Monday, July 27, 2009

Providing Feedback

When do agents, if ever, “owe” an author feedback? Should an agent who has asked to read a full manuscript always be required to provide constructive, personal feedback as to why the book didn’t work for her? What about an agent who has asked for a partial? Do the same rules apply? Is an agent then required to give feedback?

Obviously (I’ve said this before) I don’t think an agent ever owes an author (other than her own clients) anything. However, it is always nice, extra nice, when an agent can give feedback. I also know that a number of authors feel that if an agent goes to the trouble to request a full manuscript then feedback should be given. Fair enough, I can understand that once you’ve reached that final stage in the “getting an agent gauntlet” you might feel that way. The trouble is, for the agent, it isn’t always that easy.

For example, I know that now, in the age of ereaders, many agents are finding it easy to skip the proposal stage altogether and simply ask for a full manuscript. It doesn’t cost anyone anything monetarily and it allows the agent to simply keep reading if she feels she needs or wants to. In that case the full manuscript is really thought of more as a proposal. If that agent only gets to page 20 before realizing the book isn’t for her, does she need to say anything other than it’s not for her simply because of the number of pages requested?

And what about proposals? When requesting proposals I view it as a testing stage. In other words, all too frequently I’ll request things that I’m not sure about based on the query, but willing to give a shot. If I felt I were required in some way to give personal, constructive feedback as to why it might not be for me, I can tell you right now that I would request fewer partials (and manuscripts). Think of it like trying on clothes. I don’t always try on something I love on the rack, but sometimes I’m intrigued enough just to see how it might look. The really great moment is when you try it on, thinking it will never work, and wammo!, that pair of pants, that manuscript, is the perfect fit.

Okay, so here’s the clincher. What if I read the manuscript, not the entire thing, but I get at least halfway through and I can see the author has talent, I can see the plot has potential, I can even see that another agent might pick it up, but (here it comes) it’s not for me. Really, honestly, sometimes that’s the absolute best answer I can give. Sometimes it just isn’t for me and there was no way to know that ahead of time. Haven’t you ever done that with a book you bought? The plot sounded like something that was up your alley and it was certainly in a genre you like to read, but in the end the book, for whatever reason, just wasn’t for you?

I know these are questions that will never be answered to the satisfaction of all. Ideally authors are going to want as much feedback as possible, and you should. A good author knows that any feedback, from agents, other authors, editors, and beta readers, can help you improve your writing. Agents know that too, and in an ideal world we would be spending lots of time giving all authors revisions and feedback. Of course it’s not possible. I do make every attempt possible to give feedback when I can. If it’s a partial and I see a glaring error I can pass on to the author, I will. Heck, if it’s a query and I can get specific about why it didn’t work for me, I will, and certainly on manuscripts I try to say something, even a little something, beyond the form. What I find, though, at times, is that I’m stretching to find that one thing that didn’t work for me and that’s when authors are getting most frustrated, when my attempt to give you a real reason falls short and sounds like nothing more than a form letter.



Anonymous said...

Questions: Were the pants you tried on purple? If so, what shade of purple?

Because there is only one right answer, y'know. lol


Angie Ledbetter said...

If an agent read my ms (partial or full), I'd be happy to hear, Really, it's not you, it's me." We're not going to marry everybody we date. :)

Jennifer said...

I like it being you, and not me. haha

magolla said...

When I first started my writing career, I felt an agent who requested additional material from a writer should provide feedback.

Fast forward ten years. It's all subjective. An agent might give the writer feedback, BUT will it necessarily improve the book?

Case in point: Writer Friend subbed to numerous agents. Many wanted fulls. Big Time Agent A wanted her to downplay the romance in the story (complete rewrite to remove imbedded subplot). She declined. Agent B LOVED the story and sold it in a 'sweet deal'.

It all boils down to what the writer wants from HER book. The writer must be confident enough in her own product to know when to go with her gut and not sign with any old agent, Big Time agent or not.

jennifermclaughlin said...

great post!

beth said...

I am really glad that you said that. I recently got no feedback on a full, and couldn't figure out why. Your explanation makes sense.

Julie said...

I go out to look at a horse. He has the pedigree I'm looking for, the right age, the right conformation, but something just doesn't click. I don't like the way he moves or his attitude or something I can't even define. He just isn't the one.

I don't owe it to the owner to give a detailed explanation of what is right or wrong about the horse. I owe him a polite, thanks but no thanks.

Yes, I realize he's been breeding horses for 30 years and thinks this is the perfect horse for me, but I don't.

It's nice if we, as writers, can get feedback about something we can fix, but we shouldn't expect it.

DebraLSchubert said...

I take any feedback, whether it be from a friend, relative, beta reader, or an agent, as a gift. I trust myself enough to know what feedback makes sense and what doesn't.

My experience with you is that you're a sensitive, compassionate, enthusiastic reader (isn't that the biggest part of being an agent?), and when you have something to suggest, you will.

Knowing "it wasn't for me" is helpful. It lets the writer know the writing works, but wasn't what the agent is "into." Fair enough.

Jael said...

If not getting more than a couple of sentences on a full MS rejection from an agent bothers you, you're gonna hate going out on submission just as much. Editors are busy too, and they make their decisions the same way: do I love it enough? If not, the answer's no.

"Not right for me" doesn't tell you much, but if you get three "not enough action for me" rejections or four "couldn't connect with the main character" rejections, then you've got something. Short doesn't mean useless. Patterns are key.

Aimless Writer said...

Until we sign a contract the agent owes us nothing. Any comment is a gift.
However, in my experience there are a lot of agents out there who will give you helpful comments. And I'm always grateful.

Anonymous said...

I'm querying now. I've gotten about 5 agents to read the full and each offered me some comments as to why they were passing.

I've done absolutely nothing with the feedback, incorporated none of it. Why, you ask?

One agent said they like charactger Y, but not X. The next agent said hte EXACT opposite.

A different agent said the pace was to slow. The next said it was too fast.

One agent thought the beginning was a thoughtful and a "brilliant" set up. The VERY next agent said the beginning was confusing and overwrought.

None of their feedback matters because it's all subjective. If they all said the SAME thing, then I'd pay attention. But I'd never start ripping my ms apart for an agent that wasn't offering representation, anyway.

I think agents think too much of themselves sometimes. They've got all these people pulling on them and begging for their time. They begin to think that their thoughts are law, somehow. I think offering a few comments (if you can) on fulls is a lovely thing to do -- proves you read it, anyway. But to think that your comments are RIGHT isn't really correct.

Lara said...

Any agent who gives me personal feedback gets flowers even with a rejection.

Anonymous said...

I know this sounds weird, but unless there is a glaring error in the MS I don’t think you should provide feedback. Not every agent has the same taste, so if we try to change things to please one agent we are likely to compromise our own style (aka voice), not only on this MS but on future ones also. Jessica, I think it’s great you try to please all of us crazies.

Mira said...

I really appreciate this post. I think you're pointing to some very real things - time constraints, for example, and subjectivity - sometimes you may not even know why you turned down something exactly, it just didn't fit.

I think posts like these are really helpful because they let us into your world. Sure, we may want feedback, and you can try to accomodate, but you have your own needs. Relationships need to be negotiated so that they work for both parties.

And sometimes, "I'll do the best I can," is good enough.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. Every time I get a partial or a full request, I buy a book that the agent has represented. (Even if I've already read one, I'll buy something else.) I feel it gives me a good opportunity to see what kinds of books the agent enjoys, and it might give me an idea of how likely he/she is to request more of my work. One big agency (not Bookends) has my full, and I haven't enjoyed--haven't even been able to finish--a single title of theirs that I've read. Do I still have my fingers crossed? You bet. Am I holding my breath? No way.

Scarlett DeNigro said...

Based on Jessica's tweets she seems prepared for a full s@#$storm today because this blog, but I don't see why. It's honest, articulate and professional. Maybe she SHOULD start a blacklist? Or maybe I should put down my blue pen and pick up a red one and become an agent myself? Anyway, great post and as always, incredibly helpful.

Stephanie Faris said...

An agent owes an author nothing. The way I see it, when an agent requests more of my manuscript, it is because he/she sees a little something that intrigues him/her. If that agent rejects the manuscript at that point, I know that whatever that agent glimpsed in the synopsis/query that was intriguing, the manuscript didn't provide for one reason or another. If an agent provided feedback on every requested manuscript out of duty, wouldn't that make it less special when it did happen?

Heidi Willis said...

This is much better than a post on purple.

I've had agents give me very specific things they thought didn't work, and some just say they loved the writing, but it wasn't for them.

I get it. Really. There are a lot of books in bookstores that I think are really well written, or fascinating stories; I just can't get into them for one reason or another.

I've also had agents say they loved my story and really connected with my characters, but didn't have the right contacts in the industry to sell it.

It always stings a little to be rejected, but honestly I get that you can't take on everything that passes your desk. And that you won't love everything that someone else does.

But I stuck with it and I now have a publishing contract!

I'd like to think the query process was just preparation for hearing people in a bookstore pick up my book and say, "Eh. Looks interesting but not quite up my alley."

Anonymous said...

It's funny - I must be the only writer who preferred 'it's just not right for me' to in depth rejections. When I queried agents, I had a couple say 'this is excellent, but I just don't love it enough'. I always respected that - as you say Jessica, I have bought and admired books without loving them. An agent has to love an m/s enough to be its fiercest advocate. Sometimes even though it seems it ought to work, the chemistry just isn't there.

Once or twice agents tried to be helpful, attempting to say why it didn't work for them, but the truth was simply 'I don't love it, don't know why' and the problems they found were vague and unhelpful.

The comments that were really helpful were from people who loved my m/s and wanted to push me to make it better.

I found an agent who loves my book and she sold it to an editor who loves it. But, there will always be readers who think 'what's all the fuss - this doesn't speak to me'. And, while it hurts, that's ok. It's why not all books published are the same. We all fall in love with different people and different stories.

Sorry for posting anon, I feel like talking about querying other agents, is like discussing an old lover with my boyfriend...

CKHB said...

I think "it's just not for me" IS appropriate personalized feedback for a requested partial or manuscript. I do expect a "personal" response once I've sent in additional requested materials, but if that's the reason why the agent is passing, then that's all the explanation I want or need.

I just don't think it's an agent's job to do any "constructive feedback" at all. That's what crit groups are for. If an agent spontaneously decides to give a suggestion, that's extremely cool, but all I really require is professionalism. Once I've sent in additional requested materials, I don't want to be "Dear Author" ever again.

And, the key here is additional REQUESTED materials. That means I expect more personal contact from someone who ASKED for the first 3 chapters than from someone who expects the first 3 chapters as part of the original query, even though they received the same number of pages. In the first round, I am owed nothing but a yes/no answer. In the second round, I am owed an answer, preferably with some explanation ("not for me after all, sorry" totally counts) delivered in a personal and professional manner. That's it.

I participated in Nathan Bransford's Agent for a Day event, and I remember reading one author's sample pages that had potential, but had a lot of things not quite right, and I wanted so badly to help the guy out, but realized that I just couldn't do a critique justice in one paragraph. It wasn't a situation where I could say, "maybe pick up the pace a bit" and be done, there were a lot of subtle issues I would have wanted to address, and I couldn't sign on the be the guy's editor, so... form reject. Sometimes it just isn't the agent's job to try to fix what's broken.

Anonymous said...

I learned very early on, when an agent provided what I thought was personalized feedback on my submission, to ignore anything that went against my gut. I mentioned said letter to a friend, who had also queried this particular agent, and it turned out to be a form letter, with small details changed to suit the submission.

I think the only times you pay attention to feedback is: if the agent offers you the chance to resubmit (and you agree with the suggestions) or you find multiple agents are saying the same thing about your manuscript. Otherwise, to use the dating analogy, you end up changing your hairstyle or clothing to suit the guy and he's not asking you out a second time anyway.

Anonymous said...

"He's just not that into you."

Robena Grant said...

An agent's job is to accept or reject work. Simple as that. They have to like what they're reading, have to see the potential for a sale, have to feel excited about helping to wip the work into its shiniest state.

While feedback feels nice to the writer at the time, it isn't always constructive. I've learned not to scrutinize rejections because whatever is said, the bottom line is a big fat no. I think agents and editors have pat phrases they use in order to let us down easily. Which is fine, shows a compassionate nature, but is often not helpful in the long run.

If we writers take that generic comment to heart and incorporate it into rewrites it can mess up the work.

I agree with Jessica, sometimes not saying anything is the best thing.

M. Dunham said...

Funny, I've never thought getting a request for a partial or full required feedback when rejected. A line similar to "I liked it, but it doesn't work for me", I think is appropriate to explain why you're passing, but a detailed critique? I find that to be rude.

Honestly, I think too many writers forget their business hats when this happens. If you were pitching a product or service to lure in new customers in the real world, if they say no thank you, you don't demand a detailed feedback session on why.

Writing may be in your world, but publishing is the real world. It shouldn't be set to a different standard because it's someone's brainchild. All products start out as someone's brainchild. Leave the critiques for the crit groups.

Robena Grant said...

Oops! It's early on the West coast. "wip" should have been whip although sometimes my work could take a few lashings. : )

Mira said...

Anon 9:56 - lol.

Jessica, after reading a comment here, I just checked your twitter feed.

I'm sorry. I'll be more careful.

carolynyalin said...

Thanks for the informative post.

lisanneharris said...

Thank you for this, Jessica. I once ranted on this very subject. Now I can see it from an agent's perspective. Excellent post.


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I've been reading these blogs. I'm on the fence about whether to publish my novel myself, or go the traditional route. I see now the traditional route is failing/tricking writers. Feedback? Why do writers want feedback from someone they don't know and who doesn't want to enter a business or creative relationship with them? I saw another blog where the agent described asking a writer for revisions PRIOR to an offer of representation. Then, after the writer made the changes, the agent still rejected them. That's outrageous behavior. Rationalize the business ethic there. I honestly don't want to villianize agents. But after working for more than a decade honing my craft, I'm finally ready to start trying to publish. And based on these blogs and agency websites, I'm not impressed at all. A few years ago, that was the chief route for a new writer, but with the rise of ebooks, that's not the case. I imagine there are a lot of good agents, including the author of this blog. However, I, for one, am not going to waste my time with this process. In the time that it would take me to get a traditional agent to editor publishing deal (a long shot in itself, and a longer shot for my novel to remain in a pure state), I can self-publish it, experiment with marketing and hopefully start to develop an audience. Maybe I'll fail. But I won't have gone down pandering and groveling and reading form rejections, random advice, or, God forbid, suggestions that I should volunteer my time to rewrite my novel, then resubmit for futher consideration from an agent who isn't passionate enough to take the project on upfront.

Brittany Hansen said...

I understand where Anon 10:31 is coming from... but to me, getting an agent the traditional way is an accomplishment. Self publishing seems like cheating. Agents are people too, with different tastes and different methods, just because a couple don't like your manuscript doesn't mean you'll never be published. It's called determination and tenacity. You keep going and you take the advice of all these great agent blogs and you write another book while you're waiting, you revise, revise, revise and make it perfect. Then you write another book and another.

Just keep on truckin'.

Wendy Qualls said...

"I just don't like it" is valuable feedback. If you get five or six or ten agents who all say the same thing, then clearly you need to go back and look through your manuscript to see what you can do to draw the reader in.

I liken it to when you get bad service at a restaurant - sometimes you just want to leave a small tip and move on, but it's nice to tell the manager what the problem was. You're not obligated to, but it helps the restaurant avoid making the same mistake for the next customer. You never know - your feedback may be instrumental in making your next experience a much better one, but if you plan to never come back anyway it may not matter to you as much.

Mira said...

Well, I don't think of self-publishing as cheating, but I do think of it as much harder, in some ways.

You can potentially reach a much larger audience more quickly going the traditional route. And just because a system could use some tweaking is no reason to throw it out altogether. In my humble opinion.

There are very good people working in the world of publishing, including the writers of this blog.

It's not a bad thing to have advocates and supporters who believe in your book, even if it means going through some difficult things and/or jumping through some hoops to get to that point.

That doesn't mean I'll stop dialoguing, but I think it's a mistake to sum up any industry and the people in it as not worth your time.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:31 -- great for you if you decide to do self-publishing.This is the question I ask everyone who is thinking aboiut that route.

How many self-published books did YOU read last year?

If the answer is none or "one," that's the same audience pool for your book.

Yes, there is much to be disenchanted with in publishing -- I was asked for a revision request for an agent and she passed anyway. Hell, I was asked for a revision by an editor and she passed anyway. I've had an agent that was crap personified. Ignored me, never followed up on my subs, and rarely answered my emails. She's no longer my agent. My eyes are wide opened as I try to find a new agent. Life is hard for everyone. That's just the way it is.

Publishers can do something you can't. Market. Your. Book.

Again, how many self-pubbed books did YOU read last year?

Bill Cokas said...

I, too, posted a blog regarding my frustration with the "sorry, not for me" school of feedback. For a query, I can see it. Even for a partial, I can see it, particularly if an agent requests partials up front as part of the quer process. But when I submit a query, then a requested partial, then a requested full MS, I DO think something more than a "sorry, not for me" is warranted. I don't mean a detailed critique, but are a couple of sentences too much to ask? They don't even have to be constructive. No, I might not incorporate the feedback right away, but if I get several of the same type of comments, at least I can point to a pattern, as one commenter said. And I don't think it's analogous to shopping for a horse--if I reach out to an agent, then the agent asks ME for more, on two occasions, isn't it just common courtesy to leave the author with a few parting words? If I see your horse advertised on Craigslist, then I ask you to send me a picture and some breeding stats, then I ask you to meet me somewhere where I can give him a "test ride," I would feel rude if, after all that, I said, "sorry, it's not for me," and drove off in my car.

Kim Lionetti said...

Something else to consider from the agent's perspective:

Sometimes we take the time to provide extensive feedback and ask for the writer to resubmit if they decide to take our suggestions. The author does the work, resubmits, we offer and the author ends up going with a different agent.

Is this fair play? Sure. The author is under no obligation to us, just as we were under no obligation to provide the feedback to begin with. Of course, it can also be very disappointing and make the agent think twice next time about taking the time to write such detailed feedback.

Personally, I've found that the risk is usually worth the reward. But right after something like that happens, I may be a little less generous with my suggestions.

Dawn Maria said...

I have a partial out with an agent right now. She requested hard copy of the partial. So I had those 50 pages spiral bound and sent them off. My expectation is that I will get feedback from her. I will be very disappointed if I don't.

I agree that "It's just not working for me." is a valid answer, but if I get that, I'll be frustrated. While I understand and agree with all your points about time, work load and what's "owed" professionally, I still want a bit more detail if more material is requested and then rejected.

Just being honest.

The First Carol said...

If writer should keep writing some glimmer of insight is good for humanity. We so easily imagine the worst. Best gift is to find best fit—for all of us. [Great clothes analogy, btw, especially for us visual folk]

ryan field said...

I can say from first hand experience that the few agents who gave me feedback while I was querying gave excellent advice that really helped (the wonderful Jeff Kleinman was one). I took their words seriously and their comments improved what I was doing.

I know that's not the case all the time, but sometimes, no matter what the feedback is, the writer will take comments to heart and appreciate them...even if they are painful.

Mira said...

Kim - that does suck. I guess writers have to watch their end of the street too. It's only fair.

Anonymous said...

I saw another blog where the agent described asking a writer for revisions PRIOR to an offer of representation. Then, after the writer made the changes, the agent still rejected them. That's outrageous behavior. Rationalize the business ethic there.

It's not uncommon for agents to ask for revisions prior to offering. I think it's a good test run for both parties. (It was in my case.) I also decided if the agent didn't like my revisions, I'd have a stronger book to present to other agents.

Editors may also ask for revisions prior to offering a contract. Again, that happened to me too. The editor loved the revisions but her boss stepped in and decided the book would compete with others on their list. Yes, the whole thing was a big bummer and incredibly frustrating, but I still see it as part of the crazy business of publishing. (Heck, all businesses have a little crazy in them.)

Self-publishing will certainly avoid those issues. However, you'll have new issues to deal with. Hiring your own editor and book cover designer. Finding readers. Trying to convince bookstore owners to carry your book (most won't). Etc. One of my relatives was pubbed with St. Martins, then self-pubbed his next book. He knew what he was getting into but he's still struggling and more than a tad unhappy with his self-pub experience.

Ainsley MacQueen said...

I figure that the time I invest reading up on an agent and adressing my preworked query is probably comparable to an agent reading it, requesting a partial, and reading until they're bored.

If I get a form rejection, or a quick, "great this or that, but not for me", I figure we're square.

Anyone who expects more is probably new to the game and will learn eventually.

Anonymous said...

A form "It's not right for me," after asking for a partial or full is frustrating but OK if that's all you have to say. But a little constructive criticism goes a long way and endears that agent to the writer who may end up writing the next blockbuster. To me, it's worth the time & risk!

Rosemary said...

Anon 10:31,

While I completely relate to your frustration, there just are some realities of traditional publishing that can't be ignored. First, I would argue that all feedback is valuable, particularly if you see patterns among the comments. (And yes, I've gotten those same oppositional remarks from both agents and editors. I still save them for reference.)

Secondly, the only time your novel is in a "pure state" is when it's unpublished. An agent is very likely to ask you to make changes, even after representation. And if he or she sells it, an editor will ask for more.

Your title will be changed. You might be asked to drop characters and storylines you love. You may have to cut hundreds or thousands of words. And I completely understand that some writers may not be willing to reshape their work in such ways, and so opt for self-publishing.

You've invested a lot of years learning your craft. I think it's worth a little more of your time to keep querying agents before you decide not to go the traditional route. Just a thought.

BCNeal said...

Very honest post. It's nice to hear someone tell it like it is. It's a hard pill to swallow, but that's how the publishing world is, right? I'm still optimistic though.

Caroline said...

The only time it bums me out not to receive feedback is if the agent has requested that I snail mail the full. If I'm paying 20-40 dollars to send that sucker, at least give me a sentence or two saying why you're passing.

If it's an email full, it might sting a little to get a form rejection, but I file it away and move on.

Aunt Angie said...

I think people forget the job of the agent: to sell their clients' books, not to mentor the unpublished. Agents ask for a partial or full to help them choose whether or not to take someone as a client, not to help the writer.

I know that what you write becomes like your child, and you want the feedback, but that's what writer's groups are for.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:31 Here,
Business and art have always had a rocky relationship. Agents and editors are taking advantage of writers when they ask them to make changes BEFORE there is a contract. Talking about editoral changes is one thing. Forcing one party to do work prior to a finacial or legal agreement is another. And if you want to take advantage of someone, you better seem to have a good light at the end of your dark tunnel. I think the light that agents and editors offer is starting to dim. Business models are failing, some more quickly than others. Epublishing is obviously the future. Self-publishing my book won't be easy, I know, but at least I have control. And why would I want someone who has troubling selling books as it is (even with mass marketing tools at their fingertips) forcing me to change things about my book? Why should I even hear an opinion on the title of my book from someone who can't recoup their investment on their existing titles? Why climb a broken ladder when I can build myself an elevator?

Lynne Connolly said...

When I was agent hunting, I wouldn't give exclusives on partials or queries, but I would on fulls. That is, I didn't send the full out to anyone else once an agent had requested one.
So at the full stage, it would be great to get a bit more than the "thanks but no thanks" letter, even if it's just a page or so. I once waited six months for a "no thanks" scrawled on the original query letter, sent back to me. I didn't send that agent any more material.
Where I needed help was in targeting my books, all that 'high concept' stuff. So when an agent said the book was fine, but she couldn't see a market for it, that was my clue to work a bit harder on that aspect. Otherwise I would have gone crazy rewriting a manuscript which was okay, but just needed a bit more fine-tuning.
After that, I found an agent. Not the one who gave me helpful feedback, but I'll always be grateful to her. (her name began with a D).

Lynne Connolly said...

"Epublishing is obviously the future. Self-publishing my book won't be easy, I know, but at least I have control."

For all the good it will do you. Why do you want to be published? It's a really important question and one that so many writers don't think about clearly enough. They want to be rich and famous - fine, try music, acting, or even the 'being a celebrity' route. Honestly, publishing is a nasty business, and you really need somebody on your side.
As for e-publishing being the way of tomorrow - it's the way of today. I'm epublished, and doing okay at the moment, but it's taken me years to earn a decent income from it. The epub market is changing, fast, and if you're not in it now, you're unlikely to get a shoo-in later.

Matilda McCloud said...

I can understand why you don't provide feedback, but I've really appreciated it when agents give me a bit of feedback on partials and fulls--even one line or two. For example, one agent was bothered that too much of my story was revealed through dialogue, so after I received that feedback, I went back and fixed it throughout the novel.

Buffra said...

I approach the whole query process like interviewing for jobs.

The query letter is my cover letter and resume for a posted job. (Assuming that "open for queries" = "looking for authors" to work with.)

A request for a partial is like an interview and/or maybe the becoming-requisite personality test.

A request for a full is like a follow-up second interview.

Additional conversation would be just that -- negotiation about the company, the tour and orientation, whatever.

By looking at it from this perspective, I can see why, even though I would LOVE at least a "no", sometimes there is no response from the query field.

I expect a polite or form response after an interview, though, especially if it's a second interview. And, certainly, the more info that the potential employers (or agents) can give, the more helpful. But, truly, additional info is still *additional* or extra -- meaning not necessary, even if it might be very nice, very appreciated, very, very valued.

My mother taught me that there's often a difference between what I NEED and what I WANT. As long as a potential agent follows basic business guidelines, I would query again with a new manuscript that might be more suitable.

Anonymous said...

To Jessica and Kim:
It isn't really your job to provide us with feedback. Sure, we'd all probably love it, but on the other hand, when neither of you could find the time to actually sell a book b/c of the time you spent on feedback, we might rethink what we want.

To my fellow writers: I have learned (the hard way) that all feedback is useful in some way. I've had half a dozen books published the traditional way and received some scathing comments from readers. They didn't like this, they hated that. At first I was incensed. What did they know? Then I was crippled. I couldn't write a word without hearing their criticisms in my head. Then I became more objective and sensible. I realized that a lot of what they said was TRUE and I've improved my writing because of it. Some of it, I believe, was nonsense, and I've learned to sort through which is which and ignore that. A very large part of being a writer (with readers) is having skin tough enough to weather criticism and an ability to sift through the criticism for what is legitimate and what is not.
As for self-publishing: No one takes it seriously. No one reads the books. Being self-published is another way of saying you haven't been published. Which is fine, unless you want to be, in which case, go for the real thing.

Anonymous said...

I have a partial out with an agent right now. She requested hard copy of the partial. So I had those 50 pages spiral bound and sent them off. My expectation is that I will get feedback from her. I will be very disappointed if I don't.

Dawn, I thought I should point out that unless an agent instructs otherwise, you should always send your pages loose: no staples, paperclips or spiral binding.

Sharon A. Lavy said...

Thank you for the information. This is a frustrating business for all of us. =)

My daughter used to have a poster on her wall. "Before you meet that handsome prince you have to kiss a lot of frogs."

Melissa said...

Re: sending out hard copies.

Send them unbound, and mail them the cheapest way possible unless the agent has specifically asked for faster delivery.

It's a rare case where the agent is breathlessly waiting to jump into your submission. In most cases, your submission is going to go on another pile and will have to wait its turn. I understand the urge to get it there as quickly as possible, but that really is wasted money. A few bucks is the max you should need to spend.

Melissa Blue said...

I wouldn't say no to feedback, but I've learned if I'm nodding while I'm reading it, the advice resonates on some level.

Then again some feedback goes over my head until I can put it into context.

So, yes, it is subjective both for the person giving it and the person receiving it.

Anonymous said...

Re: snail mail: Flat rate Priority is the way to go.
Paying for printing adds up tho.
Both times agents asked for snail-mail (one full, one partial), I never got one word of feedback or critique. They ask me to jump through hoops but they can't be bothered to comment? (Bookends included) Gee, thanks.

London Mabel said...

Hmm maybe agents need a little electronic checklist, where they can check off a reason or two why they decided to pass. Maybe that would be quick for the agent, but a little more info for writers. ;-)

Anonymous said...

You don't have to give any feedback unless you want to. Agents are not editors or teachers and frankly, we want them working for their current clients.

Also, giving any feedback often leads to more questions or worse. It would take up too much of your time to comment.

Writers need to learn to be professional and accept that a "no" is just that and move on.

Anonymous said...

M. Dunham, great post:

"Leave the critiques for the crit groups."

And I may add, independent editors and any other beta readers you can find.

Lynne Connolly said...

Thinking about this in business terms.
If the author received a reply to the query in a timely manner, say, three weeks instead of three months, then no feedback would be necessary or expected.
That manuscript is the author's product, the item she is hoping to make a profit on and while it's out at the agent or publisher, it's dead weight, an expense. In no other business would a wait of eighteen months be acceptable, but I once had a rejection after that time, after the book had been published elsewhere, and yes, I did notify the publisher that the book was no longer available.
But if a book, a full manuscript, that is, spends six months being assessed, I would have thought some indication of why it was rejected, other than the vague "not right for me" would be courteous.

CKHB said...

Dawn Maria: the anon poster is right! Don't ever bind your manuscript pages, spiral or otherwise. Think about an agent who wants to take some partials home with her to read on the train... but she has a LOT of partials. She'll want to be able grab some loose pages (a chapter or two, perhaps) from each submission, not have to carry 50 fully bound books around! (And that's why each page of your submission has your name and the page number on it, so it can be put back together again later.)

Lynne Connolly: don't give exclusives on fulls unless someone asks! (And they shouldn't ask. Exclusives stink, quoth Miss Snark.) I currently have THREE fulls out on submission, plus partials. I certainly wouldn't want to have to do this waiting sequentially when it can be done simultaneously!

Dawn Maria said...

Thanks everyone for the advice about the spiral binding- let's hope it didn't piss off the agent. I hadn't seen a word on what not to do with hard copy, snail mail submissions.

Hate this learning curve!

africanstardustsays said...

Thanks for this post. When I was querying I was upset at first that I didn't get feedback, but the thing is - which you said, Jessica, and has been said countless times in the comments - agents don't owe us anything. In fact, we owe agents quite a bit for sifting through slush piles and reading our pleads for representation:)

And with self publishing, it depends on what your goal is. I self published a stack of my poetry so that I can have a nice, bound copy of it and so that my friends and family who want to read it can read it in a book, not stapled computer paper. But I don't consider myself published because of that.

Caroline said...

I would never pay for special delivery or anything like that. The cost of paper + cost of ink (or having it printed via Kinkos, which many writers do) + cost of postage = 20-40 bucks.

susiej said...

I agree with what so many others have said- "It's not for me" is satisfactory feedback (if it is indeed the honest truth and the writing, plot, etc. is good).

At least, I would know then to keep trying, until I find an agent who does like it instead of wondering and agonizing over unnecessary revisions.

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