12.13.2005

Why Miss Snark does not take E queries

Though I can see Miss Snark's point most of the time, the reluctance to consider e-queries is one thing I just don't get. To me, it sounds like someone saying they would only consider a letter written with quill and inkwell after the typewriter was invented, or who kept their coach and horses a while after noisy, intrusive, new-fangled engine-driven vehicles were available. I totally understand why you wouldn't want something written as informally e-jokey as most emails are, but if it's a nice-written appropriately formal e-letter - why e-not?

I recently had drinks with a colleague who does take e-queries. I asked how many she got a day. Answer: 50. Amount of time spent reading each one: 3 seconds or less. Auto form rejection sent to 49/50.

I don't know about other agents, but if you send me a letter, I'll read it, AND the sample pages. Elapsed time: longer than 3 seconds I assure you.

Also, I need to see your writing. Your query letter/cover letter is not how I evaluate whether I want to read something. If you send an e-query, you'll have to send pages, or I'll just have to email you and say "send pages" to everyone.

And email format is NOT NOT NOT the same as page format.
Look at this post.

Three line paragraphs. Short staccato sentences. Lot's of white space. It's more like a power point presentation than a paragraph.

I do this for a reason: it's easier to read on the screen. Reading big blocks of text on a screen is harder than reading it on the page, particularly if you're just trying to get a sense of whether it's what you're looking for.

And email programs don't always send material in the same form or font you wrote it in. About half the mail Miss Snark gets here on this blog have to have the font size increased. Lots of others have weird ass hieroglyphics cause you used a font the Snarkomputer doesn't consider worthy of recognizing.

And of course, there are the nitwits who poison the well:
the ones who don't take no for an answer and want to engage in dialogue
the ones who write back very very angry letters with threats.

Email makes it easy to respond quickly. That's not such a good thing from my perspective on this slush pile.

Lots of agents take e-queries. If you think Miss Snark is behind the times, so be it. Don't query her.

29 comments:

an editor said...

A disturbing side effect of the fact that so many people do most of their reading on the web is that I'm seeing a lot of manuscripts that are written in "email format" (and I don't mean epistolary novels). There is no paragraph indentation and an extra space between every paragraph. It makes the Luddite in me wonder if these writers have ever seen an actual book. Have you seen this, Miss Snark? Is this the newest way to misinterpret "double spacing?"

Mark said...

Well, that's a good and fair response Miss Snark, and I certainly didn't mean to say that you should do differently if it doesn't suit you... but I'm sure you can also see that while a 3-second 'read and respond' may not be ideal, a month-long wait for any kind of response to a letter tends to be the alternative. I found my current agent after emailing several here in the UK and some in the US. A few, like Wylie and a couple of other NY agents who seemed particularly quick off the mark, replied within half an hour asking for emailed chapters - at least two thirds of the rest replied within a couple of days. Most of those were asking for paper or electronic copies of sample chapters and while the outcome was not immediate, the whole process was over within three or four weeks. Miss Snark knows perfectly well that while she wouldn't say yes on the basis of a letter without sample pages, she could often say no based purely on the author biography and synopsis. And a quick 'no' can be just as useful to both parties. Again, I'm absolutely not meaning this as negative-criticism, just expressing the (perhaps mistaken) thought that a no-e-query agent in this day and age is missing out on any contact from many writers (perhaps, particularly, younger writers for whom email is the default form of communication).

FerfeLaBat said...

On this one I agree with you.

However, it would save a great deal of time and postage if you (as in agents and editors in general) would set up blind-no response email addresses to send rejections.

I have an idea. Most laptops these days come with IFR's. I'm thinking I could market an address label program with barcodes translating to email addresses for the writer to stick on the query. Then you (again the royal you) could scan it and a small program would slam the email address of the intended victim into the correct email form, await editing in the outbox if desired, and -- wham! There it goes in a millisecond.

It's a perfect world.

Rick said...

I'm seeing a lot of manuscripts that are written in "email format"

Perhaps that is simply "onscreen format" - the things Miss Snark said about short paragraphs and lots of white space really apply to anything written on a computer screen, which is where most people write. When I'm writing background notes for myself, I single-space and leave a space between paras. For that matter, I write my ms with 1 1/2 line spacing, then reformat before printing it.

Justin R. Buchbinder said...

Snarkomputer? That sounds like a new German invention!

Something a Bond villain would be seen brooding over.

kj said...

That's an excellent explanation and one I can really respect. Thanks.

MissWrite said...

Where before I would have agreed with the original poster in this question, that not taking e-queries was behind the times. I now applaud you for the single reason:

Quote Miss Snark: Also, I need to see your writing. Your query letter/cover letter is not how I evaluate whether I want to read something

YAY. It's disheartening to be rejected from a single page query letter. Okay, so those agents who take ONLY a letter (regardless of e, or post) have a point in they want to be sure the concept is so catchy they can't avoid it even if they want to--it's still no way to really judge the possibilities.

*Bows to the supremem Snarkatelligence*

Dana Y. T. Lin said...

I sent out a bunch of e-queries when I began the query process (ahh, such a young and naive writer then, and Pre-Snarkeducated).

Out of about a dozen e-queries I believe I received 4 automated 'no's', another 4 very nice 'no's', 3 never responded. I only recieved ONE that politely declined stating he didn't feel he could best represent what I had, BUT asked to see my other works.

I don't e-query anymore. =)

Darby said...

This format, 'no indention/extra space' is encouraged in online writing workshops such as Zoetrope Virtual Studio. Writers are spending a lot of time formating their work into this format, and many writers who depend on this workshop have gotten into the habit of just writing this way. I write this way as well, and usually have to reformat the whole thing just before I send out.

mysterygirl said...

E-queries chap my saddle because of the quirky formatting issue. I'm never sure if what I'm sending is what the agent will see on his/her end. If given a choice, I go postal. Recently I e-queried with the first chapter pasted into the body of the email (per the agent's guidelines). I ended up sending it single-spaced with double spaces between paragraphs because I was worried about funky line breaks with the tabs. I'm now worried this agent will think I'm a nitwit who doesn't understand proper manuscript formatting.

Miss Snark said...

Those of you who have blogs, and get comments can see this yourself.

All the comments on this blog that are posted with nice, clear spaces and paragraphs

come to my email box as a jumble with
NO BREAKS whatsoever.

Instead of the post looking like it does above it looks like:

Those of you who have blogs, and get comments can see this yourself.All the comments on this blog that are posted with nice, clear spaces and paragraphs come to my email box as a jumble with NO BREAKS whatsoever.Instead of the post looking like it does above it looks like


Now, is THAT what you want me reading on your equery?

Maria said...

In response to Editor:
...disturbing side effect of the fact that so many people do most of their reading on the web is that I'm seeing a lot of manuscripts that are written in "email format" ... Is this the newest way to misinterpret "double spacing?"

To submit to almost any market that takes email submissions, especially online short story magazines, the no-indention paragraph and double-space between paragraphs is becoming the standard guideline.

I wouldn't dare submit such for hardcopy, but it is a very common guideline request for anyone publishing online--or even for those publishing hardcopy that take email submissions. Most places that take email subs will not look at something that comes in with double-spaced paragraphs--many also want a text only version so that spacing isn't lost or mangled as happens frequently with emails.

Melissa said...

Makes sense.
If I sent you something saying her read my blog tho for example in the comments would you?
Paper would just be you know, an extra step farther away from it.

www.thelewdangel.com

imp (Iva-Marie Palmer) said...

If the work is important enough to you that you spend time writing and rewriting, etc. (I'm thinking again of a previous commenter who referred to his/her large "opus"...) then it should be valuable enough to type a goshdern (no, I don't really talk like this, just thinking about "Brokeback Mountain"...) letter and mail it.

I can email muy rapido and find that emailing -- to me at least -- can be like talking. I tend to ramble, my typing spurting in bursts of quick phrases much like the way I talk after I've guzzled my first keg of coffee. It's machine gun correspondence.

Sure, I am probably kissing Miss Snark's snark here but I appreciate the advice. And, I like buying stamps.

M. G. Tarquini said...

I like snail mail for queries. That's because during the few days to six weeks it can take to get the response, I can delude myself into believing that the agent is actually reading the submission, putting me in his/her 'maybe' pile, ruminating on my prose, maybe even drafting a contract.

That's a lot of bang for the buck for 80 cents or so of postage.

If I e-query and I get back an automated 'no' response before I go beddy-bye, it takes the romance out of it all.

It's also easier to convince Uncle Sam that I am, too, a real writer, if I have official, on paper, not email, rejections to show him.

David Isaak said...

I think how words work on the page is far more important than most writers realize--which is odd, since one would hope that most writers are readers, too.

A few agents only take e-queries, or state that they prefer them, and I respect that preference. But it makes me uncomfortable. Before I mail something off, I want to print it out and hold it in my hands and see exactly how it will look to the recipient. The text on the page should look welcoming and open. It's amazing how often you can look at a printed letter from a dozen feet away, and say: You know, that is one paragraph too long to be reader-friendly.

I think a lot of agents like e-queries because it makes everything easier. Easier for you to send; easier for them to say no.

The deepest problem, though, as the Snarky one notes, is that you can't send sample pages. Isn't it the opening paragraph of your novel--rather than your query--that is going to make them want to read your book?

Gabriele C. said...

Ouch. I wouldn't want my sample chapters to come as a big chunk of 2500+ words and have the agent guess where I put the paragraph breaks. An agent shall read those chapters without taking a breath or sipping from the gin pail and then ask for the complete manuscript. *grin*

Justin R. Buchbinder said...

HILARIOUS.

On the subject of self-publishing, Miss Snark. If you're not listening to opera or classical or whatever you're listening to as you work, perhaps you should listen to
http://www.booksurgepublishing.com/images/downloads/AuthorWebSeminars/Editor%20Training/lib/playback.html

which is a webinar training session for self-publisher BookSurge's freelance editors... I don't know how it's available for all to listen too... but it sure is scary.

"This service costs a few hundred bucks, but it will only take you less than an hour to do..."

It's better than any horror movie out there now!

Dave Kuzminski said...

And let's not get started on how many writers don't know how to turn off Smart Quotes.

LargeCrepe said...

3 seconds! That's 2 seconds longer than I need

LargeCrepe said...

I would like to invite 'An Editor Said' into the inner circle of the Miss Snark's fess-up monarchy. I like your voice--please don't be shy -- I, for one, am interested to clean up my act.

List your top ten peeves?

the chocolatier said...

All the comments on this blog that are posted with nice, clear spaces and paragraphs

come to my email box as a jumble with
NO BREAKS whatsoever


Miss Snark, you really need to update your email system.

roach said...

The single spaced, with a double space between, paragraphs have become standard e-format when submitting a work in the body of an e-mail. I've found myself composing first drafts in that format but always make sure to clean it up (even if later I'll submit something in the body of the e-mail).

Linda said...

The discussion of how words and paragraphs look on a page or screen has been very interesting. J.A. Konrath recently posted on his blog that today's successful books have a lot of white space on each page. Authors use short paragaphs and a lot of dialogue to create the sense of an easy-to-read, fast-moving story. (See post of Dec. 8, "Size does matter" at http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/)

Miss Snark, have you seen editors pushing for this kind of look? Is this a reflection of readers becoming accustomed to the staccato pattern of writing online? Or do today's readers really have such a short attention span?

Coyote said...

Huh, that's why I'm working on a Prose Formatter for online writing.

an editor said...

I am not talking about electronic submissions for an online publication, but rather about paper submissions for a print publisher. They come typed in Courier size 12 with double spacing AND an extra blank line between paragraphs (quadruple spacing?) and no paragraph indentation. They are difficult to read and mess with word count estimations.

You do not want an editor spending time wondering whether or not this line begins a new paragraph when she should be wondering how ever your hero is going to overcome his trials.

I appreciate that a few online publications request that format, but fail to understand why a writer would favor that format when sending to a print publisher who does not and has not ever used it.

Remodeling Repartee said...

The Levine Greenberg agency has an extensive and intricate on-line submission setup (which I intend to use in January), which is for both fiction and nonfiction. At the end of the query/questionnaire, there is a place to upload files of up to 50 pages.

In my opinion, it looks thorough and efficient, and since it's a web site, not an individual e-mail address, it gives the agency a buffer of sorts.

What does Miss Snark think of this set-up?

http://www.levinegreenberg.com/

Dhewco said...

I e-query for one simple reason: I'm completely broke. Completely. I had to move back in with my parents due to losing a job. I can't afford, as unbelievable as it sounds, to spend 39 cents to mail a query letter. (Plus another 39 cents on the SASE, then there's the cost of the envelopes.)

I do snail-mail queries, but at the tune of 6 a month. I e-query whenever I can.

David

Jules Jones said...

I write my stories using a word processor with a style sheet that prints out in standard manuscript format - double-spaced Courier 12, indented first line of paragraph, etc. The only variation is that I write with _underscore_ indicated in a manner that will transmit through email no matter what. No smartquotes, no m-dashes, no accents, no anything else involving characters not in the 7-bit ASCII character set. It looks as if it came off a typewriter.

If someone wants hardcopy, it takes a few seconds to switch the _underscore_ to real underlining, and print it. If they want an attached file in an email, they get an as-is rtf. And if they want it in the body of the email, it takes a few seconds to put blank lines between paragraphs so that it is readable as plain text. Always assuming that there are no specific instructions other than hardcopy, attached file, or in body of email--if someone says in their submission guidelines that they prefer to have it in 14 point single-spaced Times New Roman, that's what they get.

Though I think I'd draw the line if someone specified that submissions should be made on half-letter size pink scented paper.