Sunday, August 03, 2008

Load weapon, shoot foot

Ms. Reid ... thanks for your astonishingly quick response to my query re my novel "(redacted) "

I was disappointed, of course. But puzzled by your comment, "I1m (sic) sorry it1s (sic) not a match for my list."

Perhaps your entry in the 2008 edition of Novel and Short Story Writer's Market is different from that in the 2007 edition...which clearly stated, "Considers these fiction areas: Action/adventure; detective/police/crime; ethnic; experimental; literary; mainstream/contemporary; mystery/suspense; regional; thriller; young adult."

But if not...and I'm not be nastily critical here, only making a helpful suggestion...perhaps you should edit/update your list.

Also, and this IS a criticism of the publishing industry, it seems to me that literary agents have too much say in what gets published and what doesn't. I read some of the blogs on the site to which you referred me.. .and came away convinced that a literary agent's personal likes and dislikes shouldn't carry so much weight.

After all, literary agents are just people...and prone to make mistakes that people often make. I wonder how many possibly great novels never see the light of day because some literary agent somewhere wasn't impressed enough by a query, for example, to request a manuscript. Or having read one, decided that the world wouldn't be interested or intrigued enough to buy and read a particular novel or whatever.

Or vice versa...pushes a book that many, many readers are manipulated into buying, only to find that the novel is boring at best. Lord knows I've come across enough of them!

I admit, I don't have an answer as to how to improve the process. But I do know that it should be.

Hmmm. I could write a book about that. But then, what literary agent would recommend it to a publisher?

Have a nice day!

This was in response to the query he sent that reads in part:

Contradictory instructions!

"We do not accept e-mail enquiries." (2007 Novel & Short Story Writer's
Market) "How to Send Work / By email: / Query letter to:"

Confusing, but...

Novel: (redacted)
Length: Estimated 294 printed pages
Author: (name and snail mail address)

Synopsis: Action/adventure; detective/police/crime; mainstream;

Prologue: (redacted)

But, you'll see...if you 're interested enough to request a manuscript.


I understand that agent websites can be confusing, and that's frustrating. I understand that publishing seems to be run on personal taste. I STRONGLY encourage you to not mention that anywhere near a query letter.

For starters it has nothing to do with your book. For finishers, it sets my teeth on edge to be criticized by someone I don't know for a "mistake" that isn't. Two years ago when that guide was published I didn't take e-queries. I also wasn't with FinePrint (or even Imprint when the Guide was assembled--the listings are sent in in January of 06 for the 07 edition).

Also "not a match for my list" doesn't mean "it's not the right category." It means only that I am not going to ask for more. That's ALL it means. That's all it EVER means when ANY agent says it. It's not code for 'you suck'. It's not code for 'you queried me for something I don't represent.'

This guy could have sent in the next DaVinci Code and I probably would have said no because I really do not want to work with anyone who thinks this is a persuasive query letter.

Don't make the same mistake.

And just for reference here's the text of the form rejection:

Thank you for your query.
I’m sorry it’s not a match for my list.
I need to focus on the things I do best so I have to pass on many worthy projects.

Very best wishes finding just the right place for your work.

Janet Reid
FinePrint Literary Management

I have some posts about query pitfalls, and the world of agenting on my blog:


Margaret Yang said...

I'm scratching my head, trying to figure out how the author read all that into what was a perfectly good--even kind--form letter.

I've said it before. I love the form. I worship the form. It does the job efficiently and well. Yes, WELL, because once the agent has said "no," then what more do you need to know?

Please don't judge all writers on the basis of this newbie. Methinks he or she is a new writer who isn't really sure how it all works yet and is trying to figure it out (At least he/she is reading Writer's Market, that's a start). It's a painful learning process but given time and a few bumps, we all figure out, more or less, how things work and then our mistakes become fewer, and--I hope--we become less annoying.

Sprizouse said...

I think I can sympathize with this query. The manuscript I'm currently working on defies all designation save 'Total Awesomeness'.

I searched through Writer's Market for Agents who specifically represent 'Total Awesomeness' but found none.


Marian said...

Another case of "My letter was rejected, therefore the system is broken".

Annette Lyon said...

This was a total crack-up. These kinds of experiences have got to be a pain on your end, but they're delightfully entertaining--and since I'd never send letters like that, they're proof that I'm at least somewhere on the map of normal.

ilyakogan said...

The publishing industry is not unique - you talk to almost any expert in any field and a consumer of that field has a lot of advice. Sometimes it's valuable but most of the time it's utterly naive.

Jay said...

Prime the clue gun. The query was not even a query. And to point out the contradictory instructions? A quick google search or phone call could have answered that question. This day and age one should know that info out there can sometimes be obsolete.

Sending him to your blog for clues was kind of you. Too bad he didn't take the hint.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Re: agents choosing problems based on personal taste--

Yes, of course they do. But there are LOTS of literary agents, all with different tastes. If none of them like your book, that should tell you something.

It's still possible that some truly great books never see publication, but that could also be the fault of the author for not pitching it correctly, etc.

Bill Peschel said...

I hope the writer stops by and gains a little more insight into his errors.

I see this:

"Synopsis: Action/adventure; detective/police/crime; mainstream;

If I'm reading this correctly, he's confusing a synopsis with genre categories. And if his novel spans multiple categories, it'll probably end up unshelvable or unreadable.

Hmmm, a mainstream police procedural adventure mystery: "While investigating a death in a family that's hiding numerous personal secrets, Detective Indiana Jones races against time to uncover a device of great power that threatens the world that climaxes in a personal epiphany about good and evil."

That cover all the categories?

H. L. Dyer said...

Are we sure this author didn't recently lunch with Moonrat?

magdalune said...

Oh, please, get over yourself, author. Don't take form rejection personally, especially when your query wasn't a query at all. You have to sell yourself and your product just like everyone else out there. Get used to it.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Dear Janett,

In re: you're most recent rejection of one of my two-day novels. How could you after Paris? And what do you mean? Of course it fits in with what you represent.

Just re think your objection. Any novel about a Goat Detective, old, hardbitten, heart of gold, and his literary agent sister will sell like ... well goat cheese!

If you think that basket of dried oak leaf makes up for this, you're wrong.

So, how about a trip to the petting zoo next tuesday?

Best regards,

Bill E. Goat

Arkansas Cyndi said...

Could this author be more query letter challenged?

And an agent for "Total Awesomeness"? I need that agent too, so please let us know if you find her/him.

Thanks for sharing. Very educational. I wonder if the author will realize what he's done wrong.

JES said...

Oh Lord. It is to wince.

And I don't mean that unkindly: in the query (and response to the form reply), I'm seeing an author who really isn't that bad a writer (except for those dang curly apostrophes), hasn't done a lot more than pro-forma research, is painfully oblivious to his effect on readers, is shy and insecure, but determined to at least try charming them nonetheless (despite the contradiction: you can't charm anybody if you're oblivious to your effect on him/her).

In short, I'm seeing myself circa 1991 or so, and wondering how I made it this far with any self-respect at all still clinging to my bleached bones.

Just_Me said...

I don't know whether to laugh (my first reaction) or wince and thank all the lucky stars of young authors that I didn't make the same mistake before querying my first ever novel (currently collecting dust while I finish other projects because it scares me).

So many people write, but not as many are aware of what goes on behind the scenes. It takes some research and patience to sort through all the advice and learn how to edit, write a query, polish a manuscript, submit in various forms, and deal with an agent.

For those hiding in basements sweating blood over their first-ever thriller novel it's a big scary world.

Author: I hope you get a chance to read this... Find a writing group. Try or Sisters in Crime or any of the other writing groups available and let them help you figure the details out. It'll be worth the extra effort and patience in the long run.

Janet: Kudos on your patience and professionalisim. May you find something better in the slush pile on Monday.

Mags said...

Dear Mr. Reid:

I have written a book. Please request my full manuscript and then offer me representation, or I shall reprimand you in a rambling email and post your reply on my blog.

I have twelve readers, Mr. Reid. They each have twelve readers of their own. The disruption to your professional life could be far reaching.

It's a book about things that happen. You're going to love it.

I look forward to hearing from you very soon.



Chumplet said...

Offering a link to a helpful blog (yours) probably got this writer's back up. He or she is probably not ready for great advice.

Southern Writer said...

just_me said ...

Author: I hope you get a chance to read this... Find a writing group. Try or Sisters in Crime or any of the other writing groups available and let them help you figure the details out. It'll be worth the extra effort and patience in the long run.

Oh, no. Not the dreaded critique group! This nitwit is already confused. If you throw him to the wolves (all of whom, like agents, have varying opinions), he never will figure it out. I hate critique circles. They're nothing more than the blind leading the blind. They will kill a fresh new voice faster than you can aim a clue gun. Not that this guy has a fresh new voice, but you know what I mean. I would suggest he take some writing courses at his local university, read all the agent's blogs daily, read A LOT of books in his preferred genre, and when his manuscript has been polished to where he can see his face in it, present it to five beta readers. If three out of five agree that one thing or another doesn't work, fix it. Then query widely.

Scott MacHaffie said...

Hmmm, write a query to show the best side of my book, or write a query to end up on an agent's blog....decisions, decisions.

pseudosu said...

As far as agents making decisions based on personal taste goes...
They're trying to sell your book (if they take you on). I really wouldn't want someone rep-ing me whose level of enthusiasm was along the lines of, "Well, someone is bound to nibble at this dog. What the heck."

We, as writers, we all want the validation of our work acceptance may indicate, and as people everyone wants to be liked.

This is just the process and you're going to come through it more intact if you can avoid taking it personally and just fire off another (better) query.

austexgrl said...

This is obviously his first query...

Soon he will discover that many agents aren't near as nice as Ms. Reid, many simply do not answer, and many do not offer blogs "chok-ful" of tidbits of very good advice concerning writing, publishing, query letters, etc....

but fear not, these things he will learn...then he will humbly come running back.

Just think what would have happened if he had sent this to Miss Snark?? The yap-dog alone would have killed him.

Chumplet said...

The members of my critique group don't try to rewrite my book or squash my voice. There are good ones out there!

Karen K. Kennedy said...

I have to agree with chumplet about critique groups. The women in mine are professional, supportive, helpful, smart and hard to please. They not only helped me polish my mystery without losing my voice, they honed my query letter so that the responses it received were positive.

Maybe critique groups don't work for everyone, and all groups aren't created equal, but don't discount them completely because of one bad experience.

PS: Sisters in Crime is a great place to find not only a critique group (all of the people in my group are members or former members), but to learn a lot about writing, including the business side of it.

clindsay said...

Yikes. In the words of the immortal Bugs Bunny "What a maroooon!"

Peg McGuire said...

If you have to deal with this day in and day out, then you're not getting paid enough.

Please give yourself a raise.

-- Peg

benwah said...

Janet, your entry title reminds me of a crochety old surgeon who, when frustrated with a case, would hold his hand out to the scrub tech and growl, "Sterile pistol, loaded."

I'm amazed that the author got his/her hackles up so far over a form rejection.

freddie said...

I have twelve readers, Mr. Reid. They each have twelve readers of their own. The disruption to your professional life could be far reaching.

This gave me a much-needed laugh out loud. I wonder if there are writers who actually threaten agents this way. And I love how you got the sex "wrong," there.

freddie said...

Oops. I mean gender. *blushes*

The Anti-Wife said...

"After all, literary agents are just people..."

His first mistake.

walkie-talkie said...

I woke up this morning and thought I was an idiot.


I feel so much better now.

dude, use some of that passion for good and not for telling the whole industry you are a douche.

April said...

Wow. I completely understand your frustration not only in the fact that this writer didn't follow instructions but in his response to your rejection. Though it's easier said than done, writer's do have to be prepared for rejection. It's a part of the process. And though my day job is administrative, I deal with people that don't do their jobs on a daily basis. In your example, the writer's job was simple - to send a query following the instructions. And the writer really needs to learn to accept rejections. I have about 30 under my belt so far! 30 closer to a "yes!"

walkie-talkie said...

no you didn't!

Tell Paris I said hello.

Cathy in AK said...

Yet another example of why some agents state they won't respond if the answer to your query is a "No thanks." You can't blame them if this is the kind of stuff they get in return. The problem is, those of us who do it right end up not knowing if the lack of a response is a no or if things got lost somewhere.