A Funny Thing Happened…
On the Way to my Query Box
Last week, as you know, I was away at a conference. I was responding to email the best I could on my Blackberry. I have my email structured so that queries won’t appear in the regular inbox; instead, they get filtered into the query box. They receive auto-replies so I can read them when I have time.
On Wednesday, emails started showing up in my inbox that were clearly queries. This happens when people don’t follow my guidelines and put “query” in the subject line. After about the fourth one, I started to get annoyed. After about the eighth, I was VERY annoyed and also confused. I’d glanced at the queries and a pattern was obvious. They were all formatted the exact same way. Each had their title in the subject line, without the word “query.” Most were from Arizona, several from Sedona. Finally, most were clearly New Age spirituality. They all appeared to be from different email addresses. Mysterious.
I twittered my agent friends: “Is anyone else being bombarded with New Age queries from Sedona?” Immediately several answers came back: YES. Apparently every agent was getting the same thing. A couple of the agents told me it was obviously a query service, someone who charges a fee to do your querying for you.
Now I don’t know about you, but if it were ME, and I were paying someone to do my querying, I’d want some kind of assurance they knew what they were doing. I’d expect them to research agents and submit my project to agents that might be right for me; I’d expect them to be aware of agent guidelines and follow them, so that my query would have a chance of being noticed.
This so-called query service… uh, not so much. Rather than helping, I think they severely reduced these writers’ chances of getting an agent.
Over a period of two days, I received a final count of twenty-one queries that appeared to be from the service. It was obvious that whoever sent these queries was mass-emailing to all agents. No attempts to match the writer with an appropriate agent. No awareness of either submission guidelines, or the fact that different agents represent different kinds of material. Not one of the queries included sample pages from the manuscript, as my guidelines clearly state. But the funniest thing of all was the clearly anti-Christian sentiments in several of these queries. I don’t have a problem with people having their own perspectives; but I make it pretty clear that I don’t represent books that expressly contradict a Christian worldview. I laughed out loud at the query that bemoaned all the pathetic people in this world who are forced into a “victim mentality” because they have to “look outside themselves for a savior.” Horrors! All this time I hadn’t realized I was such a victim.
Sadly, it’s these writers who were duped by this “query service” and are now the victims.
Beyond the fact that agents weren’t specifically chosen for each author and guidelines weren’t followed, the query service completely blew these writers’ chances by filling agents’ inboxes with twenty-one similar queries in two days.
Let’s say that I LOVED New Age books, and let’s go futher and say I loved all twenty-one of those queries. Would I be able to represent them all? Of course not. I’d have to choose one. Maybe two. In essence, all those queries were competing against each other. Doesn’t seem like a great plan.
I was curious about the whole thing, so I ended up talking with one of the authors. She told me it was some kind of writers’ group, and they’d worked together to craft their queries, hence the exact same formatting. Then they’d apparently hired someone to begin sending their queries to agents, rather than each of them doing it on their own.
Bad ideas, all around. The moral of this story is: Shortcuts have a way of backfiring on you.
But of course, YOU don’t need to hear this story, because you’re informed. You’re reading my blog and other blogs, you’re reading books on writing and publishing, you’re in a critique group and you’re planning on going to a conference soon. You know what to do and how to do it. You’re less likely to get taken in by this kind of situation.
So really the moral of this story is: Sometimes I just like to entertain you.
Are you feeling sad for those twenty-one writers? I am. I know they were innocently trying to get their projects out there into the publishing world, and they all seemed to have strong topics backed up by a lot of passion. But they need to get beyond their initial naivete, because this business is going to be hard on them.
Thankfully you’ve learned enough by now that none of you would EVER do anything like this.
Rachelle Gardner, Christian Literary Agent, Colorado