Reasons for Submission Guidelines
As you know, almost all agents have Submission Guidelines posted on their websites and/or blogs. Agents who blog and Twitter always remind writers to follow guidelines, and some agents reject without responding if you don’t follow them.
But why are the guidelines so important? Are we just picky and anal people, obsessed with power and intoxicated by the ability to control people?
Obviously my answer to that is “no.”
It’s simply a numbers game. It’s all about the high volume of submissions we receive, and the need to get through them as quickly as possible, while making smart yes and no decisions.
Our guidelines specify the exact information we need in order to make the best decision possible, in the shortest amount of time.
Our guidelines tell you what to include, because otherwise you may include a lot of information that we don’t need, which means it takes more time to get to the heart of your query and figure out if the project is something we find interesting. Similarly, if you don’t include enough information for us to make a good decision, we’re not likely to spend our time asking you for more info. We’re just going to pass.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote The Top Ten Query Mistakes in which I gave some protocol guidelines. I said that I’d be unlikely to reject based on any of these protocol mistakes—so of course, several people wondered why I would even mention them if they’re not important.
Well, it’s exactly what explained in my post: You have a very brief amount of space and time in which to convince an agent to request more of your writing. Everything you write affects my overall impression of your writing. Why not make the best impression possible?
Agents are doing their best (through blogs and Twitter) to set you up for success. We’re trying to help you make the most of that small amount of space in a query letter.
Why would people object to my sharing these tips, when the upshot is that you have some simple guidelines for making the best impression possible? I wonder, would these same people object to a magazine article on 10 Things to Avoid in a Job Interview? Or 10 Ways to Make Your Resumé Shine? I doubt it. Seems to me, we all need all the help we can get.
If you’re wondering why agents seem to be so picky about their submission guidelines, stop thinking in terms of yourself and your one query. Remember that yours arrives along with dozens or hundreds of others, and that’s why we need the guidelines. We need your help in making our query-reading efficient and effective. By following query guidelines, you make it more likely that an agent will immediately be able to see your project accurately and determine whether it would be a good fit.
Computers and the internet have made it possible for ever-more people to write books, dream about publication, and approach agents. The submissions are increasing all the time. In order to be able to respond to queries at all, we need the process to be streamlined. Otherwise, there’s going to come a time when most agents will be unable to respond to queries unless it’s a yes.
And in case you think agents are just somehow inefficient, or power-hungry, or lazy… or whatever… read this post from Harvard Business Review. It explains how and why ALL business people must make smart choices about how to handle their email.
Q4U: Do you think Submission Guidelines make sense? Do you find it annoying or difficult to follow them, or does the process work for you?
And: What about your own business and daily email influx? Is it manageable? Do you find yourself having difficulty keeping up with it?
Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent