Bored with writing query letters? Sick of all the pesky research required to find appropriate agents? Tired of sticking stamps on envelopes or looking up email addresses? Wouldn't it be great if there were an easier way?
Never fear--a growing number of online services feel your pain. For a not-terribly-exorbitant fee, they'll do it all for you: identify agents and editors, format your query, send it out electronically. All you have to do is sit back and wait for the requests for your manuscript to roll in.
At least, that's the theory behind such automated query services as BookBlaster, eQuery Online, and Book Writer's Market. A variation on the theme is instantqueryletters.com, a software package that generates query letters for you (you have to figure out where to send them, though).
I eviscerated one of these services, Bookblaster, in a previous post. The reasons why you wouldn't want to use BookBlaster apply equally to any automated query service. To recap:
- Queries are sent electronically. Many agents and editors want paper submissions. This is rapidly changing, but right now, in 2006, sending an equery to an agent who wants paper is a waste of phosphors.
- The services provide no concrete info on how their lists of agents and editors are compiled--so you have no way of knowing whether the people on the lists are reputable. In fact, the larger the list, the more likely it is that they are not reputable. Book Writer's Market claims to have a database of "over 900" US-based agents--pretty much a guarantee that lots of them are agents you wouldn't want to query. (The AAR, the professional agents' trade group to which most selling agents in the USA belong, has around 400 members.)
- Many of the services don't bother to target the queries they send out, which means that most queries will go to agents who aren't appropriate. Even if the service claims to match queries with appropriate agents/editors, it's unlikely that they'll do as careful a job as you could.
If these considerations aren't enough to convince you, here's another. Automated query services piss agents and editors off.
Agent Matt Wagner of Fresh Books detests Bookblaster. If you Bookblast him, he won't even bother to send you a form rejection. VP and Executive Publisher Joe Wikert of John Wiley & Sons calls BookBlaster "a goofy idea," and editor Brian Seidman of New South Books agrees. In a comment on Matt Wagner's blog, Mr. Seidman says: "I have a special 'rule' set up in my mail program, that when emails arrive from Bookblaster, they go straight in the trash. I always tell querying authors, there's nothing more valuable than doing research on a publisher before you send a query."
Miss Snark has weighed in on BookBlaster ("I wondered where those e-queries came from when I'm pretty clear I don't take e-queries"), as has agent Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency. "The whole point of the query," she writes, "is the illusion of personalization. As agents, we all know that you write the main crux (as in the pitch blurb) once and then you simply tailor the opening paragraph to the agent you are targeting. Mix and match and email away. The point is to be professional enough (and savvy) to take the time to tailor the query letter so the agent knows he or she is not just some random target."
BookBlaster identifies itself in a little tag at the end of its queries (making it even easier for agents and editors to delete them). Another of the automated services, eQuery Online, does not identify itself; its queries appear to be coming directly from the writer. However, it uses the same formatting for all its queries, plugging information provided by the writer into a basic template. If an agent or editor receives enough of these, s/he will start to recognize them--and s/he won't be pleased. Like, for instance, Dan Lazar of Writer's House, whose rant about automated queries is posted at Agent Kristin's blog. "These presumptive and overly-familiar letters are driving me nutty; and I’ve been talking to more and more fellow agents who feel the same way." Agent Nadia Cormier of Firebrand Literary is one of them--and she is seriously annoyed.
Neither Mr. Lazar nor Ms. Cormier identify the source of the obnoxious queries. The reason I know they're coming from eQuery Online is that agent Ashley Grayson of the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency, who has been receiving the exact same emails, eventually became irritated enough to trace them to their source, and was kind enough to pass that information on to me. He has given me permission to quote him: "The act of authorship is one of relentless creativity. Why any writer would want to hand off the presentation of his or her work to a marketing flack is beyond me. When I see the same (cereal box) language reappear in queries, I simply reject without further reading."
So there you have it, writers: yet more proof that in the strange, inconsistent, frustrating world of publishing, there are no shortcuts.