Friday, February 26, 2010

Professionalism Begins With Your First Contact

As an agent, I look for three major things when I read a submission and consider a writer:
  1. The storyline
  2. The writing
  3. The professionalism

Today, I want to focus on #3 but for the sake of the audience out there, I will take a couple of sentences to highlight #1 and #2

THE STORYLINE - Is this something that can sell? Is this story marketable? Is this story a copy of someone else?

THE WRITING - Does the writer have a command of the language and can tell a good story?

O.K. enough of that, let's move to the professionalism.

When I stated that professionalism begins with your first contact, I am talking about all of the things you do before we get to a full manuscript read. Now, since I am looking at the three items we discussed all together, you have to remember that single mistakes along the way will not necessarily make me say no to a manuscript. However, it does have an impact. I kind of think of this as a balance or scale. You want all of the weights to be leaning in your favor. Every time you do something that might be "a flaw" we move weight from your side to my side. Obviously, some of these "flaws" weigh more than others.

First of all, when I look at a query letter, the format, structure and writing tell me a lot about the person. If a person struggles with getting sentences out on the paper, what do you think their manuscript will look like? I have found this, time and time again. A poorly written query letter leads to a manuscript that I struggle to get though. Not good.

Secondly, the tone a person takes in the query letter gives me a hint of the author. People who apologize for their lack of skill tells me they simply aren't ready to move on in their writing career. If they lack the confidence to move on, how will they do if they have to sit at a book signing? Can they stand the pressure of the need to produce under a deadline?

What about tons of questions and excuses? I see this one a lot. Writers will send a query letter, I ask for more, and then, in the next day or so, I am bombarded with questions that are easily answered. Do I want the manuscript typed? Should I include the prologues? Can I send you more? What is your mailing address? Do I address it to you? I could go on and on. Now the issue with this is simple. I have taken the time to answer all of these questions up-front, either in my answers to them after their queries, or posted on my website.

I have heard other agents talk about similar items. Janet Reid, who I think the world of mentioned someone calling her, then asking about how to format the CD to send to her with the manuscript. As she hinted, this writer's life was over.

As for the excuses, this one really annoys me. I ask for a partial or a full and then am hit with reasons why I wont' see the project for a while. It is being edited. I still have to write it. I will be out of town for three months. I just scream here, "Why did you even bother to query?"

Oh, and here is another one. The authors that I ask for a partial and it never comes. 6 months, maybe a year later, I get another submission from them for the same manuscript or a different one. What happened to the first request?

Now, I will tell you, I do keep track of these issues. My log is pretty dang extensive with all of the submissions and why I reject something. You are remembered so when you think of that scale, if you do submit a project to me, the scale is already leaning in my favor.

Have a great weekend. I am now off to wrap up the last of my weekly projects.



  1. As always, too funny. Poor Scott, I am still laughing over the letters addressed to Mr. Grey Haus.
    Well, Grey, may I call you Grey? It is fun to hear about the other side of the deal. Meanwhile a fine weekend to you and all those little Houses. Hauses? Anyway, may they swim like veritible eels in every meet. Hope your team wins.

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  3. Thanks for the valuable information. I do find posts like this very useful, and file them for the future.

  4. Hi Scott! That was pretty straight forward, clear and super helpful! I can sense that on your side you also have to deal with a lot of annoying things! Definately people who ask too many questions it's because they are scared of something!

    I want to share with you my new blog for children. It would be an honor if you come and visit. I would love to hear your comments!

    Best Wishes,

    Jimena Pinto-Kroujiline

  5. Thanks, Scott. This was very helpful to me. I'm one of those frustrated writers who is trying to find my niche. I blog, I write short stories and I have the guts of a novel in the wings. Keep babbling!