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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
- Do have correct contact information on your query letter
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
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
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!