Saturday, November 30, 2013

On Third-Party Queriers or "Agent-agents", and Sapsuckers

From my pocket:  *ring ring* 

Me: Hi, this is Jennifer.

Some Stranger:  Can I speak to Jennifer Lag-lahr-gg-squ-san?

This is Jennifer Laughran.

OH Hi this is [mumble mumble] from [fake sounding company] in Hollywood and I want to talk to you about a hot new property RANDOM TITLE. 

I'm so sorry . . . I don't know that title. I'm afraid that's not one of mine.

No, no, it's not one of yours . . . this is a SUBMISSION to you. 

Um. . . what?

Yes, my client [mumble mumble] wrote this book and you hadn't responded to my letter about it so I thought I'd follow up. You got the letter a week ago?

I have no idea what you are talking about. Sorry, I get a lot of email. Who are you again?

It wasn't email. It was a paper submission.

[while talking, googles name of company, name of person, comes up empty] I'm sorry, I'm just really confused, this was a query??
[interrupting] Nope, not a query, it's a referral, anyway, this is a medical thriller, you'll be kicking yourself if you don't represent this. So what do you say to a sure-fire moneymaker --

[interrupting] -- but I never got a letter, I haven't accepted snail mail queries since 2007, and I only represent children's books. So . . . Who are you?? Are you the author?

[patiently, as if to a child] I'm not the author, I'm working for my client to send out their work . . . 

. . . So you're an . . . agent?

No no, [long-suffering sigh] I'm sending out their work so they can get a literary agent.

So you're an agent-getting agent? An agent-agent? That doesn't seem like a thing.

Look WE DO THIS ALL THE TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. I assure you, sweetheart, this is a thing.
Welp, first of all, that isn't true --- plus, my agency is open to submissions, any author can just query -- tell him to just query. And listen, this is my cell, how did you even get this number?
No YOU listen: It's really unprofessional that you are acting like this about a REFERRAL. I mean this is ridiculous, I'll report this to your boss!

Huh. Well, a "referral" from a stranger is not really a referral at all. I don't represent people who can't follow simple directions or conduct their own correspondence. I don't represent medical thrillers. And my boss doesn't like bullies any more than I do. Don't call me again.    
The preceding was essentially a transcript of an extremely annoying conversation that I have a couple times a year. Oh, the details have been erased and the exact back-and-forth approximated. Much more often -- every couple of weeks at least -- I get the same basic thing but in email form:

Hi Agent, I'm Random McNoname, and I'm writing to reffer [sic] my client Author Sapsucker to you. Sapsucker has a pHd in Neurocathology [sic] and 78 followers on twitter so he's the real deal. The manuscript is attached, I look forward to hearing from you by next week.
 So how did these authors get screwed? Let us count the ways:

Note the misspellings, the "attached manuscript", the fact that they don't say what the book is, that they aren't targeting me specifically or if they are, they are submitting something I don't rep, that they are demanding a response by a certain time, that they haven't followed guidelines in the least. That's leaving aside the fact that they aren't even the author -- so who ARE they?

These are what I call "agent-agents" or third-party queriers. They convince authors that their "services" are necessary to query (aka spam) literary agents*. Authors who are totally new and/or desperate will take the bait and pay, in the hopes that it will give them a leg up on the competition. Probably, because this world is full of unscrupulous a-holes who like to take advantage of authors, they'll pay rather a lot.

Instead of getting a fast-pass to easy street, however, these authors paid good money to assure that their work won't be taken seriously. No legit agent I've ever met responds to strong-arm tactics or so-called "referrals" from strangers. Strangers who clearly don't even know anything about the specific book or author they are allegedly working for, let alone about the book industry in a larger sense.

As for the matter of this being a "referral" -- I call shenanigans. A referral means that somebody I know and trust (like one of my clients, an agent colleague, or an editor I've worked with) is vouching for you. A referral from a stranger is pointless. What do I care if  some schmuck I've never heard of thinks you're terrific?

In any case, you generally don't need a referral to submit to most agents. (Some yes, but those agents are probably accepting few if any new clients anyway). You don't need a special key or a magic word to get read by an agent -- you just need to follow directions and have a great-sounding book.

I'm personally closed to queries until January, but every other month of the year, my submission guidelines are quite simple: The subject line needs to have the word "query" in it. The email itself should have a full query letter and ten pages pasted in. I don't accept snail mail submissions, nor do I open attachments.  That's it. Now this might differ a bit from other agency guidelines - - but they are all pretty much alike in that they are simple enough for a literate child to follow.

We WANT to read your work. We WANT to find new talent. Believe it or not, the submission guidelines are not set up to see how cleverly authors can avoid them. The guidelines are just there to make things simpler and easier for everyone, including authors.

You think querying is hard? You wrote an entire book. THAT'S hard work. If you can do that, I promise, you can write a couple of interesting paragraphs about yourself and your book, and do a bit of internet research. Querying is the EASY part.

Sorry if I sound a bit fired up about this, but it just makes me insanely angry how many authors I see getting parted from their money by companies like this. PLEASE, don't be a Sapsucker.

* ETA: It probably goes without saying that, while I get these every few weeks -- there are no doubt MANY scamster companies that don't even bother sending any material out at all. I mean, how would the author know? So these are just the VISIBLE scamsters...