Monday, June 01, 2009


I have to admit while some of the things in my LOL posts definitely make us laugh out loud, others are more of a bemused shaking of the head. Today’s list is a little bit of both, I’m afraid.

From an unsolicited query letter: “What do you think about this? Let’s talk. Lunch?” and I have to say, there wasn’t much else there.

Why is it that, often enough, authors think the best way to respond to a query rejection is to insult me, tell me I’m an idiot, too quick on the trigger, and then call me demeaning names like “dear” and “hon”? Is that supposed to inspire me to want to read the book? I have to say, though, the condescending “dears" and “hons" get to me the most. Clearly these are not written by authors I would want to work with anyway.

I received a query recently for a book that was 2,000 words. I rejected the query and kindly explained to the author that most novels are between 70,000 and 100,000 words in length. The author replied to explain that she had a typo in her letter and the book was actually 20,000 words. How was I supposed to respond to that?

The opening line in a recent query: “I am writing this query in hopes you will reject my manuscript.” I abided by the author’s wishes and didn’t bother to read the rest.

And of course, another fun and “enlightening” response to a rejection letter: “Vapid responses such as this one that ostensibly come from you or, worse, a know-nothing intern, indicate there is a ambient low-level of awareness at Bookends, no one there capable of out-of-the-box-thinking.” Sigh.



Lorra said...

How Kan you rejeck me? I have went to alot of trubble to right my book. Just sew you no . . . your the stoopid one and yule bee sawry when I is famuss.

Rick Daley said...

The last one reads like they threw a thesaurus at you.

s.w. vaughn said...

LOL @ Rick Daley!

Oh, the condescending pet names - they are the worst! I have a particular hate for "dearie". A few friends can get away with calling me "hon", but "honey" is right out.

Strangers going with "hon", strangely enough, usually don't bother me out in the real world. Most people who use that term IRL have already charmed me by the time they pull out the hon-gun. :-)

But in an acrimonious e-mail, it just ain't cool.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the system in place inviting this kind of animosity? Honestly, what do you expect? Agents, publishers, corporations have usurped all the power from writers. While good and bad writing will always find its way into the world (and then be rememerbed or axed from the public's collective canon), the social construct puts writers at an extreme disadvantage. There will always be a backlash from the underdog, and it will sometimes be stupid and caddy. The querying process has become a ridiculous science, and while great writers have been found through it, it is not because of it. Just because someone can write a good query letter, doesn't mean they can write a good novel. If you don't want ugly emails from angry writers, or to waste a lot of time with subpar writers, don't post your email address. But if you want to find the diamond in the rough, better strap a saddle on it. You know what they say in Spiderman (great power, great responsibility). If you don't like it, you got the power, not us. Find a better way of finding writers and you won't get rude, stupid or uninteresting queries.

Sandy said...

hehe I love the 2,000 word typo.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I learned a new word today -- ambient. I need to go look that up, it rolls right off my tongue.

This is why (some) agents hate writers. I'd hate them too.

Being called "hon" by people makes me cringe. I'm in my thirties but do look rather young. It's one thing to be called "hon" by someone who is a great deal older than you, quite another to be called "hon" or "sweetie" by the teenage girl working the cash register in the McDonald's drive thru.

I can relate to the frustration of Anon 9:04. I'm currently agent searching, and have done weeks worth of research. The top three that best suit my book never replied (a no response means no situation) and it's those that say they are "actively seeking" clients that seem to be the least responsive of all, oddly.

I do wonder about agents (not Bookends, because that isn't your blog's focus) that seem to solicit everyone and their brother to query them, but never seem to sign more than one client a year. False advertisting a bit? It can certainly feel that way from the writer's end.

Mark Terry said...

It would probably be a lot funnier if you weren't drowning in it.

Anonymous said...

I'm not frustrated at all. I haven't even started querying, just done a little research on agents. In my research, I've read a lot of interviews and blogs where agents complain about the process, all the bad noise they get. At a glance, I've always thought the query process was pretty silly, but like I said, I don't have the power. As a writer, I'm a plebe not a policy maker.
I don't care if agents respond to my query or not. If they hate my book or my query or feel like I've wasted their time, they can send me hate mail for the rest of my life or ignore me entirely. Whatever... I just want someone to publish my damn book. If I have to jump through rings of fire while balancing spoons on my nose, fine. I'll play the clown. Just don't tell me the query process is a great way to find great writers.

Dawn Maria said...

Hmm... I agree with everyone here. I'm looking for an agent too and the process has made me feel more doubts than when I first started writing my novel. I can see how people get so angry and disappointed that they send the nasty emails.

Anonymous, I agree that the system sets writers up to feel less-than right from the start, but for now it's the only system we've got. What I'm taking away from this post is that a bad impression won't make the same impact as a good one.

Kimbra Kasch said...

Angry responses seem like "cutting off your nose to spite your face" - okay I just aged myself - oh well.

I understand writers feeling frustrated and emotional over their work; however, what purpose does it serve to be unprofessional and rude?

Other than the obvious venting while burning bridges.

Traci said...

Oh dear! What are these people thinking? *sigh* I have students who lash out at me when they earn a bad grade. How can they think it's okay to insult the person who has their grades in her hands? Crazy! LOL I'm thinking it's better not to burn bridges, but that's just me. Erm...

csmith said...

I'm rather amazed by "a ambient".

Um. Yes. "AN ambient" please?

I love the fact that these special and unique individuals seem to think that burning their bridges would be the right way to do business.

Well, at least they expose their crazy early, and you're able to avoid it. You don't find them in your kitchen boiling the next Dan Brown in a soup-pot!

Sarah J. MacManus said...

It's a shame writers can't stand on street corners or go down to the local and set up and do readings. They'd be a lot less neurotic, because they'd have some instant feedback to their work (even if it was just some loose change or a barrage of rotten fruit).

Maybe we need to resurrect the traveling storyteller.

Writers really are pretty neurotic, but who could sit in a room for hours by themselves, month after month, for no obvious reward, and not be a little crazy?

Sarah J. MacManus said...

Anon 9:35 - Agents they aren't looking for great writers, they're looking for great books. There really is a difference.

Stephanie said...

I can identify with the frustration on both parts.

As a writer, it is so terrifying to query....writing that dang letter is hard and there are a million ways to do it. You post it for critique on a writing board and you get all kinds of advice, most of it conflicting, and most from writers who have never even sold a thing. Then you kinda just go with your own gut feeling and pray it works. You pray it measures up to every agents standards. The part that sucks is it may not be a proper representation of the your work. As stated above, really good query writers are not necessarily good novel writers and bad query writers are not necessarily bad novelists. We worry so much how this tiny blurb is representing us and when we stick to the standard time and time again and it doesn't work...yeah, being a little different and creative starts to sound good... (though I would never ever ever use "Hun" or "Sweetie" in a professional type letter!!)

I can see the frustration on the agents part one deserves to get nasty emails just for being honest. And there are so many writers that query WAY before they are ready and have not done their homework at all. It's a waste of the agents time and not fair to all of us writers that do research and prepare...the bad ones are giving us a bad name!!

Anonymous said...

It doesn't justify the rude comments, but that's not really the point. And it is the system in place, other than referrals. I'm just not sure why the powers that be keep it in place. Again, I reiterate, as writers, we don't have the power. There are too many of us, and the business is too cutthroat, to mount an insurrection. I'm sure, in time, self-publishing and the internet, will do away with these models.

Anonymous said...

Fawn Neun:
Fine, reading a great query letter doesn't mean you found a great novel. Maybe in non-fiction.... I can't speak for that.
But even if you have a good idea, and you write a good query letter, does that mean you have a good, 70,000 word novel... I could write a query letter in an hour, maybe less. The query process is like if you were trying to find an architect for a project and, instead of looking at actual buildings or blueprints, you gave the architect some crayons and asked them to draw you a picture.

csmith said...


Actually, I am an architect. When you're LOOKING for one, you do ask them to draw you a sketch (i.e. crayons and paper). It is called Concept Design, and is a fundemental part of the design.

You only get the blueprints when you've gone through the whole design process. Just FYI.

You can either work in the system, or you can work outside it. You choice. Of course, if you are one of the rare people who can write a perfect query letter in an hour, congratulations. The rest of us poor slobs will put just as much effort into that as into the book itself.

Katie Salidas said...

Oh, "hon" just makes me cringe! It's so condescending.

LoL at the 2,000 word typo though.

Anonymous said...

So we're playing the blame game as usual, I guess. It's the agents' fault that some writers are rude and stupid? I don't know about you (generic you), but I like to think I'm not so weak-willed that what others do or don't do causes me to act unprofessionally. Why would you want other humans to control you? Especially when acting that way doesn't help your case and in fact, damages your reputation, the one thing you CAN control in the publishing world.

Therapist/Writer said...

I don't understand the sense of entitlement that some people have. I, too, have taught college level students and was amazed at how many of them came up to me after the grades were posted to tell me they didn't want that grade. Well, duh. But that's the one they earned. Just "wanting" something doesn't mean you are entitled to it.
And the query process is simply a method of introducing writers to prospective agents. It's a vetting process, no more, no less. And it's not any different then most business relationships that involve contractural partnerships. You introduce yourself, provide a sample of your wares, and get a yes or no on furthering the relationship. There's nothing "caddy" about it. It's consumerism.

csmith said...


Well said. This sense of entitlement is extremely offputting. Frankly, the more I see of it, the more I respect agents for having the patience to put up with it on a day to day basis. I'd be committed to a nice safe space with padded walls after dealing with it for a week!

Amalia Dillin said...

I don't feel like I have a hard time with Query letters, they are what they are-- the sixteen hours I spent trying to distill my manuscript into a synopsis was another story. Further, I think Agents (at least the ones I've attempted to engage with) are very classy in their rejection form letters. I haven't once felt discouraged by a rejection on a personal level.
...maybe I'm doing it wrong? SHOULD I be spewing vitriol? I mean, how would that make anything better for anyone, agent or writer?

Joyce Wolfley said...

Wow. I'm always appalled when I read responses like this. I just have to think they recently were released from the insane asylum.

Laurel said...

Please, please, please tell me you framed that last response and it is hanging in your office somewhere. Everybody needs a giggle from time to time.

As far as the "power" in the industry, it's the same as anywhere else. The power is in the market and agents are just the first wave encountered by writers following traditional routes to publishing. If publication is truly the penultimate goal for a writer there are certainly more choices than even ten years ago, we just might not like them. There is a derisive contempt for self-pub but a few people have found success that way.

No matter what you're selling there is never a guarantee that the unwashed masses will buy it. That's just the breaks.

Anonymous said...

Rude, unprofessional comments are pointless -- generally the person on the receiving end thinks "This just confirms that I my original choice of not working with this person is correct, and they are more of a cracked pot than I thought".

That being said, I can understand the frustration of not being able to find agent representation or ultimately, being published. Does that mean the system is flawed, or does it mean my writing just isn't what is marketable at this point (due to either my skill level, or simple market dictates)? Regardless, it's up to the author to figure out why, and make the necessary changes, or decide their writing is more appropriate as a hobby, not a business.

While I can appreciate frustration of not being able to sell your work, it is not the agents fault, or the publishers. Don't they both ultimately want to find work that the public wants to buy? If the authors complaining about the system don't like the system, or balance of power, how do you propose the submission/query process work? If you have a great or revolutionary idea of how to transform the process, share it! I'm sure if your submission/query idea made more sense than what is currently out there, smart agents/editors would jump on it. Venting is fine, but being solution-oriented is better!

HWPetty said...

I honestly don't get the animosity. There's such a sense of entitlement that goes along with it, and no one who has spent any time in the real world of the arts should still hold on to the pipe dream of what they "deserve."

The arts are never a 1-to-1 proposition... you don't work hard and then get paid for it like with a normal job.

Publishing is an art industry like music or dance or acting... and with it comes a lot of rejection. It's also notoriously hard to make a living at the arts, and very few people ever make a name for themselves.

I think if writers spent a little more time thinking of themselves in terms of the hundreds of thousands of wanna-be actresses/dancers who are working as wait-staff to pay the bills in L.A. or NYC, they might finally get it.

There are literally thousands upon thousands of amazingly talented actors and actresses who never make it onto "the screen." There are phenominal musicians and singers, who are better than any mainstream artist on the market right now, and who you will never hear about because they just can't break in.

Just because you're talented, doesn't mean you're going to get a contract. Just because you get a contract, doesn't mean you're going to make money. And just because you make money today, doesn't mean anyone will even remember your name a year from now.

That's not the fault of the agents or editors or even the "system." It's just the nature of the arts.

And I'm sorry that you have to put up with the immaturity, Jessica, because you don't deserve it.

(sorry for ranting. I grew up in the house of a professional musician. And I kind of wish everyone in this industry had exposure to that one for a reality check.)

Anonymous said...

I'm not blaming anyone for anything. People are always going to be rude. There's no way around it. I'm saying the system sets itself up for that kind of behavior. I don't think Janet or anyone else invites it personally.
If it were up to me, and it's not, I would have a website (like Craig's list) that only agents can access. Writers would post their summaries and maybe a resume under a particular heading (like sci-fi, or literary fiction... whatever). Agents can then peruse as they see fit and ask for partials or fulls when they want. I'm sure there's a thousand probelms I'm not thinking of, but I think it would work better than agents fishing through random queires in their inbox.

Anonymous said...

Such a shame that a few bad apples spoil it for the rest of us...A query letter is just a sales tool, an introduction to your novel or "product." Writing a good query letter should be snap for writers, but we place so much importance on it that many of us get paralyzed.

I've had numerous requests for partials and fulls, but what bugs me is the way agents like to drag out the process for months, perhaps waiting for something "better" to come along?

Re: hon and dear--these are first names in the South! But in a query letter? Not so much.

Jake Nantz said...

That last one should have received a free copy of Strunk and White. Ugh.

AE Rought said...

I had more than my fair share of mean-spirited rejection replies when I worked as a submissions editor for a little agency years ago. Reading your last example makes me wonder if we dealt with the same author!

As authors, I think we often find it hard to separate ourselves from the work we put so much of ourselves into creating. When it meets with rejection, we in a sense feel rejected, too. It's a hard emotion to deal with. That being said, there is no excuse for nastiness.

Jenna said...

Anonymous 11:39

That'd be Jessica, I think. Janet is with Fine Print Lit, not Bookends. (Although I'm sure she has the same problems.)

As for your suggestion of having a website like Craigslist where writers can post excerpts and queries... if I understand you correctly, you're wanting the agents to come to you, rather than you going to them? I'm afraid they have too much to do to go searching for clients that way, between servicing their already existing client list and attending conferences and festivals, not to mention blogging. And besides, a site like that already exists, sort of. Anyone can get a Publishers Marketplace page ($20/mo last I looked) where you can post an excerpt about your writing and check the box that says you're looking for representation. It works for some people. I got my agen the old-fashioned way - cold-querying - but a friend of mine landed her dream agent through Publishers Marketplace. Just FYI.

Holly said...

Critiquers get this sh*t, too. I love when a "peer" asks me for feedback, I give it to them, and they snap back with "What right do you have to judge my story?"

These days I tell people I charge for my editing services.

Enjoying the blog, BTW. First-time commenter.

Holly said...

"a website like Craigslist where writers can post excerpts and queries... "

HarperCollins has one called I shall refrain from describing my feelings toward it.

I will say, however, that such a site is by definition a slushpile, albeit in digital, rather than wood pulp form.

Unknown said...

"Agents, publishers, corporations have usurped all the power from writers." Oh, Anonymous 9:04 AM, that made me laugh.

Are people really pining away for the "good ol days" when writers supposedly had power without garnering a means to distribute their work? If so, please, tell me when this golden era was when there was no barrier between writers and readers in the form of editors, printing presses, opportunity, sexism, racism, classism, or rich patrons whose favor was fickle.

Is anyone really going to tell me that Poe died in poverty because his power remained un-usurped by corporations? Or that Shakespeare wasn't constantly in need of couriering the favor of the court?

Ah yes, the good ol days, back when we didn't have indoor plumbing; please, take me back to that time.

Does "the system in place invite this kind of animosity"? No. I don't have that kind of animosity within me. All I need to do is look around and see this wonderful thing called the internet and this wonderful thing called a flush toilet and I realize how good I have it in life despite the rejection letters in my mailbox.

Jennifer McKenzie said...

Wow! These didn't make me laugh at all.

Rick Daley said...

So many people love to bash the system, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone suggest an alternative (other than "publish my book for me because I wrote it and I love it and it's a masterpiece WHY CAN'T THE WORLD RECOGNIZE THIS!!!").

If some of these people channeled their energies away from angry criticism and into creative planning, perhaps the process could be improved upon, or a new system formulated.

The way I see it, agents exist because the editors want them to. The editors are the gatekeepers to the publishing house, and they choose to let agents stand guard and filter a portion of the slush.

Individual tastes vary (holy cow, I sound like a rejection letter!). That's why there are so many agents and agencies, so editors are mot limited to one agent's preferences.

PS Thanks s.w. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I think that if you've done your research on publishing all of the rejections won't be such a surprise. You just keep trying (with different agents than the ones who said, 'Thanks but no thanks'). Before sending out your query letters, take the time to mentally toughen up so the first hundred rejections won't send you into a bottle of Xanax and razor blades.

Really, you should be proud that you wrote a book even if it's not published. Not many people can do that.

Joshua McCune said...

I fully expect this trend to escalate, unfortunately. As we progress farther into the internet super-tunnel, we'll become further removed from appropriate (or perhaps it's okay nowadays to be an anonymous jackwit) interaction.

Scott Daniel said...

I use to see the same kind of BS when I worked in the newspaper business. It never ceased to amaze me how people that wouldn't have the first clue in how to put together a news story or decent feature would proceed to tell you how you had practiced FILL IN THE BLANK journalism.

I think it boils down to there's a lot of want-a-bes out there no matter what kind of writing you're talking about.

Anonymous said...

I always wonder if some querying writers forget agents already have clients. They seem to think that an agent has nothing to do and makes no money, unless they sign a new writer every day. But that's not true. Personally I think the process is fair. I didn't when I first got ready to query, but once I realized how bombarded agents are with unsolicited queries and manuscripts, in addition to what they have to do for their existing clients, I understood. I have nothing but respect for agents as long as they act professionally (and sending polite rejection letters that say a work is not for them is plenty professional).

Dara said...

:rolls eyes at the ridiculous query responses:

Why can't people take the time to research?

And if they can't take a rejection, they probably should reconsider the whole getting published thing--how in the world will they handle negative reviews?

Laurel said...

I wouldn't just post my resume on a job search site and wait for someone to call me. I'd keep looking up companies that had openings and mail them a cover letter and a resume.

If I didn't get much response in the field I was job searching I'd consider looking elsewhere. And I definitely would NOT send hate mail to non-responders or people who declined to hire me after an interview.

Being in an arts field does not exempt you from behaving like a professional. Especially if you want to get paid for it.

The publishing model looks a lot like almost every other business out there. Introduce yourself, describe what you have to offer, and hope someone bites.

Patrick Rodgers said...

I love the word count query. That's like when you answer a five year old's question but they just focus on the mistake they made rather than the answer. You already answered he question and even though the writer had made a mistake had they taken the time to actually listen to the answer there would have been no need to email you once more.

20,000 words is so short for a novel that doesn't even meet the novella's standards most of the time. Why our people so afraid of research? I actually ran across this blog as well as Nathan Bransford's while doing research to see if my novel was long enough (I came in at 75,000 words).

Anonymous said...

"It doesn't justify the rude comments, but that's not really the point. And it is the system in place, other than referrals. I'm just not sure why the powers that be keep it in place. Again, I reiterate, as writers, we don't have the power."

Yes, you do. You can self-publish and/or POD.

"The system" does not "invite" animosity. It is just not supportive of thin skins paired with minimal talent.

Anonymous said...

Well, yeah, my craig's list idea has to be ubiquitous: the place agents go if they want to read through the universal slush pile.
If it's just another slush pile for agents to ignore, then most writers are going to keep dumping emails into inboxes. My idea is for agents to stop receiving any kind of unsolicited mail. Either they, or their employees, go through the website and search for potential clients. Or they can just ignore the new posts when they feel flush with clients. It's up to the agents to look and the writers to post. But if you are going to just open the floodgates to writers to email you pitches for their projects, you are inviting EVERY TYPE of writer into your office. You shouldn't be surprised if you have to read through emails from professional people, polite people, rude people, or the downright scum of the earth. I mean, if I'm a rude person, what do I lose by sending a rude reply to an agent's rejection? They can't reject me again. If anything, the rude person probably feels a little vindicated. That kind of thing isn't for me, but it works for some people. Agents tell us we just have to deal with rejection. Well, you open the floodgates and you'll have to deal with some people dealing with rejection through you.
I'm not supporting these people who placate agents with rude replies or mistype how many words their already too short novel is. The powers that be are using a ragtag system (and sure, writers have never had a lot of power... that doesn't mean we can't point out when the system doesn't work) Maybe my craig's list idea is bad... that no one's coming up with a perfect alternative energy solution doesn't make oil cleaner. Why are query letters a good way to make connections? From what I've read, most people just complain about it (agents and writers).

Christina said...

Why is it that so many people seem to be into placing blame? I mean honestly - they decided they have to blame someone for being rejected and low and behold the agent is better than blaming themselves! Wow...shocking. *eyeroll*

Anonymous said...

Laurel, I totally agree with you, and NOTHING EVER JUSTIFIES BEING RUDE.
But writing a book is not like applying for a job. You're not fufilling an existing need, you are creating a new need (your book) and then marketing it. I spend countless hours researching the particular needs of an agent for querying, while agents spend countless hours reading through their inbox, then having to reject all those they don't want. Doesn't my idea eliminate a lot of the waste? I post one time. When agents find something they want, only then do they do they have to send emails. Again, the website must be ubitiquitous.
And Intotheforest, if agents didn't need new clients then they wouldn't read thousands of query letters.

Anonymous said...

And suggesting that I should be grateful that an agent would take the time to look at my query is absolutely ridiculous. That's their job (if they don't want new clients, don't read query letters, don't ask for them). We're both providing oppurtunities.

Rain Likely said...

A publishing house is a business that sells a product into which they have invested time and money. Of course they have "the power," why shouldn't they? It's their investment they hope to make a profit on.

Those who rail against the system are free to follow in the footsteps of Leonard and Virginia Woolf, set up their own press and publish whatever they want.

Anonymous said...


Your idea means less work for you, more work for agents. It means you post your idea once and don't have to do anything else. Meanwhile the agents have thousands of queries in this huge system to sort through. Much better the way it is now when a writer can target agents most likely to be interested and the agents don't have every single writer in the world querying them. The fact is it's supply and demand. There's more supply (writers and their books) than demand (agents) so the agents can be choosy and that's what they are. Agents do sign new writers. They just don't do so often because they don't need to.

Outside of the reality of supply and demand, claiming a system is broken because not everyone who wants to can be published via that system is ridiculous. It's a business. The goal of the business is to publish books and make money. Until that falls apart and someone can prove it's because an agent turned down a particular author's book, the system ain't broken. It just isn't what you want it to be.

Anonymous said...

We all know it works both ways: How many writers have gotten snippy comments from editors and agents? When I informed other agents w/ my partials and fulls than another agent expressed interest in my novel, two sent rather snide replies in return implying that they weren't the "right" agent. Oh yeah?
Why didn't they tell me that six months ago when they requested the full?

How many rude remarks do writers get about their ms. or query--or worse, no response at all? Politeness works on both sides of the desk, please!

SGF said...

It's easy to get upset about query letters. They represent our passion and in most cases, our lives, in our writing.

But, they are business letters. When you send a cover letter with your resume to a prospective employer, it has to follow similar rules of professionalism. It's almost the same thing (with different stakes, obviously).

There are lots of people in the business world who don't get the importance of professional communication; why would some writers be any different?

Personally, I'm delighted that Jessica posts these. My queries will be more likely to be noticed then, because they're professional. But then again, as we all know, anyone who reads this blog isn't going to have that problem.

Anonymous said...


Now you're talking about a whole different issue. Agent etiquette and the way the system is arranged in general are two different things. What can I say about the etiquette? How about that agents are people too which means they're not all nice and they're not all going to be as professional as they should be? So have a problem with those agents, but that's not a systems problem. That's a personal issue.

Anonymous said...

No, it means less work for everyone.
Let's say there's an agency with five people. Each has their own client list and their list of categories of books they would represent.
When they have time, they go to the website and search those categories they represent. If necessary, they can hire interns to search the website and pass along potential clients. So Agent A, who doesn't represent romance, doesn't get queries about romance novels and doesn't have to reject them.
I am not whining because it's hard to get published. I think fewer writers would end up finding agents under my system, and I'm not speaking to the issue of supply and demand. Part of the problem, for agents and writers, is that there is a surplus of material.
My system does put a different burden on the agent because the stuff isn't coming directly to them, just like writers would have a hard to time resubmitting their work or getting feedback (stuff that agents don't like is just going to get ignored). But it would be more focused, easier to weed out the weakest links, and a more positive communitiy.

Liana Brooks said...

2k isn't a chapter.

20k might make 5 chapters. Maybe.

And why would you query if you want a rejection?

Maybe the loony bin got internet access this week?

David Alton Dodd said...

I'm surprised to see so many who are offended by terms of endearment. I would never use them in a query letter - they are nebulous to introducing a book to a potential agent - but I use them often in other situations. I guess it's possible that some would use them condescendingly, but I never have.

I have only responded once to a rejection. It was from a publication that used a multiple choice form letter. They listed ten possible reasons that they didn't want my story, and chose a number. I found it ridiculous; simply telling me that they weren't interested would have sufficed.

"Thanks, but no thanks," would have been just fine.

I sent them a carefully crafted response in multiple choice format as to why their form letter was unprofessional, and I chose a number. Insterestingly enough, I have since been published in their magazine.

writer said...

We can all wish it were easier, but asking agents to peruse a Craigs-list type venue for writers isn't going to happen.

I've had two agents, from large agencies, and neither one of them had an assistant. Most don't. I do feel lucky that agents read their own queries -- at least if they ask for a partial, it is because they know they want to see more (instead of having an intern/assistant trying to guess.)

My biggest concern is that Anon isn't even querying yet and yet wants to try and reorganize the publishing industry to suit them. Concentrate on your book -- THAT is the control you have in the industry.

Janet Reid said...

I think I heard from that last fella too. Of course I immediately requested the full manuscript. What a fool I was to miss that golden opportunity.

And to the various commenters proposing a change in the query letter system: you have to propose something that improves it for ME, not just you. I'm the one reading my queries. From my standpoint, the system works just fine. Show me an improvement that means I spend less time finding great writing, I'll be glad to hear about it.

Sarah J. MacManus said...

Anon 9:57: I was simply responding directly to your statement "Just don't tell me the query process is a great way to find great writers". They aren't looking for great writers, they're looking for great books. Or at least marketable books. Great writers do not always create great books (think Oscar Wilde) and great books are not always produced by great writers (think JK Rowling). It's just a 1° change in perspective that will help make the whole process make more sense.

They aren't hiring employees - or even looking for employment. They're looking for a project.

And yes, a query letter is more like ad copy and nothing like a novel, but they do need to see it as a whole concept in a small space before they're willing to spend however long reading 100,000 words of it. And since you only have a small space, you have to make it bloody exciting.

It's not a great system but it's the one that gives the highest chance to a writer with no pub credits and no contacts.

Rain Likely said...

Janet sez: "From my standpoint, the system works just fine."

Exactly. Those who are running a business are the ones who get to decide how they are going to run it.

Laura Martone said...

HWPetty -

Your comments really resonated with me... probably because I have so many friends out in L.A. who are struggling to be actors or actresses. You're right - when it comes to art, there are no guarantees. Talent is often important - but so are luck and timing.

The problem with writing, I think, is that many people feel like they can do it - they might not have a good singing voice, but, darn it, they can write. I'm just guessing, of course, but I've known way too many writers with that sense-of-entitlement chip on their shoulder. Luckily, I'm not one of them. Am I passionate about writing? Yes. Am I committed to my novel? Heck, yeah. Will I do everything I can to "get it out there"? Of course. But do I think I deserve it more than someone else? Sadly, no.

Aimlesswriter said...

Gee, I never thought to use endearments!
What a wacky world.

Bowman said...

I'm sorry for laughing at your misfortune, but I especially enjoyed the "it's actually 20,000" clarification.

Anonymous said...

I don't mind endearments when they come from a waitress, a hairdresser, or my granma . . .

But in a business communication? You gotta be kidding.

Anonymous said...

As I've said, I think that the craig's list model would decrease the amount of time agents spend looking for manuscripts. Maybe not. All that matters to me is my craft. Like I said, I'll play the clown for these people if that's what gets me published. It just seems like everyone complains about the query process, but maybe it's the best of all possible evils. I will say, having tried to break into screenwriting, that applying corporate models to the creative arts isn't very effective. I mean, these industries (publishing and cinema) make tons of money, sure, but probably not as much as they could (and the product, nine times out of ten, is embarrassing). And as evidenced by the recession, those models break down pretty quick.

Anonymous said...

Wow. All I can say is Wow! Okay, maybe a little more . . .
I'm a writer. I hate the thought that my manuscript(s) may never be read b/c I can't put together an acceptable query. Of course I hate that. But agents, whose BUSINESS (read: profit-making, hopefully) it is to represent writers whose work will sell, have only so much time to perform every aspect of this job. They need a way to short-cut the process. What if you ran a corporation that needed to hire a few employees and ten thousand applied? Would you give them all interviews or look for a way to weed out the ones who showed no promise? A rhetorical question, that was.
The only improvement on the current process that has occurred to me is to allow each querying writer to paste into his query the first five pages of his ms, and the agent could then at least skim through that and essentially ignore the letter if the ms caught his/her interest.

David Alton Dodd said...

"Great writers do not always create great books (think Oscar Wilde) and great books are not always produced by great writers (think JK Rowling)."

This is an excellent point. However, it implies that great books are books that sell tons of copies - this isn't always the case either. There really is a pronounced dichotomy in publishing, and a case can be made that good writers are easily frustrated within the framework of the publishing process.

Writers need agents, because writers should be too busy writing to make lots of contacts in the publishing world. Agents are a great solution, because ostensibly (I love that word) the agent is very connected to publishers. Agents want books they can sell to publishers, it's that simple.

Publishers want books that sell. Books that sell are books that consumers want to read. Not just consumers who are highly educated and appreciate brilliant writing and literary genius, but consumers who read, period. I read one paragraph from one of Rowling's books, and put it right back on the shelf. I've read two and a half of Grisham's novels, and I struggle to get through them.

Is it good writing? Apparently either millions of people think it is, or else they don't care. There are only a couple of Stephen King novels that I found compelling, but the public eats up everything he writes.

I think it's unfair to hold the agent responsible for the tastes of the consumer. I know I'm up against it. I write literary fiction in a world that wants fantasy and commercial and about a dozen other genre I don't write. But it certainly isn't the agent's fault that it isn't easy to sell my stuff.

The frustrations of many of the anonymous comments in here are misdirected. The agent isn't the problem, nor is the process. I hold agents to one basic responsibility, to be professional. Most are, and when they aren't, I'm pretty quick to point that out. Meanwhile, I'm content to work within the process even if it gets incredibly depressing at times.

Goblin said...

Could the anons please add screen-names to their comments? (Some of you already have--thank you so much!)

As I've said, I think that the craig's list model would decrease the amount of time agents spend looking for manuscripts.

If the agents don't agree with you on that point, your opinion doesn't matter.

All that matters to me is my craft.

Then why are you here trying to argue that you know better than the agents do what query system would work best?

Like I said, I'll play the clown for these people if that's what gets me published.

Except it won't. Writing a salable book will.

Jane said...

Jessica, your post initiated a great discussion. I am making the difficult transition from the business world to freelance writing as a profession, and I am learning a lot by reading the posts of writers who have been in this game for many years.

I agree with the commenters who state that any communication needs to be professional. I would not dream of being rude or condescending in business correspondence. I also agree that being someone who loves to write doesn't necessarily make me a great writer. If you reject me, it will be because, in your professional judgment, my work isn't right for the market you cover. I think I'm mature enough to deal with that.

Keep posting, please, and ignore the insults.

Alina Padilla said...

I'm currently writing an article that gives advice to authors on how to format a manuscript for publishers. We find that some authors create poorly formatted manuscripts which can become a hindrance of good communication between publishers and authors, and ultimately lead to rejection.

This is one issue. There are others, such as authors that don’t deal with rejection productively. If an author is receiving multiple rejections, he or she may want to reconsider their approach, the content of their cover letters, and the ability of their manuscripts to appeal to the publisher’s target market audience. There is nothing wrong with seeking an explanation why a manuscript was rejected. I say, “Always ask.” You can make beneficial changes that can improve your manuscript for future submissions.

It’s tough out there, but there are things that authors can do if they believe their book is good and deserves an audience. Remember, everything you write reflects who you are, and what your books are about. A first impression is not just based on a manuscript but can also be based on a query. Maximize your resources. Don’t give up; there is help for those who seek it.

Good luck writers! We truly wish you the best.

Nick said...

For those anons who seems upset at having your query be judged instead of your manuscript, we all know a great query doesn't equate to a great book. But agents also know that a terribly query almost definitely means a bad book. If you can't take a couple hours to write a good query, then you shouldn't spend hundreds of hours writing that manuscript, because you're wasting your time.

Sheila Deeth said...

Ah well. Thanks for the smiles.

Sheryl said...

Wow... Ambient low level awareness... that... that... wow... that actually defies description... The only thing you can do is Press on.

ziv said...

I do wonder about agents (not Bookends, because that isn't your blog's focus) that seem to solicit everyone and their brother to query them, but never seem to sign more than one client a year. False advertisting a bit? It can certainly feel that way from the writer's end.

Emily Cross said...

HWPetty - you are dead on!

I think that alot of authors forget:

a] writing a book is an 'art' i.e. chances of 'making it' like 'making it' in film, music, media or art is slim to none.

b]Publishers/L.agents are not a charity. You are SELLING them your story - so you better have a great sales pitch (query)and you know not call people 'hon'. People may feel its not a great system (and maybe its not) but this is the business.

Hopefully i'll remember this myself when i query lol

PRNewland said...

Good grief.

Some of the things you and other agents/blogs have posted must be trying at times.

It's all subjective anyway. Most published authors have been rejected numerous times. None of us should think we are going to be the exception to that rule.

Carrie said...

Belatedly joining the fray:

Gringo, I think it's very funny that you found the multiple-choice rejection to be unprofessional. I have seen SO MANY writers saying that they wish everyone used such a rejection, because then at least they'd have some idea of where they were going wrong. Maybe the choices themselves were too cute to be professional in your case, but I bet plenty of writers would be happy to hear Choice C, "already have too many similar novels in my list" vs Choice E, "not my cup of tea."

And to the June 1st 2:06 Anon: You said "How many writers have gotten snippy comments from editors and agents? When I informed other agents w/ my partials and fulls than another agent expressed interest in my novel, two sent rather snide replies in return implying that they weren't the "right" agent. Oh yeah?
Why didn't they tell me that six months ago when they requested the full? "

I think you might be inferring snideness and snippiness where none was intended. They were busy. When they heard from you that your novel was about to be snapped up, they quickly reviewed your materials. They decided it wasn't a fit, i.e. "I'm not the right agent for it." They told you as much. What else could you possibly be looking for?