Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Please Help: My Partial Request E-mail

Now that I have a Kindle I use it to read all of my partials and full manuscripts. This has completely changed my life because I can read for work anywhere without carrying around manuscript pages. I just e-mail the manuscripts to my dedicated Kindle e-mail address, they download wirelessly whenever I flip the switch on the Kindle, and voila, I can work anytime, anywhere!

But here's the thing: I like to have a brief introduction to the manuscript before I start reading to refresh my memory, so I don't, you know, mistake a YA comedy for a paranormal thriller for the first 10 pages because I misremembered the titles. ("Um... are these kids going to get eaten by a zombie any time soon??").

So I came up with a solution: I ask everyone who sends me a partial to paste their query in the first page of their manuscript. Ah ha! That way I can refresh my memory by reading the query and then move on to the manuscript.

Here's the standard e-mail I send:

"Thank you for your recent note. Would you mind sending me the first 30 pages in a Word attachment? Please paste your below e-mail in the first page of the Word document. I look forward to getting to know your work."

Problem:

This only works about 75% of the time. The other 25% of the time people either send their query as a separate document or just re-paste it in the body of the e-mail instead of the manuscript or just don't include the query entirely. This takes time, and it bothers my efficiency-obsessed self to take up extra time.

First off, I suppose I should ask: is a 25% error rate to be expected? Or is there a problem with my partial request e-mail?

I think it might be a combo, but I'm at a loss at how to rephrase it to make it clearer. So. Do you have any suggestions on the e-mail? Any technical writers who want to take a stab at it? Is it possible to reach a consensus on what this e-mail should be?

Thank you for your help!






300 comments:

«Oldest   ‹Older   1 – 200 of 300   Newer›   Newest»
Karen Schwabach said...

As a former schoolteacher I have to tell you that if you are getting people to follow your directions 75% of the time, you are doing swimmingly.

beth said...

Channel your inner snark. Add this after, in all caps:

IF YOU DON'T FOLLOW THE ABOVE DIRECTIONS, YOUR WORK WILL NOT BE READ AND WILL BE IMMEDIATELY DELETED. READ THE DAMN DIRECTIONS.

That should work.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Nathan:

It's a no win situation. No matter how carefully we word our requests there are always some people who, in their excitement, get it wrong and paste all the chapters into the email, send an entire manuscript chapter by chapter, or whatever else can come up.

--jessica faust

Kate McKean said...

I think 25% error rate is pretty good! I've resorted to just printing out the query letters, which defeats the point of the Kindle, I know, but I can deal with a few sheets of paper tucked in the sleeve.

Victoria Schwab said...

"Please send the first 30 pages in a Word attachment, with the query preceding the manuscript (Page 1 = query. Page 2 = beginning of pages). I look forward to getting to know your work."

75% is a pretty go percent though!

Jodi Meadows said...

Beth said what I was going to say.

Well, okay. I was going to say you could add, "Only submissions following these guidelines will be considered,"and then be guilt-free if you decide not to read someone's because they can't follow directions.

I wouldn't want a writer so oblivious to instruction, anyway. ;)

Jan said...

"To orient me to your genre and storyline, and make my reading of your manuscript more favorable, please make your attached query letter the first page of your partial submission."

Crystal said...

All I can think of is to make the note more specific. I think 25% is expected, but it's still irritating. So here's my suggestion for a re-write of the note:
Hello. I am interested in seeing the first 30 pages of your manuscript. I need to have the query letter pasted in the first page of the manuscript. Please do not paste it in another email.

Other than that, you could re-email them and tell them to re-send the materials to you in the way you want, but that would be difficult and tedius.

I hope I was of help!

Crystal

Holly Bodger said...

I agree that 75% success online is great, but here's a re-write from an ex-technical writer (since you asked...)

"Thank you for your recent query.

Please send me the first 30 pages of your manuscript in a Word document, with your query below pasted on to the cover page.

I look forward to seeing your work."

Lisa Dez said...

First of all, I'm not the most computer literate person in the universe, and I understood what you wanted, so I think it's fine. If it needs to be clearer, you could try: Please paste your query directly into the attached manuscript as the first page.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

As someone who queried you, and, ahem, got rejected (although I am sure I deserved it)I would go with the previous post of excited writers not getting it. The 25% probably are just thrilled to the gills to be getting a partial request from you and get stupid and flub the request. On the upside, I was not in the 25%...

joelle said...

"Thank you for your recent note. Would you mind sending me the first 30 pages in a Word attachment? To help refresh my memory when I read your sample, please format your partial so that Page One of your document is your original query letter with your manuscript beginning on Page Two. I look forward to getting to know your work."

serenity said...

Sometimes people understand directions better if they understand the reason. So maybe, "To identify your manuscript when I receive your chapters, please paste your query at the beginning of the Word document."

Ink said...

Please paste your query letter into the first page of your manuscript document to precede the story. Providing the query letter this way will allow me to properly orient myself to your story (this is a good thing). I look forward to getting to know your work.


My best,
Bryan

(Hey, anyone want to hire me for some technical writing? That was fun.)

Jackie Nash said...

I think Holly Bodger has it right. Author's 'get' the concept of a cover page - and that it is directly linked/ attached/ part of the manuscript.

Teresa D'Amario said...

I think part of the problem is they don't understand WHY you want it in the manuscript. Being the first "of your kind" to ask for it (and I think it's very kewl, btw, How come you don't handle romance? I'd send you a query the way you wish) they'll automatically think there is no possible way you said what you meant. I'm betting it will improve as time goes on if this becomes a more common way to accept partials/fulls. Until then, it's up to you if you accept the errors or pass on them. Inner snark is kinda fun too, though some will take it wrong.

In a book I once read on teaching dog training classes, I learned something interesting. You need to repeat something at least 3 times before people remember it. I've tested this theory at different times and I agree. The problem is, in emails and such, it's hard to put something 3 times, even if it's 3 different ways.

Carolyn Burns Bass said...

Sounds like you've found a terrific solution for speeding up your manuscript evaluations. I see your dilemma.

This sentence could use clarification:

Please paste your below e-mail in the first page of the Word document.

Edit to:

Before sending your partial, please copy your query letter on the first page of the manuscript file.

I know, in techtalk, copy comes before paste. But the word "copy" is a simplified form of "reproduce" (which is what you want them to do).

Good luck.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Once you say you want 30 pages, you've lost any possibility of coherent thought. :-)

Seriously, some people have trouble following directions no matter how clear you make them. I'd add a line about what you're doing - reading them on the Kindle and want a refresher about their story before you start reading it. Make it explicit that it all needs to be in the same document. (More so than you've done already)

Anne said...

Like others, I think a 25% error rate is good.

I tend to make mistakes when I'm excited & nervous and I imagine anyone getting a request for a partial is both.

I'd make the pasting request into a separate paragraph, maybe even number it, something like this:

Please

1) Paste your email below into the first page of your manuscript and

2) Send me the first 30 pages of your ms....

I agree with others that knowing more about why would help.

The snark is very tempting, but that doesn't seem to be your vibe... : )

David said...

Wouldn't it be better to forward their e-mail, which includes the attachment, to your special Kindle e-mail account? As opposed to just the ms. That way, you'd see both their e-mail and the attachment.

Unless the Kindle doesn't work that way.

Mira said...

Shoot. Such a low-key post. Nothing to argue about here.....darn it.

I do have a suggestion, though.

Do you keep a list of the partials you requested, and what genre they are?

It's always good to have a back up plan for the 25% who won't follow the directions, for whatever reason. I sort of would assume you'd keep a list anyway - just so you could know if folks followed up.....?

Marlo Brooks said...

How about this?
"Thank you for your recent query. I am interested in your project and would like to review it. Please send your sample in the following format:
1. Cover Page: This will be your original query letter.
2. The FIRST 30 pages of your project in a Microsoft Word attachment.
I look forward to getting to know your work."


And if this flies, let me know if I can hook up your Kindle with my 1st 30 pages. =)

Rebecca Woodhead said...

"Thank you for your recent note. Please take the following actions:

1/Paste your below e-mail into a Word document.

2/Paste the first 30 pages of your manuscript therafter.

3/Email back to me.

I look forward to getting to know your work.

Have a nice day :)"

(you can leave out the 'have and nice day' and smiley face if you want - they're optional)

Hope this helps,

Rebecca
Current winner of Ms Twitter UK, (and author-in-waiting)

http://rebeccawoodhead.com

Joel Q said...

"Thank you for your recent query, I am interested in reading more."

Please follow these instructions.
1. first 30 pages
2. with query letter
3. word attachment
4. send to email address.
etc...

Anonymous said...

You could create a submission form in word with a field for them to copy in their query and a separate field to paste in their sample chapters.

Fawn Neun said...

We have a sort of similar situation at The Battered Suitcase where we upload all submissions to a main file management system.

I've actually considered requiring people to include a copy of their cover letter on the first page of their attachment, but my faith in the ability of writers to follow written directions has faded.

I just copy and paste it myself onto the document before uploading. It doesn't take all that much time and it really does help us sort through our slush pile to have that cover letter available before reading the manuscript.

I think if you're getting 75% compliance, you're doing pretty well. :)

Fawn
The Battered Suitcase

Melissa said...

Thank you for your recent query. Would you mind sending me the first 30 pages in a Word attachment?

Please note, I read in a Kindle, and so I need you to follow these instructions exactly: (bold)Please paste your original e-mail query (included below) in the first page of the Word document. (/bold)

Do NOT send me the original query in a separate document or as part of your reply e-mail. It must be the first page of your manuscript.

I look forward to getting to know your work.

Angela J Reeves said...

I agree with the comments that knowing WHY would help people comply. And repetition helps a lot. Therefore, I would rewrite your standard e-mail as:

"Thank you for your recent note. I am interested in reading more.

I am currently reading manuscript pages / full proposals on my Kindle, so I need you to follow my instructions carefully to ensure that I have the information from your query while reading your manuscript:

Please paste your query e-mail below into the first page of a Word document, then, starting on page 2, please send me the first 30 pages of your manuscript. This puts your query + your first 30 pages into one Kindle-friendly Word document.

I look forward to getting to know your work."

~Aimee States said...

Don't say paste the email below, say "page one of your submission should be your original query letter". That may boost you up to 77%.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

if these idiots can't follow your directions, it's their loss, not yours.

Angie Ledbetter said...

"Please send me the first 30 pages of your ms in a Word doc with the email below (the query) pasted in front? These 31 pages will allow me view your work as a whole on my nifty Kindle. Thanks. NB"

Icy Roses said...

Put the "paste into document" part in caps. CAPS ALWAYS WORK. :-)

DebraLSchubert said...

Nathan, I think your instructions are crystal clear. Following directions is one of the easiest ways we writers can let you agents know we "get it." If a writer doesn't "get it," maybe you should move on to the next one who does. I know that's harsh, but when you're playing at this level, you'd better be prepared.

J. Jones said...

I'd say to move your most important instruction to the beginning of the message. No writer will miss "Please send me the first 30 pages...", and that might be all they read. I'd also break it up a little.

How about this:

Thank you for your recent note.

Please send me a Word document containing your query on the first page, followed by the first 30 pages of your manuscript.

I look forward to getting to know your work.

Mira said...

Actually, Nathan, how many partials do you request? I got the impression it was very few.....so I would definitely just keep a list.

dan radke said...

I'd put the instruction in there right off the bat, in bold. That'd get that error rate to 20% for sure.

Additionally, I'd start including writing contests you hear about in your TWIP posts. That'll get that error rate down to 0%, maybe even -0.5%.

Diesel said...

I'm stunned that you got 75%. I don't think Napoleon got people to do what he told them to 75% of the time.

Livia said...

I like Victoria Schwab's suggestion. Concise, and the uses of "=" calls attention to the instruction.

Nathan Bransford said...

Wow, I can't imagine passing on someone's work just because they erred on my procedures for sending their manuscript! Moreover, I can't afford to do that. What if the manuscript is completely brilliant? I don't want to go down in history as the guy who passed on the next Stephenie Meyer because she didn't paste her query into her manuscript properly.

Nathan Bransford said...

livia-

I like Victoria's suggestion as well (and also incorporated part of serenity's). Here's where the new version of the partial request stands. There may be additional changes based on some of the suggestions:

Thank you for your recent note. Would you mind sending me the first 30 pages in a Word attachment? In order to identify your manuscript when I receive your chapters please paste your query in the first page of the Word document (Page 1 = query. Page 2 = beginning of pages).

I look forward to getting to know your work.

Best wishes,
Nathan

Gretchen said...

Maybe put the instructions in all caps and bold? Or, can you copy and paste it into the ms yourself before you email it to your kindle address?

Ink said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ink said...

In orcder for me to properly forward your writing to the FBI for screening, please copy your original query letter into the first page of your manuscript document.

That will solve your problem, surely.

Gretchen said...

Doh! You just did that in the comment you posted. I was too slow.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I think people are only suggesting passing on people who can't/don't follow your directions because, for us, it feels like we're competing for a limited number of spots, and should have an advantage for reading carefully and obeying instructions. I think it'd be a bit harsh, too, especially since it sounds like this forwarding-to-Kindle is something relatively recent on your part. 75% is a pretty good rate, but I agree with the suggestions on clarifying that you want the query as the first page of the MS and why. With that, I hope people will catch on and remember to include it despite their excitement over getting a request.

Lin Wang said...

25% is quite reasonable, but I think you can cut it down even more.

Some people don't follow instructions very well, and some are just too excited to receive a partial request. Thus, I would suggest arranging as follows:

Thank you for your recent note. I would like to request a partial manuscript. Please email me a word document containing your original email below (for convenience), followed by the first 30 pages. I look forward to getting to know your work.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Ahh, you posted your revision while I was commenting. I like; the new version is much clearer. Good luck!

Damaris said...

Another idea:

"Thank you for your recent note. Would you mind sending me the first 30 pages in a Word attachment? Please include your query letter in the first page of the Word document(do not paste it in the body of your reply message). I look forward to getting to know your work.

Or you could have instructions precede the request. Maybe some of them are so excited to receive the request they don't read anything past "Would you mind sending...". :)

bryngreenwood said...

I must echo a fellow former schoolteacher: if 75% of people are following directions, you're doing very well. People screw up the most important stuff--taxes, payroll, custody and mortgage paperwork. Why would they be any better at something as important as submitting a partial to their "dream agent"?

*sigh* People, there's nothing like 'em.

Still, perhaps the bolding will increase your success rate a few percentage points.

My word verification is "aptipesse," which I think is an archaic antonym for "aptitude."

Nathan Bransford said...

kristin-

Professionalism is important, but humans are humans and I would never pass on someone because of one mistake. I would definitely pass on someone for a pattern of unprofessionalism, but not for a mistake or two.

Also, the truth is that there aren't "slots" in the way in which you describe, where if I pass on one person another person moves in to take their spot. It's not a zero-sum game like that. I'm looking for a manuscript I think I can sell, but I don't have a quota. I look until I find them, and I can't afford for my rules to be too rigid.

Zoe said...

I think asking for the query at the top of the manuscript is a great idea. You could write a post with very specific instructions on how you want the manuscript to appear in the word doc and link to it in the email.

Here's a question, if you use the kindle, why ask for partials at all? It doesn't cost you or the author anything to ask for the whole manuscript via email? It doesn't weigh anything and if you really like the first 30 pages, you get to keep on reading which saves you the time of sending out another email asking for more pages and hoping the author gets the formatting correctly a second time to get it on your kindle (and you might have to fix it again.)

Lily said...

omit "would you mind"

Commands get the most attention.

Also, put the steps in order.

"Please paste your query as the first page of your manuscript, and send the first 30 pages as a Word document."

Steve Fuller said...

Help you without the promise of a prize?

Do I have "sucker" stamped across my forehead?

Nice try, Mr. Bransford. Nice try.

Nathan Bransford said...

zoe-

Actually it does cost extra to request more -- Amazon charges 15 cents per partial for wireless delivery and more if the file is over 1 MB, so it would definitely cost more to request all fulls.

But the real reason I request partials is twofold. One, I want to implicitly remind people that you have 30 pages to hook me (same, eventually, with an editor), and also, authors tend to expect that you're going to read all of what they send you. I want it to be clear that I'm just reading the beginning.

I know it's somewhat illogical since everything is electronic, but those are the reasons for it.

Nathan Bransford said...

haha, Steve Fuller, your charity knows no bounds.

D. G. Hudson said...

Nathan,
A visual example in your posts on the sidebar may be what some people need to see, although they have to read the information first. I've written technical information, and nothing is ever 'understood' (or is a 'given') as some like to say. The info we published (corporate internal) was used by several thousand employees, and it had to be specific with examples if possible.

Your instruction seems fine to me, but we all have different levels of understanding based on own past experience.

Be patient but be firm and return those queries to the sender if not done correctly. They will learn if they don't get results. People can be lazy if they have nothing to lose.

sylvia said...

"Please send me a Word document as an attachment, with your query on the first page followed by the first 30 pages of your manuscript."

Try to keep it as a single instruction and in order.

There's a number of good examples of this in the comments above and it works because if feels like a simple request. At the moment, your phrasing "seems to" ask for multiple things which may be beyond the capacity of an over-excited author. :D

Mira said...

Nathan - thank you for modeling the idea that the manuscript is more important than making a mistake. I really appreciate that very much. Sometimes, you get the impression of: one slip up, and you're out.

But then you said that you would pass on someone who had a pattern of unprofessionalism.

That's interesting. Why?

What if the novel was brilliant?

Kristi said...

Of course this comes the day after I got a request for a picture-book ms from an editor and I did NOT include the initial query (although I did put in a few sentences about my project as a reminder.)

I like the use of capitals - also, to be really specific, I might add, "please copy and past your initial query into the first page of your ms" with "copy and paste" in bold. This would provide specific instruction as to the "how" of it. There will always be about 10% of people who won't look at the instructions no matter what you write, so a 90% success rate would be great!

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

I think you need to mention the Kindle. No other agent (that I know of) wants a manuscript formatted like this. A writer who doesn't see this post on your blog will feel as if something is wrong even when doing exactly what you want.

I think if you preface the instructions with something like this it will prepare writers for the new and different way you want to receive submissions:

"Because I read all my submissions on my wireless reader and my memory isn't what it used to be, I have a unique request when it comes to formatting: "

then you could close with a re-emphasis of the reason:

"This will help ensure that I remember the premise of your book before I start reading. I know it's a bit unusual, but then so am I."

You can customize the humorous bits as you see fit. . .

Hope that helps :)

Nikki Hootman said...

I think the language you use is too friendly - it invites people to do whatever they want. Specifically, the phrase "would you mind" indicates "but, you know, if it's not too much trouble." I've gotten partial requests for other agents that were very detailed, and they specified that they preferred the manuscript IN THIS PARTICULAR FORMAT for ease of reading - even so far as to detail font type, size, and margins. Don't feel like you're being unreasonable, because you're not.

Janet said...

I agree that 75% is pretty good. Unfortunately.

But "your below email" is awkward and a little confusing. There have been good suggestions on how to reword it, and I would recommend you go with one of them.

W. B. Schmidt said...

If you still feel you need a new response, here is a suggestion.

"Thank you for your recent note. Please review the following instructions carefully to ensure your manuscript gets read. Could you send me a single Word document that includes both your original query and the first 30 pages of your manuscript? I look forward to getting to know your work."

Ink said...

Mira,

Because he has to work with them. A lot.

If you had people applying for a job with you, and someone applied who was qualified and really talented... but you didn't like them, they didn't get along with anyone, they had a history of lateness and unprofessional behaviour, and failed to meet deadlines... would you hire them?

Michelle Sagara said...

Ummm, why not send them this blog post, cleaned up a bit? It makes clear what you want, and why you want it.

Sometimes people do get both excited and nervous and if you ask for something sent via email, they email everything again. If you tell them specifically why you want it as the first step, it makes it clear that you're asking for something different.

Jael said...

Not such a bad error rate, but I think your politeness is getting in the way of your clarity. Suggested rewrite:

"Thank you for your recent note. I'd like to see the first 30 pages in a Word attachment, and please include your query e-mail as the attachment's first page. I look forward to getting to know your work."

(verification word "butentut", a calliphrygian pharoah)

Mira said...

Ink -

Absolutely not. I would not hire them.

That's interesting. So, do agents really work with clients alot? I guess I don't quite get the agent/client relationship. Is there alot of contact?

I'm also not sure there's an exact comparison....I don't know. If I were looking for someone who produced something I was going to make a percentage from - would I really care if they were difficult?

I guess I'm wondering if the relationship between client/agent is like an employee? Isn't representation alittle different than that?

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Nathan,
I think you nailed it in the rewrite using Victoria/serenity suggestions. That seems clear to me.
It's awesome of you to ask for suggestions and for all these people to offer them. Good going.

ryan field said...

Speaking as someone who is, and has always been, directions challenged, this might work.

Please e-mail me the first 30 pages of your manuscript as a Word document. And paste your original query letter to the first page of this word document so I know who you are and what the book is about.

But to be honest, the request you are sending now really does work. And like I said, I'm not the best when it comes to following directions.

Bane of Anubis said...

I'd bold critical phrase and put it in a larger font -- and hope or pray :)

Alina said...

I do think your note is fairly clear, however if you change the words "below e-mail" to "query" you might bump up your success rate a few percent.

Ulysses said...

I actually found your explanation for the request sufficient.

Sometimes it helps me if I understand just why I'm being asked to do something, and why doing it some other way (which may be more convenient for me) isn't sufficient.

After reading the explanation, I can now see WHY the other ways of including the query aren't going to help.

Ink said...

Mira,

I don't think the metaphor is perfect. A partnership is more accurate. But would you want a partnership with someone like that? You have to go through edits together, through successes and failures, through negotiations. The agent has to try and bail their writer out when they do something stupid. And all this is on spec. You may THINK the novel is brilliant, but there is no guarantee anyone else will. Or that it will sell. Or that customers will buy it. So... put up with the craziness, spend a lot of your own time and energy (and a bit of money) on something that may get you nothing back in return (including thanks)? I think that would make a lot of agents reconsider, brilliance or no brilliance.

Nathan Bransford said...

Re: "below e-mail"

This was actually an adjustment I made a few months back, and believe it or not it improved matters. I used to say "query" but not everyone who was writing me was really sending a query (e.g. people I met at conferences, people who I had previously corresponded with about a manuscript) and for whatever reason "query" and "original query" just confused people. People weren't sure exactly what to send and I had to answer too many follow-up questions. "Below e-mail" is more specific, and hence, more people knew exactly what I meant.

But I think I'll switch back to query in the new iteration since there is extra explanation built in. We'll see how it goes.

Anonymous said...

I have read numerous agent guidelines that are posted in very confusing ways. Some of them make you swim in different directions all over their websites:(General guidelines for agency -then different guidelines for EACH of *insert large number* agents –and often in different pages on the website or blog.)
Agents have different directions from agency to agency as well as agents within agencies.

I find that the easiest way to get guidelines followed (and it works for contests and art and other things too) is to make a numbered checklist (with only one thing on each number) with spaces in between
(so that the person reading is clearly focusing on that step)
for each simple instruction.

1.Copy your query letter e-mail

2.paste no.1 (copy of your query letter-e-mail) onto the FIRST page of your partial (or full).

3.save as a word document.

4.attach word document to a new email

5. address the new e-mail to _______ (even if it is the same e-mail, list it again).


6.Put ________in the subject line


********

BEFORE PROCEEDING TO #7,
PLEASE REVIEW INSTRUCTIONS 1-6

*******


PLEASE REVIEW 1-6 AGAIN

********

7.Push Send

(You can always start it with
1. Jump up and down and scream yippeee yipeeeee)


Where this may seem very Mr. Rogers, it also works.

larrymuse said...

Dear Mr. Bransford; This is just my opinion but simplisity simplisity simplisity and directness is the best way to solve you problem. I would like to see more of your work. Please send me the first 30 pages and include a copy of your query on the first page. Looking foreward blah blah blah. I would not have a problem understanding this note.

PurpleClover said...

"Please copy and paste your query to a separate word document along with the first 30 pages of your manuscript. This should be one Word document total so that the query prefaces your manuscript..."

But in all honestly...you'll probably still have a 25% fail rate.

cara said...

I would recommend making the request a separate paragraph, to draw more attention to it. You also might specifically say what not to do.

"FORMATTING: Please make the first page (page 1) of your Word document for your manuscript be your query letter below. Do NOT attach the query letter separately or put it in the body of your e-mail."

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I think you could rephrase it a little bit to make it stand out more, though I won't presume to rewrite for you.

I think 25% of the people go WOOT!!! when they get a request for a partial and skim the rest. I always read my acceptance and request emails three or four times to make sure I haven't missed anything.

Heh. Or at the beginning of the note you could say: "Please read this note three or four times to make sure you haven't missed anything."

Mira said...

Ink - hmmmm. Well, I have to be honest, I'm not completely clear on what an agent does and how involved they are with their clients. I have a clear picture of the query process, but not the part after that. They put out their own money? Get clients out of jams? Really? That's sort of cool.

That said, I can see weighing and balancing. Is the novel on balance worth the headache? And I think there might be times I'd say 'yes.'

For example: Van Gogh was pretty darn nuts. That said, if he wanted me to represent him, I think I say 'yes.'

Anonymous said...

Expecting 100% of your authors to be computer savy is your error. Even though they may understand how to email you, doesn't mean they know what a word attachment or document is.

They are authors not computer geeks or even business people or teens or have time to figure out all the tricks on the computer. That's not to say 75% of your authors don't fall into those categories, but you can't penalize the other 25% because they lack those skills, or at least you shouldn't.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

I agree with you part way. Yes, I don't want to write some people off just because they erred on my requirements, but at the same time I do think that a basic level of computer competence is essential to being a modern day author. If someone doesn't know what a Word document it's time to learn. No excuses.

Nathan Bransford said...

Further to my point, most editors are now doing their editing and copyediting by using the track changes and commenting functions in Word documents. Is a non-computer competent author going to insist that they perform those tasks by hand because they don't know how to use Word? That's not going to fly for the editor, who would have to take up a great deal more time.

Ink said...

Mira,

Lol, yeah, but you say that now. You say that knowing he has already succeeded and his paintings are worth millions. They earned bubkus, if I remember, while he was alive. Some of the legendary artists didn't sell anything when alive (nor would their agents, in such a scenario). Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I think it will probably come down to a sort of ratio, a difficulty:profitability sort of thing. So how good is a book, and what kind of potential does it have in terms of sales? And then balance that against the difficulties of working with a writer. Will they be able to follow through? Can they work with an editor? Will they insult a minority population in their first interview?

I think each equation will be different, will be unique to the particular writer and agent. Sometimes the agent will come down on the side of "yes, it's worth the involvement", and sometimes they'll come down on the side of "Give me a pole. A long one. With spikes and pointy barbs on it."

Jade said...

If people are being blinded by excitement at the 30 pages request, you could reword to:

Please send me your query letter again in MS Word format. (And also paste the first 30 pages of your manuscript in the same document).

Or, more seriously, to make it a bit clearer, how about:

Please send me the first 30 pages of your manuscript in MS Word format, and paste your original query letter on page 1 of the Word document.

TamiJean said...

I agree with many of the above comments that suggest being a bit more specific. While the instructions as-is aren't necessarily muddy, it would be more clear to specify "your query letter" rather than "your below e-mail".

Anonymous said...

I think the problem is that people don't understand your reason for needing it with the Word doc. You need to remember that most of us still don't have Kindles. So, I suspect people just think you need the query to refresh your memory, but assume you can do this by reading their email or whatever.

Why don't you just include a paragraph in your email that states the reason -- "I need it all in one document so it loads to my Kindle properly."

Marilyn Peake said...

Hi, Nathan,

75% success rate sounds pretty good, especially since your request may be puzzling to people not familiar with the Kindle and the reason for your request. Adding "would you mind" to your request is very polite but sounds like it’s just an option, rather than something that you need to make your work easier. How about starting with a version of Victoria Schwab’s suggestion and then explaining the technology behind your request? Something like:

Please send the first 30 pages in a Word attachment, with the query at the beginning of the manuscript (Page 1 = query. Page 2 = beginning of pages). I read partials and manuscripts on my Kindle. The query identifies the manuscript, but must be part of the same document for me to email it to my Kindle. I look forward to getting to know your work.

The Rejection Queen said...

I will never use Kindle. There is nothing like holding a good old fashion book. I just can't submit myself to this.

Thermocline said...

I agree with those who've suggested mentioning your Kindle. It puts your request in context. Otherwise, your instructions may sound like one more hoop to jump through.

Scott said...

"Please include your original query as the title page" or something like that. Then, it's identified as part of the document rather than a separate document.

If you bold it, they will come. :)

froggfeathers said...

Thank you for your note. Please reply to this email and include the first 30 pages of your manuscript as a Word/.doc file attachment, but first please copy and paste the email below (your original query) into your document as page one. The email below (your original query) should appear as the first page of your 30 page partial submission. Thank you and I look forward to getting to know your work.

madara said...

A numbered list may help. For instance:

Format for submission:
1. The copy of your email message shall be included before your sample pages so I know what I am reading.

2. In the same file include your sample pages.

3. Please email one (1) Microsoft Word file to xxxx@mail.com.

4. Improperly formatted submissions will be returned unread.

Thank you for your submission.

Sincerely.
...

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

Only you know how many partials you request, how many come in immediately, or how many trickle in over days and weeks. Or maybe, heaven forbid, months.

While precise instructions may solve the problem, I suggest a simpler approach. Send a verification code with your request for a partial. Then, no matter when the material arrives you could connect the partial with the query. And know that what you are receiving was something you once found interesting.

Think of it as a 'belt and suspenders' solution. If they include their query as the first page of their partial, fine. If they don't, you can still quickly find their query by the code. And verify the partial before you was actually requested.

Victoria Schwab said...

Oh, I'm glad you liked my suggestion, Nathan :)

I think you could explain after, but I'm not sure it's necessary. IMO, the more words in the instructions, the more likely people will fail to follow (not because they're anything less than brilliant, but getting a request from such an orange/awesome agent might cause their brains to grow befuddled).

Jen P said...

How about a web based form in which online submissions would be automatically sent by email to your Kindle address? That would potentially reduce your intervention and prevent the failure to submit query.

It would require 1. Query letter and 2. 30 pages and 3. anything else you require, such as contact details - before the submission would be accepted.

Measures for security and prevention of abuse? Perhaps a one time code entry, similar to blogger comments?

Genella deGrey said...

Jade, you nailed it! :)
Keep it simple and to the point.

I also like the advise about telling them *why* you need everything in a single document.

:)
G.

Mira said...

On topic - I liked Nathan's revision at 9:43. What I especially liked is the bold print - bold print is good, and that may be enough to hold someone's attention. Sometimes it's not so much the words, as the format.

Ink - I like the pointy stick part. :-)

I think we're in agreement. I think it's a weigh and balance thing. And probably individualized for each agent - I agree with that as well.

Laurel said...

You've already been exceedingly generous here. Maybe a tweak or two could up your success rate to 80% but honestly it seems inevitable that at least 1 of 5 will get too excited and freak out.

I propose you make a drinking game of it. Remember college? Every time someone gets it wrong you take a drink. If it's liquor you'll be good and soused and won't care anyway and if it's coffee you should be super efficient by the time you are halfway through.

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan said:
"Further to my point, most editors are now doing their editing and copyediting by using the track changes and commenting functions in Word documents. Is a non-computer competent author going to insist that they perform those tasks by hand because they don't know how to use Word? That's not going to fly for the editor, who would have to take up a great deal more time."

A few days ago, I watched a special about J.K. Rowling. When she wrote the first HARRY POTTER novel, she was so poor, she couldn’t afford to xerox the pages, so she typed a new copy of the entire manuscript for every agent to which she sent it. She’s now a billionaire. The world of publishing has changed so much in the past decade since the first HARRY POTTER book was published, but there are still many writers in her original situation. Some of the best art has come from those struggling in poverty. How do you think writers with J.K. Rowling’s original situation of poverty plus lack of technological know-how would fare in today’s world? Do you think they’d get published?

Nathan Bransford said...

marilyn-

Actually I think JK Rowling would have had it easier today because she wouldn't have to have sent physical copies to agents, which is much more expensive. She could have scanned it once or typed it up in Word at the library and sent that around to agents.

Even homeless people use e-mail at the library so I don't think poverty is a barrier.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Nathan--
In case it wasn't clear, I agree with your stance. It'd be harsh to pass because of one mistake, especially one made when the author is excited and thus more prone to act rashly.

I think we all know rationally that it's not a set number of "slots", just that it feels that way sometimes because so few people who try actually do end up published. It creates a false sense of competition. We don't need to compete against others. We just need to make ourselves as close to perfect as possible.

I like and agree with your approach to the business, so I second everything you said.

JuLo said...

I find that telling people why you want them to do something results in a better success rate. I know, it's frustrating that you have to explain, when they should just do what you say, but hey, if it works, it's worth a few extra sentences in an email right? I'd add in a little something just like what you put in your post, explaining that you'd like them to put the query letter as the first page of their word document because you'd like to take their manuscript with you everywhere you go on your super spiffy kindle and you want to make sure you remember what the heck it's supposed to be about.

I think when people understand why you want them to do something, it helps stick in their mind better and they're less likely to forget it. At least, that's what I tell myself so I don't feel like I'm constantly talking to a brick wall at work. ;)

karen wester newton said...

As a fellow Kindle owner, I can see why you want this. I read my own work on my Kindle, and love that it will read aloud to me-- it helps me proof! But I don't know if everyone will understand what a Kindle is, so I would suggest phrasing your request as something more generic, maybe along the lines of, "I would like to see a sample your work. Please submit an electronic submission packet consisting of a single Word file that begins with this query letter and then contains the first 3 chapters (or x number of pages) of your manuscript."

But if you can get more than 80% compliance, you're doing good. Think about all those times you see people pushing doors marked "Pull."

Richard Mabry said...

Surely by now you've stopped reading, since this appears to be #105. However, in case you're bored and have read on, you might try:
"I haven't found a reason to reject your work yet. However, if you don't paste your original query into your return submission as page one, I will have one."

Bryan Pedersen said...

I think simple and direct is best.

[Welcome text, nice to meet you, etc. etc.]

Then,

"Please create a NEW Microsoft Word document with the following information:

1. Your Query Letter
2. The first 30 pages of your manuscript.

Then email me this file so I can open it and read on my Kindle device."

I bet you can increase about 10-15%

Margaret Yang said...

Nathan, will you report back later and tell us if your new version works better? I'm intrigued to see if the hive mind has produced something of use.

T. Anne said...

I think you're coming in clear. Email me that message and I'll demonstrate my ability to follow simple directives. ;)

Bryan Pedersen said...

PS: When giving instructions, steps I think are easier to follow and naturally acclimate the brain to follow order and not draw conclusions.

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan,

Ahhhh, brilliant solution! Hadn't thought about the library. Of course, if she got to the stage of working with an Editor, she'd have to find a library with a program that would allow her to track changes in her manuscript. J.K. Rowling had so much determination, though, I imagine she would have found such a library. It amazes me how much technology has advanced in one short decade.

Laurel said...

Richard Mabry:

LOL! Harsh, but funny.

Anonymous said...

"If someone doesn't know what a Word document it's time to learn."

Nathan,

You are their first step in the learning process. If you're not willing to guide them who will?
If someone has been locked away writing that next masterpiece, they may lack basic computer terminology. I know lots of very intelligent people who are computer stupid. Several of those people have their Master's. It's no different than several of the people here who lack people skills. No one in their right mind should turn away a MS because the person had not learned how to change a document over. Isn't it your job to teach them the ropes? If I were in your position, I'd be more than willing to help them learn. Afterall they obviously learned how to write that query, so they must be teachable.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Nope, not my job.

If an insanely brilliant manuscript came in on parchment I'd ask the author to type it up and send it to me as a Word document. It's really not my job to hand hold someone through the process of learning to use a computer, no more than it's my job to write the words for them!

JanF said...

Only 25% of the people don't pay attention to what you told them? Doesn't that make you some kind of agenting god?

Anonymous said...

Wow, Nathan, what is your job? I'm not being obnoxious. I'm just confused.I always thought an agent was there to help prepare you for publication.

ieva said...

I think that the letter is good. What you might do is make a neat "FAQ" post concerning "how to format a partial" and slap this info there. At least the people reading your blog will read and re-read it while daydreaming :P

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan said:
"If an insanely brilliant manuscript came in on parchment I'd ask the author to type it up and send it to me as a Word document."

It’s good to hear that you would never turn down a brilliant manuscript, even if written on parchment. I often wonder what happens to brilliant manuscripts from writers struggling through poverty and without computer savvy. I think it takes so much determination to succeed in any of the arts, a person whose manuscript is accepted needs to have enough determination to become computer savvy at the point their manuscript is accepted, although they might not be able to do that while writing the original manuscript.

Nathan Bransford said...

My job is to work with the author on revisions, send an author's work to editors, negotiate offers and contracts, keep tabs the publication process, and help an author's career.

But there are limits to what an agent should be expected to do, and teaching an author how to use the computer is wayyyyy over that limit.

Ink said...

Anon 12:20,

Jack Kerouac brought in On the Road written on a single sheet of long, rolled paper. They made him retype it.

This is basic functionality stuff. No one (anywhere) is going to do that, I don't think.

Anonymous said...

"I often wonder what happens to brilliant manuscripts from writers struggling through poverty and without computer savvy."

Marilyn,

Surely there is an agent out there with enough empathy to guide them through it. At least I certainly hope so. I would hate to have to wait longer than necessary for the next JKR.

I also have to wonder about all of those authors who type their manuscripts aout the old fashioned way on purpose.

Nathan Bransford said...

And further to my point, all agents expect their clients to behave professionally, whether that's with their dealings with editors, meeting deadlines, taking responsibility for the things that are their responsibility, etc.

There are tools that go beyond just writing a novel that an author needs to possess in order to navigate the publishing waters. They include: sufficient social skills to maintain relationships, computer skills, the ability to summarize their work, the work ethic to complete tasks on time, etc. etc.

I'm going to blog soon about the myth of someone being "just an author." There's no such thing as someone who is "just an author" and types out a manuscript and sends it off into the ether and shouldn't be expected to deal with all of the un-fun parts that don't deal strictly with writing, such as writing queries, publicizing their work, being computer savvy, writing summaries, etc.

If that myth ever was real (and I doubt it was) it certainly isn't the case in this publishing environment.

DebraLSchubert said...

"Wow, I can't imagine passing on someone's work just because they erred on my procedures for sending their manuscript! Moreover, I can't afford to do that. What if the manuscript is completely brilliant? I don't want to go down in history as the guy who passed on the next Stephenie Meyer because she didn't paste her query into her manuscript properly."

This shows your commitment to finding great work. Compassion and grace. I needed a dose of those today. I was, indeed, too harsh. Thanks for holding up the mirror.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, sorry to have to correct you for supposing that J.K. Rowling would have it easier today. Sadly, submission by hardcopy is still the norm over here in the UK. It´s a nightmare for us authors, and the trees don´t like it much either. Things are slowly, at glacial publishing-world speed, shifting towards a slightly lesser universal loathing of electronic submissions hereabouts. Heck, some agents even allow us to send query emails now! (But then of course insist on a full MS by post.) I think I can be forgiven for wondering, on occasion, how the others would be hoping to represent me in today´s market.

jjdebenedictis said...

Screenwriters start dialogue with a dependent clause because it forces the audience to pay attention to the whole sentence. For example:

If you just wait, she'll get back to you

is considered a preferable sentence structure to:

She'll get back to you if you just wait

because the audience has been primed by the dependent clause to listen right to the end of the sentence. Their attention is less likely to drift.

For this reason, I think you only need to change one sentence in your partial/full request email. I think:

Please paste your below e-mail in the first page of the Word document

should be changed to:

To refresh my memory, please paste your below e-mail in the first page of the Word document.

I'd be interested to hear if that helps. It's rare to be able to do valid statistics on something so nebulous as how effectively words convey meaning.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

"Surely there is an agent out there with enough empathy to guide them through it. At least I certainly hope so. I would hate to have to wait longer than necessary for the next JKR."

But the point of Marilyn's post is that JKR did do what is necessary, even if it meant typing out HARRY POTTER over and over again. It's even easier now. If someone wants to be a writer, it's simple: learn how to use Microsoft Word and e-mail. If a writer has JK Rowling's determination they'll do it even if they don't know how or lack convenient access to a computer.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon @ 12:36-

That's true, I had forgotten that agents in the UK still prefer hard copies.

But look on the bright side -- now you have a whole continent full of e-query accepting agents, and you don't even have to pay international postage.

Alexis Grant said...

Whoa. I haven't read all the 125 comments here, so forgive me if someone has already said this, but:

Sometimes it helps if you explain WHY you're asking for something. Perhaps include something like this... (Having your query handy with the partial will help me remember you and your work.)

Cynthia said...

Really? You shouldn't approach agents if you don't have basic computer skills! Go to the library. Take a class. Agents only work with professional writers.

Personally-- I think 25% sounds high considering these are the writers who are being selected for partials--the cream of the crop.

I get that we all make mistakes but if it's your shot for representation you would think that number would be lower.

Mira said...

Nathan, regarding your future blog that you mentioned about professionalism and expectations about authors - I'm looking forward to it. It should be an interesting discussion.

I will tell you in advance the primary question that comes up for me is: why?

Why demand that of authors whose time could be best spent writing? But rather than get into that now, I'll wait for the post.

marissaburt said...

It is a bit confusing as it stands. I would include the "why". Something like: Please send the first 30 pgs of your ms as a Word attachment. Paste your query on the first page so that I can refresh my memory when I review your work.

Bane of Anubis said...

I think the whole computer savvy argument will go away within the next decade... There's also a limit to excuses that can be used for being computer literate anymore...

The cost barrier to entry is low and it's a ubiquitous item/model/appliance in almost every professional endeavor. Heck, just contact that video professor guy and you can learn Word for 7 quid :)

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I am all for efficiency, especially when it concerns work product. However, I am concerned that you have put off on others what you have been unable to do yourself. It almost sounds to me like you found a solution to your problem by making someone else do more work.

Ann said...

I read some of the comments, and then the one at the end (which may have changed while I write this one).

My suggestion, tell them that you are reading partial's on your kindle now and you want the original query at the beginning. Your blog post saying you are doing because you read it on the kindle prompted me to comment here, because it's typical.

Other than that, I suggest a bullet point type thing. Thank you for your recent note. I am now reading partial's via my kindle. Would you do me a favor and

+paste your below email into a word document
+paste the first 30 pages of your manuscript into the same document
+send it my way

when i get your manuscript, I'll be able to easily see your query in case I had a question. I look forward...

Thanks,
NB, LA

Marilyn Peake said...

Anon @12:33 PM,

I think most authors with a brilliant, accepted manuscript would find some way to do what it takes to get it into the required format. There are many people with computers who would help them do that. I think that the writing of the manuscript is an entirely different kettle of fish, a time when a writer’s concentration needs to be solely on the writing of the manuscript; but, afterwards, there’s time to learn about the publishing industry. I think it’s practically a requirement in the arts that a person have both talent and fierce determination. I think that’s always been true.

Bane of Anubis said...

Anon - 132 - that may be true, but when you're the supplicant in a situation, you're the one who has to jump through the hoops, whether you agree w/ them or not.

Mira - marketability, branding, visibility are keys to selling anything... as much as it may suck, it's humanity 101.

P.K. Dawning said...

The folks at Trident Media Group request the same thing when sending a partial/full. It seemed pretty obvious to me when they asked for the requested material to be sent in the same word document.

Anonymous said...

Nathan -

As a UK-based (but US citizen) writer, I really notice the difference between the two countries. In the UK, e-queries seem to be unheard of.

Sadly, some US agents don't want to deal with non-US based clients, and some UK agents don't want to deal with US citizens (because our taxes become a problem).

I'm querying you first and hopefully I won't have to worry about all those other agents. :D

Cynthia said...

Bane's right-- as another agent recently said "The day of the temperamental artist is dead"

You have to have platform and marketability to sell. You have to be easy to work with and you have to understand the industry if you want to protect your interests.


If you look at some of the bestseller lists, names that fit in the "artist" column are fewer than ever before.

Marilyn Peake said...

Ink,

I remember reading a story about that as an example of how Jack Kerouac would do so many crazy things but was always professional and willing to format his manuscripts when asked. His original manuscript for On The Road is currently on display in The Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Anonymous said...

"marketability, branding, visibility are keys to selling anything"

I'm curious to who the author has to sell their self too. It's not the reader beyond the extent of their writing. So from there only extends to the agents and publishers. Why do they care whether or not you are marketable? I truly don't understand. I have never bought a book based on the author, only on their writing ability. Heck the most you ever see about an author is their picture (and not always) and a short profile in the back of a book. If an author can produce quality writing, and can edit when need be, why do we need to be able to sell ourselves?

Nathan Bransford said...

anon@12:50-

I don't follow.

Ink said...

Mira,

You're the most fun ever to disagree with. :)

My take on the whole "why" thing, about why writers aren't simply locked in their garrets, is that this is just part of anything, part of any job you might get. Say you're a brilliant architect, and you think up a wonderful design... Fantastic. But you still have to sell it to someone, convince them that this is the design they want to use, and then collaborate with engineers and builders and utility people and licensing bodies... All this requires other skills than simply a talent for architectural design.

I'm thinking most people would love it if they could simply sit in their homes and focus entirely on the task that is their utmost passion. But that simply isn't feasible, not for writers, not for much of anything. It just seems that writers have more of an expectation in this regard, that genius in isolation is enough. Not sure why (well, I have lots of unsupported and rambling opinions, but...).

I mean, even if you play for the Sacramento Kings, you have to do more than dribble and shoot. You have to show up for meetings, practices, and video sessions (and on time), you have to deal with the marketing and advertizing departments, make public appearances, speak at press conferences and to media people. Players who can't do these things, who can't function within the wider range of tasks, don't last long. Owners won't pay millions to malcontents who hurt the franchise.

Same goes for writers, really. We don't live in bubbles, as nice as that might sound to some of us. There has always been other tasks, I think, so that hasn't changed. Might be more such tasks, now, but the basic dynamic is the same.

Nathan Bransford said...

What Bryan said.

Bane of Anubis said...

'Practice! We're talking about Practice!' - Bryan, not everyone has to show up on time ;)

Nathan Bransford said...

BofA-

But Iverson still hasn't gotten any offers this offseason and it's not because he can't play.

Bane of Anubis said...

Nathan -- ha, ha! -- touche -- however, if he weren't on the steep part of his decline, I think some GMs would overlook his surliness and take a gamble (e.g., T.O.)...

In fact, I think the above goes to show the point that even if you summit the professional mountain, you should always remember how you got there and know that it's really quite easy to get knocked off.

Ink said...

Bane,

Hey, he's only ever been late a couple times. And they fined the shit out of him. That's a business enforcing, rather directly, the various tasks that are required of the players (imagine publishers doing that to writers! There'd be a lot of broke-ass word-folk out there). And Iverson may not have practiced hard, but he did practice - he fulfilled his obligation, even if not wholeheartedly. He even did a little self-mockery when he became a Piston, making fun of his own "practice" comments (it was pretty funny). Made me think he's grown up a bit. Not enough, you know, to be willing to come off the bench. You can only push a guy so far.

Ink said...

And you're right about the summit thing - I hear editors are doing that more with writers who have been published. That is, balancing what might be low profits against the difficulty of working with a writer. You know, they have to cut someone... so, profits being equal do you cut the guy who's a dream to work with or the pain in the ass? So, yup, I'm with you on the summit thing.

JES said...

Please send me a 31-page Word document:

(1) Page 1: Just copy and paste your original query here.

(2) Pages 2-31: This is just the first 30 pages of your manuscript.

__________________

I dunno, though. I knew what you were asking, and agree with everyone who says 75% isn't bad; but I can see how people get tripped up. As you surely know, no writer can reasonably assume that confusion among his readers must be a problem with them... so you're right to ask the question. (I know I would.)

Marilyn Peake said...

Ooooops, the original manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD is on a tour (funny, kind of like being on the road). It was in the Indianapolis Museum of Art last year. Here’s the tour schedule .

Bane of Anubis said...

Along those lines, if Cormac McCarthy handed you an elegantly scrawled manuscript, Nathan, and said 'You type it, youngster... this newfangled gizmos confound me," you're telling me you'd reject that cantankerous hermit?

Sorry, I'm feeling in a devil-advocatish mood today :)

Bryan - I love the idea - fine impoverished writers for missing deadlines (GRRM owes his agent/editor/publisher big time)... Love it -- Crack the whips!

Nathan Bransford said...

BofA-

Every industry and walk of life has something along the lines of a "success to difficulty" ratio, as in, X amount of success means people will put up with X amount of difficulty.

So yeah, I'd walk to New Mexico to fetch Cormac McCarthy's manuscript and I'd type it in ink fashioned from my own blood.

Someone who is unpublished and querying me needs to know how to use a computer.

That's just the way life works.

Ink said...

Well, if you're fashioning the ink from your own blood, I'll pray he writes a short novel. Maybe like Sunset Limited, with no description and lots of white space.

Bane of Anubis said...

Awesome answer -- which actually relates to a question I was wondering about a few days back -- at what point does the relationship between agent/editor and client (or potential client) switch to one where the client really holds the reins?

Seems like it'd be the rare condition when you're a bestseller, but perhaps not even then? Do you have to be in the Rowling/King/McCarthy stratosphere?

Mira said...

Bryan and Nathan (who agrees with him,)

Okay. This is sort of funny, because I left for awhile, and thought: I'm going to delete that post, it didn't make any sense. What does time have to do with it?
But then there were already responses. :-)

Here's the thing. I can't really argue with the overlying context that it's really preferable if authors are cooperative professionals who assist with marketing and packaging of their product.

What I'm asking for is, within that, acknowledgement of the value of the writer as a writer.

I've said this before, and I'm sorry if I get repetitive, but a writer produces a completely unique product that can not be copied by anyone. And it is the whole point of the entire industry.

That doesn't always get the value and the attention that I feel it deserves.

I don't have my most valuable staff mopping floors. They're not trained to mop floors well, anyway.

And Bryan - writing is not, and probably never will be, a job for me. It's much more important than a job.

Anonymous said...

That's funny! Out of the hundreds of books I own, there only four authors I know anything about. Of course JKR and SM are splattered everywhere. JKR is rarely seen publicly at least here. The other two was a new author starting out came to a local school, and probably did sell a few more books because of it, and the other was at a writer's conference. I'm just not getting the marketing thing.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

You may not know much about the authors whose books you read, but an author's ability at self-promotion is still important. Buzz is generally by word of mouth, but a certain group of people have to be reached before it catches hold.

So even if you hear about a book second, third, or fourth hand, the author's or publisher's reach is still essential to that first group hearing about it (and, down the line, you).

Bane of Anubis said...

Big name authors don't need to do marketing (the publishers/bookstores, etc. will do it for them)... the other hundreds/thousands of authors will increase their sales by building visibility (in today's day and age, that means blogs, websites, etc...)... At the end of the day, that's what matters most for the writer and everyone else...

Because, if you want to keep authoring books, you need to be successful -- you may not be Kobe Bryant, but you can be Chris 'the Birdman' Anderson -- create an image/brand and this'll help you keep the dream of playing in the pros alive.

Mira, you can write to your heart's desire -- if you want to be published, though, you need to take into account the other aspects... as Bryan said, many professions (artistic ones included - e.g., architecture) require extracurricular involvement... that's the difference between a hobby and a job/career.

Ink said...

Mira,

It's a job when you sell. Now, it might be much more than that, too. I mean, I'd do it whether there's money in it or not. But if you're making a business out of it, well, it becomes a job. And the architect probably isn't sweeping the floors, either. And he might feel a mystical calling about design. But he still has to work properly with the engineer to make sure the building comes out right.

Now, having said that, I do think the writer deserves respect. It's what they do that fuels the industry. Respect the architect, as the building came out of his head. But there's lots of others steps that are important too. There's people actually building those buildings. There's people actually designing and printing those books. It's all one big happy family. At least, if the members all understand there's certain tasks they have to share, and they have to work professionally together. And that goes for the writer as much as for the guy doing layout, or the guy working in the printshop, or the guy driving the truck.

So while we deserve respect, as writers, for what we do, I also don't think we should be kowtowed to for our precious creativeness. Yes, they owe us, in a sense, for what we do, for our writing provides them with their jobs, etc. But we also owe them. We've created something, our own little world, but they help us find an audience and perhaps a living from it. Nothing to sneer at.

So, yes to respect, as long as it is a realistic and practical respect. And that should go both ways, too. There's no "writer" in team. Okay, that was a really bad line, but I couldn't resist.

My best, as always,
Bryan

Mira said...

Bryan, there may be no writer in 'team' but a writer wrote that word.
:-)

Of course. Respect should go both ways. And I'm certainly not talking about kow-towing!

Bane - I wasn't actually talking about writing as a hobby either.

Look. The world may work a certain way, but words and writing are a large part of what can help to change it.

Questioning the system is a part of what writers do. And it's appropriate that writer's advocate for themselves - although, I agree, Bryan, I think it's best and most effective if done respectfully.

Bane of Anubis said...

Mira, I know you weren't -- but unlike you (and probably most writers) -- I find writing to be an over-valued commodity.

Mira said...

Bane - really?

I think it's the single most powerful art form that exists.

Words are what allow thought. You do not have coherent thought without them.

Movies, plays, music all become more powerful due to writing.

I'm not saying that art forms without the written word aren't powerful, but words....writing....well, it has an impact.

Other Lisa said...

Once you've decided that you want to be published, there is an awful lot of "job" in the art of writing. That's the point it really does become a business, and you have to think of it that way. There are too many things you have to do during that process that aren't very creative but are absolutely necessary.

Now I'd better stop procrastinating and get to work on these line edits.

Ink said...

Mira,

No, I didn't really think you were advoacting that. But... I do think that the "leave me alone so that I can write and make art" belief does approach kowtowing (or at least a desire for it). That sort of "please don't impinge on me as that will destroy my precious creativeness!" smacks, to me, of special privilege. I also don't think it's particularly healthy for the writer, creating a sense of ourselves as delicate and precarious creators. The architect doesn't get that option, or the city planner, or the landscaper, and they seem to do okay. I'm sure we'll get by okay, too, learning computer skills (I'm a techno-rube, myself), and how to deal with dastardly marketers and nefarious copyeditors. And we'll probably be better off without those self-imposed limits on our own creative process. Certainly life will be easier if we have those skills in hand.

Bane of Anubis said...

Sad as it may be, no movie, play, song or any form of the written word has moved me. Whether it's jadedness or apathy, I don't know, but I believe the written word's transformative ability is given too much global import (though, locally, I grant you, it can help/move someone).

Mira said...

Ink - I think you misunderstood my point.

I think it's in everyone's best interest if the writer is locked in a garrett writing. Get that writer working on the next book, developing thier skills, etc. pronto.

If I were an agent, I'd have an attic with all my writers busily working away. Every time they wrote a page, I'd give them a snickers bar.

The small kind. Got to watch out for their health.

Anyway, this debate has been fun (and maybe alittle scary at times) but I have to go - didn't want you to feel dissed if I didn't respond. Bane, you too. Nathans, thanks for the discussion. I've said this before, you're a Prince of agents. Thank you. :-)

Mira said...

Bane that's terribly sad.

And I meant, Nathan, thanks for allowing the forum for the discussion.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

you should NOT be requesting pages in Microsoft Word format. See here:

http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/no-word-attachments.html

You should instead request pages in PDF format. Any decent office suite these days (for instance, OpenOffice.org) can Save As PDF.

Anonymous said...

Mira,

My sentiments exactly. When do writers get to write? And they tell you not to quit your day job.

I spent a year on my first MS. Another six months perfecting my query, after I figured out I had to write one. Now I find out, if I hadn't already been computer savvy, I needed to learn those skills or spend hours at a library begging people for help. BTW we don't have those kind of libraries here, where computers are just begging for you to spend a year on them working while no one else can use them. IDK I guess I'm just living in one of my fantasies thinking things should work like a writer writes, an agents prepares the author and sells, and publishers do the marketing.

Think of the books we could have been whipping out if we actually had time to write.

Oh and Mira can I have Dove chocolates.

Georganna Hancock M.S. said...

Nathan -- as others indicate, a 75% success rate is fantastic! However, threats won't improve it to 100%. If some people "don't get it", then the problem is with the message. Try this:

"Thank you for your recent note. Please copy it onto the first page of the beginning 30 pages of your book, and send that document as a Word attachment. I look forward to getting to know your work."

You might receive what you want at the top of Page 1, but at least you'll have it with the partial, let's hope.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

PDFs don't work with Kindles.

Carol Piasente said...

The confusing part is "paste your below e-mail" -- I had to read over that several times to "get" it. I think you should be as clear as you are on your blog:


"Thank you for your recent note.I like to have a brief introduction to the manuscript before I start reading to refresh my memory. Would you mind pasting your original query into the first page of your manuscript and send then send me the first 30 pages, including the query, in a single Word attachment? I look forward to getting to know your work."

Marilyn Peake said...

Neil Gaiman has been described as a rock star. I follow him on Twitter and read his blog. He seems to like his lone hours of writing, but he also promotes like crazy. His success this past year has been phenomenal, and he's been doing a huge amount of book promotion. I find both his writing talent and book promotion admirable.

Neil Gaiman has been described as a rock star. I follow him on Twitter and read his blog. He seems to like his lone hours of writing, but he also promotes like crazy. His success this past year has been phenomenal, and he's been doing a huge amount of book promotion. I find both his writing talent and book promotion admirable.

(This discussion is fascinating. Must. Walk Away. From. Computer. Now.)

Marilyn Peake said...

Ooops, just noticed that I copied the same paragraph twice. Am trying to do too many things at the same time; definitely need to take a break from the computer. :)

Nathan Bransford said...

anon@2:41-

Just expecting to be a writer and leaving the rest to other people isn't a feasible strategy, and it never has been. I mean, Benjamin Franklin ran his own printing press and T.S. Eliot worked as a publishing director of what is now Faber and Faber. For much of the early part of the twentieth century being published depended as much on who you knew and which social circles you ran in as your literary talent.

The ease of access to the publishing industry to outsiders has never been higher. But at the same time, we have our own modern day concerns and constraints, and publishers expect that you're going to go out and do what you can to help sell your work and conduct yourself professionally.

Ultimately it is, and always has been, a business, not a place for authors who want to just drop off their manuscript and let someone else take care of the rest.

Laura Martone said...

WAAAAYYY late to the party today, but I nonetheless feel the need to weigh in... as for your partial-request email, Nathan, I won't bore you with yet another suggestion - I agree with a lot of the ones already listed here, especially those that suggest using BOLD type, bulleted points, and an explanation as to why you need the query (or "below e-mail") again. I also have to agree with those that said a 75% success rate sounds pretty good - especially considering the spastic excitement that many writers would feel upon reading the words "Would you mind sending me..." At the same time, I think it's important for potential clients to follow instructions carefully - you are, after all, demonstrating not just your writing ability but your professionalism, too. Still, I'm happy to hear that you wouldn't penalize an excitable writer for missing a wee instruction!

As to the other interesting thread going on here... I'm really enjoying the discussion between Ink, Bryan, and Mira... and I totally agree that a writer's job is so much more than writing and polishing a manuscript nowadays - the marketing aspect is vital, as is professionalism - talent alone is simply not enough to differentiate you from the herd, and keep your agents and editors on your side.

Just look at Lindsay Lohan. She is, without a doubt, a talented actress... but who the heck would want to work with her nowadays? Beyond the obvious personal problems, she's often late to sets, or high, or worse. Acting is not her only job - she needs to be a more professional, more reliable collaborator, too... or she'll fade away (if she hasn't already) to make room for the next big thing.

I'm just sayin'.

--Laura

P.S. Kristi, congrats for the picture book request... that's so exciting!

Bane of Anubis said...

Speaking of promoting - you know what Blogger needs? Ads -- direct ads... e.g., I could contact Nathan and go, 'hey, I've got this book coming out can I put an ad up on your heavily trafficked blog?' -- pay him some nominal sum or a per-click sum (similar to Goog's model)... there's gotta be a way to do this without making it annoying/intrusive.

Sarah W. said...

"Thank you for your recent note. Would you mind sending me the first 30 pages in a Word attachment? Please paste your below e-mail in the first page of the Word document. I look forward to getting to know your work."

This seems clear enough to me, but it's possible the problem might be how people are interpreting 'below e-mail,' especially if they are in a state of heart-thumping excitement over receiving a request for a partial (I might be projecting slightly, here).

How about, "Would you mind sending me the first 30 pages of your manuscript as a Word attachment? Please also include your original e-mail query (found below) at the beginning of that attached Word document."

Don't know if that would do it or not.

Anonymous said...

I guess I should have been a lawyer. Writers seem to be the only profession I can think of where they are asked to do the things that earn the least amount of income. Even farmer grows his crops and then hands them over to someone else to sell. A manufacturer produces his product and sends it to someone else to sell. CEO's have secretaries. Doctors have nurses. Even several literary agents have interns. I'm sorry but it only seems reasonable that a writer would have someone else in charge of something a writer knows nothing about, and their time seems more wisely and economically spent writing.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

You're welcome to pay a publicist!

But honestly, my dad is a farmer but chances are you won't find him in the field, he's too busy meeting with legislators about this or that new law that's going to impact what he should have time to be doing, which is farming. I'm sure it would likewise be news to doctors that they are just doctors or CEOs that they're just CEOs.

It's life. There's the fun thing you want to be doing and then the unpleasant things you have to do in order to do the fun thing you want to be doing.

Bane of Anubis said...

Anon 3:01 - a lawyer doesn't send a legal secretary to court; a CEO doesn't send his secretary to give the keynote address; a lit agent doesn't have his intern read the full manuscript and sign the deal... nobody knows more about the novel than the author -- you may not know how to get the word out as effectively as a publisher, but until you're a top dog or a lucky newbie, that's the way the game's played (and not only in this profession).

Anthony said...

Oh my Gosh the comments!

Let me sum up my opinion of most of them: No.

:-)

Nathan, if you want something in a particular format, you need to create a word document that has everything in the format you want, which includes section headings.

Your email message would go like this.

"Thanks for writing! I would like some additional information as outlined in the attachment.

Best Regards,
Nathan"

My suggestion is two fold:

1) I have encountered agents who already do this and I find their process superior to others.

2) You are telling, not showing. There is a technological solution to the problem you presented. You can even use a macro to auto-reply/attach your template.

Forgive me if this suggestion is already in there. I got part way through the comments and my eyes glazed over. :-)

John said...

I think your current wording is clear. Nonetheless, PurpleClover offers an excellent alternative. I personally would read your partial request thirty times over to make sure I got it right. Thanks for all the query advice and for posting your standard partial request email. If I am fortunate enough to read it in my inbox, I'll make sure I get it right.

Wendy said...

The only problem I saw with the letter is that it doesn't start with "Dear Wendy".

I don't think you'll have a lot of problem now though, Nathan, because most of the people who've gotten through the query process that far have probably read your blog to get it right, so they'll all know now to do the cut and paste thing :)

sharonedge said...

You explained it to us so well:

Would you mind sending me the first 30 pages in a Word attachment?

I like to have a brief introduction to the manuscript before I start reading to refresh my memory.

I ask everyone who sends me a partial to paste their query in the first page of their manuscript. That way I can refresh my memory by reading the query and then move on to the manuscript.

Minnesotasnowgem said...

I just got this request from another agent...hmmm...do I sense a trend? Anyway, she basically stated what you did but finished by stating that if it wasn't in this form, it would go unread. I always follow agent direction, but this 'scare tactic' definitely worked!

Steph Damore said...

Gotta go mom, Nathan needs my help!

Anyhoo, I'd change:
Please paste your below e-mail in the first page of the Word document.

To:
Please insert your query as the first page of your manuscript file.

Good luck. I'm sure you already know this, but you might have already solved part of your problem by blogging about your dilemma. That was your plan all along, wasn't it? Excellent idea.

reader said...

I like Victoria Schwab's @ 9:07.

Disgruntled Bear said...

As someone who received this partial request from you in the past week, I can tell you that I made an effort to give you the pages in exactly the format you requested. Anyone who can't follow your simple and clear directions probably isn't worth reading. Come to think of it; have you checked the full request rate for the non-compliers? Is it much lower?

(Darn; I wish you'd liked MADDIE DUNN enough to request the whole thing! The ending is killer! Literally!)

Anonymous said...

B of A,
My point exactly. A lawyer goes to court. He doesn't run around promoting his image, he does it exactly where he supposed to be.I work in the medical field and no for a fact that Doctors hire other people to worry about the rest of their worries.

Nathan,
I'd say your dad is a politician not a farmer. Real farmers are on their farm, sweating dirt.

I think a blog devoted to already published authors, such as MP (if she would be so kind to weigh in), revealing how they market them selves might put an end to the writers don't just write theory.

Bane of Anubis said...

Anon 3:47 - lawyers also have to do all the case research before going to court...

My wife's a doctor and I know for a fact that she has to worry about a whole lot of **** (and makes me worry about it, too :)

Anonymous said...

Ugh, I know for a fact, not no. Sorry killer HA. That's headache.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Uh, that will be news to my dad, but I'll be sure and let him know.

Jen C said...

In my job it's normally the other way around - 75% can't follow directions and 25% do. And I'm talking people who are applying for jobs as CEOs and General Managers of major corporations and government sectors.

So, I think you're doing well!

Anonymous said...

B of A,

Does she earn business by being a good doctor or does she earn business by going around to schools promoting herself?

Bane of Anubis said...

Well, currently, she's finishing up fellowship; while doing that, she's in the process of scouting jobs - looking them up, researching areas, and then calling potential employers.

But you're right, once she's gotten her job, she'll spend most of her time reading/dictating studies (radiologist) -- her employer (or she) will pay people to do insurance claims and other paperwork and any advertising associated w/ the group... As Nathan said earlier, you can always hire a publicist... which is the analogous representation.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, Mira, you can't really ever believe someone when they're only trying to win an argument (as opposed to someone also truly attempting to communicate). If someone was never moved by words, why would they respond to yours here, right?

Ink said...

Anon,

I think that's a bit of a narrow view. Not everyone has to be Neil Gaiman and do massive personal promotions. But we're not talking about massive promotional work, just basic functional interaction on necessary parts of the process.

A surgeon may be totally in love with performing surgery, and want to do only that, but he does lots of other things to. He has to meet with patients, and diagnose, and organize nurses, and work out surgical rotations, and meet with administration, and hire and pay and oversee a secretary and an office, and pay rents and pills, and go to conferences, and read journals, and oversee residents, and discuss hospital policy, and deal with insurace companies and governing bodies... I mean, it's endless.

They do not do surgery in perfect isolation, the way so many writers want to write in perfect isolation. It's simply not very plausbile in the real world. As a writer you don't have to do everything. Obviously the publisher and the agent and the editor and the copyeditor and the marketing and sales people are all doing things to. And to make it work the writer has to do some things to, namely communicate and work with these other professionals so that they can do their job. If they need a manuscript in a word document, you provide them a manuscript in word document. If they need a bio blurb you give them a bio blurb. It's all for your book, and if you're not going to participate why should they?

I can't think of many jobs where you just get to sit in isolation and do the one single aspect you really love. It's simply not plausible. In a shiny and perfect world, maybe, but I see a lot of smog out there. And I don't think basic interaction is too much to ask from us.

Nathan Bransford said...

Well said, Bryan.

Ryon Patterson said...

I definitely think that your instructions are clear, and should be easily followed.

If an author has the opportunity to send you a partial, they should send it however you have requested it, though I suppose some people may let their excitement hijack their brain....

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