Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I Might Be Getting Soft in My Old Age

I've been thinking about writing this post for a few weeks and was finally pushed into it when this comment was left on a six-year-old blog post:

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.)

The power of the blog. Where a post never goes away and you'll be skewered for something you wrote when you were, frankly, a different person.

This particular comment was left on the post I Stop Reading When.

As I'm reading queries these days I'm sort of amazed at how much I'll forgive. Am I getting soft? Am I getting old? or do I just care less about the minute details of life? I'm not sure there's a precise answer, but I am sure that I've become far more forgiving when it comes to queries.

These days I reply to almost everything. I reply to queries that you send to the wrong address, I reply to queries that are addressed to me, Kim, Jessica, Beth and every other agent and even their mothers. I reply when there are clear typos and I even reply when it's not really a query at all, but something that simply says, "read my book." I've established a system that makes it a lot easier for me to reply to all of these things and sometimes it's just as easy to hit delete.

Of course, just because I'm getting soft doesn't mean everyone else (or anyone else) is. I'm pretty sure The Shark will never soften on us and that's ok, a good thing even. We all need to be held to higher standards and pushed to be the best we can be. Query and submission guidelines should be part of that push.

You should also know that while I'm getting soft and answering all of you rule breakers, it doesn't mean you're getting the answer you want. Most of them are rejections.



Anonymous said...

I think it's a hard balance, probably, and it sounds like you do it well. I had to giggle at the idea of someone querying your dog, though. That takes some guts. :)

As a querying writer, I think it's important to have "rules" for querying. It actually makes it easier on me in terms of what to send. On the other hand, I cringe at some of the stupid mistakes I've sent in my queries and am thankful for forgiving agents who've overlook the stupid mistakes and given me the same consideration as the next query, in spite of my own stupidity.

All I can say is to "keep on keepin' on." Sounds like you have a system that's working for you. And, frankly, those of us querying appreciate the response, even when it's a big, fat, painful, ugly, no! :)

Thanks for the blog...I enjoyed it.

Colin Smith said...

As I've been stalking, I mean following agents for the last who-knows-how-many years, it certainly can seem like they're looking for any reason to say "no." The often intricate query guidelines some agents offer don't help to dispel that impression.

Last week, I posed a couple of somewhat rhetorical questions on Janet "The Shark" Reid's blog to which she responded on Sunday. My questions took a more positive view of query guidelines. To paraphrase, I asked:

1) When was the last time you [Agent] requested because the querier spelled your name correctly, gave good comp titles, had an MFA, or correctly identified the novel as YA Urban Fiction?

2) How many queries have you requested from because of the paragraphs that succinctly and compellingly described the novel?

Janet's answer (and I presume you would concur, Jessica):

1) 0%
2) 100%

This isn't an excuse to ignore submission guidelines, but I think it helps those in the query trenches get some perspective.

Elesha said...

Querying is basically applying for a business partnership. When you apply for a job, do you expect the person reading your cover letter to be 'soft'? Why should the employer pick someone who has a sloppy letter and didn't follow application guidelines over someone who did?
Yes, we all make typos and misread instructions occasionally. So, discretion is needed. But, having hired people in the past, I know that when swamped with tons of applications, little things can matter to help you weed people out.
I don't expect agents to be soft given the amount of queries they get, but I hope they are forgiving.

Kate Douglas said...

I was actually growing concerned while reading your post, and wondered where my agent had gone. Then I got to the final line and cheered--the real Jessica's back!

Flowers McGrath said...

Perhaps, you have become more likely to answer because the agent-bloggers and writer-commenters have, sort of, become buddies. And I definitely think the speed with which we all must be willing to engage in writing because of social media, text and email has made us all a little less iffy (and that was supposed to read huffy and my iPad chose iffy) about typos. My son has some friends on facebook who literally use no punctuation at all. What? Wait, I have a friend who does that and she is a grown woman. But as all sharks will attest, in the end quality and compatibility is key. So I guess, when it's no, it's no, however cool you are for responding. We appreciate the contact, for real, for certain.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

If your standard is tall, perfect hair, just the right shade of blond, chiseled abs, gainfully employed, sweet breath, drives a beamer AND has to love your mother, you may be living lonely.
Forgive the trivial and your life, (and list), will be full.

Elissa M said...


The problem most people have is that it takes the "seasoning" of years to differentiate the important from the trivial.

For what it's worth, my husband is shorter than I, bald, slightly paunchy, and drives a jeep. But his breath is fine and he gets along well with my family (and I with his). I believe I've chosen well. ;)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Elissa, are we married to the same old guy, oh wait, mine drives a ford pick-up with over 200,000 miles on it.

Like new copper turning a soft green from the elements, it's amazing to me how time and maturity patinas our thinking. And it's not a softening, it's like you say a "seasoning" of what's important and what just isn't worth our time to fret about.

DLM said...

For every entitled person who thinks the work of getting an agent and getting published and supporting their work is for the peasants, that's one less MS I'm in competition with in pursuit of this BUSINESS relationship and success. If *anyone* at BookEnds represented my style of historical, I'd be querying exactly as requested/required, and pleased with an answer. Even the rejection, if it was as good as this blog. Quality shows.

And quality takes work - and sometimes has rules. Give me this "comfortable" agent any day, over one without enough discernment to care for discipline.

AJ Blythe said...

Agree with what you said, DLM.

On the other side of the fence, I've seen job vacancies which have received hundreds of applications. You look for any reason to whittle the pile down, so in that instance those small details can make a big difference.