Following the Rules

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Following the Rules

No Diving!Many unagented writers out there are terrified of breaking rules when it comes to getting in contact with agents. What rules? Always wait patiently to hear back on a submission! Never, under any circumstance, follow up on a requested manuscript!! FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES TO THE LETTER LEST YOU FEEL OUR WRATH!!!

We at Upstart Crow are not wrathful ogres full of wrath, but we do appreciate writers with a sense of decorum. We’ve put up submission guidelines for a reason, and if you refuse to follow them, it makes things more difficult. Do we reject things automatically where a writer has made a simple mistake? Well, no, but every extra step we have to take in order to consider your manuscript (like you’ve sent an attachment instead of pasting pages into the email, or you’ve linked to your website with information about your project rather than simply telling us about it) is taking up more of our time and may, if we haven’t had our coffee yet, cause us to frown and shake our heads. If we have a huge pool of submissions to go through, it’s certainly easier to pass on things which don’t follow the guidelines.

In regards to following up on submissions…well, we don’t have a hard-and-fast “Never do this ever” policy. We try to respond to things in a reasonable amount of time (I, for example, try my absolute best to respond to all queries within one month of receiving them, and to all requested manuscripts within two). Am I always successful? Of course not. If it’s been 32 days for a query or 62 days on a manuscript submission, should you be sending a follow-up demanding to know why you haven’t heard from me? Heavens no! But sometimes things do get lost, or forgotten, or sometimes the rest of my life makes me busy enough that I can’t keep up. If you’ve waited an especially long time, I’m not going to be angry if you follow up.

Now, there are also times when it’s in your best interest to send along an email for other reasons. Like what, you ask? Well, if you’ve sent me an manuscript and have received an offer of representation from someone else, I’d certainly hope that you’d email me and let me know, no matter how long I’ve had your manuscript or even just the query. I’ll always do my best to read material quickly if you have a legitimate offer on the table. Does that mean I’m more likely to sign a project? Nope. It still comes down to how I connect with the writing, the story, and the author, more than how someone else feels about it.

The most important thing to remember, though, is that if an agent is open to submissions, it’s because he’s looking to sign new clients. Furthermore, if he requests material, it’s because he wants to read it. Just as your time is valuable, so is ours. I’d hate to spend time reading, thinking about, and discussing a manuscript only to realize that it’s been signed before I even had a shot.

Are there other times you should email? What if you’ve written a new draft since I requested the material? Nope. That just makes me wonder why I didn’t get the final draft in the first place. What if you’ve published a poem or short story somewhere? Should you send along an update? Again I’ll say no, since it doesn’t change the draft I’ve already requested, right? What if your dog gave birth to puppies? Well, that depends on the breed, the quality of the photos, and how much you want for one. This guy I’d totally go for.

In all seriousness, it’s a good idea to follow the main guidelines and rules, because we’ve set them up to make things as fair for everyone as possible. But remember, there are also times when a follow-up email isn’t the worst thing in the world, and chances are, as long as you have a legitimate reason for following up (not counting puppies), we won’t get upset about it.

  1. OMG – could that puppy be any cuter? No! And this is coming from a captive of six felines.

    One question. I always thought you should only let the agents with requested partials and fulls know if you’ve got an offer of representation. You mentioned you’d like to know even if you’d only received a query. Do you think that’s standard, or agent by agent?

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  2. I love posts like this. Sometimes we writers get too obsessed with rules, afraid that we’ll upset the balance of having our submissions considered, so it’s great to have it spelled out. Posts like this show us just where you stand with timelines and response times. I do my best to adhere to guidelines but I’ve also followed my instinct on following up and it’s really paid off. At the end of the day it’s about doing your research and being professional. Too bad there’s seem to be people out there who don’t follow either of us those basic ideas. *sigh*

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  3. Hey, Debra, I’d certainly like to know before I read an author’s query that she has been offered or has accepted representation elsewhere. Anything that can help speed the plow is good. It helps!

    Great post, Chris.

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  4. “I always thought you should only let the agents with requested partials and fulls know if you’ve got an offer of representation. You mentioned you’d like to know even if you’d only received a query. Do you think that’s standard, or agent by agent?”

    I’m speaking only for myself here, Debra, but the way I look at it is this: Now that we’re requesting 20 pages, I’d hate to read the sample pages and request the manuscript only to find out the author has already accepted an offer. If an author has the project out with many people, it’s common courtesy, in my book, to just keep everyone updated. And it only helps the writer, too; after all, if I hear something has an offer, I’m likely going to read it quickly so I can decide whether it’s something I want to request or not. If the writer feels that waiting on me to request the manuscript, read it, and make a decision would take too long when there’s already interest, I can see them being hesitant to let me know, but I’d at least like a shot, you know? I’m just about transparency and feel writers should be, too.

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  5. Great post, Chris!
    As an unagented writer and ardent rule follower, (I break out in a cold sweat at the thought of taking 11 items in the 10 items or less line) it’s good to know there are some grey areas in the submission rules.

    When Upstart Crow makes an author an offer, is the puppy included in the deal? That dog is too cute.

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  6. I just want to thank you all for being so clear with your expectations and what you want. It makes it so much easier for everyone. 🙂

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  7. Michael and Chris,

    Thanks so much for clarifying! I love this blog and wish you much success with the new agency. If it’s alright with you, I’m going to link this on my latest blog post (that I finished only minutes ago) and tweet about it. I would love to work with an agency like yours with such open and honest communication skills.;-)

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  8. What a nice blog and friendly post…thank you.

    Good luck with your agency!

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  9. When submitting simply attach a 100 dollar bill using a standard paper clip. No one ever “misplaces” a C-note.

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  10. Clearly, Michael G., the money you’d attach is virtual, since we accept only emailed submissions. How very like you to tease people with pretend money. Thanks, pal.

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  11. I have a question. If a writer receives an offer of representation, would the lucky one put that in the subject line of the email, or would it get eaten by the spam filter?

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