Over the years, as an editor and agent, I have built a pretty good-sized author beware file. This file is made up of interesting and usually angry letters and e-mails from authors. Often they are in response to rejections or other correspondence we’ve had. No matter what the situation, the letters always give me insight into the personality and professionalism of the author, letting me know that this is not someone I want to work with. From time to time I’m going to dig out one of those letters and post some of what was said. And, of course, I’m going to comment.
It amazes me when authors, looking to grab an agent, balk at submission requirements, especially ours. BookEnds is one of the few agencies that still allows authors to submit a full 50 pages unsolicited. Of course it isn’t required, but as an author isn’t your goal to get read? If that’s the case, don’t you want to send an agent all the material you can? Apparently not everyone feels that way, and this recent e-mail explains (or doesn’t) why. . . .
. . . you want 3 chapters, which makes me wonder why you need a query and a synopsis and all the other schlock. If you can’t make a decision with 3 chapters, you’re perspicaciousness is obviously losing its edge.
Oh, the irony. So many authors submit their material and then complain that agents don’t read the entire thing, while this author is complaining that I want to read too much. So why does an agent want all of this material? Or more specifically, why do I?
While it’s true that I can make a decision about whether or not to reject on three chapters (or in this case, one e-mail), I can’t necessarily make a decision about whether or not to offer representation, or even ask to see the rest of the manuscript on three chapters alone. For this I rely on the synopsis. If I like your three chapters—the story is strong and interesting, the characters are well drawn, and the writing is good and works for the genre you are targeting—then often I’ll take a quick look at the synopsis before asking to see the rest of your manuscript. The synopsis is primarily used as a way to make sure your story continues on the same path you started. For example, if I’m reading your chapters for a cozy mystery series, I’m going to want the rest of the book to continue in that vein. If, when reading your synopsis, I discover that somewhere around chapter 15 aliens come down and sweep your protagonist away to a secret alien community where she is named queen, I probably will not request the rest of the manuscript—and will save both you and me time and money.
So what about the query letter? This is the most mind-boggling to me. And while I know we’ve covered this before, we learn through repetition (and obviously it needs to be covered again). Your letter is very important each and every time you send material (the initial query, chapters, and the full manuscript). It’s the suit you wear to a job interview or the cover letter you attach to your resume. Would you ever send a resume without a cover letter highlighting your strong points or show up to a job interview wearing shorts and a dirty T-shirt? I assume you wouldn’t, so why would you send a submission of any kind without including a cover letter? The query letter outlines who you are, what about this book is interesting and makes it better and different from the 50 other submissions I opened that day, and tells me what’s so special about this submission that I should read it first. It is the one thing I use to determine in 5 seconds what shelf you’ll go on—the one that goes home with me that night, the one I hope to read in the next few weeks, or the one that will sit around for months until I have time to get to it.
Remember, better safe than sorry. Send as much information as an agent allows you to send, and always, always include the strongest letter you can write.
Oh, one last thing . . . luckily for me this particular author decided to “reject” me first and didn’t bother submitting.