Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Saturday, April 18, 2009

If you want to tell me the system is broken, ok, but...

If you want to persuade me that the agent/query letter form is broken, I'll listen. I'm usually up for a good rousing discussion of why I represent evil incarnate. There's one immutable requirement: you have to get the facts right.

There's a long comment under my recent link to Mary's long screed about how agents are conspiring against literary fiction.

Here's the text of it:

Yeah I have to actually be the one person that will disagree with the cadre of devoted fans commenting.

(*I'll be brief. Probably not, but one can only hope.*)

Basically explaining a book through a query letter in ten words or less is not only moronic, but also incredibly demeaning to the writers submitting.

I'm not sure where you got the ten words or less reference. A query letter is one page of 250-300 words (and often longer). Even if much of that page includes material not about the book in question, it's not ten words.

And I don't agree with your position that being able to hook your reader with a brief description is moronic or demeaning. I think it's actually an incredibly difficult art form, much like haiku. To do it well, you must think and write on several levels and use language like a rapier.

If you think that's demeaning, that's YOUR take on it, not mine. I have enormous respect for people who can write good query letters. Even if I don't take their projects.

I can appreciate that agents need to make a living selling scripts, but also the submitting process needs to be updated. There needs to be a way that people can submit their work without having to jump through seventy hoops just to send five pages of print. (To an intern no less...) Is this really that difficult of a proposition? I submit that it is not.

I don't sell scripts. I sell manuscripts. There's a difference. A very big difference. If you don't know what it is, ask me and I'll explain it.

I'm not sure why sending an email is considered 70 hoops. You write the email, you send the email. That's two. I read the email, I reply.

I think that's pretty straightforward.

Interns don't read my queries. Not now, not ever.

She did make some valid points, but at the same time the publishing houses do need some filtering process. (*Thus agents become the liver of this dysfunctional family of organs.*) 
Now the quality of literary agents
(* Obligatory disclaimer: I don't know Janet personally, I'm sure she is marvelous, this is a biting satirical generalization aimed at provoking change or at least a brief thought to contrast the current wave of enthusiastic boos.*)
could be improved by having education requirements for lit. agents similar to real estate agents. That way there'd be some level of consistency as to standards and practices. (*Note the AAR doesn't count because it is voluntary...there's no bite. If one were to mess up in real estate practice they might even end up in jail. That's what I'm referring to when I mean 'standards.' I was a real estate agent for a year or two. The regs are vicious if one were to make even a slight infraction.*

I'm not even sure what you mean by quality of literary agents? People who understand contracts? People who know how to sell? People who know how to edit? People who have fewer than 70 hoops?

Do you want literary agents to be licensed? What do you test for? How fast someone responds to queries? Whether they like The DaVinci Code?

This isn't real estate. You can't say a book is worth two cents a page cause it's written by someone in Topeka, Kansas, or because it's genre fiction like you can say real estate is worth ten dollars a square inch cause it's on 35th Street in New York. Books aren't acreage. Even when they're in the warehouse.

How do you test for negotiation skill? For the ability to foresee problems and solve them? For giving pep talks to writers who've gotten unfair rejections? How do you test for the ability to see a story in a jumble of notes, shaking hands and a writer who's so nervous she's ready to throw up? How do you test for the ability to stay cool at the right time, and get hot under the collar at the right time?

All those things are my job. You figure how to test for that, and we'll talk. Until then, I have to disagree that licensing agents will do anything but create a new way for scammers to say they're legit.

Also agents ought to have a little more grace with the writers (*not to mention surly bloggers...) submitting. (*unless the writer is being completely unreasonable.*) It is important to note, no money would be coming in without the dreaded 'slush pile.' (Even if one does have a 'stable' of amazing authors, they received those authors at some point through submission.)

Agents are not bad people as a whole and I'm not trying to say 'all are bad and without merit.' I am saying that as a group agents can do better. The practices agents use can be updated especially with such improvements in technology. (*Example e-books and illustrated works will be eating up more of the publishing pie.*)

A little more grace than what? Than a form response? Than a personalized rejection? Than a chorus of "If I'd'a Known You Were Coming, I'd'a Baked a Cake?"

If by this you mean responding to all incoming queries, I agree with you.

If by this you mean personalized rejections, I don't.

Yes this is the point where I'm going to be crucified for the sin of speaking against the masses. One would hope my position would be attacked as opposed to my integrity, but given my experience on blogger as a whole I know that's not the case. Be fair or at least 'try' to be fair.

I'm not sure why you think I'm attacking your integrity. I'm not. I think your position is wrong. I don't have a clue who you are. All I know about you is that you write verbose blog posts and think I don't do my job well.
I'm trying my 'kinder and gentler' approach, because there have been claims that I'm abrasive and that people are taking my comments personally. This is the best I can muster. Seriously. Honest to God. No hard feelings. I just happen to disagree. This doesn't say anything about my ability to write or me as an individual. I'm just saying at least 'consider' the opposing argument, otherwise one will never evolve.

It says a lot about your writing. That's my point.

Yeah... that wasn't brief, perhaps won't even be printed and probably filled with typos but oh well.

You're wrong again. I even fixed the spelling errors because I don't want the commentariat to dwell on those instead of what you're saying. Don't feel you need to apologize. I'm too busy figuring out new ways to humiliate writers to listen to what people say to me.Delete


emeraldcite said...

There are fewer hoops now than there used to be. Before email, everything went snail mail. Now, many agents respond in a fairly reasonable amount of time.

On the downside, more junk shows up in the inbox. If you're not sure of the junk, go read through Nathan Bransford's Be an Agent for a Day thing and see what it looks like.

And just imagine it gets worse.

I like the accessibility of agents these days. I like the posts and discussions. I learned more from reading agent blogs than I ever could through simple trial and error.

There are many broken things about publishing, but you can't blame agents for selling what publishers want to buy.

If you want to change it, change it from the top down. Start with readers and what they want. If you can change my mind, I'll buy something else.

It's just not accessibility. If I want a certain kind of book, I can find it out there on lulu, authorshouse, Publish America, for free on the web, etc.

But, I like a lot of what comes out of the big publishers because they sift through everything and pull out the gems.

Vicki Lane said...

You are so very right on! Your blog is a daily must-read for me -- even though I'm represented and happily under contract, I do so enjoy your take on the wild world of publishing.

Thanks for blogging!

Julie Weathers said...

Janet, I had the pleasure of dealing with CNU on my blog. I will predict the future with my handy dandy scrying cup of coffee.

CNUs posts will continue to be long, verbose and decry the fairness of publishing.

Even when you present intelligent discourse, he will keep the blinders on and stay on the same tired treadmill.

He can't be bothered to follow a few simple instructions because people like him and MW are special little snowflakes gifted with talent the normal world doesn't understand. Therefore, they are exempted from following the guidelines everyone else follows.

And, when all else fails, he will cry on his blog about people attacking him and his writing personally.

Michelle said...

I commented on that horrible initial post, but I'm tired of giving the whiners credit by responding to them.

The only thing they need to hear: Suck it up and get to work.

graywave said...

Janet, You probably want to step away from this kind of post and stay above it, rather than respond. You are one of the most sensible and honest agents blogging at the moment and you have a huge following of people like me, who sincerely appreciate your efforts and the quality of your advice.

Try not to let this kind of attack get to you. It's bound to happen now and then. It's a jungle out there. We wouldn't want you to get all bitter and disillusioned about what you're doing. We need you to keep doing your thing.

Sara J. Henry said...

Gotta tell your "dissenter" that I have queried one (1) agent with my first query for my first novel, a top agent with some very big sales, who responded to my emailed query in 53 minutes flat with a request for a partial, responded to my partial in 2 days with an excellent critique and asking to see it again if I chose to make changes - how is this a broken system?

laughingwolf said...

dunno why you waste your time on them janet...

publishing is a business, businesses come with rules [duh]

you can't follow rules, you're outta the game, any game, business or otherwise....

CNU said...

Thanks for the Crucifixion. Was it everything you thought it'd be? I hope you feel satisfied. Thanks for proving my point. I had several arguments which were glossed over, I'm not going to even bother stating what they were. I responded on the other blog post. I responded on Walter's post. I'm not going to bother with this one. Anyone can see I'm being singled out for sport. Unreal.

Mohandas K. Gandhi:
Non-cooperation is a measure of discipline and sacrifice, and it demands respect for the opposite views.

Is that clear enough?


T. Anne said...

I'm not sure why the author chose to rant so wildly over literary agents, for the lack of literary lovin' she feels the genre is getting. First literary agents are subjective and if the ten or fifty she queried didn't like it perhaps she didn't cast a wide enough net. Why expend the energy on such a foolish rant and burn bridges in the process? Why not find a smaller press and invest in her own advertising by hiring a book publicist? BTW, I read and write literary fiction. Calling your work literary is a bit daring because the value of that as well, is subjective to the reader.

Ben said...

I'm always suspicious when people claim that "the system is broken." It's not because I think they're wrong--most systems are broken, or at least inefficient. Take democracy for example--terribly inefficient method of government; we just haven't happened to find anything that works better yet. When it comes to the publishing, writers are far too biased to be the ones calling the system's integrity into question. Very few writers have had the chance to experience the headaches that no doubt accompany a literary agent's work.

Any time I'm tempted to think that literary agents should be "nicer" or "more" friendly, I recall that I've never been a literary agent. I've never had to deal with the clamour of hundreds of email queries from prospective new clients, all wanting a response. In fact, I'm glad I'm on the other side here, toiling away at my manuscript to make it just that much better.

I'm sure that the system can be improved. I'm sure that those improvements aren't going to come from people like me and (presumably) the commenter you have quoted in your post. The improvements will come from literary agents and publishers. And that's why, as paradoxical as it may seem, this recession will have positive results too. The literary agents and publishers who manage to adapt and adopt innovative strategies will be the ones who meet with more success. This, in turn, will benefit writers as well.

In the meantime, I'm going to keep on writing. Because I don't yet have something worthy of being described in a query letter, unfortunately, and until I do, I can't even bask in the dim hope offered by an official rejection.

Until then!

Dave said...

Wow. I only understand the publishing industry via writer's and agent blogs like this one. I comment with great trepidation and much trembling. None of this is aimed at you personally, but at the "collective."

The entire process of approaching an agent is intimidating and overwhelming, and this coming from someone who has slugged it out in competitive business and personal life. I love a challenge and invite the hard knocks. Here are the things that are ridiculous (as I see it) with the current system:

1) We hear two contradictory things:
a) Submit things that are similar to other works I've represented. Mention those works in your query and how your novel shares traits with them.
b) Don't query me about novels that are similar in subject matter to something I already represent.

Obviously, either of these preferences are fine, but the resources we use to research agents don't specify which it is. It's a crap shoot. We often don't find out until we're rejected that mentioning the similarity between our work and your previous acquisitions is a turn off. Or that we should have mentioned it. We don't know what to mention and it's nerve wracking because we only get one shot.

2) We hate query letters. If our plot is multi-layered and complex, we have to dumb it down to fit onto a single page. It typically comes off like a lame re-hash of the Hero's Journey because we're desperate to communicate that the plot is coherent. We get rejected because it sounds derivative. But there's no room to explain all the cool things are are different and unique about it.

Conversely, it seem that if we only concentrate on what makes it different, we have to forgo much of the plot exposition. We get rejected because it doesn't sound coherent.

We're caught in the middle. Judging a novel by a query letter is like judging an entire album by a single 30 second song snippet on Amazon. Can you imagine trying to get a grasp of Sgt. Peppers or A Night at the Opera from 30 seconds of Strawberry Fields or the Bohemian Rhapsody? (I admit that anything I've written pales greatly in comparison to the Beatles or Queen.)

I have no solution. Agents can't read every ms submission in its entirely. I honestly do think that because most agents have been at it for so long, they make snap judgments based on a few lines of query, even when the writing is good. I'm in no position to say that's unfair, but it often feels like we're interrupted in the middle of a thought...

All that said, it is the way it is, and yeah, we need to quit whining and get back to work. Thanks for listening.

nightsmusic said...

My eyes crossed by the end of the third paragraph on that post and I had to stop reading. I did read a comment or two and I also tried to read a bit of her 'excerpt'. If that's what she actually tried to sell, I can see why she hasn't yet. Her ms needs work. A lot.

And that's what all of this business takes. WORK *gasp* such a horrible four letter word to those who feel entitled to publish while sidestepping the submission guidelines all agents list.

I just don't get the part where someone must have changed the 'rules' to say, anyone who put words to a page are automatically awarded a free pass to publish without knowing how to write.

I'm not all that concerned how this sounds. Quit whining, find out what you're doing wrong and learn how to correct it. If you're not willing to do that, you're in the wrong business!

Kristin Laughtin said...

Hmm...a lot of what I'm seeing in this post is declaring that the system needs to change, but not giving enough examples how (or citing things that aren't necessarily true, like that interns are reading your queries...and didn't the big post that started this the other day suggest that editors use interns to weed through direct submissions?). I can understand where the commenter was coming from in suggesting that literary agents be "educated", but I'm not sure how this could be implemented. Testing for taste is subjective, and testing the history of a certain genre seems a bit pointless. I'm not sure what else there is to test? (Even if skills such as negotiation were to be tested...who declares whether someone passes or fails?)

The part about agents needing to have more grace with writers has been said before, especially in all the recent discussions about whether to send form rejections or auto-responses, responding in an appropriate time frame to requested materials, etc. But I think this is something that only applies to certain agents rather than agents as a whole, and it seems like a few of them recently have realized where they need to improve.

I'm not sure why the commenter views this as a crucifixion or an attack on integrity. The way the post goes on about trying a kinder approach, etc., etc., makes it seem like the commenter is coming in with a martyr complex. And the thing is, if you think you're being persecuted already, you're going to perceive any disagreements as further attacks.

I read the original post and this comment, and I considered them in depth. I still disagree with large parts. I'm sorry if the commenter thinks I think less of them as an individual as a result. I don't. I have no opinion on their individual personhood.

To Sara J. Henry--WOW. Congrats!

Gayle Carline said...

Wowser. Being a non-literary, genre fiction writer, I guess I can't feel any of the angst the author describes, trying to get through the solid wall of agents blocking her view of the publishers. I didn't read her excerpt, mostly because the post was so long I lost the will to care about what she was so irate about.

It's a bit of a shame that such poor blog writing garners so much attention/debate. She needs to be visited by the Brevity Fairy, soon.

Gayle Carline

Max McMillian said...

So the blue writing is Janet?

Anyway, this is good blog reading for sure. Nothing boring on this side of town. No Sir.

I think the query process is good. I mean, if you are a real estate agent -- you have to know what kind of house you are selling. It's the same think. To not have queries as part of the process would be like a real estate agent being asked to sell a house in Japan when they live in LA, and without even getting to see the house. It is silly. Just plain gumballs.

This is how it is for now. But I think in the future, things might be really different. I think places like might do alot more than just do what they do now.

The drive will be money of course. But if places like authonomy can start making money, by gaining say %5 of a sale. Then things might chance really fast. They might have online bidding, their own editors who edit the top 10 MS listed. They might have their own agents.

Who knows, maybe a bunch of agents might get together one day and do this themselves -- build a website where the queries/manuscripts are accessed by the people. God knows, Janet has already 800+ readers. I bet if you combined a few of these rockstar agents, you would have thousands of voters and readers. And more joining up all the time.

Jen C said...

Take democracy for example--terribly inefficient method of government; we just haven't happened to find anything that works better yet.

Benevolent Dictatorship.

Julie Weathers said...

Thanks for the Crucifixion. Was it everything you thought it'd be? I hope you feel satisfied.--

Wait, wait. What happened to life is too short to be singled out like this. Goodbye.

What really irritates me about your rants is you had someone who had connections and was looking for someone with your skills, but your attitude turned them completely off.

They didn't want to work with someone who was so vitriolic about following rules and so rude.

You think this is being crucified? Even in your martyrdom you are self-aggrandizing.

I'm sorry you're so bitter the query process didn't work for you. It works for a lot of people who realize this is the current system and work within the guidelines instead of ranting about how everyone hates them and life is so unfair.

Was it good for me? Not really. I prefer a little more stamina.

Weronika said...

I can't imagine publishing being any other way. Though I'm sure a small group of writers have never found the agent right for them, it degrades the publishing business to make it easier for the writer. I wasn't able to wrap my mind around the expectations of the blogger. Those who want it and those who can do it will get it.

Thanks for taking the time to blog, Janet. You have become a must-read blogger for me!

acpaul said...

The entitlement generation strikes again?

A friend of mine who teaches second semester nursing students told me that she has actually had students tell her that they should get an A without doing any of the work because they paid for the class.

This is the same thing. These type of people feel like they are doing you, the agent, a great favor by querying you, and when you don't respond with the appropriate amount of gratitude and a contract, the fault must be yours. When several agents fail them, the system is broken.

Yes, writing queries is very hard. It's hard to condense a multi-layered, densely plotted book into a page or less. But the system is what it is, and very few people are exempt from having to play by the rules.

I, personally, thank each and every one of the agents who take the time to blog. Because of people like Janet, Nathan, and Colleen, I have some idea of how to approach an agent, how to write a query, and how not to sound like a jerk when I do.

Complaining that the system is broken and unfair to the very people who are trying to help the aspiring author succeed in this business seems counterproductive and wrong. Acknowledging such behavior, and trying to have a rational discussion about it, as Janet has just done, is above and beyond the call of duty. No one should have to put up with behavior like this.

Here's a wake up call: You aren't actually entitled to anything at all, excepting those rights guaranteed you in the constitution and the bill of rights.

Or, to quote Heinlein: TANSTAAFL

Just_Me said...


Good queries aren't like that. And they can be written well. It takes time to write a good query letter, and it usually takes a couple of friends helping you edit the query just like we all hope you have friends helping to edit your novel before you query.

If you don't know anyone who can edit a query, or your book, try


General comment: If you are getting a string of rejections go find a good writing group to help you edit both novel and query. Most writers who follow the industry blogs have a group of some kind, online or not, informal or not. If you haven't found one, go ask around.

I can't help but think we'd see fewer rants and raves like this if people would just edit before they queried!

Steve Stubbs said...

Janet: "I even fixed the spelling errors because I don't want the commentariat to dwell on those instead of what you're saying."

I missed something. Did Christian actually SAY anything? It must have been something he posted to the Weathers blog. I noticed she was complaining about him.

He did imply one thing: Mary W.W. is not unique. I am still trying to figure out if that is good or not.

Janet: "I'm too busy figuring out new ways to humiliate writers to listen to what people say to me."

I like that. You've got your priorities straight. You go, girl.

BTW, your list of sales is very impressive. Apparently there is no publishing downturn going on at Fine Print Literary.

freddie said...

Rejection is a part of life, but it's painful to see people court it so readily. And I say that with no snark, because there was a time when I was one of those people. (Different business, though.)

I hope MW finds herself in a better mindset soon, as I hope do all of the writers who feel they've been cheated by agents. It's sad to to see her railing against the people who are really often the only people on the writer's side in this crazy business.

A.L. Davroe said...

I think all of us can agree that writing a book is hard work, but the buck doesn't stop there. After your book comes the query, which is sometimes harder than writing the darn book. Even if you do get published, you are going to have to help sell that book.

No one is going to do the work for you. Books are things you have to nurture. If you care enough about your book then you have to have enough patience and perseverance to make it a reality. If you don't have the patience and perseverance to just make it through the query process then what makes you think you can handle an editor telling you to make drastic changes to your book? are you going to market your book?

Eric said...

I will be succinct where this person was not. He/she is missing the point. If you can write well, the right person will notice and your book will get published. End of story. If its not the first agent you try, there's probably a good reason for that. The agent who recognizes your ability and wants to help it shine will be the one who helps you get published. Everything else said is just ignorant rantings from someone who hasn't thought it through. Just an opinion (uninformed as it is).

Julie Weathers said...

It must have been something he posted to the Weathers blog. I noticed she was complaining about him.--

Even if he hadn't, which he did, I have little patience for the attitudes of CNU and MW. Seriously everyone isn't out to get them. Most of us are far too self-absorbed with writing our own books to spend out days trying to make some innocent writers miserable.

The woe is me bit gets old, especially from a grown man.

morphine-moniza said...

In a way query letters function like blurbs. Queries try to create some interest in agents just like blurbs try to attract readers. Books are always going to depend on a summary of their contents in order to be picked up and read. It makes sense to me.

Also I just wanted to say that I'm really glad the query system exists. It gives me some modicum of hope that (if I keep at it) I might get published one day, even though I don't live in new york, know anyone in the industry, or have any easy access to conferences and whatnots.

I think it would be just plain inconvenient to send out my full manuscript to every single agent I query, and would be ridiculously exorbitant if I were sending out hardcopies. The query system is just more efficient.

Besides, there ARE some systems in place to check unethical agents. At the very least they can get sued for it.

freddie said...

Quit whining, find out what you're doing wrong and learn how to correct it.Yep. That's what it boils down to.

jjdebenedictis said...

CNU, if you paint yourself as a victim, then the corollary (in your own mind) is that there's nothing you can do to make things better.

However, if you take responsibility for your own failures, then the corollary is you can fix the problem. You aren't powerless.

As one writer to another, I ask you to please give up feeling persecuted. It only stalls you in your career.

If you want evidence of how fruitless it is to decide you're being victimized, please ask yourself how much you accomplished her. Did publishing change after you posted your comment?

Horserider said...

The ten words or less thing might have come from the one sentence hook that some people put at the very beginning of a query.

A brief paragraph CAN and DOES hook readers every day. The back blurb on a book is the first thing I look at (after the title) when I'm in the bookstore or library. It tells me what the book is about and whether or not I want to read it.

I commented on the post too. Complainers need to suck it up and go back to writing. If you don't write, you are never going to get published.

Marilyn said...

All I can say is WOW. What a way to make a name for yourself! I am actually softening my views on the agenting process.

I wouldn't call this a harsh response at all. You simply stated your case to someone who refused to apply your advice.

This author needs to realize that many authors suffer rejection....some over and over again. Jack Cansfield was rejected over 140 date he has sold over 144 MILLION copies of his books.

So, you can either chose to keep working at it...or give up and complain. I seriously wouldn't want to waste any energy complaining...

Mystery Robin said...


I'm speaking directly to the commentors from the last blog entry. I sincerly hope Janet is enjoying a little scotch in her coffee this Sunday morning and staying far, far from the comment trail.

If you can't use the language well, you'll never get past form reject. Those comments are written like people reaching for greatness, without doing the work. You're using words you don't understand, in ways that don't work, for an effect that's out of your grasp.

I'd be nicer about it, but those comments were mean, uncalled for, and off base. Stop reading blogs, go read some great literature, join a crit group, and get back at it. And be, freaking, nicer to the people who are trying to actually help you, like blogging agents.

sonja said...

After reading 50 queries in one day (on Nathan's blog) I'm much more appreciative of the three 'no thank-you' letters I've recieved from agents. And I only read those queries-- no responding. Can't imagine having to write back to each one.

I don't think being a lit agent is any easier than being a writer.

Laura said...

I don't want to sound like I'm kissing up or being a cheerleader, but darn it-- Well done, Janet.

Just know that the vast majority of writers get it. We know it's a business, and we're delighted someone like you takes the time to critique queries and blog about the publishing life.

Thank you, Janet. Please don't quit what you're doing because of a few misguided and ungrateful folks.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Dangit. I'm famous for typos, but even I couldn't stand the first version of this post ... here we go again!

If you don't like agents ... or, more correctly, if you don't like the idea of having an agent, don't seek representation. There are many publishers who take direct submissions.

Why make your distaste of a practice personal? And why go off with the hammer partially pulled but the trigger not set (ie: half-cocked). --You gotta love our language! --

If you submit directly to an editor, you must still sell your book. Every skill you must use to convince an agent you're the greatest writer since Gilgamish put stylus to clay, you must use to convince an editor to read your submission.

Are there bad agents. Yes. Bad writers too, and that in both senses. (As does Santa, I keep a list. And know what? It's very, very small. Four. Four names.)

I owe publication to agents who never represented me. They encouraged me. They wrote helpful comments and good advice. For me, this out weighs the bad experiences.

And though we're talking about agents, I should add to my list of do-gooders two people at Baen, an editor and a reader, an editor/publisher at a small press, and my grandma. Also a guy at Harlequin. Oh, and the goat to whom I pour out my troubles.

Ranting won't fix a system you see as broken. The alternative is direct submission to those publishers who take unagented submissions ... Send a query letter with synopsis along with your pages ... just as you would to an agent ... AM I GETTING THROUGH HERE?

Elissa M said...

A lot of writers are frustrated when they receive nothing but rejections from agents. What some don't seem to grasp is that the reading public is far more harsh than agents.

If these "special snowflakes" (love the term, Ms. Weathers) get their work on bookstore shelves and no one buys it, who will they blame? The publisher for not promoting it enough? The bookseller for not leaving it on the shelf for six months (or longer)?

One thing is certain, nothing wrong in a snowflake's life is EVER its own fault.

BuffySquirrel said...

*suggests writers should be licensed before they're allowed to query*

*dons flak jacket*

melissablue13 said...

Okay, I give up. I'm going to go read that dang post. I've been avoiding it like the plague.

cawbaw said...

"Special Snowflakes" - brilliant.
And to follow up on what Elissa M posted, once a bookseller goes for central distribution rather than individual in-store buying, the "special snowflakes" may only have three months to make an impact. I know we've got to return books at the three month point now, where we used to be able to keep them around for 10-11 months (if we liked them and were confident of hand-selling them). Individual booksellers have little say these days, it's all about the buying team. So, snowflake's book has to be worthy of consideration for pub by pub house who also have to bear in mind the buying tastes of an increasingly small number of people. That's why things have gotten so tough.
I think the whole market is making an agent's job terribly hard of late. If a writer can't see that then they need to stop acting the ostrich and face up to market realities.
But some like to be ostriches, and martyrs, and the web ensures they will have a platform for their ravings. There's no talking sense to people like CNU and MWW, from what I've seen they keep shifting position so that they get to feel constantly under attack.
So Janet, no worries on the harsh front, you could have been a lot more forthright than you were, even an extremely mild post would have prompted the "crucifixion" response.

jimnduncan said...

I'm not sure why so many folks think the query system is fucked up. It may not be great but it does get the job done. You send in a letter about your book, the agent decides if they like it or not, and either requests more or declines. Sometimes you can send pages along with, sometimes not. Not complicated, not '70 hoops.'

One can bitch about having to explain an entire novel in a couple hundred words, but honestly, you HAVE to be able to do this. You can't walk around with the first fifty pages and read to everyone you want to convince to read your story. You can't expect others to read pages either. If you can't give the essence of your story in a couple hundred words, then odds are something is wrong with the story.

Agents and editors can't read pages from every potentially interesting story that comes along. Not enough time in the day for that, even for speed readers. Your query is competing with the 50 or more queries that land in the agent's inbox each day. You just can't have the "If they just read the pages they'll see," attitude. You're a salesman pitching a product, albeit an artistic one, but still.

The notion that lit agents should have standards like other industries, is baffling. How do you standardize such a subjective industry? In my exploration of agents, I've found that most have either: a degree in a related field, or come from years of experience in publishing. Sure there are those that don't, and one can certainly question their validity as an agent, and perhaps rightly so, but being a diligent author, i.e. researching an agent, can help eliminate those potentially 'bad' agents from the query list. Most agents, from what I've seen, are pretty damn knowledgeable and professional about their job. If the complaint is more in the category of practices, such as all agents must respond to queries in a timely manner, well good luck with that. Besides, agents know full well that word gets around if they are slow to respond or callous in their response. It's in their best interests not to do that, and most care enough about their jobs to act professionally. Most of this is because of one thing.

They're in this business because they love books. They love nothing more than to get good literature out on the shelves for people to read.

It's also a business, which it seems many writers tend to forget. Publishers have to make money. They have to believe the book will sell. That involves more than just great writing. I know from interviews I've read that many editors and publishers would love to (and do on occasion)nurture new authors they think deserve and can build an audience. Fact is, they can't afford to do that very often, even if they divert money from celebrity advances to the cause.

Most agents are doing the best they can to find good, marketable books. The system actually accomplishes this, though maybe not the extent some would like. If anything, the system is overwhelmed on the front end. The slush piles are enormous these days. If writers understood just how overwhelming it is to cull the slush for good writing that is marketable, they would (and should) be prefectly fine with a simple 'no thanks,' and even (yes, I know Janet disagrees with this, but I'm all for it) 'no reply means no.'

Write a good book. Write a good query. If it's marketable, someone will notice. If not, write another book and try again. The process is not hard per se, it's just frustrating and time-consuming, but if you can't deal with that, don't try to sell your work. Most agents out there are working just as hard (harder in my opinion) to get good books out on the shelves. Bashing agents is just the wrong place to be focusing attention.

Ok, long rant over.

Anonymous1 said...

I'm trying my 'kinder and gentler' approach... I'm just saying at least 'consider' the opposing argument, otherwise one will never evolve.

This person might want to google: The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks