By Tricia Skinner

Writers usually spend a great deal of time preparing to send queries to agents they’ve selected as “a good match” for them and their creative work. That may include following agents on social media to get a feel for their personality, reading interviews about them in trade publications, or poring over manuscript wish lists posted on blogs.

It’s exactly what a writer should do prior to sending anything to agents. Yet all the preparation and planning mean nothing when a writer chooses to cherry pick from an agent’s “submission guidelines.”

A simple submission guideline tells a writer what an agent is interested in, what they’re not looking for, and how the agent prefers to be contacted. Some agents may include examples of books, films, or TV shows to help the writer get a sense for the type of project the agent enjoys.

What if the writer’s manuscript doesn’t fit the agent’s genre requirements? What if the genre fits but the subject appears on the agent’s “dislikes” list? Can you ignore most of these “rules” because you really want an agent?

The short answer: no. Always follow the guidelines.

One of the most frustrating parts of my job is finding my query box filled with genres I’ve never represented or topics I’ve clearly stated I DO NOT WANT. For example, I once requested historical romance and stated I did not want any Nazi or slave narratives. I still received a bunch of queries for concentration camp love stories and slaves pining after their masters.

Yuck and eww.

When I receive queries that obviously don’t fit what I represent, I can’t help but draw conclusions about the writer:

1. They don’t do research (or they’re awful at it).
2. Reading comprehension is not a strong skill.
3. They can’t or won’t follow directions.
4. They’re unprofessional and unprepared for this industry.
5. They don’t care.

None of that might be true, but what other conclusions could I draw? The first impression I’ll have of a writer is their query letter. It doesn’t matter if the writer has “never done this before” or “really believes everyone will love” their book or they believe their project “will be a best seller.” If I don’t rep the genre or like the topic, I’m not interested.

Researching agents is not difficult. Fuse Literary represents most areas of commercial fiction and non-fiction. If a writer clicks on our names, they’ll learn about our unique paths into the publishing industry, our personal quirks, and what topics we’re passionate about. We also post our social media links, our clients, our books, and conferences we’ll be attending each year.

We want those good matches, so we make it easy to learn about us.

When submission guidelines are ignored, the writer sends the wrong message. It also means whatever effort they spent on their manuscript doesn’t make it past the query letter. If I receive a query that shows the writer didn’t care enough to follow simple directions or even pitch a genre I represent, then I’m not motivated to do more than send a form rejection.

I’m building my client list by finding writers who have amazing manuscripts. But that’s not all I take into consideration. I want people who are professionals and who are interested in a career in publishing. I prefer people who can follow directions. I’m seeking a business partner who takes care to give an editor what they ask for in a story.

All of that starts with following each agent’s submission guidelines.