One Problem WIth Phone Queries

When the phone rings, I answer it.  Sure sometimes Meredith jumps to get the phone first or one of the interns is quick on the draw.  Moments when the lovable mean and sharkly Janet Reid is feeling playful mean and sharkly, she might even answer the phone.

But often times, it's me. I'm the one saying "Hello, FinePrint."

Now, the truth is, there are a ton of people out there who phone query.  We get at least several calls a day where someone calls for information on how to query, how to get an agent, how to get published, or worse how can they prove they're better than the average slush pile.

The truth is, these phone calls make the callers look stupid or arrogant.

Stupid because, hey, let's be honest, if someone can find the agency phone number, they should be able to also find the line that says "don't call."

Arrogant because...well, here's a story.

Me: "Hello FinePrint?"

Caller: "Hi can I speak to Suzie Townsend?"

Me: "Sure, what's this regarding?"

Caller: "I've written a book--"

Me: "Great! If you're going to query you should really do it by email.  Do you need our submission guidelines?"

This was of course a pivotal moment.  I could have just said, "This is Suzie" but the truth is I didn't want to get into a lengthy conversation about the premise of a book, which might be great, when I 
1. have a lot of other work going on
2. can't judge said book without seeing the writing

Caller: "But I've been referred by [Owner of Top Literary Agency]..."

My first thought: And why would that agent refer you to ME? I don't actually know her and she doesn't know me...

Caller: "...and I don't want my email to get lost."

My second thought: I know emails get lost, but I don't typically do the losing.  I answer hundreds of emails a day.  And I read them all and consider them all.  (Unrelated: for this reason, I hate when queries say PLEASE READ or something similar in the subject line.)

Me: "Even with a referral, the best way to query is via email--"

Caller: "But I've been referred by [TOP AGENT]. Don't you know who she is?" Caller spouts of facts about Top Agent's Agency. "Why don't you take down my number and give it to Suzie."

Caller's tone has become more and more condescending as the phone call continues.

Me: "Right, well I can do that, but typically agents don't return phone calls for queries." Typically = ever

Caller: "Who am I speaking with?"

I could have said "Well, actually this is Suzie, and based on your tone I don't think I'm the right agent for you" but that could have been awkward so...

Me: "Uh, this is...Elizabeth."*

Caller: "Well why don't you just take down my number and give Suzie my message." Caller repeats all his info, stressing his referral.  I write it down.

Me: "And were you referred by [Top Agent] or one of the other agents at her agency?"

Caller: "[TOP AGENT]. Like I said."

And then he hung up.  When I gave myself the message, I decided not to call back.

* Name has been changed, in case I ever want to use the name of my secretary alter ego again!

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Unknown said...

Lol! I can't believe people act like that, but I've seen so much evidence that it must be true! Wow!

The only small problem is that, now that you've posted this, people will know "often times" it's you answering the phones. Of course, you'd think that if they saw this post, they wouldn't call.

You'd think, but...

PS: unrelated, but my CAPTCHA word is "drosupe." Now THAT'S a cool word. Attention Sci-Fi writers! Someone use this word! (accent on the last "e" to give it that cool "draw-soup-ay" pronunciation).

Susan Adrian said...

I'm curious...are most of these phone-queriers (and condescenders) men?

I only ask because in all the stories I've read lately they seem to be men. Or is it pretty much equal-opportunity stupidity?

Melissa Alexander said...

I'm curious.... Would yo consider calling [Top Agent] and asking if she recommended this guy? Would it make a difference?

lotusgirl said...

It amazes me that people will know not to call but think they are the exception to the rule. All they end up doing is alienating the person they are trying to impress.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I hope this person reads this post at some point.

Maybe the last call he made before you was to [top agent] and you were the first name she could think of to get the guy off the phone. :-P

Kathryn Rose said...

Wow. I wonder if he was related to the guy who called Janet Reid an idiot. Maybe he just hasn't heard of this newfandangled world wide web thingy...? Otherwise, boy is his face red right now!

Meredith Barnes said...

@Melissa You know, usually not. People meet pub pros at conferences, etc. and take all sorts of liberties with the "relationship" that developed.

This particular gem was a repeat offender. That warrants a salvo asking TOP AGENT what the deal is. Giving TOP AGENT benefit of the doubt, of course.

suzie townsend said...

@susan I'm going to say that most of the condescenders seem to be men. Phone queries are equal opportunity.

@Melissa He absolutely could be telling me the truth about TOP AGENT. But it doesn't matter. For me, the way this guy spoke to me on the phone, I don't want to work with him.

readingkidsbooks said...

I find it truly amazing that you could be so polite...I'm afraid I would have called him bad names, told him he was on a fast track to no where, and hung up on him. I guess that's one of the many reason why I'm not an agent.

Unknown said...

Ooh, I so love this person. Sounds like a good character for their own story. Arrogant, misinformed and obviously lacking in skills of research. I also wonder why [Top Agent] didn't want to read their manuscript? Perhaps it wasn't the [Tops!]

One last note, this person sounds like a dude.

Monica Mansfield said...

Suzie, you and agents in general, must have patience of steel. Phone querying is akin to when authors query before their book is done. I understand wanting to connect with an agent, but they go about it all wrong.

Personally, I would rather be rejected via email than over the phone.

cyndydrew said...


Damn, does this post make me feel good about my chances against the competition!

Matthew MacNish said...

I have made some of the stupidest and most ignorant querying mistakes ever, and I'm not ashamed to admit it, because I've learned a lot, but I have never done anything that dumb. That is just really bold and utterly pretentious. I mean my goodness.

I do have to say though it makes for an incredibly entertaining post. I'm falling out of my chair and jerking around on the floor like fish right now, just picturing you "giving yourself the message."

Thank you so much for this one Suzie. Made my day!

Unknown said...

That's just AMAZING.

Even IF agents took phone queries (obviously they don't, but I'm going for a "no chance" theoretical), I don't understand how he could possibly think being condescending and rude on the phone would work in his favor.

Also, I can't help but wonder if TOP AGENT told him to call anyone else. :D

LupLun said...

I feel your pain. I used to work for a synagogue where the rabbi had a rule that he was *always* unavailable. When someone would call, I would take a message on our little pad and then give it to the rabbi later, and he would answer them when he felt appropriate. Which was usually never, meaning I also took a lot of angry repeat callers. I always wanted to tell the uppity ones "The rabbi is not calling you back because he does not care about your problems, and neither do I." I never did, though. Professionalism must be maintained.

Super Happy Jen said...

The say you can learn a lot about a person by how they treat a secretary. This reminds me of being at teacher's college. I was teaching high school, I was young, I was mistaken for a student. People are so RUDE when they think they're superior to you.

Alyson said...

...this oddly makes me feel better about querying.

I would like to intern for you guys, and be allowed to answer these calls, preferably if I may use some choice Shakespearian replies. =D Mewling rough-hewn hedge-pigs!

I'm just over the FDR. You know who to call.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

For a minute I got all excited.

Then I scrolled down.

I guess I won't call you on Monday. :( LOL!

Xandra James said...

Ha! I'm not sure I would have been so nice... probably for the best I don't have to deal with people for a living ;)

Stephanie Denise Brown said...

Wow, how bizarre! The best place to mention a referral is the first paragraph of a query, so the agent (or agent assistant) can catch it quickly.

This query game is definitely like dating. Some writers play awful "head games" with agents, making your job of finding a match so stressful. Ugh!

Thank goodness for your secretary alter ego! I think I'd like to create an alter ego for all the rude people I meet in life. I shall name her Sannismo (my word verification for this comment). Hee hee :D

Terry Spear said...

Wow, I would never have considered calling a query in. It's tough enough doing a pitch at a conference when it's scheduled! :)

Loved your blog on it, Suzie. I'm sure the caller will be forever clueless.

AiringMyLaundry said...

That person who phoned in was pretty ballsy. I would never do something like that.

You were really polite, too. I might have said something snarky.

Jeffe Kennedy said...

Suzie - I mean, Elizabeth - this cracked me up. You're the soul of patience. I heard even [TOP AGENT] thinks so.

Unknown said...

this is so funny (in an uncomfortable, semi-horrifying kind of way) If it had been me answering the phone, I wouldn't have been so nice about it. I would've been like, "listen here, idiot"**
also, I know I've made some (i.e. several) querying mistakes in the past, but I'm proud to say that I've never done the phone querying bit :)

BTW, my word verification is "Dingo ate my baby!!", that really wasn't funny

**okay, truth is I would've probably said something a bit more colorful and inappropriate than 'idiot'. just saying *shrugs*

Anonymous said...

Sometimes a little sarcasm can go a long way.

Elizabeth: "Why don't you send your e-mail with the subject line, 'Referred by [Top Agent]' and I'll tell Suzie you called so if it gets lost she'll call you right back and walk you through sending it again. If you don't hear anything, it means we're still considering it. That can take anywhere from an hour to a couple of months or longer."

Or better yet, have a recorded message that details submission guidelines and patch difficult callers in to that. Two can play at condescension.

Janet Reid said...

When you're talking to "Suzy's assistant" you're talking to me.

It's a LOT of fun.

Anonymous said...

I once met a woman who was sick of all of the telemarketer/sales calls at her job. It got to the point where she wasn't getting any work done. She established an alternate personality just to take those calls, complete with voice mail. "Oh, you need to speak with someone about buying widgets? That's Kim's department. I'll transfer you."

The call would go straight to voice mail, and the real secretary could deal with all the sales calls at the end of the day.

She said that some sales people used to call up and say that they knew the fictitious Kim personally. Said they went to high school together, or somesuch nonsense.

Still, I wonder if you could do something like that for your pesky phone queries--the people who won't take "no" for an answer. "Oh, you have a phone query? That's Trista's department. I'll transfer you."

Sharon Cullen said...

It would *never* occur to me to call in a query. Never.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

"When I gave myself the message, I decided not to call back." Love it! But, you have far more patience than I do.

I'd say, "I'm sorry, sir, we don't take phone queries. If I were to take your information, the shark pacing in her tank only feet away (whisper into phone: She watches my every move!) would jump out and swallow my head whole. In one quick bite! And, really - I doubt you want that on your conscience. Submission info's on the website. Have a nice day!" Click!

Sari Webb said...

Love these sorts of posts, they are always a good laugh.

I know what it's like to be on the receiving end of that. I used to work in banking in a phone based role. People used to tell me all kinds of stories. Like the guy who hid $120k under his bed because he didn't want his wife to find it..

Tom M Franklin said...

at least you were true to your word and gave yourself the message right away, complete with TOP AGENT's name.

when my wonderful wife worked a horrible drudge job as a customer service rep for a local cable company she worked with a guy who rarely ever answered the phone as 'himself'. instead, he'd answer as one of several different personas, each with very different accents. his best moments were when he would respond to a customer's request to speak with a manager -- he'd put them on hold for a while, then pick the phone back up and start in with another accented voice. (and he never got caught)

come up with a phone answering persona for yourself. give her a name, a history, an attitude... it'll make dealing with those calls so much more fun!

-- Tom

Becky Mushko said...

After taking the caller's message, I might have said something like, "Suzi usually returns calls at night. I'll put you in the queue for tonight's 2:37 AM call, but if she's especially busy, she won't be able to call you until 3:35 AM next Thursday," and then hang up.

(My word verification is "apters," which I assume means the last three-fourths of chapters, as in "I don't have time to read three whole chapters, but if you'll send me three apters, I'll read them. Maybe."

Michael G-G said...

Detective Michaels here.

From Janet's "you're an idiot" post, I see you guys have caller ID.

From Mer-Bear's comment, I see this was a repeat offender.

Is there any way to fangle up the phone system so that when a notorious number calls in they are diverted to HOURS of department store muzak? ("Feelings, oh oh oh feelings" etc.).

Or would that send these barking mad piranhas over the top?

stephen matlock said...

I promise when I call I won't be as rude.

What? I'm missing the point? Help me out here...

Jeffe Kennedy said...

Stephen - just ask for Elizabeth.

Buy Exchange said...

Oh that man wouldn't call again. He has got his lessons I guess :P

Julie Wright said...

Wow. Just wow. That's awesome, and by awesome I mean freakishly hilarious and wretchedly stupid all at once. I spent the weekend at a fantasy/sci fi symposium where I was presenting. Had lunch with my editor and another aditor and they shared their top five fav horror stories. It was by far the most entertaining lunch hour I've ever had. People are awesome (see above description for awesome).