How to Hook an Agent on your Work and the Wildergibra

By Anthony S. Policastro

No matter how much information you find on a particular agent, they seem to be a mysterious bunch, especially when you think your novel idea is a perfect match for one of them and they send you a rejection letter.

Well, the mystery is no more after you read Therese Walsh's blog on Writer Unboxed, "Agents and the First Two Pages" about the Wildergibra of the publishing business.

She recently attended and Backspace Agent/Author Conference last week in New York City and she was gracious enough to share the gems from the conference in her blog. She writes about the first two pages of your manuscript and what it should and should not contain.

Here are some of the valuable tips she got out of the conference:
  1. Make your prose unique
  2. Polish your voice
  3. Make us care about your characters
  4. Don't jar the reader with overlong or complex sentence structures, strange word choices, inappropriate language
  5. Nix the backstory
  6. Reconsider your prologue - they tend to slow the pace down
  7. Be careful with your poetic writing
  8. Minimize description
  9. Do you homework on the agent(s)

I highly recommend taking a look at the piece. I found it enlightening in debunking some of the mystery surrounding agents. After all, they are people, too just looking for the next Holy Grail for the publishing industry.

Photo by Josi Silva at Flickr


Can We Learn From Screenwriters? The Extreme Value of The Log

By Michael Neff

Believe it or not, most fiction writers (as opposed to screenwriters) don't know the definition of a log line, much less how to craft it. But the value of this knowledge can not only make a query letter MUCH more punchy and direct, but also give the writer a means to reality-check the "high concept" of their novel-in-progress. And what do we mean by high concept? Basically, a story line or premise that sounds sufficiently unique and commercially viable at the same time--in other words, not like one the agent or editor has already heard 5000 times in the past month!

Back to logs ... The best article on the subject of writing loglines can be found at Screenwriting On The Net. From the article:

All well-written stories consist of two stories--the "objective storyline" and "subjective storyline"--[which] consists of the following: A hero with a flaw that keeps her from achieving a worthwhile goal, is forced to respond to a lifechanging event instigated by an opponent, and in the process of responding to that lifechanging event and with the help of an ally, the hero is forced to overcome her flaw, and only then is she ready to do one-on-one battle with the opponent to realize her goal.

So what do we have here? Classic DRAMA. Just keep in mind that great drama creates great characters by default. Just ask Antigone. Here is a good example from the article:

An overprotective (flaw) mother (hero) must overcome her own fears in order to allow her diabetic daughter (opponent and ally) to risk death to give birth (lifechanging event), then must fight to make sense of her daughter's losing battle against death (battle).

The above is a logline from one of America's best screenplays, "Steel Magnolias."

So you can readily see the value of perfecting this instrument for use in a query letter--to the point and punchy. It demonstrates your professionalism and by default creates a HOOK the agent can then use to snag an editor ... Yes, yes, yes.

By the way, if you absolutely cannot write a sharp log, then it's time to reevaluate your story and plot. Maybe the commercial fiction premise you've been working towards is simply non-existent?

Be honest with yourself.


Are You a Female or Male Writer?

By Anthony S. Policastro

There is a nifty site called The Genie Gender at Bookblog that uses a unique algorithm to determine your gender by analyzing a sample of your writing.

Of course, I had to try it. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep. So I loaded over 1,000 words (it works best with 500 or more words) from two of my novels and both times it said I was female. I tried it again with different passages and again it said I was a female. I even put this post on the site and it insisted I was a female.

This would not be too bad if I were writing to a female audience, but both novels are thrillers aimed at a very male audience. So maybe men are really from Mars and women are from Venus. Where I’m from I don’t know. Maybe I should start a new novel that will appeal to female readers or change my name to Antoinette or Toni.

Anyway, I got to thinking what if there was an algorithm that could rewrite your novel or short story so that it would appeal to a woman? How about women 30 and under? How about women 30 and older? How about men?

You just simply write a chapter and then feed it to the algorithm and it would rewrite it so it would appeal to any particular audience you choose. So if you were writing a thriller and wanted it to appeal to women 30 and under you could choose that demographic or you could write a syrupy love story and have it appeal to men over 45. Publishers would love it.

Is it possible? Maybe, maybe not. I would hate to think of our noble profession boiling down to an algorithm in a computer.

The reason I thought of this is because the Genie algorithm counts and compares a number of key words in your writing and assigns them a gender: male or female. If you have a higher number of female words, obviously you’re a female writer.

So I took a brief look at novel writing software to see if these programs were using sophisticated algorithms. Many basically work like story instructors – they give you the tree of your plot and make suggestions, but in the end you have to write the story. Phew, I was relieved. Computers cannot replace writers…not yet anyway.


I found the link to the Genie site in a blog post by Therese Walsh, Turning Xs into Ys: Guy Talk that Works on Writer Unboxed, a blog about the craft and business of genre fiction. Take a look – it's an interesting site.

Does Russo Inspire or Demoralize?

By Michael Neff

From an interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo on the Barnes & Noble website.

Q: Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?

A: My first novel, Mohawk, was rejected a couple dozen times before it was finally published. Most of the people who read it said they didn't know how to publish a book that wasn't quite "literary" and not quite "popular" either. Anyway, years later, my agent was having lunch with an editor who had just turned down a first novel by a gifted young writer. It was well written, she admitted, but she didn't know how to publish it. What she really wished, she said wistfully, was that my agent would give her a writer like Richard Russo. What good would that do, he replied. He'd offered her Mohawk and she'd turned it down for the same reason she was turning this novel down. Which she refused to believe until he showed her the rejection slip.


Agents Clearly Note Their Preferences

By Anthony S. Policastro

Talk about being specific, I found one agent who is so specific as to the type of manuscript he is looking for, it is as if you were sitting next to him having a cup of coffee.

Andrew H. Zack, president of The Zack Agency in San Diego, has many detailed posts on his blog, all that's new(s) from A to Z and on his website that clearly spell out the kinds of manuscripts and authors he would consider representing. He is mostly looking for nonfiction because

"…simply put, I want to represent more nonfiction. Nonfiction, generally speaking, is simply easier to sell, especially if the author has the right credentials and/or an existing platform. Why is it easier? Well, there's less good nonfiction out there and thus less competition for editors' reading time. It can be sold on proposal, which means it takes less time to read initially and so decisions come more quickly. If an author has the right credentials and/or platform, it's often a no-brainer. A serious scientist writing about a serious subject, e.g., global warming, and saying something new or controversial, will nearly always sell. At least one agent I know of makes his living just selling these types of books. And I'd like to put a dent in his business."

He plans to post a future blog on his fiction requirements. So, if you meet his requirements, you may have an agent that will sell your work.

It also will be interesting to see if Mr. Zack gets a higher number of good queries that fit his requirements now that he has clearly spelled out his preferences. Perhaps, he’ll mention this in a future blog post.

The amount of information provided by Mr. Zack is quite refreshing in the maze of agents out there. However, agents are very busy people and if you wore their shoes for one day you would understand why they don’t have reams of information out there. But, some do with the ease and speed of posting on blogs and websites. Take a look at agent Kristin Nelson's blog, Pub Rants. She has a new, relevant post almost every day and one wonders if she ever sleeps.

So why I am I writing about this? Well, the more information from agents the better because it is extremely helpful to both agents and authors. Authors can better zero in on agents who would be interested in their work, and agents will have more queries in line of what they want. After all, most agents reject more than 90 per cent of the queries sent to them and many wished they had more that fit their criteria. Agents need new authors as well as authors need agents.

The final word - do as much research as you can on an agent before you query. You can find several useful sites on this blog as well as others on the Internet.


Responses to Why Do You Write?

By Anthony S. Policastro

In an earlier post, I challenged readers look into themselves and determine why they write based on David Morrell's premise (See Why Do You Write?) that writers write because of an unresolved trauma that festers inside of them all of their lives.

We received many different and interesting responses with some in agreement and others in disagreement and some just wondering.

Not Sure

This is a very interesting question to which I am not certain I know the answer. With regard to the premise of trauma, I think it is a reasonable suggestion, made with an excellent argument. However, I don't know that I agree. Of course, a psychologist may be able to uncover some deep emotions I am masking, but I don't feel it, and I don't feel my writing is a response to anything other than the story I am trying to tell. I think it is, in general, a bit of a stretch to posit a theory on something as arbitrary as "why" with any certainty that stretches beyond your own personal experience.

But that begs the question you originally asked: Why do I write? Personally, I write to try to tell a fantastic story. I hope to entertain...but also to teach, humor, and inspire individual thought. We've all read a work that made us do that. And, I suppose, I've decided that nothing is more powerful or important than creating those feelings that so overwhelmed us in another. That, I think, is why I write.

Geoffrey Edwards - author of Fire Bell in the Night

Provided Inspiration

Once again David Morrell (and you!) have given me just what I needed. I've been struggling a bit with my WIP, and his #3 points me in the right direction. Thank you!

Patry Francis - author of The Liar’s Diary

Need to be noticed – not a trauma

Joyce Carol Oates, a celebrated author, came to Syracuse last fall to speak about writing, etc. and over the course of the evening she commented on several famous male writers (I think Hemingway was one, but I'm pushing 50 and my memory ain't what I seem to recall it once was.) Each had issues with their fathers. She didn't elaborate too deeply, saying only that their desires to earn their fathers respect drove their writing to a higher level. In fact, she quipped that we might not have all of their fine work to read had their fathers not been such bastards.

This certainly lines up with David Morrell's hypothesis.

Speaking for myself, I'm a middle child. The third of five. Consequently, I think I have a deep-seeded need to be noticed. It's certainly not unresolved trauma nor a conscious pursuit, but a motivator none-the-less.

Everyone is driven by something...if only we were all color-coded like the sale items at Wal-Mart.

Matthew Dunn - author of The Good Silver


I don't agree. I write because it's a natural part of the way I connect with the world. What goes into that and what motivates it is the whole of my experience, not just the hard parts.

I've interviewed many songwriters in the course of my work, and would say that what I've heard from them supports that. One may write from trauma at a given time, and come back to keep figuring that out, sure, but there are other reasons which lead one to write as well.

Kerry Dexter

Still wondering

I read the blog about David. I don't know. I have always written, have always had the intense desire to write. I can not go through life without writing. I think that you probably relate to what I am saying here.

I don't know. I think that David probably has a point. The first novel I wrote, I actually became quite ill while writing it. But, when I read it now, I realize that it is beautiful in so many aspects; I just can't explain it.

I related to some of those characters so much, that I have to wonder if David doesn't have a good point here. And, the fact that he is a best-selling author makes me wonder even more!!!! Good article.

Sharon A. - Phoenix, AZ

A passion that cannot be ignored

I write because it is a passion I cannot ignore. . . Trauma? Everyone has at least one form of trauma in their life and most people quite a few. So, my question is, since everyone has one form of trauma, why isn't everyone a writer? I do believe that writing is therapeutic and of suggested by psychologists. However, I am not sure I agree that writers write because of a trauma. I believe that each person has been given a gift or talent we cannot ignore. We have also been given free will. It is up to us how we use the blessing.

Amy W. - Peoria, IL

Expressing what they can’t express in public

To answer your question from my view, I believe everyone has various reasons. For the most part, I believe that many times, writers are expressing themselves in a way that may not be socially acceptable in "real life".

Soni S. - Tucson, AZ

Discussed this topic and disagrees

My friends and I have had this discussion in various ways over the years. Does an artist have to be damage or summer some trauma to produce and be meaningful? On the one hand to say yes makes sense, because trauma is by definition destructive if only by degrees. Art being born out of the impulse to create is the exact opposite, so it should and does prove healing.

I don’t quite agree with this argument. What about the adults and children, who have had happy lives, and love to draw, tell stories, dance etc.? In those cases wouldn’t this line of reasoning fall away unless you count birth, first fall when learning to walk, the first pangs of hunger.

Or if someone writes love poetry or stories and they are happy in their relationship would this still apply?

Desire Hendricks - somewhere in the Midwest

Makes her happy

In response to your query, I write because it gives me a high and I can't wipe the smile from my face.

Isabel B. - Florida

If you want to read more, there are 100 blog posts on on why people write, which are not based on David's interesting and thought-provoking premise.


Fiction Tips Via Kovach Via Larson

By Michael Neff

Here is some matter by Ron Kovach of WriterMag that I found helpful for Writer's Edge. He's talking about Erik Larson and making fiction points in the context of Larson's historical bestseller, THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY. A little Q&A worth posting:

You're clearly fond of foreshadowing. How would you describe its storytelling value?

I think foreshadowing is a fundamental element of suspense. I think that if you can somehow hint--and the more obliquely you can hint, the better--that something bad is going to happen, no reader is going to leave you until he or she finds out what that thing was. It's like Chekhov said: If you show a revolver in the first act, you have to shoot it by the last act. People come to a work with a sense of unity in their minds, and if you tell them that something black is going to happen, they want to know what that black thing is and will stay with you to find out--provided it's not too far down the line, and provided that between the two points is not just a bland plateau of nothing. Foreshadowing is vital, I think, for any work.

You really keep Devil in the White City rolling. What advice do you have for writers about keeping a narrative engaging and moving along?

For one thing, the first piece of advice I would have is read John Irving, because he is one novelist who is very transparent in his use of technical maneuvers to keep you going. Cut-aways, foreshadowing and so forth.

One of the things that's very valuable in foreshadowing is, in a given chapter, instead of presenting the whole story to completion, [you] take it almost to completion and leave that lingering question. You withhold detail at a certain critical point, cut away to something else and then, when you come back, you have held the reader's attention, partly because you just said something's going to happen. The trick is when you cut away, you have to cut away to something good.


Daddy like!


Why Do You Write?

By Anthony S. Policastro

Ever since I read David Morrell's fascinating article Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing on Backspace I couldn't get the question out of my head, why does anyone write?

He basically says because writers have unresolved traumas that cause them to write. So I wrote him and asked if there could be writers without traumas. Here's
what he told me in an email:

"F. Scott Fitzgerald said there were no second acts in American lives. Applying this to writing, we could say that if a writer creates in relation to a trauma, he or she stops being creative when the trauma is resolved. This has been the case in a number of American writers. But for most of us, the traumas continue. For example, until 1987, I wrote in response to my father's death in WWII and the orphanage I was put in. But after 1987, I wrote in response to my son's death from bone cancer. I never do it deliberately, however. The stories insist."
If you don't know who David Morrell is, he is the award winning author of FIRST BLOOD, the novel that started the Rambo series.

So, I've been trying to determine my trauma, but it eludes me - I've been lucky most of my life - normal childhood, normal straight-arrow adulthood, living the American Dream. The best I could come up with is that I fear loss, but I have not had any major losses. Could there be levels of traumas that affect each of us differently? My losses are nothing compared to his, but could we both be affected the same way and hence have this need to write?

His response:
"The trauma need not be a violent dramatic one in the sense of child abuse or things of that nature. For an author friend, it was the death of his father when he was 8. He often writes about perfect summers of youth that are interrupted. Another author told me that he had a perfect childhood, and then he added, "But I got picked on a lot." He now writes about assassins righting wrongs.
The key questions are:
Why do I want to be a writer? The authentic answer to that is 'Because I need to be.' But why do I NEED to be? What accounts for the obsession?

The answer to that leads you to self-understanding. You said you 'fear loss.' That's an interesting statement and a major theme. You might never know why you fear loss. That's not the point. It's your core emotion and perhaps the reason that you tell stories.

Writers' block is possibly caused by 3 things.
1. The story is just no good, and the subconscious realizes it.
2. The author becomes anal retentive in the first draft and can't move from sentence to sentence.
3. The author doesn't listen to what the story wants to do. Our goal is to serve the story. We must open ourselves and let the story talk to us.

The latter is the best advice I can give to anyone."
Why do you write?

Note: A longer version of his Backspace article is available in his book on writing LESSONS FROM A LIFETIME OF WRITING, which will soon be re-released as THE SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST: A LIFETIME OF LESSONS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING. (From Source Books).

His latest novel, SCAVENGER is now available everywhere.


Follow-up to Plot vs. Character-Driven Novel

By Michael Neff

The subject illuminated in the post prior to this one deals with the issue of character-driven vs. plot-driven novels.

But let's step back for a moment. Is there actually a competition between these two forms (if they really exist) or a valid debate concerning these forms and how to define them, rate them, or genderize them into an arbitrary Mars vs. Venus thing? Perhaps we should look at other aspects of the novel before making a decision.

One could argue quite effectively that the best thriller novels are all character-driven. After all, what happens in the story that does not involve action or reaction on the part of the character(s)? Even blowing up a city is character driven. Antagonists are usually not insane, but clever and highly motivated. They create a catalyst event or condition and the other characters react. Who can deny this?

I would urge the writer to look deeper into the backbone of dramatic complication(s) in the story, regardless of genre. Far more often than not, the character arcs and the plot points are inextricably entwined about this story spine of drama. In the Algonkian workshops, we always use ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST as a prime example of this.

It may be valid to somehow set up a scoring system that gives more points to character than points of plot, but what would be the real point? Each novel is a synergy of these things and the debates over interpretation are often as useless as attempting to define literary works in an outdated Marxist or Freudian context.

Also, let's not confuse plot with premise. All commercial fiction seeks a marketing hook from the premise, the high concept. Plot is the detailed causal chain of events and twists in the story.


Character or Plot-driven novels - which could be the bestseller?

By Anthony S. Policastro

Ever wonder what agents and publishers are looking for as the next bestseller? Is it a plot or character-driven novel? Seems to me the market is dominated by character-driven, women-oriented books these days. Just look at the bestseller lists.

I recently ran across Literary Agent Andrew Zack's blog post where he wrote that one New York publishing house editor told him, "...she hates 'high-concept' thrillers, and for her a good thriller is 'character-driven' and 'involves a puzzle that the reader can try and figure out, along with the main character.'" He went on to say he would start looking for novels written with this plot type.

When I mentioned this concept to my wife she said, "Aren't all books character-driven?" since without characters you don't have a story. The question is what is really meant by the difference?

I see Michael Crichton's characters very limited in scope - his emphasis is on the concept and the technology - the characters are just there as props to move the story along. This is what I call a plot-driven book.

Now Memoirs of a Geisha is very much about the characters and what happens to them in a series of various circumstances. You feel and experience what the character feels and experiences and you see the transformation of the character into one form or another. This is a character-driven novel. What wows the reader determines the type of novel.

I picked up Nicholas Sparks' Dear John and almost half way through not a lot of exciting things have happened. A young man home on leave from Iraq meets a college girl and a romance starts. The things they do (the plot) are pretty average, pretty common place, but I'm getting a whole lot on who these people are and what they want and what I think they will do. This is character-driven.

I read Stephen Coonts Saucer about a young man working for an oil company in the desert who uncovers an alien flying saucer. When government troops invade, he gets into the saucer with a young female air force pilot and they manage to fly away with the saucer. You get a little bit about their characters, but the book is mostly a cat and mouse chase to keep the saucer out of government hands and to give the technology to all of mankind. Here the reader wants to know what happens next, will they get away? will they fail? This is a plot-driven novel. I can't quite remember anything about the characters and I didn't walk away with any instant revelations about life or the human condition. And he didn't even have a romance between the two main characters - a bit disappointing.

One thing is for certain - what captures my interest in any book is the writing. Golden's writing in Geisha is addictive; I read the first page and couldn't put it down. Coonts' writing is ok, but there were some parts where he used what I assumed were California clich├ęs and I was totally clueless. Crichton's writing is ok also, but I read his work for the concepts and technology rather than a visceral revelation about humanity.

Where do you think the publishing gems are today? In plot or character-driven novels?

Click here to post your comment.


Email or Snail an Agent?

Ok, after several months or years of hard work, your novel is complete. You've proofread it several times, your spouse, relatives, friends, and maybe some professionals in the writing business have read it and they all agree it's ready for publication. You've written your professional query letter, a synopsis, and a short biography. You are now ready to find an agent to represent your work.

It's not impossible these days, just a bit harder than it used to be. Agents are buried in queries – some report over 500 queries a week – that's roughly 100 queries a day. You need a small army just to open all the mail and read it in a timely manner. So don't fret when you read that an agent will respond to your query in six to eight weeks; consider that a quick response.

Some agents who use email for their queries are even worse off. I repeatedly see statements on agent's web sites that say they are no longer accepting email queries, and ask that you query them via traditional snail mail.

Peter Rubie of the Peter Rubie Literary Agency in New York who recently purchased a Sony book reader to help him get through the electronic avalanche of email queries says, "I receive so much material via email that is unasked for I rarely have time to respond to it. So in this case, no answer IS an answer. Occasionally I'll send a rejection, but usually I just don't have the time. If I'm interested I will respond. In my case I'm famous for being slow getting through my material to begin with, so I rarely if ever ask for something exclusively."
Some agents who use email for their queries are even worse off. I repeatedly see statements on agent's web sites that say they are no longer accepting email queries, and ask that you query them via traditional snail mail.
Mr. Rubie said his agency receives about 500 snail and email queries a week.

Cameron McClure, an agent at the Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York says she receives about 75 email queries a week and approximately 40 snail mail queries. She also believes two other agents at the agency receive about the same number of queries and that Donald Maass, the president, probably receives more.

The reason email is so abundant is simple – it is quite easy to click your mouse a few times and send a query to an agency. Within a few minutes, you can email several agents and it doesn't cost you envelopes, stamps, paper, and expensive printer ink and then waiting for your letter to arrive and be read. However, there are agents who prefer email queries and some believe it is a generational divide that separates them from those who are pro-email verses those who are pro-snail mail.

As Richard Curtis of the Richard Curtis Associates Literary Agency in New York said on why he doesn't use email queries, "I get too much junk mail as it is. And I need time to reflect on any query that interests me."

Ms. McClure doesn't have a preference for email or snail mail but says, "They (e-queries) are more environmentally friendly than paper queries, and don't take up any space in my office. However, writers should note that I don't respond to e-queries unless I'm interested (many agents have this policy), so if they want an answer either way, they've got to shell out for paper and postage."

Some agencies use a web-based database technology where there is a form on their web site that the author fills in to complete the query. The information is forwarded to a database or email address where the agent can search for specific information in the queries. But I don't think this technology will become the buzz of the publishing industry any day soon. Even the giant agencies like William Morris worldwide ask that you query by snail mail. However, there are agencies that prefer to receive queries only by email and you should adhere to their request.
Mr. Rubie believes agents' preference for email or snail mail is a generational issue. "First of all, opinions about email are definitely colored by generational considerations. Younger editors and agents prefer it as the communication method of choice to us older fogies ..."
Mr. Rubie believes agents' preference for email or snail mail is a generational issue. "First of all, opinions about email are definitely colored by generational considerations. Younger editors and agents prefer it as the communication method of choice to us older fogies. However, email is a strangely intimate way of communication that seems to lack the etiquette controls of traditional communication. I accept and often ask for email and attachments from clients or authors I have invited to send me material. It's the uninvited that I have trouble with."

He said he recommends to his younger colleagues that they contact editors by phone so that, "the initial contact has some meaning to the people on the other end of the line ... THEN you can continue the relationship by email and it is extremely useful for shorthand communication that has an intimate quality to it and can continue a relationship when we are often too busy to answer the phone."

I used to think that agents who didn't use email queries were conservative, not willing to embrace change, behind the times. I initially sought out only agents who would accept email queries, after all this is the 21st century, but I found there are disadvantages to email queries. I also found that my initial thoughts were inaccurate.

First, there is little effort in sending an email query. No printing the query, stuffing it into an envelope, addressing it, affixing postage, and including an SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope for the agent's response). Think about that for a second; agents probably have received many email queries from people who are not serious about publishing their work, or have incomplete projects, or who just emailed the query on a whim because it is so effortless. The result is that the agent may be going through emails that are a complete waste of their time.

Second, the agent does not feel obligated to respond to your email if they are not interested. So, you may never know if they read your email, if your email was delivered, or if they just didn't get to your email because it was so far down on the list. If you send an SASE, most agents feel obligated to at least send back a pre-printed post card or letter indicating they are not interested. Although receiving a form letter is no guarantee that the specific agent read your query, at least you know someone read it. Mr. Curtis concurs. "The odds of getting my attention are raised considerably with a mail query. My staff sorts out those that we're interested in from those we're not, and bring them to my attention. The system seems to have worked very well for us, but those who may think it's old-fashioned may not realize that some traditional processes work better than new ones."

"I'm seeing the quality of e-queries rise. I request more partials from my e-queries now than I do from my paper queries."
One would think snail mail also speaks effort, commitment, and seriousness about your work. After all, there is more effort that went into your snail mail query than into your email query. Snail mail also weeds out those who are not serious about their work, right?

Ms. McClure feels differently. "I used to feel that way - that snail mail queries showed more effort, commitment, and were of higher quality - but not so much now. I used to prefer posted queries, because for some reason, when writers are printing out their query, and paying 78 cents for it, they tend to take their submission more seriously. I used to see less typos, better formatting, and generally higher quality coming through the mail. Because e-mails are free and more informal, writers seem to put less thought into e-queries. We used to get a lot of queries from writers who would cc every agent in the directory and address us all as "Dear Sir," or writers who didn't use paragraphs. But that's not true anymore. I'm seeing the quality of e-queries rise. I request more partials from my e-queries now than I do from my paper queries."

But what about a sense of intrusion? As Mr. Rubie notes: "Receiving electronic material has a number of aspects. Most people are not rude or at least overtly self involved when communicating by telephone, face to face, or by letter, yet they often seem too uninhibited in a bad way, being rather forward and overly friendly when it comes to email. A little like the total stranger that comes over to me while I'm relaxing in a public lounge with a book or having a quiet meal, and intrudes uninvited on my personal space with a pseudo backslapping "Hi ya Pete, now about ME."

From a writer's viewpoint, I prefer email queries because of their ease and efficiency. But, I also prefer to receive a response from an agent, good, bad or indifferent. I feel more connected to the publishing business with a response; I feel my work is getting some exposure out there so I will continue to send queries, but if the agency has no preference, I will definitely send a snail mail query over an email one.

As Richard Curtis so appropriately put it, "Emails are communications. Queries are ideas."

About the writer
Anthony S. Policastro has been writing all his life first as a journalist, editor, and professional photographer and then as a freelance writer with his work published in The New York Times, Oceans, Diversion, and American and Popular Photographer magazines. He was also the editor-in-chief of Carolina Style magazine, a regional lifestyle publication similar to Southern Living magazine with national distribution. He is currently writing his fourth novel.