listen, no matter how many times you tell them something.

But that's a fantastic idea for a voicemail message. I'm totally going to paraphrase on mine:

"Hi, you've reached blah blah blah message thank you."

Suzanne said...

Add the following to your voicemail:

Calls to query me will not be returned. I must save my limited phone time for my writers. If you'd like to become one of my writers, please go to my website and follow the directions....Thank you and have a nice day!

~Sia McKye~ said...

You could always say, "Attention, Attention...

Nathan, sad to say,it isn't going to matter what you say, there will always be those that won't listen or do what you say. They're convinced if they can just speak with you magic will happen...

Lady Glamis said...

Yes, I think you're preaching to the choir here, but it's always good to complain! Liana has a great suggestion... unlisted number maybe? Haha. :D

Cyndi said...

Say in your voicemail that you will not offer representation to anybody who has not memorized the entire CB website and can recite it backwards. In Swahili.

Mira said...

Hey Nathan, I know you don't want people to leave messages about queries, but how would you feel about people who just called to chat?

You know, maybe a regular poster on the blog. Someone who might want to talk about.....the weather (hot!) or maybe.......lunch.

No one in particular, of course, just a hypothetical question. Although perhaps a hypothetical someone who noticed they do not have your phone number.

Ink said...

Mira,

Hypothetical people are scary. Just sayin'.


:)

Mira said...

Ink. I hear you. I really do. But hypothetical people need to eat lunch too.

allegory19 said...

Hey Laura,

I guess I was surprised because it never occurred to me to cold call an agent. It doesn't seem like you'd accomplish much, except annoy the potential agent. Maybe that's just me. I'm more of an e-mail kinda gal anyway. If I can avoid the phone, I will!

Steph

Martha Ramirez said...

Yeah, I never heard of anyone calling to query an agent. Everyone knows that agents all have certain requirements regarding queries. I never heard of one who invites phone queries.

Definetely mention "If you are inquiring about queries or submissions I do NOT accept phone queries. Please visit CurtisBrown.com for mor info."

Martha Ramirez said...

oops...Definitely! :) Hope you find a resolution, Nathan.

thoughtful1 said...

I am off of work and it is so fun to be wicked that I have more suggestions for you!

Use one of those automated systems that take you through menu after menu after menu of options until the caller is so fed up that s/he hangs up.

Embed subliminal messages in your voicemail prompt that make people feel very cautious about leaving you messages...music in the background playing "The Fool on the Hill," a backwards recording of John Lenon saying, "Your query is dead."

Get my pomeranian to bark for your message and no one will ever call you.

=D

Scott said...

Who calls an agent personally? That's so psycho. Either have a dedicated number forward to CB's home office, or cancel the number altogether and only share your personal number with those you want to call you.

Short of that, thank them for calling and say you do not accept voice mails about business and refer them to the website where, if need be, they can access you via email. Unfortunately there will always be those who think they need to be aggressive to get their career going, so don't expect miracles.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Guard your mobile number for clients, coworkers, friends and family.

Don't answer the other phone; just screen messages.

Unless it's me calling. From Boulder. Looking for representation...

Laura Martone said...

Hey, Steph.

Oh, I'm totally with you. I much prefer email (or face-to-face) to phone calls. I've never liked the phone - even when I was a teenager. :-)

I didn't mean any offense yesteday. I agree with you that cold-calling an agent seems like it would just annoy the potential agent - I'd never think to do it either. Guess I just couldn't believe that anyone would be surprised by such nervy behavior in the publishing world. There are always people who wholeheartedly think that rules do not apply to them - that when a website says "Do NOT call - email and snail mail queries ONLY," they say, "Oh, they must mean everybody else. And if everybody else sends emails and letters, won't I stand out for calling?"

Also, to be fair, some of those who call an agent probably do so because they haven't read all the guidelines - or they're of an "old school" mindset where calling is still more professional and immediate than emailing. Not an excuse, mind you, just a reason for why they do what they do. I mean, according to Marilyn, J.K. Rowling doesn't even have an email address. Wait, that can't be right!

--Laura

Shennandoah Diaz said...

I think if someone is truly committed to becoming a professional author, they would actively and consciously make the effort to listen and learn. Its amazing how many people don't. Of course, the ones that don't are almost impossible to stop.

Anonymous said...

The answer is to get someone else to answer your phone and deal with general message.

This person politely directs caller to website which has 'full' information, so much better than speaking to minion who (and this must be made clear) doesn't know anything. It is important that minion works hard on spiel to market the wisdom and benefits of going to website (obviously it is in minions best interest to do so).

I know about this because I am a minion in an office where people constantly ring up for information that is available in detail on the website. As a minion I have nothing to add; a measure of dumb sincerity and a eager desire to help usually convince quite painlessly and once people are trained....

ej said...

Holy crap, lighten up, Nathan. Just take the darn phone calls. Don't you know that it's rude to not return people's phone calls?

After all, how long could it take per day to return these calls? An hour? Cowboy up, Nathan.

After all, I got my agent by cold calling him with a pitch.*













*Not a true statement.

The Hollywood Podcast said...

I love your blog Nathan but this isn't that tough. Just follow Christopher M. Park's advice:

"On account of the high volume of submissions we receive, we (I) cannot discuss unsolicited submissions via phone. Please visit our website, curtisbrown.com, and follow the submission guidelines."

And maybe add something like:

"If this is an unsolicited submission your call will not be returned."

Good luck.

DuEwa Frazier said...

Nathan,
I certainly hope your voicemail works, for your sanity and for all of us writers who follow the rules and DO NOT CALL AGENTS BY PHONE! For all the queries, partial and full ms I've sent out, spending money on postage, envelopes, etc. It would suck to hear that writers are NOW getting an agent by leaving a vm (lol)!!! Happy 4th and thanks for your informative yet humorous posts!

D. Frazier
BKLYN, NY

Amy said...

I laughed when I read this. It's nice to know I'm not professional plagued by stupid people.

My solution is simple, Leave the message but add the following: "Unfortunately, due to ever increasing schedule demands I am unable to return voicemails. Should you need immediate assistance please visit us at our website Curtisbrown.com."

Here's the sad part, you will actually need to spell out Curtisbrown.com.
You'll hear this on the line if you fail to do as suggested. "K-i-r-t, no wait. um.. C-e-r-t. No, that's cert." brief pause followed by lunatic screaming and an apoplexy. Sometime you can't cure stupid.

careann said...

I'm with Mary and Amy on this one (i.e., people just wait for the beep and tune out the message; there's no cure for stupid). The only answer may be to resort to shock treatment. (No, not the electric kind, although that may seem desirable at moments of extreme frustration.)

Maybe record your brief intro followed by something unexpected like a doorbell sound. Then after you have their attention say, "After the beep you may leave a message for Nathan Bransford only if you are NOT looking for agent representation or wanting questions answered. Those are dealt with on our website, Curtisbrown.com, and such calls will not be returned."

Unlike Amy, however, I wouldn't spell it out. If they don't know your agency name they haven't done their homework and don't deserve you!

Carol

C St Cross said...

In the investment biz we're required to include at the end of our vm blurb "Do not to leave any trade requests on this voicemail as any such orders will not be executed". Period. Haven't got a trade request via vm yet in 10+ years. Perhaps you can do something similar?

"Please do not leave any query or general info requests on this vm as all such requests will be duly ignored, and then we will all point and laugh in your general direction, you silly wee amateur you."

appyve said...
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