Thursday, July 23, 2009

I Stop Reading When

I’ll confess, I stole this idea from Janet Reid, but it’s a brilliant post and one that I think might be a little different for every agent. So what about a query letter results in an instant, or near instant, rejection? Here we go....

1. Every single agent on earth is included in the “to” section of the email. I know you’re querying widely, heck, I tell you to query widely, but at least make us all think you’re querying us individually or that you care who might become your agent. I don’t bother to even respond to these emails, they just get deleted.

2. You query Jacky, Kim, and me simultaneously. I delete, figuring one of the others will answer (can’t guarantee they do, though).

3. A query letter is beneath you and instead you send a rambling email about how hard you worked to write this next great piece of literature and you’ve attached your synopsis and sample chapters. My guidelines say query letter and I want a query letter. I don’t bother reading the attachments unless they’re requested. I make my decision based on your query letter, therefore I make my decision based on what you tell me in that email, whether it has anything to do with your book or not. Most likely this is an instant reject.

4. Attaching the query letter instead of cutting and pasting it into the email. I’ll admit I’ll read the query in most cases, but asking me to take this extra step doesn’t help your case. By the time Microsoft Word opens and the letter opens I could have gotten through three other queries. Now you’re wasting my time. Ultimately I’m reading as a courtesy at this point.

5. Disparaging all other books published or yourself or your book. I am insulted by those who think that everything published is nothing but a load of crap and I don’t want to work with anyone who has an attitude like that. I also can’t figure out why you’d want to be published. Instant reject. I have no patience for people who can’t believe in themselves or their books. My thought is that I’ll be spending all my time as your agent trying to convince you that you are good enough, and frankly, if you can’t believe in yourself or your work I can’t either. Instant reject.

6. The query is sent through a query service, your husband, your grandmother, your daughter, your lawyer, your doctor, or your dog (and yes, it has happened). Nearly instant reject. I’ll read the query, but I go in skeptically and you darn well will have to knock my socks off and throw them across the room before I can be convinced you can actually do the rest of the work on your own.

7. The query is addressed to my dog. Sure he’s on the web site and yes he’s adorable and smart. No, he can’t read. Instant reject.

8. Your book or proposal is incomplete or you are pitching nothing but an idea. Self-help nonfiction writers can submit a proposal, but that proposal better be complete before you query me, and don’t even think of querying until your fiction or narrative nonfiction (for unpublished authors) is fully written, edited, and revised. And you have an idea and want to know whether or not it’s viable before wasting your time writing? Write it and find out then. Instant reject.

9. Lack of knowledge of the English language, proper sentence structure, or word usage. And yes, I can tell the difference between a typo and knowledge of the English language. Instant reject.

At least once a day I get queries addressed to Jennifer, to whom it may concern, or another agent entirely. I can live with that. Mistakes happen. I regularly see typos, formatting and editing errors, and I can live with that. I can live with the fact that you might occasionally misuse a word or use the wrong word. In other words, I can accept the fact that you’re human (if you can accept the fact that I am too).



Anonymous said...

Well I'm disappointed. I looked everywhere for a photo of your dog and couldn't find him. I must be looking in the wrong place :)

Anonymous said...

Look harder, Wendy! It's right there on the About Us page of the agency's site.

Now, since Roscoe belongs to Jacky...good guess that Riggins is Jennif--um, Jessica's?


Kim Lionetti said...

Jessica's kinder than I am. If your letter is addressed to another agent, I usually delete it.

pegasus358 said...

I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said! Now if only the people who were doing these things were the ones who read all these fabulous agent blogs... sigh. More e-queries from "Elizabeth" guy, by the way... someone needs to shut him down!

-The "young agent" you met at RWA... (an assistant, still, for the most part... despite the nametag flub)

Rover said...

I'm surprised and disappointed to hear queries from dogs are automatic rejects. I'd think a book by such would be a big selling point. Sure there might be a few typos, but hey, paws, people.

Anonymous said...

I never open attachments unless they've been specifically requested, but I agree with pretty much everything else!

Anonymous said...

Oh well now I feel daft, I just didn't scroll down far enough. Sheesh. That's what I get for posting past midnight! (It's New Zealand so it's past 1am here now). A lame excuse, I know :D

Anonymous said...

And they are both very cute :D

Kristan said...

Thanks for this. Both amusing and enlightening. :)

Aimlesswriter said...

But if you read my book to your dog I'm sure she'll love it! lol
(just kidding!)
I actually have a dog book I don't know where to send. No agent lists animal books in their wants. However Marley got published so someone must want them.
I've often joked about sending it the an agent's

Kim Lionetti said...


I finally sent a you're-not-doing-yourself-any-favor-buddy e-mail to the "Elizabeth" guy yesterday. I told him he'd be better served using that energy to write his next book.

I'll let you know if it works!!

Mira said...

Well, obviously I lied about taking a week off, because it's just all too interesting and I can't stay away.

But - I could definitely find things to argue about here, and I am going to take the week off from arguing.

I'll also say it's very helpful that you're clear with folks about what works for you and what doesn't. That's kind and good direction. I also appreciate the last paragraph about everyone being human. Because we are.

I can imagine that alot of this would be extremely aggravating if I were dealing with massive amounts of queries on a daily basis. Especially the attachments. I'd just be worried about a virus.

Stephanie Faris said...

Wow. People really DO this stuff? Amazing.

I wouldn't have dared to do the dog thing but I have to admit, that is creative. Risky, but creative. Apparently the risk didn't pay off!

Dan Holloway said...

Great post, and most coincidental. having read point 1. I have to cross-link to the wonderful How Publishing Really Works, Jane Smith's fantastic blog, which today has a post pointing out the drawbacks of a company that offers writers the "service" of senidng out multiple submissions on their behalf:

I shall link from her blog to this. It seems to me the company in question would do well to find your post. and that writers would do well to find what you say before shelling out theior hard-earned.

Sarah J. MacManus said...

Wow, Jessica--don't you think you're being aggressively reasonable here? :)

Becke Davis said...

I had to laugh at the query submitted by a dog. Reminds me of seventh grade, when I had to write an essay based on Catcher in the Rye. I later read the book and liked it, but anytime I HAVE to read a book, it's a struggle, and I'd only made it through a few chapters. Vaguely remembered a dog in those chapters, so I wrote the essay in the dog's POV, totally pantsing it. Got an A+ and became the teacher's pet. Taught me that thinking out of the box sometimes trumps following instructions. I imagine the owner of the dog who sent the query had the same thought.

Story and Logic Media Group said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

"I am insulted by those who think that everything published is nothing but a load of crap and I don’t want to work with anyone who has an attitude like that."

Me too! They especially do it to the bestsellers. Hellooooo, maybe their opinion isn't the one that counts. Talking about someone getting lazy in the middle of the book irritates me too. Often the author is hinting at things, or preparing you for another scene, and we are in too big of hurry to catch it, especially us fellow writers.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

Love #7. Someone's got you-know-whats. But seriously, I don't know how you, Kim and Jacky keep your cool sometimes. It must be like parenting a bunch of rebellious and/or not terrifically bright teenagers. Thanks for not running for the hills or choosing another more "reasonable" professions. We need you.;-)

Shelli Stevens said...

Great list! Will forward this blog to my chapter to read :D

Anonymous said...

I think you agents need a vacation! All I've heard lately are complaints about writers and their mistakes. August is just a few days away...

Jessica L. Brooks (coffeelvnmom) said...

Thank you so much for your insight. I am actually going to print this post out and save it in my file of things to check off before sealing the envelope of my query letter! ;)

And might I just add - as my name is Jessica as well (and I was even referred to as "Jennifer" at my own wedding rehearsal) that I cannot for the *life* of me figure out how Jessica and Jennifer sound even remotely the same!

Dara said...

#7--how many times has that happened?! That's ridiculous...

Linda Banche said...

A couple of tricks I found for emailing letters:

1. formatting: Only use a hard carriage return (you hit the return key) at the end of the paragraph. With no embedded hard carriage returns, the paragraph formats nicely when the recipient resizes the window. Otherwise, you get carriage returns in strange places and the email looks terrible.

2. Save your query letter in a Word document, then cut and paste into an email.

3. Send yourself a test email (or several) before you send out the query. See what the mail program will do to it.

4. I find that copying from Word adds an extra line between paragraphs in the email. I copy paragraph by paragraph. Experiment.

5. Heck, with cutting and pasting, you can send to one recipient at a time. No email blasts and irritated agents.

I'm a little crazy about trying to get the letter perfect. Even so, I found a typo in a letter I sent out. AARG!!

Vivi Anna said...

I think its great Jessica that you take the time out of your extremely busy day to post these types of blogs.

It's too bad that the writers that need to read it the most likely aren't daily blog readers, because if they were I would hope that they would be intelligent enough not to do any of those things.

To me most of that is just using common sense.

Jared Stein said...

Thanks for the insights!

@Linda suggests writing in Word then c&v into the email. I say write in Notepad (or other plain text editor), then c&v. This ensures that no strange formatting or characters are dumped into the e-mail.

Becke Davis said...

Pasting a Word doc. into AOL emails can be dicey. They look fine at this end, but when people include my original email in their replies, I'm often horrified by the bizarre formatting glitches. I can only hope agents and editors will realize I didn't actually format the document the way they received it.

Coogan said...

"Pasting a Word doc. into AOL emails can be dicey."

Word can/will save your document as plain text (with a .txt extension). Copying and pasting it after that should be no (large) problem. Better yet, turn off "smart" quotes and other features when assembling your manuscript so you won't have to deal with special characters in emails.

Or type it out again by hand. I guess it all depends upon how badly you want it.

Dejah said...

As a publisher (albeit a micro-) I have to say just how incredibly annoying I find query sending services (ie query spam) to be. They inevitably haven't read my guidelines, like where it says we do SPORTS books for WOMEN only. The query is inevitably poor quality as well. It's a waste of my time. I dislike having my time wasted. A lot.

Stephanie said...

I am shocked every time I read an agent's post like this....with so much query info out blows my mind that poeple do things like this!!! And expect to be taken seriously!!

Anonymous said...

Mistakes do happen. Everyone is human, but…come on!

In this day and age we have an amazing amount of information right at our fingertips. Query letter samples are all over the Internet. Along with agent blogs, agent interviews, writer forums, agent directions, etc…

If they can’t research for writing a query letter, I have to wonder how much they did for their book.

You see it in every profession. Some people just want to coast.

Anonymous said...

"3. ...My guidelines say query letter and I want a query letter. .... Most likely this is an instant reject."

This is of interest. Are you more inclined to instantly reject if people place, even in the body of an email, synopsis or 5 pages along with the query? Because there is contrary advice out there from even other agents as to what "query letter" actually means. I've heard advice that it means to include sample pages, and that you are selling yourself short if you don't.


BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


You will not get rejected for adding more material although there's no guarantee I'll read it and that's the hitch. If your entire query letter says something along the lines of, "I've written a really funny science fiction novel about aliens in New Jersey and attached or included materials for your review" I'm going to base my decision on the letter first not necessarily the materials you attach. Whether or not you include materials you still need to entice me to read them.


Teresa D'Amario said...

OK, now surely you've heard dogs are now included in the reading programs at schools, right? A good reading dog is hard to find and the cream of the crop hangs out in 3rd grade! LOL. Okay, I guess they don't actually DO the reading, so maybe you have a point.

Just kidding. I like your list. It made me smile, though I'm not sure that was exactly your point.

Anonymous said...

My query letter passed J's test and she requested snail-mailed materials and my ms. still sat in her pile for months. So who's calling the Kettle black?
Can we get beyond the query letter so you agents can tell us exactly what works in a novel??

Joshua McCune said...

I'm probably gonna start sounding like Mira here, but I was thinking the other day about form rejections...

If a query includes pages and an agent passes, it'd be nice to know if it's b/c of the pages or b/c of the query...

Typical form rejections essentially state that 'the idea didn't appeal to me.' Perhaps we can infer that this means the query, but it'd be nice to know if our query's working and our pages suck (that way we know we need to tinker w/ the pages and not worry so much about a slightly less than perfect query).

Not sure how difficult it would be to have 2 form rejections: 1.) your query didn't draw me in. 2.) Interesting idea, but your pages didn't draw me in.

Maybe some agents do this and I'm just too thick to read between the lines :)

Ingrid Foster said...

I am very relieved, so far I haven't done any of these things...knock on wood! Thanks for the blog and the relief...


Mira said...

Er, Bane sounding like me is a good thing. Many of the best people do. For example, Me. I sound like me.

I like your point, btw.

And I think you sounded like Bane, for the record. :)

Joshua McCune said...

Thanks, Mira - whenever I think of query reform, I think of you ;)

Mira said...

Bane - thanks. And I'm insisting on taking that as a compliment. ;)

Joshua McCune said...

That's good - it was meant as such.

Anonymous said...


I like your new picture, even though I'm not much on tea. The other one bothered me when I just glanced at it. Glad it's not food, you were blowing my diet for a while there.

PS Don't ask why it bothered me, because I won't tell you, no matter how much you wine. I'm out mouth zipped.

Anonymous said...

Except that should have been whine. You see where my mind is? Okay now I am out.

Sheila Deeth said...

Are you sure your dog can't read? Thanks for the advice.

Mira said...

Anon -

Well, I hope Jessica and Kim don't mind if I talk about my picture, it's so off topic. Sorry, please delete if you don't want me to ......but I didn't like that hummingbird picture either. It was weird - and wildly inappropriate given I was so combative on those days. But since I change my picture 3 times a week, I figured I'd let it slide.

Why do I change my picture? Cause it's fun. Tomorrow is this really cool landscape.

Mira said...

Bane - :)

Anonymous said...


Hummingbirds can be pretty feisty; so it probably was a suitable representation for you. They are adorable too, with all their angry little chatter.

Out again.

I just can't seem to keep my mouth shut around you.

Mira said...


Lol. Nice representation of a hummingbird. And I'm the last one to be encouraging people to keep their mouth shut.

green_knight said...

I recently was trying to get in contact with someone. Only according to the answerphone, it was their *dog*. "Bark, Bark. Here is Rex. If I'm not picking up it's because I'm on my own and I don't have any thumbs" or words to that effect. And it's company policy to try and phone people rather than leave a message on first call, so I had to encounter it again, and again, and again.


Liana Brooks said...

People query the dog? I'm kind of worried here...

--Deb said...

This really is a great list, and how often do you come across a helpful list that is also entertaining. My dog insisted, though, that I point out to you that dogs can, in fact, learn to read. (There's even a book. "Teach Your Dog to Read." My dog found it fascinating.)

suzie townsend said...

Good solid list.

And pegasus358, I delete all queries from the Elizabeth guy!

BrennaLyons said...

You know... It almost seems worth it for an agent to make a page for submissions that includes guidelines and thou-shalt-nots. People wishing to submit would be taken to that page. The 'I understand and will abide by these instructions' button would have a warning that failure to do so would result in deletion. Said button would take the author to a form that would come to the agent as an e-mail.

Said form would include a drop-down or 'choose one' click for which agent to use (no sending to more than one, and the dog is NOT a valid choice...I'd love a form that would kick them out for choosing the dog and tell them why), sections for blurb, bio, notes of importance (like...I met you at X, and you requested...) and excerpt (if the agent does a partial to start), as well as contact information, completed length, etc. All areas would be required for the form to send.

Think it would work? No, but it would be fun to see how they'd screw up simple directions and a seemingly foolproof form. Grinning...


pegasus358 said...

Kim, I'd be so curious if he responds to you! Suzie, I do delete them all (after I growl). Can't block him, because he keeps changing his email address, name, and subject line. Grr!

pj schnyder said...

I have to admit, my first thought upon reading that there have been queries to your dog was "What if it was my dog querying your dog?"

I know some people tweet as their dogs, so it could be a spin to try to set themselves apart in the query. This is probably not something I would do, but could see someone trying out. :P

In any case, I enjoyed the shared insight and will definitely keep these things in mind! Thanks!

Caitlyn Willows said...

Thank you for the insight. It's all about business, and the writing world is definitely a business...just like any other.

Anonymous said...

A most informative post. Why AOL has to be so dunb in it's way of doing things is beyond me. Why do people need a special link if it's AOL? I don't like how they do their pages, much less trying to format for it.

I prefer to only query one at a time so I know who I'm getting rejected from and possibly why.

Anonymous said...

I always considered query writing to be the same as writing a query letter for a 9-5 job. If you sound like a tool no one is going to hire you. Same goes for agents and publishers. Only give them what they ask for an be as professional as possible. This hasn't steered me wrong yet.

Anonymous said...


And here's the list of things that bother me about agents.

1) Agents who can't get my name correct, even though my name is written right there at the top of the page.

2) Agents who can't get the title of my novel correct even though the title of my novel is written right there at the top of the page.

3) Agents who can't even be bothered to mention the title of my novel when they're rejecting it, and will refer to my novel as being my 'book project' - it's not a book project, alright, it's a novel, and I titled it for a reason.

4) Agents who don't request to read at least three chapters of my work - I have no patience for a person who thinks that they can decide whether or not a book will be good in just a few pages. This is akin to sitting down in a theatre and watching a movie and saying, after five minutes, that the movie isn't your cup of tea, and then getting up and walking out.

5) Agents who don't understand that I've spent twenty years living in poverty so that I can spend my every waking moment either writing, reading, or thinking about fiction - these people should become real estate agents instead.

6) True novelists are born out of deprivation. Deprivation. Deprivation. Deprivation. Every older novelist who has written more than just one or two novels will be able to tell you that. Deprivation is at the heart of every true novelist, and an agent who doesn't understand that should become a real estate agent instead.

7) Agents who will clearly state that they're presently accepting unsolicited work - but then when I send them my work it will end up being read, not by the agent, but by the assistant of the literary agent - I didn't send my 'book project' to the assistant, I sent it to the agent. If an agent believes so highly in the assistant then the assistant should become an agent. The simple fact is that if I had been told up-front that my work would end up being read by some assistant, then I would never have sent it in the first place.

Michael Younger

Anonymous said...

Michael. Some good points here.

Anonymous said...

Had I been a struggling writer seeking representation, Ms. Jessica's post would have offended and humiliated me to no end, and would likely cause me to stop writing or sending out any of it. I imagine struggling writers as artists don't have a whole lot of self esteem to start with -- unless they're true geniuses, megalomaniacs or idiots.

As luck would have it, I hear the print publishing industry is about to go the way of the dinosaurs, taking these top-notch literary experts who supposedly can sniff literary crap in ten words or less, right down with it.

Kinda the way Wall Street experts went.

Anonymous said...

You had better sign your name, anonymous.

These people will hit back - hard - and the first remark that they will often make, if you post anonymously, is that they don't usually take criticism seriously when it's posted by an anonymous source.

So just deny them that little jab and sign your name and accept the consequences.

If you're a novelist then you have no choice in the matter: you have to speak your mind.

We're not politicians, we're novelists - unpublished novelists, perhaps, but we're novelists, and you have to respect that.

Michael Younger

Rachel Fenton said...

Well it seems to me 'we' bloggers fall into two camps - the back patters, and the anti-establishment types. The anti-establishment types have no name (mostly) - funny, I thought you'd be braver. Well, here's my two penneth. Point 4. I disagree. Books are business, for all concerned. Agents need writers, and frankly, this 'I'm reading out of courtesy at this point' is plain daft. You're reading out of the hope that you can butter your bread with the resulting material. To deny that agents 'need' writers, as much as writers evidently feel the need to suck up to agents, is ludicrous. It is a symbiotic relationship.

BrennaLyons said...


An old friend who is multi-published in NY and produced in LA once told me not to 'suck up' to agents. They are humans like we are, and we are all professionals who will either work together or not.

FWIW, an agent who isn't excited about my work is worse than none, in my book. Jessica rejected me once, and I still respect her. My work simply wasn't right for her, and there's no harm in that.

At the same time, anyone who knows me knows I'm not a back patter. Are there problems with the NY system? Oh, yes, there are. I believe they are going to have to move to a more POD and e-book system and less big print runs, shipping, and returns.

What am I? A realist. Yes, this is a business, but no one has the crystal ball to say what the next bestseller is, with certainty. And an agent or editor will not take on a book he/she doesn't feel confident has a chance at good sales.

It's subjective. Everything in life is. And the proof in the pudding is how many times Baum and Seuss and Alcott were rejected before they sold. At least I'm selling in indie, so I'm good.

Another problem with NY? Even if the agent and editor love it, if the marketing folks don't, it's still no sale. Grinning... Life's not fair. No one ever promised it would be.


Anonymous said...


I disagree with you completely that fiction is subjective.

If a person can't see that 'A Passage To India' is one of the greatest novels ever written - or if that person honestly believes that Forster doesn't have a total command over the English language - then that person should not be in the publishing business to begin with.

When agents get it wrong, they always tell us that fiction is subjective.

It's not subjective.

If you're going to reject 'Sense And Sensibility' then you don't belong in the publishing business.

In a perfect world, most of these agents would not be agents.

Michael Younger

Rachel Fenton said...

Brenna - thanks, that's a very real response. I don't think there's a problem with agents, beyond what we as writers are creating.

I agree wholly with your friend's advice not to suck up (and that's not the same as not being respectful, just to clarify) because, to go back to one of Jessica's points, about the writer having confidence in themselves - that's so true - if a writer doesn't believe in his/heself, how can they expect anyone else to? But if an agent isn't respectful of her clients (and that includes potential clients, too)why would any writer want to 'suck up' to that agent in the first place. Why would any writer want that agent working for them - and that's key - because the agent is there to represent the writer. I see so many writers who view agents as demi-gods. And some agents seem to enjoy playing to this status. But the status isn't real - it is born out of insecure writers.

The only reason an agent isn't going to take on a writer's work is if that work does not equate to big money. That is the bottom line. Not equating to money can include: not being 'good' enough (please don't ask me to define 'good'), and a whole host of other reasons, but money is the bottom line.

I agree with you Brenna, there are lots of problems - my point is that some of them are self inflicted.

Rachel Fenton said...

Michael (appreciate the name) I think you're jumping on the messenger somewhat. Brenna's point is - correct me if I'm wrong on this, by all means - that the whole situation is flawed. To give all (for argument's sake let's call them worthy) worthy writers their due we would have to embrace electronic publishing and diminish books as we know them. Writers - heck, readers - do not, I believe, really want this to happen, but to keep books alive, they have to make money - that's the sad fact about it. And money making books aren't necessarily worthy ones. Agents are only interested in that money making book.

BrennaLyons said...


Writing is indeed subjective. I can look at Sense and Sensibility and think it's wonderful, but not everyone likes S&S, wonderful writing or not. Learn this simple fact: "No book is universally loved or hated." Not one, in all the world.

That doesn't mean they don't know jack, because they don't like it. It means every editor has his/her tastes. Every agent does. Every reader does. And yes...even bestsellers were often rejected multiple times before they sold.

If an agent isn't excited about the work, it's not a good fit. If it's not a page-turner to them, they won't represent it well. To a certain extent, we can divorce ourselves from personal likes, as reviewer, editor, etc., but the bottom line is, to sell a book...excitement is infectious, and ho-hum is the death knell.

No one will market you like you. And, that's what agents and editors are looking for. Can you market you? In the end, that's the most important thing. You have to sell you, brand you...then sell the books, agent or not. You sell yourself from the query to the post-release marketing and appearances.

And if the agent isn't as excited as you are about the book...or nearly so, it's worse than not having one in the first place.


BrennaLyons said...


Oh, yes! You hit the nail on the head. The agents are not gods. We shouldn't treat them that way. As I said...professional courtesy.

At the same time, I joke about the weird things that happen in submissions, because I spent a very miserable year taking them as a senior editor. Grinning... I've seen things that defy reason.

I try not to harp on authors submitting, but there is a bare minimum of professionalism and attention to detail that any editor or agent expects. It's a career, and all authors would do well to learn what the terms mean, how to apply them, and how to present themselves. We all have bad days, but there's a difference between a bad day and patently and terminally bridge-burning behavior.

As far as the "doesn't equate to big money"... On one hand, I agree. On the other, as I said, they are all guessing what the next big thing is. There's no guarantee. There's no magic combination.

Perhaps I didn't take your comment about electronic publishing the right way, though. I fail to see how embracing e-publishing diminishes books. A book is a book is a book, no matter the format. It's not about getting rid of print. It's about choices and fiscal responsibility in publishing.

The fact is, NY or indie, e-books are a part of most contracts these days, even foreign rights ones. I could throw a million facts and figures at you, but if you're interested, check out my articles at That's a good start.


Rachel Fenton said...

Brenna - I'll definitely check out your articles.

I was thinking more of the wider world market with the e-book thing. I recognise e publishing in all its various formats as a valuable media. I do think there's a substantial % of the population who do see it as a threat to print, however, with a concern that books will go the same way as music for mp3has...pirating will result... point was actually that e books - especially in the current economic climate - do benefit new writers. With less financial risk, a new writer can debut on the net, gain a following and make the transition to print, whereas, right now, it's increasingly difficult for any new writer to break through at all in print without having any previous writing credentials - and even with them, it's hard!

But hard is not the same as bad...diminish is not the same as detract...and the day when having a dialogue is seen as burning one's bridges is, frankly, the end of democracy. Unless of course you mean being rude to an agent...being rude to anyone is being all boils down to respect.

I want an agent who loves my writing enough to respect me, be frank with me, and go all out to sell, sell, sell - and I will write my butt off for her (because I already do that for myself). I will already have researched that agent, and have a level of respect for her to begin with. If I don't respect a person, I don't enter into any sort of dialogue with them - period.

Rachel Fenton said...

And just one final point, then I'm all done...a lot of writers mistakenly aim their frustration at agents - frustration at not getting representation, frustration at not getting published etc...I live by the following: If it's meant to be it will happen, providing I never give up on myself. Viz, there is an agent out there who is a 'best fit' for me, and I will keep looking until I find them. Until then, I will continue to write my best, on the subjects that I am passionate about - for me. It is not a 'fault' of the agent if they do not like my writing. Not liking my writing does not mean I am not likeable. I own myself.

Anonymous said...

List of writers who received deals/got agents before their first manuscripts were finished:

Charles Bock
Mark Danielewski
Zadie Smith
David Foster Wallace
Audrey Niffenegger (got a movie deal before the book was finished too)
Max Brooks
friend of mine who got an agent two years ago and still hasn't finished his book
and so on

London Mabel said...

"I am insulted by those who think that everything published is nothing but a load of crap and I don’t want to work with anyone who has an attitude like that."

"Me too!"

Me too too.

London Mabel said...

To Michael:

I agree with what Brenna said. When people talk about subjectivity re. fiction, it's about personal taste. There are lots of great novels that I consider well-written, but they didn't personally captivate me. You're better off finding the agent who's excited about the book both objectively and subjectively.

BrennaLyons said...


Actually, even print books are not safe from pirating. Three or four years ago, I had the unhappy job of explaining to the head of Kensington HOW his print-only books were being pirated.

The fact is, NO form of publishing is safe. An OCR scanner and an hour or two later, any print book someone cares to pirate is out there. Unsecured e-books are instantaneous, more or less. Secured/DRMd e-books are broken and passed within weeks. There is no such thing as a secured/DRMd book that cannot be broken. Not at the current level of security.

Not to mention, DRM is a major turn-off for many readers, but I have articles on that, as well.

The thing to keep in mind about indie/e is that many authors don't view it as a stepping stone. You can make good money in indie/e alone. And you have more freedom to push the limits in indie press. Things that scare the bejeezus out of the NY marketing teams are what indie looks for. Grinning...

In fact, many authors who move from indie to NY continue to write in both. And authors who started in NY will sometimes branch out to indie/e...with reprints, to continue series NY has abandoned, and even to write new series or new to that author genres.


Kelly Polark said...

This was a worthwhile and amusing read! Your dog!?!

Kerrie said...

This is a great list. I am going to post it at the Northern Colo. Writers studio for all to see!

Kerrie said...

This is a great list. I am going to post it at the Northern Colo. Writers studio for all to see!

Louise Curtis said...

WHAT? You expect basic manners from writers? *gasp*

My cats are pretty bad editors, too - yet another disappointment in life.

Like fun stories? Have no time?
Follow my two-month twitter tale.
It has pirates.

Georgia McBride said...

Well Jennifer, I mean Jessica, I sure hope your dog likes my query because I intend to send it to you and about 100 other agents just in case you have not yet read the best seller since everything out there REALLY sucks. JUST KIDDING. Great post. At least you find humor in that part of your job and have an outlet (other than the bar) for it. Thanks for sharing-
Virginia I mean, Georgia McBride

Kim said...

Jessica (*not* Jennifer ;),

Okay, I admit, I'm slow on the uptake with this thread (just found y'all, what can I say?!), but I have a question...

I was under the impression that it is in "bad form" to query multiple agents from the same agency. I wouldn't send a query to the three of you in the same email (that does seem pretty impersonal) regardless, but now I'm a bit confused. How do you and your colleagues feel about this?

I realize that this could fall into the "mass query" spectrum, but as a writer, here's the rub: each agent is really unique with regard to what she may like and how she relates with each writer. I try my best to research each of you and send queries to those agents with whom I think I'd be a good fit, but heck. I'm only half of the equation. I'm sure it's been the case that one of you felt enthusiastic about someone's work when another felt more "eh" about it. Everyone has her own personal cup of tea, right?

So, is it okay to individually but simultaneously query more than one agent in a particular agency? I don't want to end up in the auto-reject pile over a gaffe like this. I like to save my critical errors for when I email an agent's dog ;)

Thanks for the giggle on that one, by the way...

Kim Snyder

Donna Carrick said...

Hi, Jessica,
Hmmm. Thanks for the words of wisdom, great advice right down the line!

But what if all the other books in the world REALLY DO suck compared with mine? ;=)

Hard to imagine any writer expecting professional courtesy if they are not prepared to offer it to their fellow authors.

Donna Carrick

Ronald said...

Wow, a lot of interesting information that should be kept in mind when sending a query letter. It's good to know what an agent looks at before reading a query. (Especially if you at the point when your looking for an agent)

Anonymous said...

Could someone please clarify the comment that self help writers can submit a proposal. I am confused by this. Thank you!

Unknown said...

YOUR DOG????? Seriously? What are people thinking?? *shakes head*

Thank you for the info! Very helpful.

sherry said...

Great post. Glad to discover that I haven't done any of the offending references in my query letters!


Tom Fortunato said...

"Your book or proposal is incomplete or you are pitching nothing but an idea. Self-help nonfiction writers can submit a proposal, but that proposal better be complete before you query me, and don’t even think of querying until your fiction or narrative nonfiction (for unpublished authors) is fully written, edited, and revised. And you have an idea and want to know whether or not it’s viable before wasting your time writing? Write it and find out then. Instant reject."

Well that's aggravating. I actually STOPPED working on my manuscript because it was technically non-fiction, and EVERY source I found on the matter said that I have to query an agent and get a publisher before I write the manuscript.

The problem with me is, my book is a collection of autobiographical essays, so "technically" that makes it narrative nonfiction, correct? Also, I'm an unpublished author, so that's also a knock against me.

The inconsistencies and irregularities in the publishing world are frustrating. I even asked a published writer through email, "what should I do if I've already written most of my manuscript?" She told me to stop and try to query an agent with what I have and write a proposal.

I just sent Jessica my query today, a few hours before I read this, so now I'm thinking I'm as good as screwed. I sent her the first 5 pages of my manuscript (as an extra unsolicited attachment that I thought could only help me), and I let her know my book is 461 pages and I only have 3 more chapters to go.

So what's a guy to do? At this point, it's clear she's going to reject me (or is she?), but if she does, I'm already planning to finish the book and re-query her. Or would that be wasting my time?

-Tom Fortunato

sara Paretsky said...

I was puzzled that you reject a letter attachment. I consider a letter attachment as a sign of professionalism, because the writer typically works harder on a letter than on an e-mail.

Amanda said...

If I were an agent I wouldn't want to open attachments either. There is the fear of viruses and as mentioned in the blog it takes longer. When soliciting an agent I figure a person better be professional in his/her e-mail. It's just like e-mailing a resume to a potential employer (and yes some potential employers have the same no attachment guideline in sending resumes as Jessica has in sending query letters).

Every author should inform her/himself on the guidelines when submitting work if they want to be taken seriously.

Mike Koch - Protect The Risen said...

Loved your "brassy" approach to this subject. Everything you listed would seem to be common sense. Then again you and other agents get bombarded by all type of folks. Thanks for being our filter in the world of books.

R. Phelps said...

This is a lot for a new author to take in. I see a lot of information here, from Jessica, and from all those people who have posted replies.

Here's the rub: I neither agree, nor disagree with some of the things posted here. I don't like some of the things posted here. I love some of the things posted here. But regardless of anyone's personal tastes, regardless of how we judge or interpret anything that's been said here, it's all information that we can, in some way, use to our advantage and to our betterment.

They say there are two kinds of people in this world; those who see the glass as half full, and those who see the glass as half empty. What we overlook is that if we're thirsty, who really cares how we see it, so long as we can tip it back and quench our thirst?

And if we're not thirsty, where's the harm in letting the next person in line have a drink? It's all information, pure and simple. A hammer can be used to build, or to destroy, a home. Or, it can be left alone until it is a useful tool for the job at hand.

My thanks to everyone who has contributed to this post. Whether *I* liked, disliked, or didn't really pay much attention to *your* post, someone, somewhere on this planet enjoyed it, someone hated it, and someone walked right past it. But, and this is the important part, *someone* benefitted from it in some way. Remember, what goes around comes around. :)

Jessica said...

Wonderful list! And I was glad to see I don't do any of those things. Yay me! The best part, though, was the "Jennifer" comment. My name is Jessica too, and I get called Jennifer ALL. THE. TIME. Thanks for the laugh!

Gourgandise said...

I understand that agents are swamped by queries but really, if I knew that my future agent was getting annoyed by tiny little things like an e-mail attachment or the "it's not addressed to me personally", sorry but red flag, this agent 1)has an ego that I won't be able to deal with 2) sounds rather lazy and opted for comfort a long time ago. So I'll be glad to be sent to the recycling bin actually, nobody will have wasted the time of the other. If I have to go on a business adventure with somebody I might as well pick a lovely person. I'm sorry, you might be lovely in real life, but you sure don't sound like it in this post. (Before somebody says anything, English is not my first language and I don't write in English. I was just passing by, checking what happens on the other side of the fence.)