Monday, October 27, 2008

The 150+ Queries I Receive Each Week

I have a confession to make. One of my favorite things to blog about are the insane and angry responses I occasionally receive from query letters. If you’ve been reading the blog long enough you’ve surely seen a few by now. Writing the blog posts alleviates the annoyance I sometimes feel at those responses and allows me to sort of respond without really responding and starting a dialogue that is unnecessary. The posts also give you a peek into an agent’s world and into why some agents have gone to a “no response means no” system. And of course I hope they’re entertaining.

I do have a theory on those letters. Of course I’m one of those people who has a theory on a lot of things. However, I think the angry response letters come from basically two places. The first is the author who is brand new to the process and just starting to send out queries. She is enthusiastic and confident about her work and very sure that everyone is going to love it as much as she does and as much as her critique group does. None of that is bad, unless it starts to affect your vision of reality, that’s when it can become harmful. As you all know, she’ll soon learn that getting published isn’t as easy as many think, but hopefully she’ll stick with it and it won’t break her spirit.

My other theory is that the author is at the end of the querying process. She’s been at it for months, possibly years, and for whatever reason my letter is the one that made her snap. Is it something specific about my letter? No, probably not, it was probably just a letter that landed on her desk at the wrong time. So why me? Why do I receive so many more of these responses than Jacky and Kim combined? I blame the blog. The blog makes me seem accessible to authors, it makes many of you feel you know me well and know exactly what I want, and because you know me my rejection might feel a little more harsh than those coming from complete strangers. I don’t mind really (well, most of the time); I’m tough and can take a little rejection myself.

Okay . . . now I’ve bored you and still haven’t gotten to the point of this post. The point is really that these vitriolic responses are few and far between. That of the 150+ queries and equeries I receive each week and of the 25 or so proposals I request each week I only receive one of these emails every month or every other month. Almost every author I engage with is kind, smart, and professional. Occasionally I receive thank-you notes, which are unnecessary, but always appreciated.

So while I won’t stop posting some of those letters for everyone’s enjoyment, I wanted to let you know the truth of the submission process from my side. The reason these letters are so shocking to read and even entertaining at times is because they really are so rare.



Linda hall said...

I guess thick skin is required in every part of this business. I've received countless rejections in my many long years and never once have I wanted to "scream" at the agent for not wanting my work. My assumption being they may not want me now, but maybe down the road they'll change their mind.

Seems like such a waste to satsify the temporary anger/hurt you feel from a rejection, rather than look at the bigger picture and that's that you might very well burn a bridge you might have had later on down the road.

Althea Preston said...

I agree with Linda and gave you a nod on this on my blog this morning.

And I'm always floored by how many queries an agent has to field each week. With that many, you can only do so much. For me to get angry because an agent actually took the time to read my query is just plain dumb.

Makes you wonder...

Lorra said...

I'm guessing that most, if not all, who write these scathing retorts are doing it via email. And I agree with you Jessica: reading your daily blog posts -- very helpful and appreciated by the way -- does make me feel as if I know you. Distorting reality can be a balm to the frayed spirits of we writers.

It's too bad there's not some way for those of use who tend to be impulsive when we're angry to build in a safeguard in our email programs that prevent us from sending an email we may later regret. Somehow, this imagined safeguard would work like the "are you sure?" built into Word. It would recognize the diatribe, perhaps searching for key words beginning with the letter "F" or, perhaps, "MF," and then refuse to send that email for at least 24 hours.

You never know when you're going to come across someone in the small world of the book business. Someone, far cleverer than me, needs to come up with a program for we impetuous writers. Otherwise, we're just going to have to learn how to walk with that huge hole we've just blown through our foot.

CC said...

re: lorra's comment

"... Distorting reality can be a balm to the frayed spirits of we writers..."

What a beautiful sentence, so thoughtful and vivid in its imagery with the words "balm" and "frayed." A great sentence, in fact, to start a off a Monday.
Thanks for that! :)

Yunaleska said...

I'm amazed at what people send you. Why send an agent a not-so-nice letter, when a few years down the line you may try to send them some more work? They could have a black book full of names of people not to take one, and all because on author got in a mood and wrote a letter that wouldn't write if they were calm and rational, they won't get taken on :)

The one and only REAL Meg Kelso said...

You were very kind to the writers of the nutty letters. Did you ever consider that they could just be nit wits?

Just my 2 cents.


lucidkim said...

"It's too bad there's not some way for those of use who tend to be impulsive when we're angry to build in a safeguard in our email programs that prevent us from sending an email we may later regret. Somehow, this imagined safeguard would work like the "are you sure?" built into Word. It would recognize the diatribe, perhaps searching for key words beginning with the letter "F" or, perhaps, "MF," and then refuse to send that email for at least 24 hours."

This is hilarious - you truly did make me laugh out loud.

Did you read this recent article, - I think the idea is to avoid sending drunken emails in the middle of the night - but as you said, a lot of these emails aren't because a person is drunk - it's because they are annoyed and impulsive.


jnantz said...

I often wonder how many of the people who write those letters ever eventually get published with someone else. I mean, if you are going to do something that stupid, you must be delusional. As such, perhaps your writing wouldn't pass muster in many High School Creative Writing classes, let alone a professional agent's keen eye.

As far as "feeling [we] know you", I think it's more that we see your professionalism and hope to have someone like you. Then, when we're putting our queries together, we think, "She reps my genre, and seems to do very well for her clients, let's see if she likes mine."

Then when you don't like jump and do handsprings at our writing, it's a sense of disappointment akin to a High Schooler not getting into their favorite college. Yeah, they know Charlotte has a good Architectual School, but they grew up an N.C. State fan. It takes a while to get over that sting for some people, and for others they obviously haven't had to deal with many people who weren't yes-men.

Still sucks for you guys, though...except when they're entertaining.

AC said...

I love hearing funny tales from the slush pile. Keep 'em coming.

Maybe the big point for us writers to take away is that It's Not Personal. I'd tell a frustrated writer to write the letter/e-mail and spill everything you want to say...and then don't send it. Or tell yourself to wait 24 hours. It'll likely never get sent and you'll still feel better.

There's your two cents from a writer who hasn't started querying yet. Hope I'm remembering my own advice a year from now...

Anonymous said...

Lately, I've sent a couple of mandatory e-queries and received no response at all. Just an autoreply: "Don't call us, we (won't) call you."
I had guessed that might be because writers were hitting "reply" in haste after receiving an e-rejection, or perhaps replying with follow-up questions, like "why? why why?"
I'm happy to e-query, but I greatly appreciate receiving a response, even if it is, sadly, a "no, thanks." I promise to be polite in return.

Crimogenic said...

Author who go down the 'nasty follow up' road have nothing to gain by doing it, why even bother. Seriously, why? I don't get the logic.

I have just started querying, and I have gotten the simple 'not for me', a form rejection and no response, and I accept them and move on.

Wesley Allison said...

I suspect you are right about both theories. I can understand the feelings of those people who send out such letters. Though I have never responded that way, when I do get a rejection letter in the mail or my email inbox, it does put me in quite a funk for the rest of the day.

Lorra said...

Thanks cc for your nice comment and lucidkim - glad I was able to help you start your week with a good laugh.

ChristaCarol said...

I'll agree, you boiled it down to two very possible theories of why you get them, as well as why you get the more than the others. I'm sure it's never fun to read nasty e-mails, but at least you have us to vent to from time to time when you need to get it off your chest. :) I'll say what I've said before, you're much better about biting your tongue than I would be. Then again, you're well practiced. Have a happy Monday!

Vacuum Queen said... I missing something? Where's the link to the letters?

Anonymous said...

One thing I'm pleased to learn is that the vitriolic letters are few and far between. What does disturb me is the possiblity that the bad apples will spoil it for the rest of us; i.e. no response means no rather than sending a pass query becomes more the norm than the exception due to these unprofessional few. That disturbs me more. As you so succinctly pointed out, all of us have to have a tough hide to succeed and prosper in this business that is publishing. The sad few never get it...the hide nor the message.

Jess Anastasi said...

I can understand the frustration, I'd class myself as one of those writers towards the end. I've been querying for months and months, had many requests for further material, and from every agent I've gotten the same response "there's not really anything wrong with it, it's just not right for us and you need someone who's going to be passionate about your work."
I can't begin to explain how frustrated I get when I recieve one of these responses now. At first it was exciting because I realized it must mean I was close and just had to find the 'right' agent, but almost a year later, that hasn't happened and it's driving me nuts.
I can see why it would be so easy to direct it all at an agent, the frustration, the feelings of utter helplessness that you're doing everything human possible, yet ultimately it's totally out of your control. But I would never do it, because I know it's not them, it's just the way it goes. It's the system, or fate, or something else that I've got no way of controlling. And you never know which of these people you might end up working with later down the track.
And it is sad that those few have meant many agents now don't even respond if they're not interested. It leaves me wondering if there's a possiblity my letter got lost in a spam filter. I'd rather hear a 'no thank you' than nothing.

Anonymous said...

Jess -- We all understand your frustration, but having been in your shoes I'm going to give you some advice that I KNOW will help.

If you've been querying your present project for a year with no luck, it's time to throw your creative energy into a new project. Believe me, the excitement and hope the new project will bring into your life, will pull you out of your funk. Also, when you get further along in the new project, you may have a fresh prospective on the one you have been sending out. You may have an epiphany about another approach to project #1.

Trust me: you will be happy if you just let the current project sit on the back burner for a while and start writing the next book that I know is fermenting in your brain. Don't worry: the first project isn't going anywhere. If it's worthy of seeing the light of day, it will.

Vicki said...

It amazes me to think an author would send ugly emails when they receive a rejection. Sure, we query those who we feel we would love to work with, but that doesn't mean they're going to love the book. Or maybe they have someone in their house with something similar and that wouldn't be a good thing. But send hate mail? What in the world will these people do once published and a reader hates the book and leaves a scathing review for the world to see?

While I understand, the no response means no, it is frustrating for an author wondering if they received it or if spam being what it is, the agency has never laid eyes on it.

I think the agents or editors who use this method should have an auto response, which lets the sender know the material was received. After that, if you don't receive an answer you know it's a no and not lost somewhere in the land of spam.

Anonymous said...

Jess--Anonymous 7:44 is very wise.

I secured an agent for my second completed novel, but the book didn't sell and now I'm agent-less. The editor comments were all over the place, but mostly they said, "I don't love it enough." Very frustrating.

The mistake I made was not throwing myself into a new project while my agent was subbing my ms. But finally, after a false start on another project, I'm working on a novel I'm very excited about. And already, I can see that my writing has improved.

Waiting for some agent to love our novel puts them in the driver's seat. When we're writing, we're the ones in control.

terri said...

I agree on some sort of idiot-proofing on computers that keep all of your emails in a batch and makes you read them again before you can send them.

I am actually involved in a lawsuit [I am an attorney] where emails and chat group logs are big pieces of evidence. In general, don't type something you wouldn't pick up the phone and say.

That said, I got a rejection the other day on some short stories. It was nicely worded, enthusiastic, encouraging and even gave suggestions on other places to sub.

However, the last paragraph suggested I check my facts. Well, the tale was based on a true story and the boy did kill himself exactly how I said he did.

Yes, even after three years of email based litigation, the snark reflex almost kicked in. It's like the gag reflex, next to impossible to control. However, just because you gag doesn't mean you have to spew.

I regrouped and took the rejection for what it was - encouragement. It was a strange little tale and a bizarre suicide. I obviously didn't select the correct words to evoke the scene. The editor didn't know the true story and didn't believe my rendition of it. That's my fault, not his.

So, I stand chastised and thinking of a different way to portray the scene. It's my job to tell the tale, not the agent/editor/publishers job to accept it as told.

Lindsay said...

I actually suspect the only reason you don't get more angry retorts is that most writers have enough social sense not to burn bridges. :P

After all, while you can help a select few reach their goals, you are in the role of dream squasher for most.

And, yes, a blog is first and foremost a way to build relationships and form a community. That can be great for attracting more business, but when you reject people who have become a part of your community, it is personal (for them).