Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Rise in Queries

I read your recent blog post about the economy being responsible for the increase in queries that most agents have experienced lately, and while your reasoning is logical, I’m not convinced the economy has much of an impact. I’d like you to consider the possibility that the Internet is responsible for the rash of queries.

I recently joined a forum, Absolute Write Water Cooler, that has many interesting sub-fora that are great resources for writers, both those who want to learn the business and those who want to learn to write—and there, I think, is the problem. Every day I read posts by people who ask questions that no real writer, by which I mean a skilled and talented master of the craft (or even master in the making), has any business asking. Yet these people—people who seem not to know the difference between first and third person, how to fill holes in their stories that shouldn’t be there in the first place, how to control pace or how to motivate their characters to get them where they need them—are submitting queries to agents. Let me rephrase that . . . people whose posts indicate they have no business writing at all except for their own amusement and that of their friends and family (if they are good enough to get that much) are filling the inboxes of agents, and they are actually encouraged to do so by other members of the forum!

This particular forum is not alone, there are many others. Do you think it is possible that the growth of the Internet, along with the enforced politeness and tolerance that it fosters, could be responsible for people that have no business writing suddenly getting the idea that they are special too and that they should search for an agent?

Well, actually, the Internet has been responsible for an increase in queries for years. To agents and editors this reasoning is nothing new and certainly it’s something we talk about all the time on our blogs, at conferences, and with each other over lunch. There is no doubt that in the past 20 or so years the number of people writing books has exploded. It’s easier. Almost everyone has a computer now and the ability to, with word processing programs, write a book. It’s easy through forums and online agent listings to find the names of agents and even easier to submit when you don’t even have to buy a stamp, all you have to do is toss out an email. In fact, it’s funny when authors complain so loudly about agents who require them to pay to submit by actually using the U.S. Postal Service. In some respects maybe we should all go back to the old-fashioned way of submitting just to weed out those who don’t want to make the effort.

I’m glad you’re expressing your frustration at those writers you’re meeting on forums who you feel have no business writing, let alone submitting to agents. Now you can imagine my frustration, because I’m getting queries from those people as well as the many others who haven’t even been able to take the time to look for forums or other groups to learn from. At least the people asking questions on the Absolute Write Forums and other writers forums are taking the time to learn about the business and ask questions.

I agree that the Internet has certainly added to the number of submissions we all see, but the Internet didn’t just “open” in January 2009. We’re not just seeing an overall increase, we’re all seeing a massive jump as of January of this year, and the jump is much greater than we’ve ever seen in previous years. As far as I’m concerned that’s not the Internet, but the economy.



Alan Orloff said...

Hi Jessica, love the blog!

Just curious. With all the educating you (and other agents) have been doing about query writing over the past few years, have you noticed an increase in the quality of the queries (in addition to the quantity)?

Has the growth been equal between fiction and non-fiction, or has it been concentrated in specific genres?

Or is it too hard to discern any patterns under the query avalanche?

Liana Brooks said...

Maybe the person asking doesn't understand the point of a writing group. There will always be people who don't know how to write, but who want to. Thank goodness they can find a writing group! If they ask questions and get the right answers the whole world opens up for them.

No one should condemn someone else for not being at their level. It might take time, but they can improve if they want to.

And it doesn't hurt other authors to have a few bad queries in the mix. It makes you look good by comparison.

Anonymous said...

This is a funny post and so true. Still, it is what it is. If you take a look at the 50 queries on Nathan Bransford's blog, you'll see there are many people who need further education, to put it mildly. Good thing about this--if you can write well, communicate effectively, have a good premise that is presented properly, target the right agents, you should be in.

Anonymous said...

Count me as someone who would not have time to write or query if not for the economy. My freelance business (writing and editing for specialized publications)has dwindled to nothing, I'm pretty sure because of reasons outside my control as previous to this year, I've hardly been able to breathe and get it all done. Now, the long, empty days are perfect for writing fiction and reading to see what's out there--a luxury. But I don't have any income!

Rick Daley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick Daley said...

The Internet usually masks a person's age on one way or another. I suspect some of the people who have "no business writing" are just young and inexperienced, in which case they may have potential to mature and learn the craft, as it seems they are at least trying to do if they are asking questions on writing blogs and forums.

Of course, that doesn't mean they are ready to query, and I hope they will find someone who will tell them to finish their manuscript, join a critique group, re-write it, revise it, revise it again, and then query.

On the other hand, the Internet is chock full o' hacks and pranksters who have no qualms about wasting the time of hardworking professionals like you, Jessica...So thanks for taking the time to share your insights with us all!

Mark Terry said...

I think the increase is interesting because several published novelists I know are arguing that this is a good time to take a breath and really work either on writing the full work on spec or really working to make it better, better, better simply because of the cutback in the economy--it's more competitive, so you need to be, too.

That said, I have one very successful writer friend who is working on a lot of proposals this year, so I suppose you can go either way.

Word verification (I kid you not): synopsit

Jamie Blair said...

I'm just stuck on the original question...really, people who haven't mastered the fine art of writing have no business following their dream of being published? I hope I'm interpreting that wrong. Everyone deserves a shot at getting better and asking even stupid questions that are obvious to seasoned writers. How do they learn if they don't ask. Be a mentor and help them out!

Anonymous said...

When I first started writing, I had to type everything out (repeatedly and carefully) on my IBM Selectric and then go find a Writer's Digest at the library or pay a rather hefty price to buy the latest edition. And pay another hefty price to make copies and mail submissions and you had to be a bit pickier about who you submitted to, because it got pretty expensive after a while. (For my pains I have a collection of rejection slips from some of the finest publications in the country.) :)

On the other hand, writing is enjoyable and I think everyone who wants to learn how, should. Even if they never create anything publishable. I wouldn't say that any of these people have no business writing, just no business getting published. I like to see it as an increase in literacy.

I'm a member of Backspace, which is a pay subscription and tends to attract more serious writers. But I think a free an open forum is a good place to start.

It's very interesting that the economy has resulted in an increase of queries. I suppose people have more time on their hands lately.

lisa and laura said...

I read your blog daily, Jessica. Thank you for taking the time to field questions from writers and act as a resource.

I understand that there are many newbie writers out there who are completely clueless, and to be completely honest, several months ago I was one of them. I was an avid reader who had dreams of writing but no idea of how to go about writing a novel.

AbsoluteWrite and blogs like yours helped us (I write with my sister) figure out how publishing worked and to a lesser extent how to write a book. We managed to finish the book, which unfortunately wasn't ready to be published. But we didn't know any better and we learned how to submit to agents the right way by doing research on sites like AW and Query Tracker. We got a lot of rejections.

Thankfully, there were some agents who saw potential and gave us some feedback and advice that helped us go on to write a second book that landed us a few offers of representation. My point is that we all have to start somewhere, and yes, to a certain extent it's the blind leading the blind, but I know for a fact that we would have been completely lost without sites like AW and the encouragement (no matter how misplaced) from other aspiring writers.

Erin Cabatingan said...

"along with the enforced politeness and tolerance that it fosters"

Interesting--because my experience has sometimes been the opposite. Because people can be anonymous on the internet, they are often a lot ruder and meaner than they would be in person (at least I hope they are that rude in person.)

And I must say, I would probably have been the person this post is talking about several years ago. I didn't know what I was doing, didn't have any experience writing books, but I knew that I loved it. But at the time, I didn't realize I was bad. So I sent to agents, got rejected, and finally realized I needed more help--went to writers conferences, started researching the internet, joined a writers' group. And my work has greatly improved. I still haven't gotten an agent, but I've had interest, and I have direction and know better what I need to do.
But everyone needs to start somewhere. And just because you stink now doesn't mean you can't get better.

The Swivet said...

Jessica -

I think you're absolutely right. Since January, my queries have gone up from about 250 or so per week to 500 and then - just before I close to submissions in March - I had more than 700 coming in a week. Other agents at FinePrint are seeing the same thing. We're also seeing an increase in queriers not taking no for an answer, writing back to argue after a rejection. One fellow has re-sent his query (as of yesterday) 27 times, with a note attached that he will keep sending it until we give him a good reason why we should represent him. (The words "Batshit crazy" come to mind.)

I'm convinced that it's a result of the economy, a kind of panic response.

It'll ease up at some point. And despite all the extra queries, we all still recognize the good ones when we see them! =)



Rosemary said...

Janet Reid did a recent post about online submission forms, which many writers dislike for a simple reason: they're a lot of work.

But I think they go a long way towards weeding out those who are not serious or perhaps not ready to submit.

I'd be curious to know if agencies who use such forms end up with fewer queries.

Anonymous said...

If the economy is a factor, which I'm sure it is the major reason, then it would indicate that the huge influx of queries is from people looking to publish something with the primary goal of making money. The other group is likely those who have always thought about writing a novel, but never felt they had the time to do so, and now are unemployed and thus have to the time to give it a go. Either way, it means a huge influx of very inexperienced writers, the latter group which should be encouraged and supported. The first group should be told to look for other avenues to make money, because they won't be making it in publishing.

Hard to blame folks though, really. If you look at news coverage of the publishing industry from a writing standpoint, you often find the exception stories, those people who managed to buck the odds, who hit just the right juxtaposition of timing, luck, and talent to not only get published, but to achieve some success at it. So, it becomes like many other 'get rich quick' schemes out there in internet land. Problem of course is, none of these folks understand the industry or that writing something that will make money is extraordinarily difficult.

If the economy turns around by the end of the year (I'm guessing we won't see unemployment below 8% until middle to end of next year), it'll be interesting to see if the query deluge tapers off. Though it actually should gradually taper off on its own (if the economy is the culprit) as these people looking to make money realize that it's just not going to happen for them and they begin to look down other avenues for their riches. For those now with time to do something they've always wanted to do because they have no job, most will likely stop once they are working again, and a few will realize they really like this frustrating and rewarding thing called writing, and will keep plugging away.

If only we had some way to single those people out and help them along. What will be more interesting to figure out though, is if in a couple years, when people are getting jobs again, is if the query load stays the same.

Dara said...

Is it just me or did that email sound a bit elitist?

I'm part of AW. I've seen the questions, and yes, I encourage those who are still learning to master the craft. How else do you become a master without asking questions?

Why is it a problem for people to ask for input on pacing and plot holes? I've asked the same questions when I get stuck in my draft and the input I've received there has helped me tremendously.

Sure, a number of the writers may be a little hasty in sending their ms off to an agent, but you're always going to have that.

What does this person expect? It takes a bit of talent AND hard work to learn the craft.

I don't know; I just get upset when I see people looking down on those who are just beginning. We all have to start somewhere...

Anonymous said...

I wonder of big deals being publicized has anything to do with it?

The book Pride and Prejudice and Zomies has been out for two months, has like 120,000 sales and is getting press everywhere. Just today I read the author just got a 575,000 book deal for two more same-type books.

I shuddered, imagining all those writers now trying to reimagine War and Peace with a Humpty Dumpty twist and flooding agent inboxes.

* I loved Nathan's query fest and felt a select few real standouts. Exactly the way I feel about books as I make my way through a bookstore.

In fact, the whole experience made me feel that agents harping on queriers that "don't follow rules" as a bunch of baloney. It was sooo much easier to nix the queries that were badly written than to take time with the ones that were on the cusp of being great. IMO, things like not submitting correctly would make weeding out the query box EASIER, not harder.

Spy Scribbler said...

There's one more thing, I think. In our writing society today, it is not socially acceptable to write just for fun. If you write, then you must seek publication, you must query, you must be "professional."

I know of thousands (more?) of adults who play piano for fun, take lessons for fun, and never intend to make a professional career of it. The writing community doesn't seem to support that same kind of writing "hobby."

To me, this is sad. Maybe I'm wrong. Fan fiction seems to support writing as a hobby. But then the writing community looks down on fan fiction, looks down on not being "professional." I do wish the writing community could be more supportive of fan fiction and other writing hobbies. Hobbyists are the ones who buy the most, who have the most enthusiasm and love to give to the art. We need professionals and hobbyists, both. It's how art works best.

Anyone remember when "amateur" used to be a nobler word than "professional?"

Anonymous said...

It'll ease up at some point. And despite all the extra queries, we all still recognize the good ones when we see them! =)After participating in 'Agent for a Day' at Nathan Bransford's blog, my respect for agents has grown even higher.

My eyes began to cross after 20 and all the queries began to sound the same. An agent I am not.

My hat is off to you!

HWPetty said...

I take issue with the idea that anyone would make the determination that a person has "no business writing."

I mean, how pretentious and condescending is that?

I don't mean to cause a stir or be contrary, but none of us were born writing. We all learned somewhere.

And really, who are you to limit the artistic endeavors of another?

A writer doesn't have to have a BA, MFA, or doctorate to write a novel. And, truth be told, anyone who's been in an MFA program knows that a majority of the novels created there are far from works of mastery.

And then there's the single mom who never finished college, who spent her whole life working multiple jobs and raising her kids only to find herself when they've moved out of the house and everything calms down.

Does she have no business writing?

As someone who was lucky enough to discover early on that this is what I wanted to do, I will take the knowledge I have gained from my degrees and real world experience and help anyone who is teachable and ready to learn. I would hope that everyone in the writing community would do the same.

If that's the attitude we take in those forums, maybe we can encourage young and new writers to perfect their work before submission.

Maybe the next great American novel will be written by a cab driver who sketches out scenes on the backs of napkins, and not someone who had the time, money, and resources to go for their grad degree.

I know for sure that mine isn't what has made me an artist.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

Thank goodness for places like Absolute Write and agent's blogs. Writers, at every stage of the game, have the opportunity to gain from the information available through these resources. And, last time I checked, asking questions is a great way to learn.

Amy Kinzer said...

I think it's the economy and an increase in the popularity of YA and young people (HS, college) writing it. When the job market improves, queries will drop off, hopefully young people keep writing!

Sookie said...

Everyone begins their writing journey as a novice, be that at age five or fifty, but regardless of what point they are at now, there's still growth to come.

I think it's best not to lose sight of our humble beginnings and help new writers along the way. One way to do this is to refrain from acting superior, as this email writer did.

Not that I don't understand this person's frustration, I do. There are many inexperienced writers commenting on writers' forums or critique groups or blogs who are poisoning the ponds of information and attitudes and camaraderie due to their unwillingness to do their homework. But then there are many, many more writers trying very hard to get it right.

It's all about separating the clatter from the song.

Confucius says, "Recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness."

Trina Grant said...

This is a very disheartening conversation. I presume I will be blasted if I express my feelings about this. Of course, I am pretty sure I fall somewhere in the category of writing bourgeois so I'm thinking about just throwing in the towel and giving up my dream. I might be one of those "people whose posts indicate they have no business writing at all except for their own amusement and that of their friends and family (if they are good enough to get that much)." Thank God we have people in the world to remind us when we inadvertently wander out of our social class and try to meander around with our betters. Excuse me. I have to go finish cleaning the outhouse while I reconsider this whole notion of a writing career.
(I guess I probably just sabotaged my writing career, which is fine. If I have to be such a Nazi to be a "real" writer, I'll go back to waitressing.)

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Sookie! Nice sentiment.
I also agree with spyscribbler. People who write but aren't published aren't even considered writers by most people and those who do it for fun or therapy are looked down upon. I am published myself but what if I'm not lucky enough to be published again? I still write everyday. Am I no longer a writer? Should I be laughed at?
I do understand the frustration many may feel at folks who truly can't write well submitting things for publication. I have met some of these people and those I've met have a passion for writing as great as mine. They don't know they can't write. They love to write and can't keep themselves from doing it, just like those of us who've been fortunate enough to be published.
And, though I have been published, I can honestly say (anonymously) that my writing would be considered inferior by any truly gifted writer. A lot of this is relative and oh, so subjective.

Nikki Hootman said...

I totally disagree with the assertion that folks at AbsoluteWrite encourage complete incompetents to send out queries. I suspect the author of this particular question has never actually ventured into the area of the forum devoted to critiquing queries. It's actually pretty hard-core. Members whose queries indicate a lack of skill in any area are frequently encouraged to work on their manuscript before submitting.

It's true that in OTHER areas of the forum, members encourage one another... because that's what it's all about! Learning from one another and spurring each other on.

I think some of us need to remember we were all novices at one time.

Wes said...

"I take issue with the idea that anyone would make the determination that a person has "no business writing." "

Heather and others,
I see both sides of the issue. Sure everyone should have the right to ask newbie questions, experiment, and try to learn to write. But......they also have a responsibility to know when they are hogging scarce resources. My critique group has essentially been ruined by an influx of people who have no talent, poor ideas, and an unwillingness to accept constructive criticism, particularly when offered by five published authors in the group, including one author who has published over 60 novels with a major house and makes her living as a novelist. As a result the best writers have dropped out of the critique group and formed their own.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, I look at Susan Boyle, the lady from England who was laughed at and now at age 47, she's well on her way to being a singing star, like her mother always wanted. we who have no business writing have a do love my writing, you really do.

Agent XXX

On a side note, imagine how it would be if you sang for a living.
Usually when you tell people you can sing, they say, "Sing something" there's probably few professions when people want a free sample (cooking probably, and tax answers are just some of the others I can think of off hand)

Alex Green said...

When I told a friend that I'd finished my manuscript, his face lit up and he explained to me that what I was doing was great. He'd been told in some class (I think he'd even paid money to hear these words) that writing and publishing a book was THE BEST way to earn extra income because you'd recieve checks for the rest of your life. There was actually a chunk of the lecture encouraging them to find time to write a book if they wanted to help their thin pocket books. I laughed and shook my head at my friend but still, he disagreed with me. I guess when I talk I should look at notes so that I seem more competent.

Emily Cross said...

I agree with the points people have previously made.

I didn't realise that people were born with all the knowledge they'll ever need to be a writer!

my mistake.

I hate it when people judge people, just because they feel they are not up to a 'certain standard'.

We're all here to learn, its the reason many of us read your blog.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Trina, I doubt you've ruined your writing career. There are more than a few people commenting here in basic agreement that the original post, or at least the wording of it, was a bit elitist. (Seriously, "no real writer...has any business asking"? "If they are good enough" to amuse their friends and family? Wow. Is it cold up on that pedestal?) While I'll admit occasional frustration at seeing someone post a question that could be answered with just a little bit of research or practice, or people giving bad advice in general, I have to force myself to recognize that everyone starts somewhere. I started somewhere once. I might have always known the difference between first and third person, but my writings when I was a teenager were sometimes badly paced or filled with clich├ęs. At least the people making these posts are trying to get better.

Jessica, I agree with you completely. The Internet has made it easier for people to seek publication--but the Internet has been around for years, and I suspect the rise in queries as a result has been gradual. After all, the proliferation of these sites for writers didn't happen in a day. But the marked increase in the last few months that nearly all agents have been reporting? Obviously there is another cause for that. And what's one of the biggest things affecting everyone right now? The economy. Seems a logical connection to me. The Internet still helps, though, especially since it has made it much easier to here about the huge sales of Stephenie Meyer and JK Rowling, or the tremendous advance that Audrey Niffenegger just got for her second novel. It makes it seem like writing really is a get rich quick scheme.

Vacuum Queen said...

First, the comment from Colleen the agent was hilarious. I think she should go ahead and tell that guy that he is, in fact, "Bat sh*t Crazy." I laughed.

And second...I am that inexperienced goon on the forums. I don't care how dumb I sound when I ask my dumb questions. The thing is, there is just so much information out there on the web, that sometimes I just have to pick one forum and settle in with my questions that have been asked before. I don't have 30 hours per day to look back for the last time someone asked that question. I figure, if someone doesn't want to answer me, they won't. BUT, I want to karate chop the original poster who was too elite to see people like me in their forum. I might be new, and I might not write like them, but when I write for fun, people always ask me when I'm going to "write for real." I figure I've got to look into it at least.

Anonymous said...

It's not funny that some authors want agents to accept email queries... especially if you're out of work and every dollar counts.

It also helps the planet.

Vacuum Queen said...

Hey...I'm wondering how often people might query you with and idea and not a manuscript. I mean, perhaps they haven't written anything but they are trying to pitch their idea in the form of a query, just to see if you think it's a good idea.

That would suck for you if it's filling your inbox with useless queries, and it would suck for them if you called for a full MS. So maybe it doesn't happen, but it does make me curious if people are doing that.

The Swivet said...

I think some people don't understand the purpose of boards like Absolute Write and Backspace and Verla Kay. These are places (at least from what I can see when I read them) for writers to find support through community. All writers. They exist to educate, provide encouragement and offer criticism when needed. And sure, they're a place to kvetch about agents and publishers. Hey, everyone needs a place to vent!

But I think that more writers need to take advantage of these online communities. They're wonderful resources.

Sarah J. MacManus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily Cross said...

Colleen: exactly!

Sophie W. said...

"could be responsible for people that have no business writing suddenly"

*delicate cough*


Robena Grant said...

Maybe I'm just showing my age here, but I'd love to see a return to the hard copy query. While I do understand the expediency of the email query I wonder if it is read (or written)in the same way that a letter is read or written.

When I read emails, blogs, etc. it's in a different way, I tend to scan rather than read. Many times before sending a response, I have to let it sit then return a couple of times and look for what the sender is REALLY saying.

About the increase in the number of queries, I'm on the side of the current economic crisis being a stimulator, combined with the "no cost" aspect. When something is that easy and free there is a "why not" attitude.

About our commenter, I think he may have forgotten he was once a beginner himself. There are many wonderful authors who have helped me and brushed aside my thanks with a "just paying it forward" comment. I can only hope that someday I will be in a position to do likewise.

Elissa M said...

I get the impression the original questioner was feeling that somehow the influx of poor queries by not-ready-for-prime-time writers is the reason said questioner has been unsuccessful in his or her own quest for publication. That would explain the snarkiness, I believe.

Personally, I have faith that agents are still capable of sifting the gold from the slush despite the marked increase in slush.

Writers, regardless of skill level, should not be afraid to ask even the most elementary questions on a forum dedicated to educating people. No one is born knowing everything.

Anonymous said...

I'm a moderator on a small site with a writing section. It’s part of a YA author's website and I'd say 99% of what I do there is encourage the writers (hereafter called “the kids”) and answer newbie questions. The author who runs the site was published at a ridiculously young age and her fans look at her and think that since she did it, they can, too. Right around the time the economy started its nosedive we had an influx of kids looking to help out their household by writing. That’s economy-based.

There’s a lot of bad information floating around. We try to share the good information--isn't that why people find websites like AW, or NaNoWriMo, Backspace, and so on and so forth?

I’d wager the really clueless people, the ones that really are a complete waste of in-box space, don’t do that. They hire a site to send queries for them, or go to vanity presses not knowing better.

And lest ye think hard copy is the be-all save-all, pink paper, perfume, and glitter are much easier to get rid of when they’re just digital.

Juliana Stone said...

The only way to learn it so ask. I for one, think the newbies who dare to ask are brave. Sure there will be silly questions on these forums, but that's what they're there for. I was a newbie and not too long ago either, and yes learned a lot on different forums via the internet.
I do think that queries have risen in part because of the easiness email presents, but again, I think the economy has a lot to do with it. Let's face it. there are thousands of people who've lost their jobs....some aspiring authors...what better time to write, to submit and hold on to that dream.
The cream will always rise to the top my friends, and agents and editors alike will find the stories that move them.
It's just now, they have to sift through a whole lot more to get to them!
as for returning to hardcopy. I think it's a waste of paper, time and $$. In this day and age, email should be the standard....just my 2 cents

Anonymous said...

A return to hardcopy? I sent out a batch of email queries in January and got a pretty decent response. Of the six hard copies I mailed, none of my SASEs have returned.

Writers are starving as it is... agents should throw us a bone and all accept email queries.

And the process is slow enough as it is... do we really need to add snail mail into the mix?

Anonymous said...

I just started seriously writing last year and attended my first critique group. Now I love going and hate to a miss a meeting.

My writing has improved so much since that first meeting. I would hate to think what would have happened if they had treated me w/ as much disrespect as Jessica's email writer has for others. I have a long way to go before I'm ready, but I hope that when I am I will be treated w/ respect instead of contempt.

Fortunately there are wonderful websites that encourage unpublished writers instead of tearing them down. Thanks, BookEnds for being one of them.

Allison Brennan is a New York Times Best Selling Author. She and the other talented ladies at Murder She Writes gives encouragement and helpful advise. Maybe the emailer should take a hint from these ladies.

Traci said...

I was thinking...gosh I hope I'm not one of those people who has no business writing. :-/

Leona Bushman said...

I am in shock over the elitist tone this person has chosen to present. I am just young enough to not be afraid of using the computer, but just old enough to not have grown up with the internet as easy access.

When I became serious about writing, I started looking for information. The problem isn't a lack of information. It's in how to look for it, and then seperate the wheat from the chaff.

I am still trying to ascertain which writing groups are the most beneficial to me, and where I might fit in.

I also think that if someone can recognize that there is a "hole" in their story then they abviously have some knowledge of what their story is lacking. Knowing when your story isn't finished, and knowing there's a problem is half the battle to getting your manuscript to a higher leve..

Figuring out how to fix or finish the story, is the other half. I have learned so much by reading this blog that it is part of my regular "work day" as a writer. I can't write the amount of time that I would like to for various reasons, so I have set up "minuimum" rules for myself, and this blog is one of them. I do it to keep on on the agents level of expectations and to keep my learning curve going.

I ask questions that others may know, but how else is anyone suppose to learn and become an experienced knowledgeable writer if they can't ask in places where people are likely to know?

Does this person expect us to go to a hot rods forum and ask questions about plot from car fanatics? I'm frustrated by people like that and I'm glad to see there are plenty of writers who agree that questions are the way to learn.

Anonymous said...

how to control paceI struggle with this myself. So, because someone isn't at what your perceive to be your level of writing, then they have no business to put a pen to paper?


I should let my publisher know I shouldn't be writing in the first place.


Anonymous said...

The original question does not state that people should be born knowing how to write, or that people who aren't masters shouldn't states that such people should not be encouraged to query agents, with the implication that they should instead be encouraged to learn their craft.

The only rational response to this question, besides Jessica's "I'm glad you're expressing your frustration because I'm frustrated too" was the poster who mentioned that this is not the case in the Absolute Write critiquing forums (even though that person admitted it does go on in the other forums).

I don't see the problem here, or why some people are taking it so personally. Do you disagree with the question? Should people who are just starting out and lack skill be encoraged to submit to agents? I don't think that's what you mean.

Rick Daley said...


"he will keep sending it until we give him a good reason why we should represent him. (The words "Batshit crazy" come to mind.)"

Thanks, that made my night! It's not often that I laugh out loud reading blog comments :-)

Anonymous said...

No matter, I want to know how agents are coping w/ this constant influx of queries.
I used to get same-day requests for partials and fulls--now it seems agents are using this "barrage" as an excuse to ignore more queries and mss.

How about actually reading the mss. already on your desks, agents? I have three requested fulls out and all of them have passed their promised deadlines...

Janet said...

Yes, there are some people in writing forums who don't stand a chance and who will probably never stand a chance. Others are totally unready now, but can and will learn.

And I, for one, am totally incapable of telling the two categories apart. I've been wrong so often.

I also think the email writer has not yet ventured into the critiquing forums at AW. While personal attacks are not allowed, blunt criticism is. And it gets served up regularly. If I see a particularly hopeless piece, I'll sometimes do a line-by-line critique of the first paragraph or two, which should make it abundantly clear how much work is required to raise the writing level. There's no need to rant about how terrible it is, just point out bad grammar, stilted dialogue, implausibilities, historical inaccuracies or whatever. People with Golden Word Syndrome often stagger away in a state of shock. Some of them, once they recover, get serious about learning and it can be amazing how much they do learn.

I have regularly seen advice along the lines of: if your query is being rejected all the time, the query itself might be the problem. If the partials and fulls are getting rejected, maybe you need to take a hard look at your writing. Not nasty, just truthful.

When I put my query letter up for criticism, I quickly found out that nobody cared what happened to my protagonist. Ouch. I had to rewrite it until they could connect with him. It was good advice.

So I join the ranks of those singing the praises of Absolute Write. The fact that so many of its members have gone on to publication, even bestseller status, says a lot. That so many of them still contribute to the forums says a lot too.

Anonymous said...

I hope this isn't a silly question, but here goes:
In the days before computers, writers were asked to underline the phrases that they wanted italicized. Does that still hold true? Or can we italicize the phrases ourselves without antagonizing editors or agents?

Anonymous said...

I'm an active member of AW, and I think the original writer may have missed an essential component of why that forum works as well as it does.

It's NOT just for pro, and aspiring pro writers. It's for people who enjoy writing and want to improve their craft. It's for hobbyists. It's for people who like to goof around. And yes, it's for the serious ones, too.

I know the age range on that site goes at least from 14-80ish. There are people there who publicize difficulties they have in comprehension that make it difficult for them to judge their own writing (or understand why theirs isn't like others) and they're look for someone to give them a hand.

There are (a lot) of people who come there looking for answers when they wander into less than stellar situations with vanity publishers they thought were regular publishing houses.

I hang out a lot in "Share Your Work", and yes I've read many things that aren't up to publication standards. I've also seen a few of the people who had the guts to post their "babies" for critique take the suggestions to heart and improve the end product.

It can be a starting point, or a whetting stone. It just depends on where you start and what you want out of it.

. said...

Not that this is anything to do with the blog entry at the top of this page, but I'm moved to correct "Anonymous" for his/her assertion that Susan Boyle is from England. SCOTLAND.

Okay, carry on.

Jan Eriksson-Persson said...

Here's a related question. Is anyone tracking the numbers of applications and attendees at writing workshops and conferences?

(not MFA programs but the sort of event one might attend for a week or a weekend, to work on craft, especially, not only network)

I got to wondering if there was any correlation (anecdotal) between these numbers and the increase in queries.

And, while we're at it, what about any indication that traffic at writing-related sites, such as AW, Backspace, these blogs, has gone up? I wonder if more people have subscribed to the PW paid site.

And could we extrapolate anything from that?

Emily Cross said...

Now i'm probably showing the i shouldn't be in the business of writing for asking a question but,

Janet, what is golden word syndrome? is that similar to overwriter syndrome?

Anonymous said...

Emily Cross,

Golden Word Syndrome is when someone believes that their writing is perfect. Not a word should - or can - be changed lest you detract from the author's "vision".

They're the ones who "write like this for a reason" and consider passive voice a "stylistic choice". They're sentences run-on for globe spanning marathons so as to fit only one per page. And it doesn't matter what time period they set their story in, women always speak their minds, and curse like sailors, without the reproach of society. (Or, my favorite, they always manage to find a Japanese sword - "you know, like the one on Highlander" - even if it's 16th century Sub-Saharan Africa)

If you try and point out that something could be improved (like chopping of the third, fourth, fifth ... ninth adjective on the same noun) then they fly into a fit screaming that you "don't get it". They routinely choke their narrative with descriptives.

"They hang every line of dialogue on a colorful tag," she emoted with chagrin while rolling her almost iridescent opal eyes.

Their prose has strayed so far out of purple it's ultra-violet.

Their characters don't do anything, but they "feel", "hear", and "see" a lot of other people doing things.

And, they're usually a notary fee away from changing their name to Mary Sue or Gary Stu.

Glen Akin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glen Akin said...

Jessica and this bloke feel that those "born" with the knack for writing should the ones be allowed to write and query agents, while those with an interest for the craft, who know nothing but ask questions on AWW, shouldn't bother with the business ... because they're ruining the chances for the "masters of the craft".


Are you guys serious?

Anonymous said...

So what about the increase of new agents who I see cropping up on PW who appear to have no relevant experience in the book business? Shouldn't we be more concerned about them rather than the poor soul who lost their job and decided to write a novel rather than waste money on a lottery ticket?

Anonymous said...

Help me out here: Why is it that agents who use daily blogs as a marketing tool then turn around and bitch about how overwhelmed they are with queries?

You can't have it both ways. Either you want to attract new clients or you don't. Stop blogging or quit complaining.

Jessica - My criticism is not directed toward you. I realize that you are not complaining, just stating facts. I enjoy your blog and have learned a lot from it. In fact, it's the only agent's blog I read.

Anonymous said...

Well, I can see some frustration coming from the fact that "less than talented writers" are subbing material, but does that really prevent good work from being published? I don't think so. And getting frustrated over the fact that someone had the same idea as we did, that they'd have the audacity to write a book, seems petty. As long as they first learn the trade, maybe use other resources on the internet like this one:

To hone their talent, then it's better for everyone in the long run. There are sure to be people with good ideas for books, good writers that come out of all this, and that means more good books for me to read. What's wrong with that?


Edward G. Talbot said...

Jessica -

I'd like to suggest an alternative theory to the vast increase in queries in january. I suspect it can be tied to the large increase in NaNoWriMo participants that occurred this year rather than the economy.

January gives them just enough time to tie up loose ends, give it the quick "once over" and then attack the query process.

If things don't calm down by May or June, then I'm probably wrong. Just a thought!

Anonymous said...

Absolute Wackos

Anonymous said...

Help me out here: Why is it that agents who use daily blogs as a marketing tool then turn around and bitch about how overwhelmed they are with queries?Um, I think this post is not just about the huge influx of queries. It's about the quality of these queries. It's about writers who don't understand when and how to submit to agents, and have unrealistic expectations about the business. This is no doubt one of the reasons BookEnds and other agencies generously share their time and information. (Plus, I think there are people in the world who enjoy helping others.)

I have no proof but I'm pretty darn sure that ALL agents are seeing a rise in queries, not just those who blog. There are probably only about a dozen blogging agents out there. A writer could easily hit them all in their first batch of query letters.

Rick Chesler said...

Thanks for another week of informative posts!

Anonymous said...

At least when agents talk about how many thousands of Q's they receive, you can take heart in the knowledge that most of them are drivel produced by optimistic minded folk empowered by their word processors and Internet connection.

"Yeah, but how many decent quality Q's?" is what I always ask when they start spouting ridiculous numbers of inbox-busting inquiries.

Agents are the industry's' doormat, and a lot of dirt and mud gets wiped off there before the door to the house opens.

Anonymous said...

"if you can write well, communicate effectively, have a good premise that is presented properly, target the right agents, you should be in."

I would be interested in seeing more filtered stats that show the acceptance rate of "non-crap" Q's, i.e. those that are fundamentally lacking in either writing, business sense or both. As others have pointed out, it's getting a little old hearing about the sheer numbers of queries when everyone knows that many if not most of those are non-serious attempts (whether or not the writer possess the self-awareness to recognize this).

Anonymous said...

Right, and it's also getting old hearing about the obvious "don't send queries-like-this" kinda stuff, where they shotgun blast form Q's, or don't personalize, or have it 3 pages long or 1 sentence longs or some other obvious flaw. We get it. Some poeple don't follow the rules at all, to their detriment.

How about a series on professional quality Q's that were rejected? leave out the amateur stuff, and leave out the good ones that were accepted. Show use the good ones that were rejected and focus on those for a little bit. Now THAT would be informative.

Anonymous said...

By rejected do you mean at the Q stage, or at the partial or even full stage?

Anonymous said...

Let's go with rejected right at the Q stage. WHAMMO, door closed on this professional quality Q right from the get-go. Trot out 50 like that and let's analyze 'em...

Anonymous said...

Also common reject reasons are wrong-genre-for-agent--weed out all those, too. Just the Q's that are dead on the money in every way except they are rejected.

Sandra Cormier said...

Absolute Write is for all writers, whether they are beginners or seasoned veterans. New writers need a safe place to ask stupid questions. Sure, sometimes they get stupid answers, but they learn from the experience.

I did.

Anonymous said...

"Um, I think this post is not just about the huge influx of queries. It's about the quality of these queries. It's about writers who don't understand when and how to submit to agents . . ."

From anon 8:52 - Um, I'm not talking about this post specifically, but posts on other agent blogs within the past year where the agent rants about the quantity of crap they have to wade through now that they're getting inundated with queries, no doubt the end result of their marketing efforts, i.e., their daily blog posts. (Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe a number of agents, Jessica included, have admitted that one reason for blogging is to get their name and their agency name out there.)

Since they solicited all that shiznit, I say kwitcher complaining and get to work searching for that diamond amid the detritus. The avalanche of queries proves your marketing ploy is working.

Anonymous said...

Yup, get back to work panning for gold!

Anonymous said...

"if you can write well, communicate effectively, have a good premise that is presented properly, target the right agents, you should be in."

Sadly, this isn't true, either...I have a number of writing friends (myself included) who seem to do all those things -- we've received requests and feedback which says things like, "You're a talented/strong writer" -- but none of us has received an offer yet. We've even heard the line, "I'm certain you'll find an agent for this".

Getting published is hard work and lots of luck.

OneCrazyMama said...

I understand the frustration, but everyone (or at least a lot of people do--whether they admit it is another matter) starts out jejune, annoying, possibly irrationally exuberant about their efforts.

Maybe I'm naive, but I think it is a good thing. You never know, some of those people who "have no business writing" will amount to something someday through their exposure to writing forums and piles of rejection letters.

To me, writing isn't so much about perfect prose or an A+ from the English teacher. Writing is an effort to share something. Share dreams, share nightmares, share a little taste of the human experience.

To make writing all about the "experts" and poo-poo the jejune amateurs is naive in its own way because every expert was an annoying amateur once. They didn't just poof into existence :)

David Nowlin said...

Tongue planted firmly in cheek:Well that's just (expletive deleted) fantastic!I started writing fiction in junior high. I took fifteen hours of writing classes in college. I went to law school so I could get a job that would help me save up enough money to take off some time and do some serious writing.

Finally in a position to take it, I spent the last two years working on two novels concurrently and finished them back to back in January and March of this year. Just in time, apparently, for the Great Query Tsunami of Aught Nine, which seems to be powered by thousands of people who started writing when they got fired from their jobs last November.


If there's a Writing God, s/he must really hate me.

But seriously, folks:I'm alarmed by a few of the comments I've seen here, and I haven't taken the hours it would require to read them all in detail, so I'm sure parts of my response to them will be rehash.

There seem to be two major camps commenting on this (in my opinion very insightful) post. There are those who think that some people have no business submitting amateurish writing to agents. And there are those who are offended by the idea that anyone should be told s/he "has no business writing."

I'm not sure that either side really paints the other terribly accurately, but I do think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

I'm not an active participant in Absolute Writers, so I can't speak to the types of people who post there and whether or not they have any hope of ever creating a publishable work. I do think, though, that that just is not in everybody. I'm sorry, but not everyone can be a pro football player either. Or work for a fortune 500 company.

I'm not saying that there are people who are 'born to write' and that the rest of you should quit taking up space in agents' inboxes. Writing is a skill, and as such it can be taught. There are people who will take to it more naturally than others. There are people who will be geniuses at it and people who will just never excel at it. Those are the breaks. Welcome to the human condition.

I think, though, that anyone who sends a query who hasn't availed himself of any kind of training or sought out meaningful, unbiased criticism, is doing not only himself, but also those writers who have, a tremendous disservice. If it was just twenty or thirty of them, it wouldn't be an issue. When it's 700 a week (as Ms. Lindsay has been noted) it's a problem.

I don't mind competition and I honestly think my writing is of a publishable quality (though I can't know for certain until I get that first coveted agent-offer) and I'm willing to put it up against all the other fish in the sea. Just the same, I'm not thrilled about the fact that there seems to be so much flotsam and jetsam out there that agents must just naturally assume that every query they pick up has a ninety-nine out of a hundred chance of being not worth their time.

So, yes, of course, if you're just starting out, keep at it. Seek help where you can find it. Write every day. Hone your skills. Keep hope alive. But please try to find some (preferably objective) way of gauging your writing ability and the quality of your work against the average quality of books you find in the bookstore. And don't click 'send' on that query before you're ready.

190 said...

In my opinion, the author of that question should just...stop. Stop the rant. Reconsider.
Which one person is there to judge whether who writes drivel, etc.? No one.
Stop worrying about other people, really, and focus on your own writing. If your MS really better than the others, it HAS to get published, no matter how many other queries there are. A writer writes.

p.s. Rick Daley: IMO, there are 50-year olds in my writing group that don't write half as well as the teens. It's a matter of experience, yes, but does writing experience dictate the point where you start? If the first five years of a writing career really is writing crap, then won't a 16-year old writing from age 11 have the same skill level as a 43-year old writing from 38?

Anonymous said...

I believe that some people are just victims of poor timing. I finished my novel, proposal, and query (that I had been working on for over a year) just in time to join in the query deluge. Honestly, the economy had nothing to do with it--but it's really affecting my chances. I've earned response after response telling me that it's too risky for anyone to consider an "unknown author" right now.