Ever since starting at Venerable McPulitzer, INTERN has noticed a new kind of missive clucking around among the queries and proposals that clutter the inbox. Humble and self-effacing, this gentle creature would not presume to ask Venerable McPulitzer to actually publish anything little ole it has penned—no, it would faint at the thought.
Rather, this mildly-worded inquiry asks only for advice.
“Dear distinguished editor:
I just started writing a month ago after taking a very inspiring workshop at the public library, and my internet boyfriend says I have quite a talent for the postmodern sonnet sequence. I am new to publishing and am just beginning to explore the possibilities of seeing my work in print.
Would you please read the enclosed poems and discuss with me their merits and the best strategy for getting them published? Naturally, I would be thrilled if you deemed them worthy of your house, but at this stage I am mostly seeking advice. I will stop by your office next Tuesday at lunchtime, at which time we can discuss the potential of my work.”
This kind of e-mail goes straight to the interns, who (cold and unhelpful as it is) often reply with a copy-and-pasted “SUBMISSIONS GUIDELINES” and generic sign-off.
Inquiries like this make INTERN’s heart twinge because they are often from little old ladies (or their little old internet boyfriends) who genuinely just want a kind, knowledgeable human to give them some honest advice. (sometimes, of course, these kinds of letters come from people who secretly think the Editor her/himself is going to read their postmodern sonnet sequence, be blown away, and write them a contract on the spot. But INTERN likes to believe most people are sincere.)
Either way, it results in bad feelings all around, because a publishing house is not in the business of giving out free writing advice, and drafting a kind and tactful personal reply to these letters takes about twenty times as long as turning down a normal query. So instead, the form SUBMISSIONS GUIDELINES e-mail gets sent, and Venny McPulitzer looks like a jerk.
Publishers don't like responding to this kind of e-mail because:
a) It Will Only Encourage Them
b) It Takes Valuable Time
c) It Will Only Encourage Them
d) It Will Only Encourage Them
In a brighter world, every publisher would have a Bureau of Oddball Letters staffed by some kind of saint who spends all day writing heartfelt personal responses to every lost soul seeking free advice.
Until then, INTERN must heartily discourage anyone from asking advice from a publisher, ever. There are books for that, and you just make the interns feel like jerks.