Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Help a Girl Out

It seems that often enough an author makes the agent work so hard that it’s not worth the effort. For example, instead of a query letter, I simply get a one-sentence description and a link to a web site that really includes very little information about the book. For some reason I’m still interested, so I write the author back asking for more description. I’m still not really given any information and instead am sent to another place where I can read something. This something still doesn’t include the information I was requesting. At this point it’s just become too hard. Why am I chasing this book all over the Internet when I still don’t really know what the book is about? More important, though, I suspect that this particular author and I simply cannot communicate. No matter how many times I ask I’m not able to get the information I need, and that doesn’t bode well for future editorial feedback or requests from the publisher.

I have to say, situations like this happen almost weekly, and if I have to work this hard and it’s this difficult before I even know if it’s a book I want to represent, it’s only going to get worse. The reason there are so many guidelines out there on query letters, proposals, etc., is not because agents are looking to make your lives more difficult, but we’re looking for insight into your book and future working relationships. We don’t expect perfection, but we do hope it can go as smoothly as possible.



Anonymous said...

Yep. Some writers just have this innate ability to shoot themselves in the foot before they even get to first base. I know of two very talented writers who caught the brass ring but when they got to the editorial stage on their books became so obstinate that the editors finally gave them the ol' heave ho. One hasn't published in twenty years and the other managed one book through an on-demand publisher with little success.

MeganRebekah said...

Wow! Not only do I have to wonder about the author's ability to communicate with an agent or editor effectively, I have to wonder if they were able to write a complete book effectively. If they can't follow instructions or answer direct questions, what does their manuscript look like?

Anonymous said...

Post Quote: "...Why am I chasing this book all over the Internet when I still don’t really know what the book is about?..."

That's why. Curiosity.

Although I have to say I'm a bit stunned any agent would go to anyone's website or try to track them down. Writers are usually only allowed to be obscure pains in the ass AFTER they are hugely successful. To do it before just seems out of order. :)

Aimlesswriter said...

Wow, I would never assume an agent would go hunting for my work. I'm always amazed when you tell us things like this.

Heather Sunseri said...

Your post brought an out loud chuckle to me today. I guess that's just my sense of humor or the mood I'm in. But I was picturing curiosity taking over your brain on your quest to find out what this book is about. If we're not careful, we can lose whole days chasing our tails through the internet. Why on earth would this person make it that difficult? I'd be curious to know if there is an actual book behind the one-sentence query.

Laurel said...

Too funny! For us, I mean. Probably not so much for you.

It seems exceedingly generous that you would go to such lengths but I suspect Heather is right and it's more curiosity driven.

Yep, after that much effort it's time to cut bait.

Christina said...

I'm going to have to agree with Aimless Writer. Some of these antics that you tell us about I've got to wonder what the heck these people are thinking.

Rick Daley said...

That must have been one hell of a sentence...

SM Blooding said...

I did find one agent that requested a very short and sweet query letter. He wanted to know the genre, word count, publishing credentials and first chapter. Nothing more! No pitch. No two-line description on why I picked him. Nothing. That query letter was literally two sentences long.

His rejection was just as short and sweet and came back to me the very next day.

"Not for me. Thanks."

It was awesome! *shrug* It saved both of us a lot of time. However...my pitch doesn't COMPLETELY suck and would probably have helped.

I'm slightly stunned. You actually followed the link? You searched for her book? That's so cool. I have my website listed in my query letter, but only if an agent is interesting in looking at information on the entire series (which I'm not pitching in my letter). I didn't think anyone would actually follow it. *thinking face* Hmmm...verrrrry interesting!

Mira said...

This is funny (I agree with Laurel - funny to us), but it also speaks highly of your interest in finding the right book, Jessica. That's really going the extra mile.

It's true that creative types are often.....complicated. But they have to at least be able to tell you what their book is about!

What a shame - that person missed a real opportunity.

Marsha Sigman said...

I think there are some writers out there that subconciously do not want to succeed....or they are insane. I am amazed by these stories.

Hillsy said...

I'll save you all commenting....just look up said category from list.

Newbie: Having no idea what a query letter is or having not read an agent blog before, this is useful info

Getting there: This is blindingly obvious, of no further use to you, However, either it's good to know there are still people out there improving your chances - or that inboxes are being clogged up impairing your chances (depends if you're a glass half full or glass half empty kinda person)

Old pro: Duh!

Moron: Hey, what do agents know. Screw 'em. I'm a genius after all. I'll set up a series of websites where the agent can discern the plot to my book after solving riddles on each of them. It may take them a few hours but this is the new Bible after all.

Other bloggers: Obvious, but you'll post some banal anecdote anyway rehashing what anyone who's even heard of Miss Snark (sometimes even just rehashing this very post in a suitably lecturing tone) in some conceited attempt to build a readership to their blog.

Anonymous (1): Flame the lot, blame agents, curse Stephanie Meyer and yearn for the next reincarnation of James Joyce while jumping on a picture of a mobile phone.

Anonymous (2): Leave a measured, quite, reserved note hinting at one of the above

I think I'm done here

Word verification: Distord - how the Irish say "This Turd"

Laurel said...


I just snorted coke on my monitor. That was quite pithy...I think you condensed 60 comments worth of blog posts!

Laurel said...

Okay, people. A fellow blogreading friend pointed out the ambiguous nature of my comment.

Coke-A-COLA. OUT of my nose. Sorry for any any confusion.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we feel the same way about agents. They want near-perfect queries, so when they ask for partials or fulls, they also want it snail-mailed with a synopsis.
Well, it took me a week to write a synopsis but I doubt anything got read cuz it sat there for months... Wy do agents ask us for all this work when it can easily be e-mailed? And yes, I mean Bookends.

Mira said...

Laurel - that was funny. Andrew, which category are you?

You left out my category: Stunningly beautiful, brilliant and charming poster. Every word sparkles with charisma and artistry. When she types her post into the little box, birds start singing, chipmunks start dancing, and little rabbits frolic joyfully in the streets. Her blog posts will eventually be collected into a 71 volume set which will win not only the Pulitzer, but the Nobel prize. Um, three Nobel prizes, including the one for genetics.

Don't forget to include that one next time, okay?

Crawford, aka Daniel Friedman said...

Agent-bloggers like to complain about authors who don't follow the submission procedures properly, because improper queries make it difficult to sort slush.

Aspiring authors who follow agent blogs like to obsess about perfect compliance with submission guidelines. Possessing such knowledge makes these authors feel that they are experts in something.

Many also believe that their knowledge of the publishing business or the submission protocol will improve their chances of obtaining representation or getting published.

However, it looks like there must be some overlap between the subset of authors who don't research the submission procedure and the subset of authors who write publishable manuscripts that agents want to represent.

A query letter isn’t a procedural hoop you jump through; it’s a short test to see if you are a bad writer.

Accordingly, the failure of a query is not about failing to comply with the submission procedure.

Many authors’ hours of careful and painstaking research will result in query letters that follow all the rules, and quickly, concisely expose the writers as hacks.

Unconventional or improper submissions certainly hurt an author's chances, but research into the publishing business and submission protocol doesn't improve your publication chances, unless you are a good writer and you have written a good book.

And as much as agents dislike it when authors call them on the phone or send links to websites, they keep taking the calls and clicking the links because doing so might turn out to be worth 15% of an obscene amount of money.

Rebecca Knight said...

To take a stab at anonymous' question, agents probably do this to a) see if it's worth it to you to spend .42 to send them a query (this weeds out some crazies), and b) to make it easier to read because Kindles are expensive.

Everyone has their preferences :). It's all good.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why someone would do that. It reminds me of people who send out invitations to parties but do not provide directions. They are assuming that we'll all just Mapquest or GPS our way. If people want me to come to their party, they should at least give me a little help in getting there. Modern technology has impaired common courtesy.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2 here.

I think I'm in love with Andrew.

Sierra Godfrey said...

The real question here is, what was the book that sounded so interesting that you were willing to put that much time into it? Because I and the other blog readers have it down pat how to communicate appropriately. Now I just need to make sure my novel is one you want to represent.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

I'll answer a few questions...

it was a while ago so I don't remember the specifics of the book now.

the book was definitely nonfiction and not fiction so there must have been something intriguing about the idea or title

I also must have been looking to procrastinate that day. typically I don't take the time to chase links around unless I'm really, really interested.

And Andrew, I agree with other posters. Thanks for the big smile


Gina Rabbin said...

To: Anonymous at 11:31 AM,

Why do agents sometimes ask for partials or fulls snail-mailed rather than emailed? I can’t answer for them, of course, but for me, I can only spend so much time sitting in front of a computer reading anything. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that agents receive hundreds of email queries each week, not to mention emailed submissions as well. Besides, if you think spending a week writing a synopsis is “all this work”, try reading the hundreds of submissions agents receive. Now, THAT’S work!

Personally, I’d be thrilled if an agent found my query interesting enough to ask me for a proposal, and if I didn’t get a response in about 3 months time, I’d follow the guidelines on the BookEnds site and send an email requesting a status update.

Christopher Goodwine said...

I don't understand why anybody who wants to get published wouldn't research and do their best to please the agents they submit to. It blows my mind.

On the other hand, they are the competition, right? So let 'em piss off the agents! Bwahaha... Kidding. Well, mostly.

Alan Payne said...

Jessica, I think this post comes across as someone just complaining about her job. After all, your blog readers are not likely to be people who don't read query guidelines.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


That could be and I guess it depends on your perspective, but each day I acquire a new reader, someone brand new to publishing who really knows nothing or someone who finds me through the web site while just beginning the search and while my regular readers aren't going to learn anything from this post maybe, just maybe, someone who was told to just email a web link will learn why it's not working.

Sometimes a blog post isn't about teaching something significant because I know I can't say something entirely new and different and brilliant 250+ times a year, sometimes it's just sharing a piece of my day and if a few people can get a chuckle or breathe a sigh of relief that they now know so much better then that's a bonus.

If it comes across as complaining so be it. There's no doubt that sometimes I do use this blog as an avenue to just complain. Other times I use it to just rave.


Becke Davis said...

Whoa. I've read grumpy blog posts before -- who hasn't? I think the point of agent blogs is to give struggling writers (along with everyone else who reads these) a sense of what they are getting into -- a real world view of the industry from an agent's perspective.

Jessica's blog, and others like it, can open our eyes to things we should NOT do, as much as things we should be doing.

And for those of us who are still struggling to become professionals, it can be a relief to know that we are at least doing a few things right! (As well as all the embarrassingly naive things we've done wrong.)

And since I changed my account to show my real name, after all the anonymous brouhaha yesterday, I really hope I spelled "embarrassingly" right.

Mira said...

oh shoot.

Becke, I'm sorry. I'm not sorry to see your name and your profile, but I can see I handled that poorly yesterday.

I get upset when I see Jessica being attacked. It's not that I always agree with her, but they make is so personal. They don't just discuss the ideas. They all seem to flood in at once, and it makes the discussion very unpleasant.

I'm really sorry if I made anyone else feel uncomfortable posting anonymously. I didn't intend too.


Becke Davis said...

I had no problem with your post, Mira. I just realized by using "Treethyme," I was still maintaining anonymity. Thought if I was going to post, I'd better have the nerve to use my real name.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, maybe you shold take a break from the blog and not force yourself to write every day...we all get burnt out sometimes. After all, you've been very generous, opening up your blog to agentfail and all the aftermath, so you do have a right to complain! Don't we all?

We do like to hear your good news as well and any useful pub news now and then.

ps/Get over the Anons, people!
We're not cowards, we're just practical.

Mira said...

Becke - you're treethyme? I like your posts - and I always thought that was a clever name. Nice to meet you in person.

Anon - there's a difference between practical and taking advantage of the situation. The second should be beneath any writer. We understand the power of words, and using them for petty attacks should be beneath us. Words are meant for better things.

Becke Davis said...

Thanks, Mira -- pleased to meet you, too!

Anonymous said...

Mira--what petty attacks are you talking about? Yours? Get over yourself!

Juliana Stone said...

for the love of god peeps, Jessica is a person like you or me, who happens to be an agent. We read her blog, obviously because we find she's informative and I for one think its wonderful that she takes the time to share her knowledge. That being said, sheesh, if you don't like what you're reading, then go elsewhere. I think (since it's her blog) she can pretty much talk about whatever the heck she wants. If she's having a fritter the time away day, and wants to surf the net because someone intrigued her, well why can't she? if she wants to write about it, that's fine too. Not every post needs to be earth shattering.

I just think too many people over analyze these types of blogs to death and forget that the writers are just normal people putting their thoughts out there.

I hate it when insults start flying. It just cheapens us all.

Anonymous said...

Jessica- get over your whining or get out of the business.

Dawn Maria said...

I took a week off agent blogs to give my mind a rest from all the business aspects of writing. Think I might need another one, goodness it's been snarky!

Let's be honest, when we read Jessica's story, I bet most of us felt a tinge of jealousy that someone else had figured out a way to interest an agent using a different angle (or in this case no angle at all) while we're still struggling to get folks to ask for partials.

It's a tough, tough business whether you're a writer, an agent or a publisher.

Buffra said...

Totally didn't read your post in the negative light some did.

Sorry for the kind of crummy e-day.

Laurel said...

I just thought it was funny. Please don't stop with the funny. I like to laugh. Don't punish the whole class just because some people don't have a sense of humor.

PS: Word verification is "loses". One consonant short of "losers." Or "losses." Hmmm.

Sandra Cormier said...

I like this. A snarky agent like Miss Snark can complain about nitwits lacking clueguns and everyone laps it up like it's going out of style. Don't get me wrong, I adore Miss Snark and I treat her advice like gold nuggets.

A nice agent like Jessica gently addresses an age-old, annoying habit committed by writers who act like hormonal teenagers (what do grownups know? Can't they see I'm BRILLIANT?) and the Anons jump down her throat for complaining.

Everyone has the right to bitch once in a while, especially when people make the same mistakes over and over again.

Jessica, don't let the trolls squish you. You have every right to vent, and we value your advice no matter how it's presented.

Mira said...

Anon 6:53 - I would get over myself but I'm so wonderful it would just be wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. Someone needs to admire me, and since no one else has stepped up, I'm more than happy to fill in the gap. Really. Anytime I need me, I'm there.

As for attacking people myself, you're right. I wish I had handled yesterday better.

I apologize for name calling. That was wrong.

I realize that underneath all of this, you're trying to say something. I just wish you'd say it more....constructively.

Please. Many of us here want an atmosphere of genuine debate and friendly interchange.

And if you think I'm all sweetness and nice and never give agents a hard time, that's only because you don't know me well. I took over an entire thread once for 3 days ranting about how underpaid writers are. So, I have no interest in stopping someone who is advocating for writers. I'm just asking that you do it in a way that keeps the door open for communication.

Becke Davis said...

In response to the last several posts: thank you.

Vacuum Queen said...

I thought this post captured an important thought. If you had asked for a different place to go where you could find "x" information, and you were sent there by the author...and the info wasn't there, and it kept going on...you probably wouldn't have a very good agent/client relationship.

I think that it would be exhausting chasing down info like that, only to be disappointed in the end.

Good example of frustration in your job.

Hillsy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hillsy said...

Laurel: Didn't have the desired effect though did it...=0)

Mira: Category 2 - Hence, why I didn't comment really on anything other that a) I already had learned it was a misguided query tactic and b) People would still write the same old thing anyway

Jessica: Trust me - you won't find it so amusing after I post that same message on every comments section after every post.....;0)

Anon 11:58: If you're male, thanks, but I'm hotel only. If you're female, I'm sorry but I'm seeing someone....If you're female and HOT then drop me a message sometime. We'll get together, have a little food, a little wine, or cocktails if you prefer. I make a mean Mojito, I'll mix you one if you like back at my place.......?

Word verification - Octic: How drunk you are after the 8th pint of Peroni

Bernie said...

No offense, but are you nuts? Your previous post, The Meaning of Different, was very informative. So, let me be informative in this comment.

Do not click links in emails from people that you don't know. There are some attacks out there that only require you viewing a web page for your computer to become infected. The devil is in the details (eg, if your computer is vulnerable to particular attacks, etc.), so be careful.

Betsy Ashton said...

Ah yes, another example of people who think they are very clever, but who exhibit the symptoms of a short attention span. I was, emphasis on was, in a critique group several years ago with a writer who had ADHD. She thought every word was a pearl of wisdom, that agents would tumble over each other like puppies to follow her many links to partially filled web sites and blogs. And the result was inevitable -- nothing is yet finished, the links are broken, and the writer still doesn't get it.

Help an agent help you. Do what she asks. Communicate via e-mail if that is preferred. Call if invited.

Hillsy said...

Easy with he rule of thumb there, Betsy. The reason she was convinced her works were more important than the 2nd coming of Christ wasn't because she had ADHD, but more than likely a purely characteristic trait that can't be attributed to a medical condition.

For the rest of the stuff though - we do have a tendancy to leave little unfinished projects lying around like some misbehaved literary dog. Sorry 'bout that.......=0)