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Public Service Announcement: OBVIOUS TO US, LESS OBVIOUS TO YOU

  1. Obvious to Us, Less Obvious to You #1: Why don't all agents just accept email queries?

    This question was posed to us by one of our AQ users (shout out to AH!), and we thought....hmmmm...very interesting. Here at AQ HQ, we understand exactly why many, many, many agents don't want to accept email queries or simply prefer snail mail queries over email ones. Indeed, these reasons are very obvious to us, but probably less obvious to querying writers who think the whole snail mail thing is really just a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

    For starters, we'd like to stress that the number of agents who are ONLY accept email queries is sharply increasing. How do we know this? Because AQ HQ sees the updates--usually directly from the agents themselves and usually before anyone else.

    But we also know there's an inevitable downside. Hey, we love technology and the internet and our cyber tools (obviously), but we also know first-hand that lots of emails from lots of writers is hard to manage. And increased email accessibility = increased email traffic. Period. And with all the emails that AQ receives, our staff always tries to send a customized response, but the truth is: it's getting harder and harder. There is, after all, only a few of us, and many, many, many of you.

    Does that mean we want less email from our AQ users? Heck no! But it does mean that it's obvious to us why literary agency website's often state: they only respond to email queries that interest them.

    Many writers think this statement is rude. We don't. We see it as a confirmation that someone is actually reading each query letter (someone like the actual agent herself and not just her assistant), and so it's a matter of human limitation.

    (Oh, and by the way, this is the point in the discussion where the AQ techies insert themselves and say HAL things like, "you know, we could write a little programming script for agents that would evaluate each query based on its grammatical properties and tell an agent whether the query sucks or not.) Compared to that solution, "they will only respond if interested" sounds pretty nice, huh?

    Increased query traffic because of increased accessibility causes other problems, too. For the very reason that writers love email queries, some agents shy away from accepting them: they're just too damn easy. Too easy to send, too easy to receive, and too easy to "engage."

    Case in point: an agent emails a rejection to a writer. It says something like: Sorry, this just isn't right for me. No feedback. No explanation. No reason. Just a simple "no thanks." If this rejection came to the writer via the postman, the writer can't grill Mr. USPS about why the agent didn't like his query. But with email, some writers feel compelled to "engage." After all, they've got the agent's attention, and it's as simple as drafting an email, saying: well, why the heck isn't it right for you, exactly? and pressing "send."

    And just because you wouldn't do this, doesn't mean other aspiring writers wouldn't...and have.

    Some agents don't accept email queries simply because they want a little distance between themselves and writers, especially during the first introductions (and that's what a query is--it's an unsolicited first introduction).

    Because let's face it, writers tend to be a fickle, anxious bunch. We're never happy, especially if the end result is rejection. We complain about the fact that if we receive an email rejection--ten minutes after sending it to an agent--then obviously the agent barely even looked at the query. We complain about form rejections, but then, if we get specific feedback that we don't agree with, we complain about that, too. We complain about the fact that some agents won't accept email queries, but then if they do accept email queries, but list on their agency website that they only respond to email queries if they're interested, then we complain that the agency's "no response to email queries that don't interest them" is rude. But if an agent does respond, but with a form rejection, then that's rude too.

    No wonder some agents need some distance.

    But maybe the real reason why many agents don't like email queries is the fact that email is pretty dang unreliable. You know it, and we know it. For example, AQ gets a ton of email--over fifty emails AN HOUR--just in our main inbox alone. Why so many? Because of that nasty four-letter word: SPAM. Yep, that's right. Most of the emails that fly into our inbox are tagged as SPAM. And most of it is SPAM. But some of them are legitimate emails--your emails--incorrectly tagged as SPAM. Your emails are not SPAM, of course, but we don't know that unless we take the time to look at each one. So when agents complain about SPAM and email queries and the black void of SPAMALOT, we understand exactly what they are talking about.

    You'd be surprised how easy it is to overlook legitimate emails incorrectly tagged as SPAM. That's why putting QUERY in your subject line is a no-brainer because if your email is tagged as SPAM, at least your query might have a fighting chance. If not, then DELETE, DELETE, DELETE, and fifty SPAM emails later--poof, your query is cyber-toast.

    What's obvious to us is the fact that many agents who prefer snail mail queries do so because they want to ensure that they actually see everything that's being sent to them. After all, they're often not the ones in-charge of their agency's IT department. They're not the one setting up these Fort Knox SPAM filters. As a result, snail mail queries are still their best option for receiving queries--and these agents know it.

    But writers don't seem to get that, despite the fact that most writers understand the inherent fallibility of email. And yet, they still profess its superiority and chide agents who don't accept it. After all, you didn't get my email, eh? Well, there's always the query re-send, right?


    Sure, sometimes the query re-send gets a response, but most of the time, it's just one, big "Ground Hog Day" do-over. It's still going to get marked as SPAM. It's still not going to reach the agent's inbox. And if it does reach the agent's inbox, it's pretty likely that she read it the first time around, and believed that you understood that no response = rejection because that's what is listed on their agency's website.

    Yes, sometimes emails get lost in the agent's mailbox. But sometimes, believe it or not, agents can't respond to your email address because your ISP keeps bouncing their email back (we know, because that's happened when we've tried to email some of our AQ users, too).

    Whatever the reasons, the fact that many agents still prefer snail mail queries doesn't make them bad or inept or snobby Luddites who are behind the technology curve. It's just a preference, and an understandable one for reasons that may be obvious to us, but less obvious to you.

    For a more nuanced and detailed discussion about this very same discussion, check out literary agent Jennifer Jackson's October 13th blog entry.

    And as always, on JJ's blog, check out the last poster's comment, which made us laugh and clap our hands--at the same time: I love email, but not for queries. 1. It's more fun to do queries via normal mail. (Yeah, I'm sick.) 2. Email and the internet have a wonderful way of turning otherwise lovely people into asses.

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