Thursday, August 1, 2013

How an editor or agent is like a Human Resources Manager

I listened, with intense focus, to every word of wisdom falling from Nutschell Windsor's mouth about writing a query letter. (If you know what this is then you just groaned, maybe not out loud but your brain groaned.) Then as I scribbled the last note and sat poised, ready to absorb more valuable information, it occurred to me that the foibles and quirks of the very busy agents she was discussing were all of my pet-peeves when I am at work as an HR Manager.

I am supremely busy.  I get unsolicited calls, letters, emails and faxes daily from people who want me to hire them.

If I make sure to avoid all the common mistakes that people make when searching for a job then at least the agent or editor will look at my query letter and not trash it immediately- as I do with numerous resumes.

Here are the most common mistakes I see in HR and how they would apply to a query letter.

  • Don't apply for a job we don't have
My company hires office employees.  I do not need a cook, a sanitation worker or a contractor, thank you.
Make sure that the agent/editor you are reaching out to actually produces your genre.  You wouldn't send Harlequin Romance a non-fiction book about the cold war.

  • Do not call me with music or the TV blaring in the background and without a pen and paper handy
I am assaulted by loud music and television shows daily by people who call me looking for a job.  I have a hard time hearing them and frankly want to hang up instantly. (I also judge them based on what they are watching/listening to; any yelling talk show in the background and they go right to the bottom of my list.)

Act professionally be prepared for the call you just made to me, whose valuable time you are consuming, by having a pen and paper ready, being in a quiet space, asking insightful questions.  Do not tell me information I already know, for example: it says on your website to send resumes to for this job but I wanted to see if there was a way I can just come interview now.  Now I am upset that you saw the ad posted, saw the website requirement and decided to ignore it completely.  Do you think I will hire people who reach out to me for a job doing any of these unprofessional things?

If you approach an agent/editor with a call first please follow the bullet point above.  If you reach out with a query letter be prepared to hear back from them.  Have your manuscript ready to go, if the whole thing is not complete at least have your perfect first chapter ready to go.  Be prepared to succinctly describe your novel in only a few enticing sentences.  If they catch you off guard or at a bad time be as polite as possible, explain that you would love to speak with them and agree on a time that you can call them back.  Be sure to get their contact information.

  • Have a professional email address
It is important to set up an email address that represents you as an author, not you as a mom, druggie, lush, pedophile, etc.  Seriously- I get emails from Daddy, skirtchaser, colt145mugs, unklfrankie, and worse.  None of these makes me want to hire you and the same would go for an agent.  They want to represent someone who is professional and reliable and if your email says otherwise they may stay away.  Be sure to link this email or check it regularly so you don't miss their response!

  • Do have correct contact information on your query letter
This seems so obvious.  But for every 10 resumes I receive 1 that doesn't have contact information at all or the phone number listed is out of service.

If you are really serious about an agent/editor picking you up you should have an email with your author name as well as any other social media you can handle, Facebook, a blog, twitter, etc. and list this information as well so the agent can see that you are serious about your writing and have already started creating a marketing platform for your work.

  • Check your work and your email for spelling errors

Make sure to turn spell check on in your email or craft your email in Word and copy paste it into the body of your email.  No one will take a writer seriously with spelling and/or major grammatical errors in your email, query letter or your manuscript sample.

I won't hire a person with mistakes like this on their resume I am sure an editor/agent will feel the same way.

  • Do research your agent/editor and meet all their posted requirements
Every editor/agent has their own requirements of what they want to receive with your query letter and how they want to receive it; regular mail, email only, first 10 pages, first chapter, whole manuscript, etc.  Please be sure to customize your letters to the right person and send it with exactly what they asked for in the way they want it.

I always request specific items when I post a job; following basic instructions is very important in my employees day to day work and so is being detail oriented.  If they cannot send a salary history or put the job code in the email subject line as requested that knocks them out of the first round of candidates immediately.

  • Don't send your email or query letter without the required attachments
We have all hit send on an email or sealed a letter and realized we forgot the attachment or to put something in the envelope.  Double and triple check that you have everything your desired agent/editor requires before hitting send or dropping it in the post.

When you submit to an editor or an agent you are applying for a job.   You always present the best you possible in an interview, well your query letter is your interview and you need to be as professional as possible in your communication with your desired agent or editor.  Use professional formatting, fonts, language and meet all their requirements.  If you don't do the query letter right, no matter how amazing your writing is, they may never get to it.  With a good query letter and writing sample hopefully they will be scrambling to call you or respond to your email.

Now go out there, put your professional foot-forward, and knock 'em dead!