As Thanksgiving approaches, I thought it would be nice to write something in line with the spirit of the season. I think of this season as a time to be thankful and grateful and for me that also means being gracious. So, I’d like to take this time to talk about proper etiquette. Whether you’re sending your manuscript out to an agent or editor, or giving feedback to another author, it’s good to remember to think about how you are presenting yourself. Being Linda’s intern has given me a unique insight into what works and what doesn’t when authors are interacting with agents. I get to watch Linda deal with authors and other professionals in the field, on the phone, in person and via email. I’m learning the appropriate way to talk to authors, whether Linda and I are accepting or rejecting their work. Together, we have sent feedback to writers whose work we’ve asked them to revise and resubmit. I’m learning how to nicely say no to a manuscript, even when there were some things I liked about it. Learning these skills is shaping me into someone who can stay positive and encouraging yet assertively say what I need to say. Here are some tips for when you’re querying that might seem obvious but can’t be stated enough.
When sending your work out, remember to end with a thank you. I know this seems like common manners, but the truth is manners apparently are no longer so common. Showing your gratitude, either expressing it as an author to an agent for looking at your work, or an agent to an author thanking them for their query, it says a lot about who you are. I’m not saying be obsequious, but it’s always nice to end with a “thank you for your time” or something. We’ve gotten many emails where an author expresses their gratitude that we’ve taken the time to give them feedback. When an agent does take that time on your work, even if it’s with a rejection, remember to be thankful. There are plenty of agents who aren’t willing to do that. When they do, they are going above and beyond.
It’s nice to be appreciative of the time an agent takes to look at your work, regardless of the outcome. Sending a demanding letter, or telling the recipient they’ll be happy about the time they’ve spent reading your work, doesn’t look good. You won’t come across as confident, you’ll come across as full of yourself and rude. Also, agents hate being told how they are going to feel about reading something. They like to make up their own minds.
As an author, you should not only be accepting of criticism but be happy that time was taken to give you constructive feedback. If you are rejected, leave it at that. Don’t go back and ask more in depth questions as to why they didn’t want your book. It doesn’t matter! They might not have liked your writing, your story, or just didn’t feel it was a good fit for them. No matter what it was, you wouldn’t want someone representing you because you begged and pleaded for it. You want someone who is going to love and fight for your manuscript. Accept their opinion, with feedback or not.
When you’re in the position to critique other people’s work yourself, say what you mean without being mean. This is something that has been really crucial for me to learn. There was a time when my critiques were a bit harsh and unkind. Let’s be honest, sometimes you just want to ask someone “OMG, what were you thinking when you wrote that?!” But you can’t. And I can’t. It’s not nice, nor is it helpful. Instead, make sure whatever feedback you give is constructive. Leave the other person with something positive to think about and constructive feedback that they can go back to their work with and give it the best they can.
As an agent, intern, author, or someone in a critique group, we should all strive to help one another be the best we can be. I think it’s a good rule of thumb to try and spread across the whole year what the Thanksgiving season is about. Let it be a guide to how you treat the agents you submit your work to and how you give feedback to your author friends. Being grateful and gracious we can never go wrong.
Kimberly Richardson is currently interning for Linda Epstein at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, while pursuing her Masters degree in Pace University’s Publishing Program. You can follow Kimberly on Twitter @kimberly_ann688.