letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 202
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 1
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: fantasy

Earlier this week, Neil Gaiman responded on his blog to a question from someone concerning the long-delayed books in George R. R. Martin’s fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. The question involved wondering whether the reader was unrealistic to feel that the author (GRRM) was letting him down by not getting to the next book in the series. Neil pretty much said that it was unrealistic and went on to explain:

“You’re complaining about George doing other things than writing the books you want to read as if your buying the first book in the series was a contract with him: that you would pay over your ten dollars, and George for his part would spend every waking hour until the series was done, writing the rest of the books for you.”

And he ended with:

“George R. R. Martin is not working for you.”

You can read Neil’s whole response here.

What does this have to do with queries? Well, also earlier this week, I was reading comments on another agent’s blog. I don’t currently remember which one and I’m paraphrasing the comment, but it essentially said that the author felt they had a right to feedback – at the query stage – simply because they had done research on agents, selected appropriate ones to query, and done the work of writing the book and the query, and sending it out. I’ve seen variations on this before and that sentiment seems to be not uncommon these days.

This is why Neil’s comment about GRRM resonated and sent my thoughts in this direction:

Fact: The author desires feedback.
Fiction: The author is entitled to feedback.

And that’s where I felt like the query dynamic ran a bit in parallel to what Neil was pointing out about the difference between what a person wants and what a person is owed.

Now, I can agree that without writers, agents would be looking for another calling, and that all the clients we currently represent had to come from somewhere (either queries, referrals, or meetings at conventions, pretty much). So, this can be a motivating factor for paying it forward, as it were. I can also agree that it’s perfectly fine for a writer to want feedback on a query (just as the reader in Neil’s post clearly wants to read the next book in the series sooner rather than later). Where the situation goes south is when a person projects the frustration of not getting what they want onto some external target and starts generating unreasonable expectations and demands.

Until an agent offers representation, the writer has no contract with them and therefore no claim on what they choose to offer. The agent works for their clients. Writers who are querying are, by definition, not yet clients. Which means those agents who personalize rejections, who are choosing to offer commentary to potential clients, who blog and discuss the industry, are going to extra effort beyond just selling books for the authors they have already agreed to represent. All that advice is free — and it’s not in their job description, and they don’t get paid for it. It’s R&D, and they have to decide how much they can afford to spend on it, both in time and resources.

Long story short (too late), at the query stage, an agent isn’t working for the writer… yet…

63 responses to “letters from the query wars

    *falls over*

  2. I’m a reader of GRRM’s blog, and I have to say that some of the responses he was getting on posts about football and Wildcards were downright nasty. He finally got sick of it and finally addressed some of the issues that were being brought up.
    I love Song of Ice and Fire, but I’m willing to wait because I understand the creative impulse behind writing, not to mention something as epic as SoIAF.

  3. I read the post earlier. Glad to see you qouted the polite version of Mr. Gaiman’s reply 🙂

  4. It really is the weirdest sort of courtship for a business relationship, isn’t it? I mean, any other business person that’s working for you, is, well – working for you; which means that you decide whether or not to hire them. This is one of the few cases where the employer isn’t making the decision. Weirdness.
    Personally, I like the whole Buddhist idea of suspending expectations altogether; it makes it that much more special when something is given to you and avoids misery when it isn’t.

  5. A few years back, a fantasy publisher ran an open call for one of the slots in a four-book series of stand-alone novels. They received hundreds of proposals and responded with a form letter to those whose proposals were not accepted. I was surprised to see message boards hum with indignation over this policy. Quite a few people felt they were owed personalized responses with detailed explanations as to why their submissions were not selected, followed by suggestions for improvement.
    I’m not sure where this expectation comes from, but I’m reminded of the gal who auditioned for American Idol expecting the judges to teach her how to sing.

    • Is it the way kids are being raised these days? Seems like more and more are getting more and more feedback on things I never dreamed of getting feedback on when I was a kid – and never thought about giving to my kids as they were growing up.
      Just thinking out loud here …

  6. Let me start off by saying that I FULLY agreed with Neil Gaiman’s posts. I’ve told numerous friends to shut up when they whined about him doing anything other than writing A Dance with Dragons. And I can see why Gaiman’s response would resonate with you and your experience with queries. However, I feel like the readers getting worked up over GRRM have a little bit more of a (skewed, ultimately illogical, and most of all, FALSE) basis than aspiring writers sending out queries: they’ve given GRRM money for one book and think this “entitles” them to getting subsequent books in a “timely” fashion. They basically think they’ve entered a contract with GRRM since money was exchanged, which is obviously a false and misguided conclusion.
    It’s a case of being spoiled.
    However, aspiring writers don’t pay agents any money to read queries (or at least, they shouldn’t be), so really, we have no reason to expect anything from you. Would personalized responses be nice? Sure, they’d be great in an ideal world. But ultimately, we have no basis on a business level to feel owed any sort of response. (I suppose one could argue that on a personal/human/decent level, responses are owed, but imo, it falls back on responses being nice but not necessary. Agents who give responses are going above and beyond.)
    People really need to back off GRRM. Patrick Rothfuss, too. Sheesh, I imagine having to listen to all that whining probably does more to kill the writing process than speed it along.

    • Heh. Yeah, unfortunately some people use the payment-logic idea when it comes to queries. Gift baskets, crystal candy dishes, nice whiskeys; it’s ridiculous the way some people think bribes work.

    • re: “People really need to back off GRRM. Patrick Rothfuss, too. Sheesh, I imagine having to listen to all that whining probably does more to kill the writing process than speed it along.”
      I was just thinking the same thing. It seems all the griping and complaints are more likely to stifle GRRM and deter him from writing at all. That’s not a good strategy if they’re hoping for another great book.

  7. Baffling as the query process is, I’m happy to get a form letter/e-mail, and happy to move on. Maybe I don’t want feedback from every person who reads my work. I know, that sounds sacrilegious for a writer to say—we’re supposed to want/need feedback. But really? Even a well-researched query is a cold call.

  8. Several years ago, George Lucas said that he often felt divorced from the fan base for films such as Star Wars. His reasoning?
    The fans go to the theater, pay their money, and sit for a couple of hours to enjoy the film. The next day they are ready to see the sequel, and are frustrated because it’s not out yet. On the other hand, we just spent years making the one they just saw, and it will take us more years to make the next one.
    To me this sounds a bit like the same thing. Yes, the book might have been great, but to make the next one “great” takes time, effort, sweat, blood, and a whole lot of work. Most authors can’t just simply sit down and spew out the next 100,000 words in a few hours.
    The world is full on unrealistic expectations.

    • Actually, what Star Wars fans do is go to the theater, pay their money, sit for a couple of hours to watch the film, and then spend the next three years telling the Internet in excruciating detail what Lucas did wrong.

    • I was going to say something very similar to this. Often when I read a series of books by one author, and those books come out in rapid succession, the sequels aren’t nearly as good as the first book in the series. I have to wonder if the author rushed the work to capitalize on current success, and put it on paper before he/she was really ready. Now, that’s not always true. Some authors just have a knack for sequels, I suppose. But it’s often true.
      The ones I wait for, I usually enjoy more. Maybe it’s because I’ve waited so long, and the anticipation has built me up into liking it. But I think it’s more likely that the author took the time to get it right.
      I don’t read GRRM, but I’ve met him. My husband is friends with his personal assistant. GRRM is a great guy who clearly gives a lot to his fans. I watched him interact with them over a period of several days. He was constantly hounded, and remained gracious as far as I could see. I began to feel sorry for him by the end of the conference we were attending.
      Lisa Iriarte

  9. I still don’t get why writer’s think they are ENTITLED to feedback just because they sent a query. Agents are busy. I couldn’t imagine responding to two hundred emails a week from people I KNOW. Much less try to personally respond (and give feedback) to words on a page from strangers. And as far as GRRM and his speed of producing his next book…whatever happened to “a masterpiece takes time” or “patience is a virtue” and all those other cliches we readers and writers should know so well by now. 🙂

    • I work for a small magazine and have for four years now, and it still amazes me the writers who respond to rejections asking, Could you please tell me specifically why you rejected my story? Could you please give me some pointers for crafting a better story (or story that fits your magazine requirements)?

  10. Just like the eagerly anticipated next book in a series, I feel like agent to author feedback is like a gem. I feel lucky to get it.

  11. I have a great novel by one of my favorite authors, that was followed up by a notably inferior work. My suspicion is that she was pushed to write something quickly, with the result that the next book wasn’t nearly as good. How many times have I wished that the producers of a number of sequels would have taken their time to make a better piece? Can’t really complain when someone actually does it.

  12. I find that I’m genuinely torn, because I don’t entirely agree with Gaiman. I agree that there is no contract or obligation, and that it’s common today for fans to have an unhealthy sense of entitlement… but I disagree about whether or not a creator is working for their fans. The fact remains that it’s the fans who pay for the work, and if you piss them off odds are good that they will not pay you any more. If you can afford to lose the sales, great, but if you can’t… then like it or not, fair or not, you’re still effectively enslaved by your own success.
    In the case of agents, a writer has no entitlement to a response, but if you aren’t responsive they may choose to work with someone else. The difference is that good agents are universally in a position to afford not just losing the business but actively rejecting it by whatever means they see fit, and many are convinced that this means they are entitled to do so without the writer having a negative reaction… which is just as untrue as the writers feeling they are entitled to work with a particular agent in the first place.

    • See, for me, the issue of giving writers feedback is more one of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” I’ve received about an equal percentage of negative reactions to feedback as I have to form letters, and yet feedback queries take twice as long to consider, at least. Also, feedback tends to make some authors feel that with enough pleading/bribery/requerying, an agent will finally realize that they love the work after all and will sign the author on, all communications which take up even more time I don’t have. And to what end? The only positive outcomes for giving queries feedback (not partials or fulls; those are completely different animals) is either finally convincing an author that, no, this project isn’t going to sell and they should go on to the next (or realize that maybe writing isn’t the path for them after all), or the author will revise their query enough that another agent will see the great story the author originally hid behind five pages of backstory/description/weather and sign the author up and sell the book for millions.
      For me, I send form rejections to queries that didn’t follow submission guidelines (more than half, unfortunately), personalized rejections to those that did but I didn’t see any promise in, a little bit of feedback to those that might have promise, and a page or so of concrit to partials or fulls I request. Even then, though, the authors are not getting the feedback they need. The majority of agents (or at least the ones I know) want to be nice, or at least perceived as such, so when they give feedback, it’s always with the gentlest of strokes. We can’t say what we honestly think about the pages because we know the writer (in most cases) worked so hard on the book and believes in it so much, we don’t want to hurt their feelings. Plus, we don’t want writers’ message boards to fill up with people upset at our honesty.
      This is why agents aren’t the people to look to for feedback; writers groups are. They can afford to be honest.

      • Personally, I think form letter rejections are fine in response to queries. Self-editing is also part of a writer’s job, and I don’t expect agents to waste their time helping a writer to realize their full potential unless the agent has something to directly gain from it (as in, they’re working for the writer at that point). I do think prompt responses to correspondence are more professional than long silences, but I also understand why they aren’t always possible, so am willing to suspend my preferences.
        My point was more that it is unreasonable to feel entitled to a particular response from anyone… including silence from offended writers. Ungrateful feedback just sort of goes with life, you know?

        • Actually, I do think agents who treat authors professionally are entitled to being treated professionally in return, and vice versa, but maybe that’s just me.

          • You don’t see how that’s the exact same entitlement trap that the writers are falling for? “I put in all the work to handle this professionally, I deserve to get what I want out of it” is a lie that we all fall prey to, but that does not make it true. We all choose whether or not to pay into the manners system on the hope of reward, there is no guarantee.

            • Of course there is no guarantee, because a surprising number of people in this world are disrespectful, selfish, and/or stupid, and will respond in whatever way they like. But let me get this right: what you’re saying is, essentially, “Just because agents behave cordially doesn’t mean writers have to”? I mean, of course they don’t have to, but I also don’t have to refrain from pushing someone down the subway stairs when they stop abruptly in front of them. I do refrain because it would be wrong. Essentially, I give up my right to push whoever I like down the stairs in order to ensure my right not to be pushed down the stairs. That’s not a system of manners, it’s a system of rules, and it applies in the professional field as well.

              • Yes. I am saying that just because you or I am nice to someone doesn’t mean they are required to be nice back, even if it is to their benefit to do so.
                A system of rules is codified and enforced by an external authority. That’s why you can’t give up the right not to be pushed down the stairs by pushing someone else, anymore than you can secure that right by not doing so. The right not to be pushed is granted by the law, not your actions, and if you violate someone else’s right it is the law that will punish you. However, no such authority requires courteous interactions, or grants a right to be treated pleasantly by others. No codified system of consequences exists for those who are discourteous. What the law does grant as a right is freedom of speech… including the right to be a giant jerk to someone who is just trying to be nice and help you.
                It’s worth mentioning that I’m only riding the “no right to courtesy” train here because I’m trying to be helpful. I see that outrage on agent blogs all the time, and I understand exactly how it feels because I too deal with a lot of correspondence, some of it outright rude. If I stop to recognize that I am not entitled to restrict or command other people’s speech, it is easier for me to let go of those situations where someone is rude to me, and to respond from a place that recognizes and forgives the correspondent’s obvious frustration. That’s a lot nicer for me than sitting there working myself up because someone was lacking in manners and decided it would be a good day for career suicide. Sure, I’d prefer that people be nice to me, and I struggle to be nice to others, but realizing I have no right to expect it helps me feel less hurt/frustrated/enraged when it doesn’t happen.
                Think of courteous correspondence like birthday presents… no one is required to get you one, but it’s always nice when they do. It’s also entirely reasonable to prefer friends who treat you as important enough to get a present for you, and to not buy gifts for those who don’t.

                • Ah, see, I thought we were talking from the perspective of “how you should act towards others” rather than “how to act when others are rude to you.” I understand I’ve no control over others, and truthfully I brush off most rudeness, provided it doesn’t cross the cannot-be-ignored line.
                  I’ve also obviously strayed from the specific instance at hand and devolved into “In my day/the problem with young folks nowadays/15 miles in the snow uphill both ways!” talk. But I honestly believe that all the ills in the world stem from people showing each other a lack of respect. To paraphase the venerated Esme Weatherwax, “Sin is when you treat people like things. Including yourself. People as things, that’s where it starts.” And so even mundance instances tend to get me riled, regardless of my personal involvement.

      • For me, I send form rejections to queries that didn’t follow submission guidelines (more than half, unfortunately), personalized rejections to those that did but I didn’t see any promise in, a little bit of feedback to those that might have promise, and a page or so of concrit to partials or fulls I request.
        You, sir/madam, are a star. That’s far more feedback than I would ever expect from a wader-through-slush-piles. Thank you, for not just being generous, but also for being awesome.

  13. I’m revisiting this to note that writers should sometimes be grateful for the form rejection. Sometimes a story simply doesn’t resonate, and a detailed critique can be demoralizing. Someone else may love the story. On a number of occasions, I’ve sat in front of short story submission, and although it was well crafted, I just didn’t like the story. How to say this? I’d dawdle over whether or not to send a more detailed response, only to be informed shortly thereafter that it was snatched up by another publication. Someone else loved the story.
    I don’t want to discourage writers – on the other hand I don’t want to publish anything I don’t love.
    It’s all very subjective, and I know that writers can be delicate enough that a little criticism can hold them back. They start burning manuscripts. The only problem was that we’re just the wrong publication for the story.
    So, the form rejection does more than save time for agents and editors. It keeps our personal tastes from influencing your work and your careers.

    • Now that is the most interesting response I’ve heard in a long time. It puts things in a perspective I haven’t thought about.
      Thank you for those thoughts. I’ve never felt entitled to personal responses, but I always stress when I don’t get them because I’m fighting to figure out what I did wrong. It’s nice to hear from the other side that it might not be “my fault.”
      Of course, I do get all over giddy when I get a personalized response from someone. Oddly enough, even though it’s a rejection, I feel like I’ve made progress. @=)

    • Oh, amen to that! Sometimes, feedback can absolutely be a double-edged sword. Slowly, I’ve come to realize that I’d much rather get feedback from crit groups than an agent or an editor I’m submitting to.

  14. When I get a response (via email or today’s SASE returned form postcard) at least I know my query was received and reviewed. Not getting feedback is just another hard fact of the business and I agree that we writers shouldn’t feel entitled to anything more than a “no thanks.”

  15. I’m still kinda new at the writing biz, so I understand how the need for feedback grows to a point that you want to demand it. While I try to keep in mind the jaw-dropping number of submissions people like you get, it’s still frustrating to get a form rejection when you have no idea where you screwed up in the submitting process. I can’t fix what I don’t know is broken, ya’know?
    Agents, editors and other people who handle submissions have my heartfelt sympathy. I don’t think I could do your job.

  16. I agree with Gaimen, but at the same time I have a few authors I’d love to chain to a desk just so I can get the next book out of them.
    The simple solution is to not read the entire book in three hours.
    I’ve never been good at that approach.
    Likewise I understand (to a degree) where query writers are coming from. You send out 20 queries, or 200, and get achingly polite notes but no clue what you’re doing wrong. Or if you’re doing it wrong. Or what… there are so many analogies and most aren’t G-rated. So let’s skip.
    It’s annoying, but it’s part of the game. The author doesn’t own the agent, and the agent doesn’t own the author. They enter into a symbiotic relationship. Each do their best at their assigned task and the end result is a new book on the shelf. Expecting an agent to do anything more than their job is unrealistic.

  17. Premise: the author desires feedback.
    Conclusion: the author is entitled to feedback.
    There’s two missing premises in there.
    The first missing premise, supposedly following from the first premise, is that “the author deserves feedback”. Some people think they’re entitled to everything they desire. OK, that’s pretty obvious.
    What’s not so obvious the next missing premise: “the agent is obligated to provide feedback”. Just because I deserve something, it doesn’t necessarily mean I can demand it from anyone I want. Plenty of people DESERVE things, but that’s not enough for entitlement, which also requires someone other specific individual (or entity) to be OBLIGATED to provide them.
    I’m a nice person — I guess that means I *deserve* to not suffer any number of misfortunes. If I lose my house to foreclosure, you could say I deserve a nice place to live. But that doesn’t OBLIGATE any specific person to give me what I want. Even if you feel I deserve it, you aren’t obligated to take me into your home to live with you — if you do, that’s great, it’s a level of generosity above and beyond what most people would give (because you risk being taken advantage of) — but because there’s no OBLIGATION, I can’t say I’m ENTITLED to move in with you.
    That’s a pretty close parallel to what these angry writers are asking for.

    • Exactly. Entitlement mentality – it’s everywhere.

      • it’s everywhere That’s exactly it!
        I’m in academia, and this issue is almost pandemic with students/grades. “I work hard. Thus, I deserve an A.”
        Uh. No.
        Ironically, when I blogged on academic entitlement, once of my writer friends reminded me it’s the same on this side of the fence. “I slaved over writing a novel. Thus, I should be published.”
        Hmm… Is there anywhere we can look and not see entitlement these days?

  18. Readers have every right to complain. I know writers would like to believe that they own their fans nothing, but I think that’s just the desire to avoid professional ethics. Life is so much easier if you can blow off your customers.
    GRRM is the author of a popular fantasy series. When people buy books in a fantasy series, they have every right to expect that the author will continue producing stories or end the series.
    GRRM has taken nine years to produce half a book. He’s supposed to have a book out by the end of this year, a book he hasn’t finished yet. Still, he has time to do many other project.
    Yeah, his fans are pissed. Do they hop on his blog and complain? Of course they do!
    If he doesn’t like it, he can shut down his blog. Or, you know, finish the series.

    • Or, you know, never publish the book. That’s the third option. It might be slightly diva-ish but it’s still an option.
      The thing is, when do authors start owing their fans? Because the vast majority of authors aren’t making a living off of their books. They have day jobs, on top of running publicity for the books they already have out, on top of other writing projects demanding their attention, on top of (presumably) lives. They also could, conceivably, lose the passion for the work. Or just be blocked. I have an author whose next book I’ve been waiting years for, and I’d be happy to wait years more because she writes amazing books and they’re worth waiting for. I’d much rather wait than have her rush herself through it and end up with a half-assed book. This is not to say of course that speed and quality necessarily correlate, but every author’s process is different. In the meantime, there are about a million absolutely brilliant books I have yet to read, so it’s not like I’ve nothing to do while I wait.
      I also think that positive reinforcement is better for getting someone to do what you want; complaining is only more likely to make them associate the act with a negative feeling, and thus make them want less to do it, and then it’ll never get done.

      • If GRRM wants to stop being a writer, then he should stop being a writer. All he has to do is say ‘I’m not doing this anymore’ and that’s that. He hasn’t done that, however. Instead, he’s said that he’ll continue to write A Song of Ice and Fire, as such, he has an obligation to his fans to do just that.
        He may or may not be making a living from his work. Many people in the US have to work two jobs because one won’t pay the bills. Those people still have an obligation to their customers. Writers apparently think they’re above such things; in what other profession do you deal with customer complaints by saying “I’m not your bitch”? And then a dozen of your peers pop up out of the wood-work to compliment you on your handling of the situation.

        • I’m not very up on the situation, but I was under the impression that he was still writing, so he is doing as he said. Unless he gave a timeline, why should anyone expect it by a certain time?
          As for comparing to other fields, let’s say you’re at a restaurant. Would you prefer waiting an hour for your food or getting your chicken served to you half-cooked? Both situations are bad, but I would prefer to wait an hour, and if the food was good enough to make it worth it, then I would continue going back. If I was unwilling to wait that long for the product, then I would stop going to the restaurant. That’s how customers usually react to being displeased, or they use accepted methods of filing complaint. They would not send a letter to the chef’s home address or any personal arena, like a personal blog.
          And please note that GRRM did not say, “I’m not your bitch,” Gaiman said, “GRRM is not your bitch.” I have heard plenty of sales people tell off strangers for how they treat other sales people, but off the clock, as Gaiman was. There’s nothing wrong with defending someone you feel is being unfairly attacked.

        • Those people still have an obligation to their customers. Writers apparently think they’re above such things; in what other profession do you deal with customer complaints by saying “I’m not your bitch”? And then a dozen of your peers pop up out of the wood-work to compliment you on your handling of the situation.
          A writer is not an employee. A writer is a manufacturer of goods. Once the goods are on the shelf, you are welcome to buy them. If they are not, you are welcome to find what you need elsewhere. And if you can’t? That would be your problem, not the writer’s problem.
          And to answer your question, anyone who is business for themselves is allowed to say, “I’m not your bitch.” That’s the point of being self-employed: you don’t have a boss; you don’t have anyone who gets to tell you what to do.
          Yes, there might be a financial penalty to an author who chooses to spend today going to a football game instead of working on something that will bring in money, but that’s their business and their choice, not yours.

    • That seems illogical to me. He’s a writer, and created a written product. Some people liked that product, some didn’t. The ones who didn’t like it can ignore the next written product he puts out there. The ones who did like it can choose to purchase the new product if they wish. He doesn’t owe it to them. Really, he doesn’t. And the fans don’t owe him anything, either. You don’t like the wait, don’t buy the book. Simple. This is basic stuff. A writer does not owe a reader a book they haven’t paid for… and a reader certainly doesn’t owe the writer a sale.
      I mean, it’s like someone’s saying they’re entitled because they liked his earlier books. He owes them another one, and timely, too. But by that same logic the the fans he’s writing for would automatically owe him a sale, and would automatically have to like the story. I mean, he’s written the book for them, because they liked the earlier ones and wanted more. So if they don’t buy and don’t like they’re failing that unwritten contract between the writer and reader.
      I think it’s illogical both ways. There’s a book. Buy it or don’t buy it. There’ll likely be another book at some point. Same choice. Easy, really.
      My best,
      Bryan Russell

  19. Y’know, the best metaphor I’ve figured for the querying process is dating. I used to try to compare it to job searching, but some friends balked at even the metaphorical implication that the agents were hiring the authors. Dating, however, is an interdependent attempt by two parties to see if they can come together to create a mutually-beneficial situation. Sounds like the author-agent relationship to me!
    With that in mind, expecting feedback from a query is like if, after a first date, you expect the other person to explain specifically why they are turning you down for a second date. In dating, the most explanation most people expect in such a situation is along the lines of “You’re just not right for me.” Hello there, form rejection letter.
    And I think the appropriate response to both situations is to shrug it off, get on with your life, and keep searching in the hopes you’ll find the right one for you.

  20. I’ve started addressing another/related aspect of this whole ‘entitlement’ issue when I teach creative writing.
    Because every so often (not too often thankfully) I come across someone who thinks attending a day/week/semester course by A Published Writer entitles them to the golden key/secret handshake/coded password that will guarantee them an agent/publication/megabucks.
    Like the one who sent a submission to an agent explaining they’d attended a day-course that I had run and so here was their complete manuscript because I had promised Agent In Question would take them on. How soon would they see the advance cheque?
    Agent In Question and I had the most passing acquaintance but thankfully that was sufficient for said agent to contact me on the basis of ‘what exactly was your interaction with this dummy? Obviously I’m assuming their version is skewed but I’d like to know all the details before I reply.’
    I am by no means the only writer who’s had this kind of experience.
    I also put a ‘no guarantees’ clause in all my handouts now, as recommended by my insurer – I have public liability insurance but no one offers writers professional indemnity insurance.
    Because there are recurrent cases of would-be writers trying to sue creative writing teachers because they’ve done the course but are still not published and raking in the megabucks to which they are clearly now entitled.

    • What a second… Are you saying there is no secret handshake and special password???? Then what did I just spend all that money on?
      Gosh darnit! I was sure I was getting into the authors’ version of the Illuminati!
      Actually, I know several people at work and at the businesses I frequent who, once they found out I was published, decided to offer me advice on getting published again or thought that I could tell them the “trick” to becoming the Next Great American Novelist.
      The truly sad part is they seem to be missing the whole “Finish your book” part of the equation. They just want to take their idea and get published without actually writing anything down. @sigh.

  21. A way around the frustration…
    of waiting around till your favorite author writes another book. I don’t even buy the first book until the series is complete (or close to it). I did this with Twilight, Artemis Fowl, 39 clues, and the Percy Jacson series. Much more fun that way. The only exception was Harry Potter…

    • Re: A way around the frustration…
      Y’know, that’s funny, because while waiting for HP books to come out, I kept thinking how lucky I was to be a part of the waiting and how it would suck to start the series after they were all out. But then I like the anticipation and wild theorizing that comes with waiting, so it’s probably just a personal thing.
      And I suppose with books that end on a more “To Be Continued…” note, knowing you can go right onto the next one would be nice. Whereas with something like the Dresden Files, about the same amount of time passes in book!time between books as actual time, so the wait even makes sense. (Also, Jim’s planning on a few dozen or so books in the series, so like hell I’m waiting 20 years to read them. *lol*)

  22. I suspect a lot of people aren’t going to like what I’m about to say, but I feel it needs to be said.
    With regard to feedback on queries, if you are sending out a lot of queries (and by a lot, I mean over 50), and you aren’t getting any feedback at all, then it may be time to scrap that project.
    Many, many agents DO provide feedback on queries if there is even the slightest hint of talent there. It may still be a rejection, but it tells you that you have potential. It may not be specific, but it’s personalized. It’s not a scrap of paper saying “No thanks.” And of course, a request for a partial or full is an even greater indication.
    If you are getting nothing beyond a form letter from 50+ queries sent, then that should say the project lacks potential and one needs to move on to the next project, take a writing class, and find a critique group. NO feedback IS feedback. If there is ANY glimmer, and you send to enough agents, some agents will speak to it. Some agents will request partials and fulls. Otherwise, there are likely too many things wrong with it for an agent to explain and be of any help, anyway. It is probably beyond fixing and one needs to start from scratch.

    • I believe Ms. Snark once suggested that an author query at least 100 agents. Then again, I believe she also said it was bad form to send queries to the agents in the same agency.
      Whatever the case, if you send out 50-60 queries and no one bites, then your query is probably lacking. If they’re rejecting you for partials and fulls, then it’s probably the story that’s lacking.

  23. re: feedback
    I don’t “expect” feedback, but I do wish for it. The reason is that when I/we get a Form Rejection, we can’t be sure what the problem was. I figure Agents can’t come right out and SAY that the quality of a query letter is second to the quality of the writing/project/story/etc. (other than maybe Nathan Bransford), as this would encourage diminished-quality query letters. But, when we do get Form Rejections, we don’t know what to improve to have a better chance next time.
    Again, you’re right in that you’re not working for us — you’re not a teacher being paid to grade our papers (query letters, projects, or otherwise). We just wish for feedback so we can know what we’re doing wrong.

    • Re: feedback
      But isn’t feedback available from lots of other sources?
      There is no “agent” degree that is a qualifier to be an agent. There’s no license that you have to pay for, or dues to pay, that I know of, to merely be an agent.
      The skill of sniffing out great writing from the flood of drek is very helpful to an agent, no doubt. But the difference between a wildly successful agent, and a wildly unsuccessful one, is not necessarily their ability to judge manuscripts — in the end, it’s their ability to sell books to a very small, insulated number of people.
      So any unbiased feedback by anyone who knows good writing, is almost as helpful as feedback directly from an agent. And there’s plenty of places to get that for free. You could try Query Shark, though it hasn’t updated in a while it IS run by an agent, I’m hoping the slow updated are because the agent is so busy selling her books! Or the Public Query Slushpile, or other writers that you know personally or meet online.

  24. Yesterday I agreed completely with everyone who said that feedback, though lovely, should not be expected, either to give or receive. But then I thought about the query itself and the project. Two different things. In a perfect—and less busy—world I would like to know whether the query worked in spite of the project, or the project worked in spite of the query. Or none of the above. Maybe a check box at the bottom of the e-mail…

  25. I suppose we’ll eventually get to the agents having agents, who get the e-mails of slush automatically sent first into THEIR inbox, to weed out those writers who have already queried 50 times, all the mass e-mailings, all the non-personalized mailings, and all the ones that are outside of the sphere that the agent wants to deal with.
    Of course, these people won’t be called “agent agents”. They’ll be called “slushdiggers”, or something else equally unflattering.

  26. “Which means those agents who personalize rejections, who are choosing to offer commentary to potential clients, who blog and discuss the industry, are going to extra effort beyond just selling books for the authors they have already agreed to represent. All that advice is free — and it’s not in their job description, and they don’t get paid for it. It’s R&D, and they have to decide how much they can afford to spend on it, both in time and resources.”
    And this is why I am so grateful for your blog! The “free advice” you share – and have shared – is priceless! Thank you for taking the time to do it! And if I ever get to the point of submitting, and EVER receive a personalized rejection, I now know to be very grateful…
    Thank you!

  27. To dream the impossible dream!
    Tolkien took over twenty five years to write “Lord of the Rings”.
    Imagine if that had been book one through to six. What a wait! I know, I know, they publish it in a trilogy or even in six books today. But originally it was only one.
    Writers and publishers don’t work that any anymore because it’s far more profitable to have sequels, especially if there is an avid fan base.
    What our “friend” (term used loosely) who wrote to (GRRM) doesn’t understand, is that regardless of what he wants, (GRRM) will ignore him and do what he ultimately wants anyway. More importantly, it doesn’t matter who you are, or even who you think you are, it doesn’t give you the right to speak to another person in such a manner. Until such people learn these important social skills, opening their mouths will always end up being a disadvantage to them.
    i.e Engage brain before opening mouth!

  28. Didn’t we all learn from Nathan’s Agent-for-a-day how hard personalized rejections are to do?
    I would never expect a personalized rejection, and I’d be astounded to receive one, given how hard it is to be honest and diplomatic. I struggled to be both during Nathan’s contest and it has given me much more realistic expectations. (Which was the point, after all.)
    That said, I have received detailed feedback from agents and editors, and have vacuumed up every crumb with much gratitude. Hopefully I have done those people kind enough to provide me with feedback the honor of accepting the criticism and going on to learn and write better for it.
    Vic K

  29. I think there’s a Rolling Stones song that is fitting.

  30. I have a pro and con response. I am one of the few who disagree about Martin. While I don’t think he owes his readers every waking hour, I do think dropping a very popular series to work on myriad other writing projects is disappointing. If I remember correctly, it’s been five years since the last book and two years past his own announced completion date, but there have been other projects that have completed. Anyway, this is not the point of the post and my opinion is in the great minority.
    As for the query. No. An agent owes a writer nothing until they are under contract. I think it’s even unbelievably arrogant to think an agent owes a querier a personal response. If you get a form response, that should be more than sufficient.
    One agent, can’t remember who she was, said she stopped replying at all because people wanted to use it as an opportunity to debate with her about the rejection.
    A form letter is appreciated so I at least know to move on. Anything more than that is manna from heaven.

  31. “Until an agent offers representation, the writer has no contract with them and therefore no claim on what they choose to offer.”
    For some it’s painful to read, but you’ve said it well.

  32. Agree
    Completely agree, Jennifer. Completely.
    However, turnabout is fair play.
    One thing that was on the blogs recently was an agent who spent two blog entries bemoaning the fact that a slush pile writer signed with another agent.
    She placed the blame on the writer, suggesting she only gave the agency six days and that she didn’t come back and tell the agency she had another offer until she accepted it.
    Several of us said that this is fair turnabout. Writers (for good reason) often hear nothing from the agent who is rejecting them. At least this writer in question took the time to write the agent she was rejecting. And still the agent was complaining.

  33. Replies to Query submission
    As long as there is either 1) some sort of reply (rejection or acceptance) to a query letter or 2) a regularly updated *accurate* non-reponse time as the equivalent of a rejection stated somewhere, then I’m satisfied.

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