Thursday, February 11, 2010

Let's Talk: Etiquette for the Writerly Folk

Yeah, I know that writerly is not a word. I'm quirky like that.

This particular topic has come up a bit around town. There's been some discussion on Nathan Bransford's Blog about what you definitely should never do. Most of us would say, "but of course! What fool would ever think to walk in without invitation looking like a hit man?" Yeah, that does seem pretty obvious, but clearly new writers are getting some bad advice out there. Let's get this straight right now. I'm going to jot down a list of things you should never do, but might have heard that you should do.

Never call an agent with your pitch. This is why agents accept queries--they don't want to be called!

Never call an agent to ask them if you may submit in a way that is contrary to their submission guidelines. You will only appear amateur at best and plain difficult to work with at worst.

Never call an agent to find out the status of your submission.

--Are we seeing a theme?--

In fact, unless you are invited to do so, say from a conference or some other way, just don't ever call an agent. It will only work against you.

When submitting a query, stick to the guidelines. If the agent accepts only email submissions, send an email submission. If snail mail, send snail mail (don't forget that SASE--Self Addressed Stamped Envelope). If both, then praise the Lord because you've been given options!

It is always appropriate and acceptable to send the first five pages from your manuscript, even if not mentioned under the submission guidelines. This is one of those things that agents just come to expect and usually see no need to mention it.

Don't send a query unless your novel is complete. And by complete, I mean you have polished it to perfection. Sending a query is not a good way to kick your butt into gear to finish your novel. You are only wasting the agent's time if he does want it and asks for pages that you aren't ready to send.

That seems like a pretty good list for now, but if you have any more that you would like to add to it feel free to share! And tell us about any bad advice you may have gotten. And remember that we don't stick by these rules because agents are of the oh holy elite that we should bow before, but because this is a business and professionals treat people with courtesy.

~Emily White


  1. I think my favorite was meeting with an editor at Dragon*Con in Atlanta, showing her the first five pages there, being asked to send the rest, and then never hearing a thing. Personally, I'd file that under bad advice. Plus, it costs money to ship hundreds of pages.

  2. Another thing I've heard recently regarding querying is to NOT say that someone referred you if they, in fact, did not. Agents check on things like that.

  3. Disgruntled Bear,

    Indeed. That poor man received some VERY bad advice. I just hope that word can spread to writers everywhere that such acts are not only embarrassing, they can be detrimental to your career. I think Nathan handled it perfectly. I can't imagine what an agent who might have chosen not to be so polite would have done.

    Thanks for your comment!


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