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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Viewer Mail

One of my blog readers sent an e-mail to ask why we don't accept electronic queries at JABberwocky, which is actually a pretty good question that seemed worth answering.

Part of it -- the most important part for me -- is just the generation I'm from. I spent many years reading queries on pieces of paper, and I'm still very comfortable doing it that way. There are a lot of things that can be determined about the quality of a query just by looking at that piece of paper. First and foremost, is the query letter one page or two? It's much harder to get that sense from looking at an e-mail query, and I still think this is one of the most important tests. Even for a one-page letter, I can take that out of an envelope and see before I even start reading if there's a good balance of information about both the author and the manuscript, or if the bulk of the letter is an over-long description of the book. There are words of that letter that jump off the printed page -- good or bad -- in a way very different from scrolling along on a computer screen.

Then there are the process management issues. I could have people send a query letter as an actual attachment of a letter, a PDF or Word file. Do HR people at big companies that get all kinds of attached resumes look at all of those on isolated computers? Leave that aside (I can get paper cuts with hard copy queries, nothing in life is entirely safe), the time to download and open the files and then paste e-mail addresses into a response template is probably greater in aggregate than opening hard copies and putting replies into SASEs. Maybe I'm wrong, and an electronic query doesn't need to be recycled, but I'm pretty sure it's not a big time savings to have e-mail queries.

As another management issue, there's the "out of sight, out of mind" thing. Queries would need to come in to a dedicated e-mail address, and I'm not sure an e-mail box I wasn't checking would nag at me the same way a pile of hard copy letters does.

When the day comes that I have people working for me who are pushing heavily on having e-mail queries, I doubt I'll hold to my own stronger comfort level with hard copy. That day hasn't yet arrived. But there's no denying that for me I'm still happiest holding a piece of paper in my hand, just as I am happier on days when I get into Manhattan and buy a physical copy of the Washington Post, instead of reading it on line.


Bill Swears said...

I'm a fan of query letters, in terms of the prose, but have had bad results in terms of the mail process. As far as I know, I've never had a query lost in the mail, but I have had them left in a pile for a terribly long time, and eventually had to write follow up letters to find out what happened.

In the case of JABberwocky, the decline on Split Affinity was personalized, but only sent after an e-mail prompt. The paper request for sample chapters and outline for Seraglio never did get in the mail, but came after an e-mail prompt. I know that that particular agent has moved out of the industry, but the event demonstrates that the paper trail approach has its own flaws.

M Harold Page said...

Yes, but you never know whether or not an email has been eaten by a spam filter.

Seriously - I queried an editor. Nothing. Re-sent from another email account and got an enthusiastic reply. Turns out the editor's spam filter doesn't like GMail. Had I not been persistent.... I shudder to think.

Bill Swears said...

Concerning what you've said Zornhau, I've had the same thing happen, and one that I consider so very much worse. Some agents will take electronic queries, but won't reply unless interested. The only way to know if you've been rejected is to send them paper anyway.

I'd rather not query someone like that at all.

Unknown said...

I find it interesting that none of the big three SF&F magazines accept email submissions, and I've noticed not many SF&F agents do either.

Curious that such a forward-thinking genre wishes to stick with a rather old-fashioned submission process. What's a writer do? Nothing but read the submission guidelines and obey. Protesting won't get you a sale.