July 1-15, 2004 Edition

Publishers Warming

to E-Mail Queries

WSJ Article Says

NEW YORK, NY/6/21/04—A wire story in the Wall Street Journal points out that the Internet has provided a new gate of entry for the reams of queries and pitches that besiege the publishing industry every day—and that routinely are ignored. Associated Press journalist Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg tells this incredible story about a hot new book that was discovered on the net:

Like many publishing houses, Walt Disney Co.’s Hyperion has a policy against reading unsolicited manuscripts or book queries. But last December, Editor-in-Chief Will Schwalbe opened an e-mail message with “Fireman’s wife” in the subject line, thinking it concerned the David Halberstam book he had edited. Instead, it was a brief pitch that read, in part: “I am coping. Often I am lonely, I am surprised, I am underpaid. But in a relationship that defines my identity, I am the fireman’s wife.”

Mr. Schwalbe was hooked. He reached for the phone and called the sender, Susan Farren, a stay-at-home mother of five in northern California who is married to a fireman. Soon afterwards, a deal was struck for “The Fireman’s Wife,” which could be published as early as next spring.

Many major publishers automatically return mailed communications unopened—partly for legal reasons (lest a would-be author complain that his idea was later stolen) and partly for security reasons. This became a worry following the 2001 incidents in which anthrax was sent through the mail. Electronic pitches eliminate some of those concerns, and a quick yes-maybe, or no-go-away can save reams of paper and mailing costs.

The story says that a few publishers are warming to the electronic slush-pile, and some publishers have even considered setting up e-mail addresses to handle such queries. Some publishers are beginning to accept e-mail queries on their web sites.

Trachtenberg details a number of other success stories about e-mail queries in the story. The item also ran on, which is Michigan’s popular news and information site, at

Authorlink has its own success story with 87 sales, either via agents who have spotted work on, or via editors who have bought projects directly from the site. One of the biggest success stories is a two-book deal that went for six figures to HarperCollinsPublishers. The manuscript query was spotted on Authorlink. The author had been listed on the site for one week when agent Joe Veltre, with Carlisle & Company, spotted the work and subsequently sold it about six weeks later to HarperCollins.