Book marketing 101: honesty — policy, or just a good idea?

In my last post, I discussed two ways of finding agents to query other than through direct meetings at writers’ conferences (which is still one of the best — and, unfortunately, most expensive — ways to connect with an agent): soliciting agents who spoke at conferences you attended with whom you did NOT speak, and tracking down those who represent your favorite authors.

I have more words of advice about the latter method yet to dispense, but first, I felt ethically obliged to revisit the former briefly, to address some questionable querying practices I have seen in my travels. The prospect of writing a post today, however, made me want to bury my head back under my covers.

Some vague voice in the back of my fevered brain whispered that I had written rather extensively on this subject last year, so I did a spot of digging. “Hooray,” cried I — or rather wheezed I; shouting is a bit beyond my lung capacities at the moment — “I can post the requisite dire warning AND take my hourly nap.”

So here it is, my friends, the proverbial blast from the past. Enjoy!

It has come to my attention that some wily writers out there habitually surf the web, tracking down major writing conferences, and sending “I so enjoyed your talk at Conference X, and I hope you will be interested in my work…” queries to the agents listed as having spoken there. These unscrupulous souls do this for conferences they have never attended, and yet they write “Conference X attendee” in big red letters on the outside of their submission envelopes.

Oh, the shame of it all…

And why do these clever-but-underhand writers do this? Because they have been around the industry long enough to know that

(a) by a couple of weeks after a large conference, the average agent might not remember be able to pick everyone who pitched to her out of a police line-up, much less remember who was or was not in the audience during her how-to-wow-me speech,

(b) even at a small conference, many writers are too shy to approach an agent directly, so chances are, the agent will not have met everyone there, and

(c) at a big agency, a reasonably well-established agent will have a screener going through her queries for her, anyway.

Therefore (these cads reason) the chances of being caught in the lie about attending are next to nil, and since the benefits of being able to claim conference attendance can be fairly significant — as I mentioned earlier, conference-going queriers’ letters usually end up in the closer scrutiny pile — they have no scruples, apparently, about dressing themselves in borrowed clothes.

Why not, these abandoned types reason: at worst, being caught means the query and/or eventual submission’s being rejected, that’s all.

Fie, fie.

Actually, there are a couple of ways in which such bold souls DO get caught, and since I am here to preach practicality, rather than morality, I feel honor-bound to point them out. First, agent rosters for conferences are NOTORIOUSLY malleable; agency screeners love to tell tales of the query letters they’ve received that extolled the pleasures of meeting an agent who was never in the time zone of the mentioned conference.

Second, since agents routinely talk about their specific book needs of the moment at conferences, what they say there is often substantially different than what they told the fine folks who put together the standard agents’ guides a year before. (Even if their preferences are wildly different, though, the unprincipled conference-claiming writer will only come across as working from an outdated guidebook. Still, fie.)

Brace yourself for #3, because it represents some pretty hardened criminality.

Some dodgy writers are not satisfied with imposing upon a screener with an untrue statement in a query letter: sometimes, they will send the first 50 pages of their manuscripts to an agent who attended a conference, along with a disingenuous letter thanking the agent profusely for requesting the materials at a conference so jam-packed with writers that the agent might well have been pitched to dozens of times in its hallways.

Fie, fie, FIE!!! I find this one particularly offensive — although truth compels me to say (off the record, of course) that I do know several successfully published authors who got their agents this way.

But that doesn’t make it right, my friends; it only makes it common. You’re better than that. I know you are.

Now that we’re all sadder but wiser about the ways in which this wicked, wicked world works, I shall head back next time to how to track down and solicit established writers’ agents. In the meantime, my pillow calls me.

One last thing to get off my chest before I abandon governess mode and court slumber: when is the last time you made a back-up of your writing files? Isn’t it about time to do it again?

Keep up the good work!

One Reply to “Book marketing 101: honesty — policy, or just a good idea?”

  1. I guess I just cannot sit and see one of Anne’s posts travel the road to the archival files with “no comment” at the bottom of it. Therefore, I’ll do my part and remark briefly in response to this particular posting.
    The nerve! The gall! To send “requested pages” to an agent as if one had pitched to him/her, when in fact one had never even attended the conference. This is much too much of an underhanded and sneaky ruse for me to ever consider. On the other hand, I did hear a rather prominent writer, speaking to a small group at a recent conference, suggest that one enclose the first three chapters/first fifty pages along with a query letter as a matter of course. The idea being that if the query letter interests the agent and he/she wants to see more, it is already there. It did sound appealing to me, but perhaps the plan should be tempered with the thought of only sending exactly what “they” ask for. (I should not have to tell the rest of Anne’s readers where that wisdom originated!)
    Anne, hope you are improving day by day!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *