The pile of unsolicited proposal, queries, and manuscripts (both email and physical mail) is an unending source of delight and frustration.
Delight when an amazing idea from an amazing writer arrives like a special holiday gift.
Unfortunately that doesn’t happen as often as I would like. Instead there is a litany of things authors do time and again. If writers would treat their query or book proposal like a job application I think much of the trouble would go away. If I were to apply for a job at Microsoft I would take great pains to make sure the application was perfect. If they said “Put it on red paper,” I wouldn’t put it on green paper….and then complain how hard it is to find red paper and ask if they could make an exception.
With that in mind I’d like to list a few things that have crossed my desk in recent months.
Things That Have Been Written or Done:
“Please go to my web site to read my sample chapters.” (Sorry I can’t go on a treasure hunt.)
“Read my “The Hindu Way to a Better Sex Life Quiz Book.” (You didn’t read about what our agency represents, did you?)
Paste the first 50 pages, single spaced, into the body of your email. (Just…no.)
Please remember to use paragraph breaks. (A story that lacks paragraphs is unreadable.)
Misspell my last name. (I’m used to the occasional “Laub” instead of “Laube” but to address the letter and the accompanying envelope with: “Dear Mr. Steve White” …?)
Please remember to give us a way to reach you. (No SASE? No address on the cover letter or envelope? No email address? Or give us an invalid email address – which happens at least once a month)
Declare how much money you want to get for this book. (This is from a letter I received, “…the fact that this book will be able to sell for a multi million-dollar amount, around the world.”)
Declare “I’m not interested in the money, I just believe in my book.” (I understand, I really do. But please don’t say it. Think about how an agent or a publisher makes a living? Someone is interested in the money.)
Declare “If you get me a million dollars I’ll give you a bigger cut of the deal.” (It doesn’t work that way.)
Declare “This book will be printed in a 7” x 9” hardcover with deckled edges at 386 pages and retail for $15.99.” (The publisher will determine the trim size, binding, page count after typesetting, and the selling price. Let the publisher develop their own vision for the book.)
Please do not send an attachment using the file format from Pages or WordPerfect or OpenOffice. (The standard in all of publishing is Microsoft Word. If you don’t own it, your software can still “save-as” in Word. That is what you should send. We usually won’t take the time to convert a file to read your document.)
Declare in your letter “I read that you represent xyz.” When have never represented xyz. (Your generic letter just made you look lazy.)
Request “I know you don’t represent ABC kind of books according to your guidelines, but after you read mine you will make an exception.” (Thank you for reading the guidelines, truly. But, no thank you.)
Please don’t get mad if we say “no thanks.” This was sent to my assistant after we sent a rejection letter. “Please tell Steve Laube for me that I wouldn’t let him do my book if he begged me.”
Please don’t insist that I sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement before you’ll show me your idea. (Another agency is a better fit for you.)
Those are just a few of things that arrive in our office or in the inbox. It should encourage you to simply be professional and present your work in its best light.