Tuesday, October 6, 2009

It's your job, not mine!

I’m told I write some of the nicest, most encouraging responses in the business, even when it is necessary for them to be negative. I hope that’s true, I’m not in the business of stepping on anybody’s dream. But occasionally I get some that get under my skin a little. One of my editorial assts sent me one and said “You better answer this one, it just made me mad.”

The person had sent a writing sample and declined to comply with our submission guidelines because she felt most of what we asked for was our job, not hers. Her job was to write, not to write a proposal. Now as much as I appreciate someone telling me how to do my job and I’m sure I could use a lot of instruction, I still felt compelled to write her this response:

“Thank you for thinking of us with this project. In politely declining to comply with our submission guidelines you have also removed yourself from consideration instead of us having to reject you. You see, we get 2000 of these a year and before we look at the writing, we look at the proposal to see if the genre is a fit for us and to see if it looks like the writer is one we could effectively promote. Editors do the same thing on their end. In fact most rejections occur without any of the writing being read because something in the proposal told them it was not a fit. You have chosen to not give us that opportunity. It also suggests that you might be a difficult author to work with which is not really the attitude I would think you would wish to convey.

“Even for clients I already represent I will never know their project as well as they do, so the better the base proposal they use to sell us, the better the proposal we can craft to send out. We judge the writing based on the writing sample, but we judge the salability of the project based on the proposal. The one you chose not to give us.

“I wish you the best with this, but I would encourage you in the future to not argue with an agent or editor about what you should or should not provide, but to check the guidelines and send what they request or do not respond at all.”

I’m not sure what an author hopes to accomplish when they challenge what an agent or editor is asking to see, and if they think we don’t know what we are doing in what we ask to see why do they want us to represent them? It is true we ask for a little more than some, but we feel it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. I do look at projects that don’t send what we request, but not when they announce that it is intentional.

I’m funny that way.


Becki said...

It is so hard to believe someone would actually do that. Personally, I am so concerned about my proposals I nearly sweat blood in preparation! WOW.

L. S. King said...

Oy! Ouch. Amazing. Terry, my hat's off to you. I'm not known for tact; if I'd had to answer that, the keyboard would likely have been smoking!

Jeanette Levellie said...

Oh dear. I don't envy you, Terry.

Did you graduate from the University of Diplomacy summa cum laude?

Stephanie Reed said...

"You have chosen not to give us that opportunity."

Kind of like, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."

There are 'weed-out' classes in college before the real work starts. I guess a proposal can weed out, but it's also something to build upon.

Terry Burns said...

Apparently not all that diplomatic - she wrote back that it was for the best since she wanted an agent that wanted to do more than pick up the phone and pick up a check. She might have just called one or two of my clients.

Martha Ramirez said...

Wow, that was something else. I couldn't even imagine working with a person that came across that way to begin with. I could only imagine how it would be later!

Your response was well-said with respect. You really do have a hard job, don't you, Terry!

Amy said...

I have to admit I've been surprised at the tone of a few of the submissions I've looked at for you so far, but this really takes the cake.

I have the pleasure of being a member of the Windy City RWA Chapter and I've seen how they help each other put together the most professional letter or proposals or even email before sending them out. That group also has a huge success rate, too! Many proposals I've seen for you have prospective writers who have never done a 'competitive analysis' before but at least try to do so, and maintain a professional polished package. That impresses me.

This business isn't that large - many folks know each other and/or are reviewers/editors/booksellers/librarians. Putting something so inappropriate in writing was a huge misstep. (I know, doing it at all was bad, but in email - so awful!) Lucky for her Terry has such strong ethics.

Terry said...

If someone is submitting to you and has never done this type of proposal, do you take points off for first proposal? Do you happen to have samples of proposals that have worked for you?

Terry Burns said...

You miss the point. It isn't a matter of 'taking off points' at all, it's a matter of being competitive. We're juding the project on the basis of the proposal and the writing on the basis of the writing sample. My assistants and I have over 100 sitting here that we're evaluating right now. The ones that have done a really good job of presenting their project in the proposal have a definite advantage. Then if they have a unique story and unique voice they are definitely in contention. Sample? Not to push my own stuff, but I have an ebook I prepared after I did a month long course on the topic that walks a writer through a good proposal one step at a time in the bookstore at my website www.terryburns.net

Terry said...

Thank you. I'll take a look.