When I was a literary agent, about five times a day, sometimes more, sometimes less, I got 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 was a pregnant pause as I tried and stop my head from exploding.
Testing an agent’s patience
I really tried to be nice. I really did. Even if it was the 177,527th time I’d fielded a similar call, I tried to 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?”
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 meant 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.
What to do when you’re tempted to call
You 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.
You 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).
You’re unclear on an agent’s submission guidelines: Guess. Don’t call. If they don’t have a website or clear e-submission guidelines and you can’t find an email address, assume that you need to send them a query letter through the mail with a self-addressed stamped envelope. If you can’t find any info that says otherwise on the internet after a good-faith search, just go with that.
You want to know if you should include sample pages: 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.
You want to follow up on a query letter or manuscript: 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 (so email, don’t call).
Seriously don’t call
I know to outsiders this may seem a little draconian, particularly when there are agencies who don’t even have websites, but this is a quirky business, and agents are not Wal-Mart.
An agent’s phone number is only a customer service line if you’re a customer (read: client). In which case operators are standing by.
But wait, there’s more!
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Art: Man and woman using telephones, c. 1910 postcard