About five times a day, sometimes more, sometimes less, I get this exact. same. call:
“Hi, my name is (so and so) and I’m from (such and such place), and I’m looking for an agent. I don’t really know how to go about this, but I got your name off of the Internet and I’m wondering if you can help me out.”
Then there is a pregnant pause as I try and stop my head from exploding.
I really try to be nice. I really do. Even if it’s the 177,527th time I’ve fielded the same call, I try and be patient and either direct them to my blog or tell them how to write a query: (Them: “A what?” Me: “A query.” Them: “Can you spell that for me?” Me: “Q-U-E-R-Y” Them: “What is that?” Me: “A letter describing your work.” Them: “Huh. Do you want sample pages?” Me: “No, just a query.” Them: “Really? You don’t want sample pages?” Me: “No, just a query.” Them: “Huh. What’s your address again?” Me: (remain calm… remain calm…))
The thing is, I know that the query callers didn’t Google my name in order to try and find this information themselves (thus avoiding taking time out of my busy day), so it’s very difficult for me to be patient. And honestly, it reflects badly on a prospective author. Authors don’t just need to be good writers, they also need to do their homework in order to succeed in this business. I know they mean well, hence my attempts at civility, and I don’t want to pick on anyone, but you gotta know the customs.
Unless you’re represented by an agent, you shouldn’t call an agency. Here’s how to deal with situations where you otherwise might be tempted to call.
– Want to know if they’re accepting queries? Just send the query. If they’re not they’ll either tell you or you’ll have your answer from their silence.
– Want to know which particular agent you should submit to? Research the agency online and try and choose the agent who seems like the best fit. If you can’t figure it out online you can send a general letter to the agency, and if it’s a great letter you can bet it will find its way into the right hands (although it might take a while).
– Unclear on an agent’s submission guidelines? Guess. Don’t call. If they don’t have a website or clear e-submission guidelines, assume that you need to send them a query letter through the mail with a self-addressed stamped envelope. That’s the default. If you can’t find any info that says otherwise on the Internet after a good-faith search, just go with that.
– Want to know if you should include sample pages? I always tell people not to include sample pages because I don’t trust that they’ll either a) not attach them to an e-mailed query or b) send too many through the mail. But I will say this – no one has ever been rejected just because they included some sample pages. Paste it in the body of the e-mail or include some pages if it’s through the mail, just don’t tell anyone I told you so.
– Want to follow up on a query? If it’s me and you haven’t heard in two weeks, first check your Spam folder, second send me a note via e-mail. Other agents? Unless they say it’s ok to follow-up, assume they’re following the “we’ll respond if we’re interested” policy and don’t follow up. If you decide to follow up anyway, do so in the manner in which you sent the original query.
– Want to follow up on a manuscript the agent has requested? Send an exceedingly polite note, either via e-mail or through the mail (again, in the format in which you sent the original query), once a month. Don’t call.
Times it’s ok to call a prospective agent:
– They are considering your work and you want to give them a heads-up that you have received an offer of representation (but e-mail would do as well).
– You already have a significant track record in the business.
– Um. That’s pretty much it.
I know to outsiders this may seem a little draconian, particularly when there are agencies who don’t have websites, but this is a quirky business, and we’re not Wal-Mart. My phone number is only a customer service line if you’re a customer (read: client). In which case operators are standing by.