After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the third in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.
Lesson 3: “Insulting the agent you’re querying, before or after the no, is a bad idea.”
I attended a session on writing a good query letter with agent Jennifer Wills (@WillsWork4Books). While I’ve attended other query letter talks and walked into the session thinking I already knew most of what she was going to say, I was hoping to gain a few good nuggets. I was blown away by the great amount of information she shared, and new angles on some of the things I’d heard before. My notes pages are packed with tips and takeaways, and I got more than one good laugh from her session.
Though there were plenty of takeaways, here are two key points that stood out for me:
1) Subject lines
I hadn’t heard, nor even thought about, the subject line of a query email. Combing through hundreds of emails, some of which are queries and some not, Jennifer suggested that making it short, sweet, and clear was the best way to go. Her ideal email subject line would be “Query: Title/Author/Genre” and the name of the conference where you met, if applicable. That’s it.
2) There’s a long list of “don’ts”
Jennifer had us giggling at the list of things NOT to do, from sending a query that asks if it’s okay to query, to telling the agent that your book still needs work but you’re sending anyway. (Hint: if you think your book still needs enough work to be worth mentioning, it’s not ready to send.) But the one that completely astounded me is how rude some people can be towards agents.
She shared a few stories, and we sat in shocked silence hearing how some people start rude (you’ve never seen anything this good, and you’d be stupid not to take it) and others get rude upon rejection (you must be stupid since you passed up this opportunity, and you’ll never get it again).
Her advice was to assume that the agent is also a person. That they are doing their best to do their job. That their rejection isn’t personal, but there are more queries than there is time to do anything about them, and you’re essentially asking a stranger to do something for you.
In the end, it’s like a relationship – just like a person you want to date, the agent you want to work with doesn’t owe you anything. If they reject you and you think it was undeserved, then they’re probably not the right match for you. And badmouthing them, to their face, to your friends, or on social media, isn’t going to make it better. At best, it makes you look bad. At worst, others will stay away because you seem like someone who won’t treat them well.
Long story short:
It turns out agents are actually just people. They put their pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. They have full email inboxes, just like the rest of us. And they don’t like to be yelled at or insulted, particularly by someone who’s asking for something.
Result: I was never going to be intentionally insulting, but now I’m going to make it a point to be especially nice. Plus, I know what my email subject line is going to be.
I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. If you have any great stories about querying you’d like to share, I’d love to hear ‘em.
Photo by Nonsap Visuals on Unsplash