Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Memorable Query Situations

Agents are used to receiving all kinds of submissions. Some a great, some are not quite so great, and some are weird or even borderline creepy. While I certainly don't remember every single query or writer (but that's what Excel spreadsheets are for, right?), there are a few I'm sure I won't forget any time soon. And I thought I'd share some of them with you today. Perhaps it'll help you understand us agents better.

1) The former gang member on the run. When I was interning with an agency in London a few years ago, I received a submission from a former member of a notorious gang known for a lot of bad things. Drugs, guns, you name it, they probably did it. The query was for a tell-all book about life in the  gang and their crimes, which I thought sounded awesome. At the time of the submission, said former gang member was in hiding from the police and his gang, so I guess it didn't come as a surprise that he didn't want to share his whereabouts with me. He ended his query with the sentence, "You won't be able to contact me, but I'll write again soon." Slightly scary, but way to intrigue me. Unfortunately, that was towards the end of my internship, so I have no idea if he ever got in touch again.

2) The fax lady. Another internship story. One day, I got a call from a lady who asked if she could her manuscript. When I said she couldn't, but that she was welcome to email or snail-mail her submission, she refused, saying she didn't trust the internet or mail services (which, after all the NSA stuff might not even sound that weird anymore). She would only whisper and repeatedly told me that her manuscript was dangerous and that "they were after her". To this day, I have no idea if she was a lunatic (very likely) or if I missed out on the best manuscript ever (I refuse to think that).

3) The guy who demanded an explanation. The last one from my internship days. As you can probably tell, I was in charge of the slushpile while I was at the agency, so I was the one who decided whether a submission got rejected, a full requested, or if an actual agent got to see a manuscript. Not that I would have admitted that to a writer who turned up at the agency to "demand an explanation" for his rejection. The writer in question had travelled all the way from France to London with a printout of his manuscript (and the rejection email) just to wait in the street until I came out of the building. He was furious and started to rant that we clearly had no idea what we were doing and that he wanted to talk to the person in charge, because there was no way we wouldn't want his manuscript. You want to know what I did? I smiled and told him I was only the intern and didn't know anything. Then I left as quickly as I could. Hey, don't judge me. I was young and scared. (I wish I could still use that tactic.)

4) The hoarder mum. Not too long after I started my own agency, there was an article about me and my agency in the local newspaper, which led to quite a few local writers (apparently, everyone around here is a writer) paying me a visit to drop off their manuscript in person (never a good idea, people). One day, a man turned up at my office and thought it would be a good idea to tell me a little (or a lot) about himself before actually handing over his manuscript. He started telling me about his mother who had been a hoarder and how, after she had died, he'd found his father dead under all the mess. Talk about uncomfortable conversation. And before you ask, of COURSE I had so many questions. Like, hadn't they ever missed his dad? Where had they thought he had gone? What about the smell? But naturally, I didn't really feel like making that conversation any longer than it had to be. Unless it is closely related to the story you've written, this is NOT the kind of story you tell people within 60 seconds of meeting them, people. It seriously isn't.

5) The legally sound memoir. I once received a query for a memoir, which... let's put it that way... wasn't necessarily "flattering" for a lot of people mentioned in it. When I got back to the author, saying I was a bit worried about him getting sued over it, he just wrote back, "Don't worry. They're all dead.", followed by a winking smiley face. (A winking smiley face.) Well, that's... comforting. I guess. *coughs*

6) The analyis of my... face. If you have the urge to comment on an agent's look or face in your query, suppress it. Seriously. Once, a querying writer decided to skip the pitch and, instead, go straight into a lengthy analysis of my facial features and what they said about my personality. Not only was that ever so slightly creepy, but the result wasn't even flattering. So if you can't suppress the urge to comment on my face and/ or personality, at least make sure to write something nice. I mean... duh!

7) The writer with a short fuse. Not too long ago I received a query in which the writer detailed his various disabilities, even though they weren't relevant to the manuscript he was submitting. I responded the day after, telling him that I was sorry but that I didn't represent his genre. A few hours later (remember, it's still only one day after he sent me his query), he sent me another email (in all caps, no less), asking why I was ignoring him, and if I was ignoring him because he was a "f****** cripple" (his words, not mine). I replied politely and attached my previous email. His response? "WHATEVER!"

8) The most memorable of all. I wrote about this one in a previous blog post, but this definitely deserves another mention. A couple of years ago, I got a phone call from a man who’d read about me in the newspaper. He was calling to ask what I thought of his book idea, and if I thought it was worth writing it. The man’s daughter had battled quite a few demons and, ultimately, committed suicide. The father was now thinking about putting her story down on paper, but wasn’t sure whether it was something publishers would be interested in. I told him that a) unfortunately, I didn’t (and still don’t) represent nonfiction, b) it was impossible to tell based on the topic alone, c) there was never a guarantee in publishing, and most importantly, d) he should definitely write it down, even if it was just for his own sake. We then talked for a while about what writing down his daughter’s story meant to him and the therapeutical aspects of writing, and at the end of the conversation it was obvious that it would help him come to terms with everything, whether the story ever got published or not. It was a conversation that always stayed with me. I might not have been (and still not be) the right agent to take this on, but it put a lot of things in perspective and reminded me of the importance and therapeutical aspects of writing. Whether it ever gets published or not. 

Yes, writers can be a funny folk, but I love them for it. Creepy submissions aside, I love that writers submit their writing to me. I love reading their stuff, even if it's not always quite the right fit for me and my small list. 

But don't be scary or creepy, please. I'm a sensitive plant.

3 comments:

  1. Oh wow. Reminds me of the year I worked as a social assistance officer. Nothing as creepy as these stories but can definitely relate to working with people. The crappy things you put up with suck, but in the end, helping people makes the bad stuff worth enduring.

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  2. There's all kinds of creepiness here, but I think the dude who show'd up to demand a reason would probably freak me out the most. @_@ NOPENOPENOPE.

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  3. I may have rung an agent up once to tell them I'd written a novel - as you can imagine, they were amazed. "Someone's written a novel? Wow! Hang on - hey guys! Guys! Stop everything! Someone's written a novel!"

    I feel a lot better about that particular gaff after reading these though =D

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