Agent's Number One Tip: Etiquette Please!
edited: Tuesday, February 05, 2008
By Sheri Ables
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Tuesday, February 05, 2008
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If you aren't sure if you should say or do it..don't!
Having been an agent since 1997, I thought I had seen and heard it all…until recently. It seems that no matter what you [agents] do, there are the select few who feel they are above and beyond. So, here we are today…I am writing about it, you are reading about it and maybe, just maybe, someone will take it to heart.
My agency is a small one. In fact, there are only two other associates. One assists with marketing books and the other with films. I’ve been through a mound of secretaries. It seems that working out of a home office gives some the impression that working is really a cover for “fun”. Within two weeks, there will be a new and fifth secretary in four years. Of those, one actually had “job” in mind, but left for career advancement. Let’s pray this one lasts and actually works!
Why I am telling you about my secretary issues in a letter on etiquette? Hold on…we’re getting to that!
My day consists of reading letters from writers and publisher replies while holding the phone on my shoulder and typing with a free hand. No, seriously! Ask other agents. They’ll all tell you, we work our butts off for the pennies we make. That what makes it so discouraging when the group of “above and beyond” writers decides to rant and rave.
Let’s have a few examples…
We received a query at the end of 2002 from a woman I’ll call “Jane Wrighter”. We began moving our office in April 2003. We were in a horrid state of transition as everything that could go wrong did. Jane emailed off and on concerning the status of her query. I could only tell her that once we were settled, I’ll look into it. Our files were in storage. We finally settled in and, honestly, I forgot all about it.
At the end of the year , I received a query from a writer I’ll call “Judy Knows”. Judy’s manuscript was wonderfully written. He presentation was professional and neat. I wanted to represent her work. After playing phone and e-mail tag for a while, we finally set up a time to speak via phone. Unfortunately, I received a call from an editor and could not break free. Judy continued to connect to our fax. Later, I emailed her to apologize going on to say her work was too good to wait on me. My schedule was full and getting together in the near future was looking bleak.
This is where Jane Wrighter reenters on the coattail of Judy Knows. Judy nastily replies of my unprofessional demeanor and orders me to return Jane Wrigher’s manuscript immediately. “Hey, wait!” I’m thinking to myself. I politely reply to Judy explaining, “I cannot discuss one writer’s business with another.” I block her email. However, she was “kind” enough to put Jane ‘s email address in her message.
I contacted Jane to update her on the status. (It was recorded in our logbook.) The status was: logged in one October XX, 2002. Rejected on January XX, 2003 with notation of NO SASE. This mean the manuscript was recycled [shredded]. Jane replies and wants to know how I could forget about it, how I could make her wait over a year…blah…blah. She ends by giving me seven days to return her work “or else”. Still showing all the courtesy I can muster I clearly explain the process of submissions and trust that she will not contact my office again.
Whew! The end. Not exactly. Jane Wrighter was kind enough to write again last month. This time she really showed the extent of her [nonexistent] etiquette. Now I am being watched closely…everything I do. I still have seven days to return her manuscript that she knows I stole or she will be reporting my agency. What did I do? Delete. Block. The end. I hope!
Of course, this is not unusual in this business. The majority of queries I receive are not what I am looking for but the author is generally polite and understanding of my preferences.
Whether within the initial query, following up or when notified of a rejection, etiquette is essential. Clichés are often underrated, but you really can catch more flies with honey. I am not saying writers should be suck ups as that is as unnerving as bad manners. What I am saying is that writers should always follow guidelines, respect an agent’s privacy, time and efforts. They really do work hard to sell your work.