letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 122
# of partials requested: 1
genre of partials requested: general fiction

Dear Authors:

I bring you this week’s theme: autistic chlidren — several pitches featured them. Did I miss a recent news story or something? Just curious. I find it so peculiar when an element like that makes repeat appearances. Must be some trigger in the collective unconscious.

I believe at this time that I have responded to all queries received prior to June 26th (whether email or snailmail). Please check your spam filters or allow sufficient time for traversal of the post awful system before concluding your query was lost and re-sending. As per guidelines on our website, please note our official response time on queries is 2-3 weeks from receipt. I also got two of my responses bounced back with errors of “domain not found” and “response error – Reverse DNS is missing”…

So, you remember this dilemma of mine about someone who didn’t really understand that I was declining to pursue their work? Someone else did it this week too. My note that their idea was just not right for me apparently fell on deaf ears. They wrote back and suggested that I take 10 minutes to re-read their material (which I had already read). Really, it wasn’t an issue of their writing. I just wouldn’t buy the book in a store if I saw it, so that wouldn’t make me a very good advocate for it to publishers either, imo. 10 minutes may not sound like much time, but if every query I read this week required that much attention, that’d be around 20 hours of review, at a rate of 6 queries per hour — not so efficient for generating prompt replies. I tend to work more than a 40-hour week (who doesn’t these days), but I do need much of that time to devote to my current clients. Honestly, I’d love to live in a world where I had that kind of time for more detailed feedback, especially for those queries that I’m on the fence about. But, seriously, it just can’t be done. And so many authors think it already takes too long to get responses. Anyway, is there some site out there giving this advice as to how to respond to rejection? Just wondering.

This is not to say that I’m adverse to second chances. Sometimes people have break-throughs in revisions or with peer writing groups and the realization changes the approach to the book in a fundamental way, which has an effect on both the pitch and the pages and, perhaps, the quality of the submission. There’s people currently on my list that were initially rejected, and were either signed up because their revisions were amazing or for a different project all together. So, that does happen. But that’s a whole different situation than what I’m describing above which is simply someone not realizing that I assessed what they sent me carefully and replied accordingly. Seems to me there’s a difference between that and a careful and thoughtful resubmission. Agree/disagree?

39 responses to “letters from the query wars

  1. I wonder where authors (self included) get the notion that if we were only Good Enough, everyone would like our work? You’d think we’d know better… Surely we don’t like all work from all published authors, yes? Sometimes by the mere fact of “Eh, that genre just doesn’t grab me.”
    Likewise, while there are agents we’d love to get… there are a lot of agents! One should not fixate! (Which is what’s let me keep my sanity…)

  2. I couldn’t even think about sending back with a “try one more time” without serious amount of work into cleaning it up or changing it. An immediate request? No chance in hell.
    And it was strange, I had an idea for an autistic story last week too. Go figure. Maybe there was a memo running around.

  3. Attempting to establish a working relationship with a busy professional by implying that her judgement is inadequate or that she is too lazy to do her job properly is a sure sign that the submitter is, at best, naive–more likely, a useless and annoying twit.

  4. Seems to me there’s a difference between that and a careful and thoughtful resubmission. Agree/disagree?
    Agree. I’d say it might be a little desparation, but I think it takes a lot of ego to say something like that and a shortage of wit.

  5. Agree.
    I mean, I’ve never been a Fuller Brush salesman. But if someone answered the door, listened to my pitch for 10 minutes, thanked me and showed me out the door, wouldn’t it be, umm, just a tad counter-productive for me to ring the door immediately and start out by saying, “Wait, you don’t understand…!” — and then launch into a verbatim re-spiel?

    • Oddly enough, yesterday I had just that happen to me. It was an alarm system salesman, though, and it was whenever I started to close the door. Very surreal.

      • Now that’s scary.
        A couple years ago, I was working on some stuff in the yard and this guy in a white shirt and tie approached me. (This is N. Florida, where men in white shirts and ties don’t generally go door-to-door during the height of summer.) I’d seen him visiting neighbor’s houses, so I was prepared for… well, something.
        He said he worked for a home-security company. He’d walked around our house and had noted several points where, he said, our security could use some beefing up.
        I know he didn’t mean it this way, but it just felt so CREEPY to be talking to someone who had, y’know, cased the joint that I couldn’t wait to send him on his way ASAP. Which I did.

  6. As the mother of an autistic child, I can tell you that with the number of autistic kids swelling from one in 2000 ten years ago to one in 150 today, you’re probably going to see many more such pitches. Autism is still seen as something both exotic and threatening in popular culture, and it amazes me to realize that at some point in the future, guys like my son will make up almost 1% of the population–not all of them The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time-type people, since it is a spectrum, but certainly enough for jazz/a valid plot point.

    • one in 2000 ten years ago to one in 150 today
      These stats are shocking. Maybe there’s the difference in diagnosing though? Maybe diagnosing is more thorough now, plus broadening of the spectrum by such things as HFA and Aspergers that is sometimes difficult to diagnose. On the other hand the environment is more friendly toward autistic people now, what with the overwhelming access to information and diminishing of social bonds in general. It has great sci-fi potential. :/
      Sorry for jumping on “autism” bandwagon here, but I’m in a process of finding out if my kid is an Aspie, or not, so these things interest me. But I’ll shut up now…

      • For the sci-fi potential of the increase in autism rates, I recommend Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark. The difference in diagnosing makes up for some of the increase, but definitely not all of it.
        Arcaedia, the person who wrote back immediately to ask for a reread doesn’t even deserve a reply. After all, they have already proven that they can’t comprehend a simple declarative sentence…

  7. Agree!
    There’s absolutely a difference between resubmitting the same piece of work and actually taking the time to tweak the work so it might tempt an agent (or publisher) in its new form. The first implies a distrust in the agent to have actually taken the time to do his or her work (and, in that case, it seems odd for the author to want to submit to that person if that’s really what he or she thinks of the agent (or publisher)), the second implies a respect for the agent’s (or publisher’s) decision and a sincere recognition that there was space for improvement.
    I understand no one likes rejection, but the whole point of good writing is that it should grab the reader the first time reading through it. If the author has to ask for a second chance from the agent, how could they expect one from the reader who they can’t even contact directly? Ludicrous.
    Nancy D’Inzillo

  8. I must admit I get tickled when I read some of the goofiness you have to deal with, and this sounds to me like one of those times.
    I certainly understand either a resubmission of a work vastly rewritten or a submission of a new work entirely, but it sounds like this clown just didn’t believe you when you said you were going to pass. “Read it again.” Lol, if only it were that easy….

  9. I have to say that I don’t usually give a book a second chance when I pick it up in a bookstore and decide it doesn’t grab me, so I fail to see why an agent should.
    I think revising the work substantially or submitting an entire different piece of work is a different matter and I hope that an agent would read the work. Of course substantially is in the eye of the beholder, but a substantial revision would take more than 2-3 weeks. You wrote that you take 2-3 week to respond to a query.

  10. Yeah, agree. I mean, even if you did reread the material and it turned out that you were just so wrong the first time and you loved it this time, would you really want to take on a client with that kind of attitude? I know I wouldn’t. Revisions are good things, though, and I think it’s generally a good idea for the author not to even mention it’s a revision but send it a few months after their first submission. It should be different enough that the agent is only certain it’s a resubmission if they ask.
    It’s a shame you can’t be more snarky about it. “Dear Author, Thank you for suggesting I reread the material you sent me. In response, I suggest you reread the rejection I sent you. Loves and kisses, Agent”

    • I would absolutely do that
      I don’t think that’s snarky at all. I think it’s appropriate. Maybe it will smack that person into the right mind. Having received my share of rejections, I am annoyed at the twits who make breaking in harder.

  11. Agree. There’s a huge difference between someone querying if they can resubmit something they’ve substantially revised, and someone insisting that their book will get better if you just read it a few times more. That’s galling– no way I’d look at it again.

  12. I saw the cluelessness when I interviewed people for an assistant job. Not a huge requirement of brain cells.
    One guy I interviewed asked, after I told him he wasn’t what we were looking for, asked when he was supposed to report to work.
    I feel your pain.
    At least I understand a rejection. What puzzles me are the non-responses. Did they get the query? Do they just not answer if not interested? Mysteries abound.

    • Sometimes maybe they don’t actually get the query (I’m sure the post awful or the internet occasionally eats them) or the response gets waylaid (see above for the two bounces — those people will think I didn’t respond but I did try to).

  13. autistic children
    Could it be the success of the WONDERFUL and much loved book, RULES by Cynthia Lord. http://www.cynthialord.com/rules.htm
    Do you find that when a book is very successful and specific that you start getting queries for similar projects? I mean, yeah, I know wizarding school books abounded for a while, but could something like this trigger them too?

    • Re: autistic children
      Odd that that book wasn’t nominated for a state award in NJ, which has one of the highest autism rates in the country. (There’s a running debate over whether that’s because of environmental degradation along I95 or because NJ has excellent services for autistic kids and people move there after diagnosis.)

  14. Rejection
    Julie Weathers here. Too lazy to try and remember my account information.
    I agree. Even though I am a subscriber to the bumble bee theory of success, I think a person also has to exercise common sense and courtesy.
    I believe, against astronomical odds, that I will find the right agent, we will sell the book (leading to the sale of many others) and enjoy a degree of success. I probably should have remained anon before stating that. Even with such a blinding optimism, the key words are “right agent.”
    If an agent didn’t feel he/she was right two weeks ago, what would change their mind?
    “Hi, as it just so happens all of my clients got sucked into a magical vortex and I decided I would like to read your submission.”
    I probably wouldn’t want the agent at this point because a) if they are smart they will be writing the next best seller about the author snatching vortex and b) I don’t want to be the next author sucked into the vortex.
    Seriously, to me, the relationship between an agent and an author is just that. I want the agent to contact me and say, “I read your manuscript and love it. Here’s what we need to do.”
    It still boils down to professionalism, respect and courtesy. The agent doesn’t want to dance to this song. Go find someone else who is tapping their toe.

  15. What I don’t understand is why an author would want an agent who doesn’t love her work. Yes, I understand the desperation an author might feel and the need for validation, but still. I can just see the pitch to the editor: “I didn’t like this the first time, but I read it again and thought, what the heck? You wanna take a look?”
    My guess is authors who do dumb things like this haven’t thought the whole thing through. They’re so stressed about getting an agent, they don’t even realize that’s only the first hurdle in the long road to being published.
    Elissa M

    • I see students all the time who are stressed about getting into a particular college. People fixate on name-recognition, perhaps, and fail to realize that getting in the door is only the first step. A college that isn’t enthusiastic about having a particular student and an agent who isn’t enthusiastic about selling a particular author’s work aren’t going to increase the chances of long-term success…

  16. query process – thank you
    Dear Ms. Jackson –
    As a new writer just starting to look for an agent I very much appreciate you taking the time to blog, provide advice, and listen to prospective clients. After researching for the past week, I am definitely planning on sending you a query letter to consider my first novel, which is in the thriller genre. I read on one of the agent research sites that you were looking to expand your list in this area. I hope that is true. You sound like a very professional and thoughtful person. You can rest assured that the query letter you receive from me will adhere to your guidelines and that I will respect your time and effort, whether or not you decide to represent my work. Without someone like you, writers like us would have even a tougher time of it. Take care and have a wonderful weekend. Thank you.
    Michael Nystrom

  17. There are always going to be people that take a polite decline as an opening for another sales pitch. Even after a major rewrite, I would query before even attempting to resubmit a manuscript.

  18. Actually, this post (and some of the comments) partially answered a question I’ve had–is it okay to resend a query after you’ve wrestled your novel into a better form? Mine, for example, is going through Critters right now, but I’d already queried almost everyone with it a few years ago. It seems that resending it is okay.
    BUT, should I tell the agents that they’ve already seen this before significant rewriting and polishing? Or just send it like it’s a new one and not worry about it cause they probably won’t remember anyway?
    –Shiloh C. (http://snarky-writer.blogspot.com)

  19. Autism
    As both a veteran educator–and the mother–of an autistic child, I’d like to share the comments. In my perspective, there’s two primary reasons for the increase in identification of autism. First, the legal (and educational) defintion of autism has been expanded. Thus, more children are identified. Our classic eyeview of autism is a socially withdrawn that is often retarded. With the new expanded criteria, this is not necessarily the case. For example, my son is autistic. In recent testing, he scored high average in mathematics, high average in reading, and ABOVE average in written expression. (Yes, it’s possible for a child to have two exceptionalities…including being gifted.)However, he does have social and language issues related to his autism.
    Secondly, I feel that the internet and cable talk shows have made us more aware of autism. It’s opened up the lines of discussion.
    Please forgive me for taking up so much space. However, this is such an important topic of discussion.

  20. Hello! I’m one of this week’s 121 rejections (no hard feelings) and I’m curious – do you have your form letter posted anywhere? Your message left me scratching my head because the response read like a form letter but the content didn’t seem like something you’d hear in a form letter… it’s no big deal, but I’m just honestly curious. I know you don’t have time to personalize rejections, which is why I’m bothering to ask. πŸ™‚

  21. Agreed. There’s a difference.

  22. I was just reading another agent (or rather agent assistant) blog and came across a very similar situation:
    Apparently it’s a trend. Perhaps there is someone out there giving this advice.

  23. I can’t figure out why they’re so doggedly pursuing an agent that they don’t think took enough time on their query in the first place. If they don’t believe that you are good at your job, why are they pitching to you?

  24. That’s exactly what I thought. I did make a point of getting a business card and a brochure (under the cowardly pretext of “thinking about it”); I called the company, confirmed that they had a salesman working the neighborhood, and gave them an ear job about alienating potential customers by inspecting their homes’ security BEFORE getting permission. πŸ™‚

  25. I agree with you, which is why I’m working so hard on my writing. I’ve learned so much from my betas and critique partner. πŸ™‚
    As far as the Autism phenomenon, a great deal more people are becoming more aware and education about Autism, and I think it’s sparking an interest for some folks. It’s really being discussed in the media now and celebrities are talking about it more.
    I work with and advocate for the mentally challenged/autistic/related disability populations, so my interest has been there since high school. It’s nothing new to me and I learn more and more every day.
    I have worked in human services for several years and can write books upon books of my experiences, fiction and non-fiction, lol.

  26. I think it is rather presumptuous to suggest taht an agent repeat the work they had already done in reviewing a sumbission.
    Your post makes me wnder, though, how long do you take on a query, usually? And do you make a judgment initially on the letter and synopsis and if they aren’t good enough forget about reading the enclosed pages, or do you muddle through it all as best you can, as long as it is relatively interesting and not obviously written by an inexperienced monkey at a typewriter?
    Basically, if we don’t necessarily have the skills to make an exciting query letter, but the chapters are great, do you make it to the five pages, or do you toss it based on the summary?

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