Monday, October 10, 2011

It's Your Attitude I Reject

I had a boss once who was fond of saying "life is too short," and it's become a bit of a mantra of mine. Life is short and I want to spend it doing the things I love with people I enjoy spending time with. There's no doubt we always have moments in our lives when we can't choose who we have to spend time with, and there are always things we have to do even if we don't want to (clean toilets, anyone?), but when I have a choice I'm going to pick what I love (like my job) with people I know I'll enjoy working with.

Which is why a query like the one below is not going to get you in my door. It might work with another agent, but after reading this opening I don't care what your book is about, I know we're not a good fit.

I’m supposed to write a query letter to have you look at my book, and be interested in me as a writer. I’m an independent writer because I really have no use for formalities. I detest the pretentious rituals writers have to go through to kiss ass and hope they get their book published. And I would imagine an agent getting bored reading these monotonous ramblings of writers trying their best to write a query in the prescribed format, hoping they got it right, for if they falter in any way their hopes and dreams of “being” a writer will be lost forever. Their fate lies in that sacred of all documents: The Query. How can such a creative art have such dogma?



Jessica

43 comments:

Deb said...

Wow. Are you sure you don't make these up? It's so shocking that people will send out a query without doing any sort of research into the process. It'd be like going on a job interview without learning a thing about the company (or industry) you're hoping to work in.

T. said...

All creative arts have rules.

Only those who are not yet true professionals disregard them.

Don't get me wrong - you should start out irreverent, questioning everything, getting rebellion out of your system. But that's LONG before you should start querying.

Then, finally, when you balance mastering the rules of your craft and staying true to your own unique voice... that's when you query.

Sommer Leigh said...

Disregarding how unprofessional it sounds, it's just so darn rude. Why would anyone want to work with someone who clearly has no respect for the job of agent or the business of publishing?

It just screams, "I don't need you, but I'm going to put up with you because I'm told I have no choice."

Kate Douglas said...

Life is definitely short and time is precious, and I agree 100%. My personal reaction to a query like the one you posted? It's an insult to you as an agent and to those writers who work so hard at getting it right--and getting it right doesn't mean following a tight format for a query letter, but I do believe it means taking the process seriously, addressing the issue (the story and why the author of the work feels it has marketable potential) and not using the query process to waste anyone's time.

Railing against a process that is designed to give the work its best chance is a monumental waste of time, and something better left to a blog comment or complaint over a cold drink at a writers conference.

Sommer nailed it--a letter like that definitely shows a lack of respect, not only for the agent but for the business of writing.

Chro said...

I'd hate to see what his resume looks like.

"I'm supposed to present all my skills and past places of employment in order to get this job, but I refuse to kiss ass and beg for the position I know I'm most qualified for. You don't need any references; I'm the only voice you should be listening to, you draconian jerk."

Ellen Brickley said...

There is a difference between 'kissing ass' and 'conforming', and conducting business in a way that makes people's working lives easier.

I think people like the letter writer may forget that an agent is running a business and needs time to do, well, business things. Time that can't be spent on ferreting out gold in a sea of inconsistently presented material.

wry wryter said...

I love the sentence “…independent writer because I really have no use for formalities”…how about publishing your independent writing, independently, because you seem to know what is best.

I am supposing such a person might forego the formalities of education, marriage, hospital births and paying taxes. We all know where that will get you.

Ms. Trite wishes the independent writer, Barbra S’s words of wisdom…okay let’s all join in,
“people, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”
Now, wasn't that a nice way to start a Monday?

Phil Hall said...

I'm sorry, I'm sorry.... But I have to ask for proof that some dumbass actually wrote that. Please! I need to see this for my own sanity! I can be a gruff, rough around the edges kind of guy, but that just takes the cake!

Cara M. said...

Saints save me from special snowflakes. urrgh.

Rosemary said...

On flip side, a lovely and generous editor who has been a supporter of my work (despite several rejections) once advised me not to give up, saying, "Life is long."

This person is clearly in a hurry, and when you're in a hurry, you make mistakes. Big ones.

Shell Flower said...

I can just see this writer's blurb on Amazon when he or she finally breaks down and self-publishes.

"I don't need tell you that this book is better than Harry Potter. I'm too cool for that. You'll buy my book because I'm clearly an awesome independent type."

And I'm sure sales will skyrocket...NOT.

BTW, Wry Wryter, not all homebirths go wrong. My 16 yr,son is living proof of that, and I'm not married, but do query!

Fawn Neun said...

I think part of the problem is the misperception of the actual purpose of a query letter.

It's absolutely NOT a matter of making someone jump through hoops, kiss ass, or to force writers into 'pretentious rituals'.

The ENTIRE purpose of a query letter is to convince the agent or editor that reading your manuscript is the best way they could spend their time that day.

And the whole '...if they falter in any way... ' is complete BS and probably just a rationalization for having been declined. I've read any number of submissions that were not perfectly in line with guidelines, because they did get one thing right - they convinced me that reading their manuscript was the best way I could spend my time that day.

Anonymous said...

Nah, I don't think that query might work with another agent, Jessica.

Just about everybody, when they meet one of these "my way or the highway" type people, opts for the highway.

This writer will end up self-publishing and then blogging about how traditional, "cookie-cutter" publishers have no interest in writers who are really innovative and creative.

Lorenda said...

I know that readers like to read words in a specific order, with clear nouns and verbs, but I just don't roll that way.

Dude, it only worked for Yoda.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

If that was on the jacket of a book, I wouldn't bother to buy the book (or read it). Obviously the writer doesn't understand the purpose of a query.

Anna said...

All I can say is that at least it's one less query with which mine is in competition!

BettyZade said...

LOL. I understand both points of view. But just as quickly as you dismiss this writers submission, like you say, someone else will pick them right up. There must be an agent somewhere who is also tired of the standard bs query and appreciates honesty.

Kendra said...

WOW. Just WOW. And not WOW in a good way, either.

This writer clearly misses the point. If you can't write a single page that keeps someone's interest, how is anyone to think you could write hundreds of interesting pages?

ryan field said...

Writing is as much a business as it is a creative art. I never once had to "kiss ass" to any agent, editor, or publisher. I love the people I work with and that's not kissing ass. That is such a misguided concept so many seem to have these days.

I've always worked well with everyone I've ever had to work with in publishing and never had any problems. I think it's a respect issue on top of attitude this person has. When you learn how to treat people with respect, you get it back in return. And this goes for anyone trying to break into any business.

I don't blame you for not wanting to work with someone like this. I wouldn't. Life is too damn short.

girlseeksplace said...

Interesting. It takes a special kind of mind to come up with these things.

sharlalovelace.com said...

It always slays me when a writer will take the time to write to an agent just to tell them they don't need an agent. Then don't get one! Why write the letter? Why waste everyone's time blowing hot air?

Such craziness when people don't treat the industry seriously, yet want to be taken seriously.

Danielle said...

If that was just the first paragraph of his query, I'd hate to see the actual manuscript. I bet the voice is just as pompous and jerk-y. And, if he were so independent, why doesn't he self publish?

i'm erin. said...

Ha! I love it. I love that you laid it on the line. Because really, who wants that? Thanks for sharing.

SBJones said...

Reminds me when I worked for Dell in the escalations department. There were a lot of people who wished things worked the way they wanted, the sooner they realized it worked only one way, the quicker and faster things happened.

Charlie Rice said...

He's right. Why would you want to read 1000 queries a week when you could just read 1000 manuscripts a week instead! Tell him your eyes hurt and request a full with him reading it aloud. :)

Funny stuff. At least guys like him make your job interesting.

Robena Grant said...

Nice example of a passive-aggressive personality.

Kristine said...

"How can such a creative art have such dogma?"

Because, dear friend, publishing is, in fact, a business.

Anonymous said...

Surprise! The status quo is valiantly defended again! Congratulations and an extra-special pat on the back for all the booklicking wannabes in this thread eager to confirm the gate-keeper's self-serving bias.

Before I commented, I scanned through the books represented by your agency. I am a fairly avid bookstore browser and I did not recognize ONE SINGLE TITLE.

How's that arbitrary conformism working for ya? Good luck in the mid-lists.

bluemistlizzi said...

What a comment to wake up to, Jessica! I agree wholeheartedly. Life is short, good thing for query letters, otherwise you might have to read hundreds of pages of this!
Have a great day, all,
Lizzi

Angie said...

This letter is so nasty it is not even funny.

It reminds me of Saturday at my writer's group. One guy had us read his short story for critique. There was zero formatting to the MS, no capital letters, no quotation marks. It was literally unreadable.

When someone asked him if this was just a first draft and he would fix all the syntax later, then format it, he replied, "I don't like capital letters, I think they're arrogant. I only use caps when I have something strong to say."

No one said anything.

j. a. kazimer said...

Amazing. When will writers learn how to be professional. This is a business, not a place to work out your delusions of grandeur.

Say it all you want, but you are no better than a writer who spends hours painstakingly crafting a good query. In fact, out of the two, you're less likely to be represented.

Why would anyone want to represented someone who doesn't play by the rules.

Debra Lynn Lazar said...

I'd sure hate to end up talking to that person at a cocktail party!

I wrote a chapter called, "The Art of the Query." It's a humorous diatribe on the "hell" we writers go through to write the perfect query. It still makes me laugh when I read it.

This "writer" needs to lighten up. Sipping a glass of wine while looking out at the ocean might help put things in perspective. (Of course, that's pretty much my solution for everything!)

Elissa M said...

Even better than the query is Anonymous 1:42. I'll bet you're crying all the way to the bank...

I understand the frustration with how difficult it is to break into mainstream publishing. I understand the frustration with how difficult it is to break into acting, singing, creating art of any kind. I understand that serendipity plays a part in anyone's "break-through".

What the query writer and commenter don't seem to understand is that NO one gets anywhere without working at it. People who think they are too special to put in the work are the ones who whine and complain and blame the world for all their problems.

The world's tiniest violin plays on...

G said...

I find it hard to believe that was an actual queg\ry that popped into your inbox, but considering I work for a state guv'ment entity and seen things similiar to that query, it doesn't surprise me that some arrogant individual sent you that query.

I originally thought like that person but thankfully I didn't send out queries like that. Instead, I got some decent advice and excellent tips on how to research and write a query.

If anything, the tone of that query should reside in a pompous fictional character.

Feaky Snucker said...

Sounds like someone's either A) given up before they started, or B) Thinks they're too good to put work into their query like the rest of us. I've gotten a lot of 'not for me, but keep querying,' rejections, and it doesn't make me give up. It means I haven't found the right agent who GETS me. Yes rejection sucks, but it's no excuse to not even try, and to insult agents before you give them a chance.

Tamara said...

I think of all jobs, the query is the best way to introduce yourself. It's one page of your writing. Isn't that exactly what you're looking at? How an author writes? Or did I get it wrong? Perhaps authors should start sending their favorite flavored lollipops to introduce themselves.

Fiona Li said...

That's just simply appalling. Wow...

Kristin Laughtin said...

If you were bored of the monotonous query letters all following the same format, wouldn't you, you know, tell us?

The query letter system may not be perfect, but it's evolved into the standard model because it's what's come the closest to working for the agent, who has all the power at this stage of the game.

The sad part is 1) that this letter sounds more pretentious than any of the query letter rituals, and 2) I'm reading through it going, "Uh huh, yeah, what is your book about?" Me, who has never been and never plans to be an agent, but has sat through a couple of those "read these ten queries" blog exercises where you pretend to be an agent for a day and realize how important a good hook is. Even if this author has a point, an agent's going to stop reading it before getting there. There might be ways to break the mold and get the system to change, but this isn't it.

Laraine Herring said...

I have students like this every semester. I often wish I could just delete them from my in-box, but of course, I must keep my enrollment numbers high.

My empathy extends to you. Thank you for helping me remember I'm not crazy!

Anonymous said...

Someone wise once told me that those who are ABOVE the process rarely get THROUGH the process.

The only way this person's work will end up in print is through the "miracle" of self-publishing.

Jo-Ann said...

I'm wondering whether you keep a data base of such queriers, if only to see if their later queries actually sound more professional and business like?

term papers said...

Great! Thanks for sharing.

Michael Seese said...

It's too bad you're busy with...you know, work and life and stuff. Otherwise, you could have written back, and said,

Dear God's Gift To The Literary World:

You are correct. You don't need me. I'm not sure why you wasted your time. Here is a list of publishers and their email addresses. I suggest you send them the exact same letter you sent me.

Best of luck.