Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Submission black marks

There's no question for this - just me, on my lonesome, wanting to make a point.

Often writers want to know how to get their submission noticed. They ask questions about content, formatting and so on. But the content and the formatting aren't usually the things that earn black marks if they're not done correctly. Nay, what really annoys me is any of the following. Of course, if you do any of the following in combination, I (and, I dare suggest, other agents) will be even more annoyed.

1. Misspelling the name of the agency in your letter. This tells me that either you can't read, which means you're a bad candidate for the job of author, or that you lack attention to detail, with the same effect.

2. Misspelling my name in your letter. See above.

3. Addressing your letter to 'Dear Sir' or 'Dear Sirs' when a nanosecond of research would lead you to discover that the overwhelming majority of literary agents are female and, thus, the probability of you reaching a 'sir' with your generic letter is small - but perhaps I shouldn't castigate you for your lack of actuarial abilities.

4. Calling the agency to discuss the submission guidelines that are clearly laid out on our website. What is there to discuss? Send in the bloody submission! Quite often these phone calls are people wanting to talk through their submission so they don't have to actually send it. Sorry, but there are no exceptions.

5. Calling the agency to check that the submission has arrived. Again, perhaps it's a lack of mathematical ability that causes this behaviour but if any of these individuals stopped to think they'd realise that if the five minutes of my time that they take, checking on that submission, is multiplied by the number of submissions we receive - if all submitters call to check - then I'm spending a large part of the day on the phone reassuring people that their submission arrived. And how much time does that leave for reading submissions, hmm? Which will then prompt the next phone call, namely ...

6. Calling to check that we've read the submission after mere days have elapsed. Even if we have given you a time frame for the reading of submissions, if you call to check within that time frame you can add that five minutes on to the five minutes you've already taken of my time (see point 5), multiply that by all the submissions and then try to wrap your head around the reason it takes so long to read submissions.

If I sound cranky, it's because I am, because I have to deal with these people - these guideline-flouting people - and they are stealing time from the guideline-following people whose submissions I'm more inclined to read. Because, yes, it's true: if you do any one of these things, I'm going to think of it when I'm reading your submission, which means you're starting from behind. I wish I could slough it off and be objective, but I can't. Because if you misspell names and call when you're not supposed to, there's a good chance I won't want to have you as my client regardless of how well you write. Little things leave little clues.

Agents have submission guidelines in an attempt to bring order to chaos. It's not because we're inherently dictatorial, although perhaps some of us secretly are. If you ignore the guidelines then we feel like a little bit of chaos creeps in, and that's not a comfortable feeling. Most of our working days can't be organised - we have to react to things as they happen, to phone calls, to emails, to contracts that arrive. Submissions are one thing we can organise. Just let us have this one bit of peace, okay?


KSL said...

You left out fancy fonts and glitter. My own agent tells me that in her submission pile she frequently sees the former and has been subject to the latter at least twice- a puff of sparkles falling onto her desk when she opens the envelope. Way to get yourself noticed- and apparently to lose all credibility whatsoever!

Anonymous said...

That sort of thing happened on Arrested Development. Wannabe actor was fond of loading up his letters to casting directors with glitter.
This, of course, cut to footage of an director saying, "The glitter queen struck again. Never hire Tobias Funke."

It's a lesson for us all:
1. Don't put glitter in submissions
2. Watch Arrested Devlopment.

Anonymous said...

Here's another: When you're at a writers' conference, don't follow an agent into the loo and slip your pages under the door of the stall.

Anonymous said...

Phoning to get the name of the person to send to doesn't always work, at least not with publishers. More than once I've been told to send it to 'The Submissions Editor', as if the editor's name is a secret.