A Nose for Nothing

Dear Miss Snark,

The agency I would like to query says clearly on their website "...nothing should be enclosed with the letter; don't send any sample material until we advise you that we'd like to see it." So, for this case, I should not attach the first few pages?

I see an almost zero correlation between enticing query / cover letters and enticing writing so I always want to see actual pages.

However, if the guidelines specifically say "send nothing" I have to advise that you send nothing.

They must be better at scenting good writing from cover letters than I. I'll blame the gin.


Carmen said...

What, are they going to throw away the enclosures, good writing and all?

Everyone says follow the directions and such, but ... you gotta wonder.

Agent Frog said...

I agree. The truth is in the pudding. Or in this case the writing. Show me the content. If you don't grab me with your gift for language in the first few paragraphs, then I don't want to be bothered.

Today, on a whim, I tested my theory above by re-reading the first pages of some rather successful novels on my bookshelf, including THE JOY LUCK CLUB, THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURG, and IMAGINING ARGENTINA, to name a few. What an eye-opening litmus test for any agent who has gone blind reading query after query.

Don't bother querying me if you aren't willing to demonstrate that level of command. More often than not, I feel like Simon Cowell when reading through my submissions, saying to myself, "that was hideous" when I really wished I could say, "that was truly amazing."

Wishing ain't getting.

Be true to yourself. If you know you're not a great writer, please don't write. Please don't write. (All of a sudden I'm channeling Eminem, go figure.) But if you know you're a great writer, and you really are one, then WRITE dammit. WRITE.

Then show it off.

Anonymous said...

Oh Froggy, I'm so dissappointed in you!

How's a person supposed to know if he's a "great writer"?
In a writer's own mind, he could think he's a "great writer."
Or a writer might be able to learn, you think?

I feel an urge for French food.
Frog Legs anyone?

Miss P AKA Her Royal Cliqueness said...

You've gotta give it to agents for keeping us on our toes.

NO enclosures?! So the cover letter better be a super-de-duper, mind blowing, informative and entertaining intro of both the writer and the book.

Ahhh...in one page.


Excuse me, while I go kiss my agent's feet for not putting me through that torture!

Anonymous said...

Agent Frog,

You're saying you agree with query letter only? And that will show you the content? (Or are you agreeing with Miss Snark?)

I do believe (IMHO) that my query letter is well written, has a "hook" and gives the agents enough info to know if they want to read the ms or not.

However, I don't think its the same as reading the first few paragraphs of a great book. I do the same thing - if I'm not hooked in the first page of a book, I don't buy it.

The query letter is a brief encapsulation of highlights and plot...it's good and interesting, but not the same as reading a few pages of the real thing.

But I guess it goes back to if the letter is not attention getting, most likely the ms isn't either.

Anonymous said...

A couple of times I wandered across a site with posted warning signs that said: NO E-MAIL QUERIES!
Only to realize I had already e-mailed the agent. Now talk about needing gin-- Anyway when I recovered from the hangover I was shocked that I received two very nice e-mails requesting synopsis and sample chapters. Now, I'm not advising you to follow Alice into Wonderland. Lately I'm trying real hard to heed all posted signs.

Georgia Girl

Inkwolf said...

Tsk, Agent Frog.

I can recognize great writers. I recognize them by the great books they write. I can recognize a great book on sight, by the cover flap filled with orgasmic ecstasies penned by leading literary critics, in place of copy telling you what the book is actually about.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of what I would have to call non-great writers writing popular books which are fun and entertaining to read. Their grammar isn't always perfect. Their sentence structure isn't always elegant. And I doubt they agonize over whether each and every phrase is poetic.

But they tell a damn good story.

Non-great writers, please keep writing! Don't abandon me to a world where the only books published are tender, gripping and insightful portraits of the human condition in deft prose.

'Cause, frankly, great books make me gag.

Anonymous said...

I'm a real newbie to this business, having just finished the first draft of my first novel, but it seems to me that an agent would be able to tell from the query if the Subject/Genre/Story Line is anything they are interested in reading (even the first paragraph). I've never written a query letter let alone mailed one to anyone, so I may be all wet. But - based on just my first two weeks or so of reading Miss Snark - it seems that the type of novel and subject is almost as important as the quality of the writing when it comes to getting Agent A or Agent B to have a look-see.

Miss P AKA Her Royal Cliqueness said...

But I guess it goes back to if the letter is not attention getting, most likely the ms isn't either.

I don't agree with that. Creative writing and business/letter writing are two different arts.

I'd like to think that I could write my way out of anything. And thanks to 14 years of marketing and PR experience - I just might.

Still, there are certainly forms of writing I struggle with over others. And some people - whether stricken with panic that they'll get it wrong or what- may not convey their true talent via a formal, business letter.

Get too cutesy and the agent discounts your seriousness. Stay too stoic and formal and it comes off bland. ::shrug:: It's tough.

Agents who can spot "talent" just from a cover letter must have one heck of an eye.

Anonymous said...

Ms. P -

I agree with you. I just meant (from my previous anon post) that it is probably the agent's perception - if you can't write a decent letter then...

I think that philosophy (of letter only) is also a waste of postage/phone call for both sides. Reading the first couple of pages would save the agent the trouble of the phone call if they weren't interested and save the writer another stamp to send a partial.


"I don't agree with that. Creative writing and business/letter writing are two different arts"