Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Stealing blithely from the blog posts of others

I was merrily tripping through the interwebs this morning and came across Jennifer Jackson's (as always) useful blog. (Well, came across implies I don't have it ensconced on my google reader: you bet I do!)

Jennifer has a post up about her query stats, but is also looking at revising her submission guidelines to be more helpful. I'm always willing to steal a good idea so I've blithely lifted her final paragraph, and posted it here.

(1) What is most helpful to you in submission guidelines?
(2) What is least?
(3) What questions about queries can be addressed in guidelines without making the specifics overly complicated?

I hope to find a balance between an overwhelming amount of information (which will only slow the process down) and providing enough information.

Thanks for any insight you can provide from the writer side of the equation.

Here are the places I list submission guidelines:

On the blog: how to send electronic query for a novel,
query letter checklist;

On my website: Query Information;

If you'd like to answer in the comment column, great. If you want to send an email, also fine.
Remember, short emails are hard to write. Long emails are hard to read. As in all things, finding the correct balance takes more than one revision.


**Landra** said...

If requesting a synopsis or query it is helpful to know the length in which you would appreciate both items.

While the industry has certain standards, 1 pg. query, 3-5 pg. synopsis, I find that the submission preferences change with agents. This leaves me baffled when an agent says synopsis and I am unsure whether to send the long (3-5pg.) or the short (1-2pg.)

**Landra** said...

I like guidelines that are clearly defined, and the same on your website, blog, etc.

I have run across numerous agents where the submission guidelines are different between their blog and website. Or the agent will list their guidelines on a blog, but the website page will only have their agency's guidelines (which are different).

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

I love that you feature your query response progress so prominently, and that you have the query letter checklist posted. I wonder if it would help to expand the checklist to include a list of the genres you consider and another list of what you don't want? Also what about adding in a little something about the type of query you prefer? (For the three writers on the planet who haven't been to Query Shark.)

L. T. Host said...

Honestly, your query guidelines are some of the clearest I've seen. Also, it's pretty easy for a writer to do their work and find out exactly what and how you like things.

The difficulty lies in agents who are vague. My personal hesitation to query an agent comes from me not being sure what they mean by something in their guidelines, i.e., "synopsis and first five pages"-- do they mean the query letter as synopsis, or a full synopsis, etc. I'm an over-thinker, so having extra help like you do is just perfect.

I actually wish more agents would spell it out as clearly as you.

Malia Sutton said...

To be perfectly honest, I've always found most guidelines on most agent web sites clear, concise, and simple to follow.

Wish I could be more helpful.

This Is The Knew Me said...

When researching agents, I often come across several websites that list that agent's interests or submission guidelines. There is usually an agency page, a listing on agentquery.com, a listing at publisher's marketplace, a personal webpage and/or a blog. Often, they will have conflicting information. What's a querier to do?

Dana King said...

I don't want to have to decode the guidelines in order to meet them. A list of bullet points describing what's wanted (and not wanted) will suffice.

As a writer, don't want to wade through "I'm looking for new, exciting voices in the area of transgender vampire fiction mystery erotic romance that goes places no one has gone before. But not too far." This doesn't help me, and after a while it's as irritating as agents having to read how my mother and friends loved this book, it's a guaranteed best seller, and fifteen other agents passed, but I think you'd be perfect for it.

The last is overly fussy formatting instructions. Most agents are pretty consistent, but I've seen agents who only want 12-point Courier New with underlining, no italics, and margins that are slightly different from normal. Chapters should each begin on a new page, and the chapter heading should be centered, one-third of the way down the page...

Please. Writers understand how busy agents are, and we're generally grateful for whatever time agents spend on our queries. We have a lot of them to send out. Please meet us halfway.

No one can ask for better guidelines and advice than you provide on your site, and I say this with a clear conscience, having already been rejected. ;-)

Mystery Robin said...

What I'd still have questions about after reading your guidelines:

1) You take YA, but do you take MG?
2) Do you still take YA? Because I thought at one time you decided not to
3) If you do take YA in those categories you consider, do you NOT take YA in the categories you don't consider (romance, sci fi, etc)
4) Would someone tell me if steampunk = fantasy/spec fic or not?
5) Have you changed your mind about Westerns after Kennedy Foster's book? Or do you just not take genre westerns?

Hope that helps!

Shelley Watters said...

(1) What is most helpful to you in submission guidelines? - When an agent states what they are specifically looking for (such as 'searching desperately for a legal thriller' etc). Also, when they state what genres they are looking for (with examples) has been immensely helpful. It seems like different agents have different definitions of genres.

(2) What is least? - I have always found your query guidelines to be very useful. The guideline about the salutation is a bit of a 'no duh' but I am sure you get all sorts of queries that do not meet this guideline, even though you specifically state that they do this, and it is common courtesy.

(3) What questions about queries can be addressed in guidelines without making the specifics overly complicated?

When I queried you in January, I was a little unclear as to what genres you consider and don't, but at the end of your guidelines you say 'When in doubt, query'.

I think including a link to the Query Shark in your submission guidelines is enough. Anyone that needs more help with a query than what your guidelines provide really is not ready to query anyway.

A side question - can you provide us with a good reference on deciding what genre your WIP is?

Richard Gibson said...

I agree with Malia, that most (not all) guidelines are pretty straightforward and clear. The one thing I would like to always see is an honest statement of response times, whether "no response means no", or "I respond to everything and try to do so within X weeks." The information available all over the web should make we who query well aware of the volume agents receive and that they may not make their response time to the second.

Joseph L. Selby said...

I like bulleted query requirements. I am amused at agencies whose query requirements are large paragraphs that go on and on. If you can't do it in 250 words, you're doing it wrong (at least that's the prevailing wisdom ;)

I dislike the "I don't care about genre, I just want an original voice." That's not true. I'm looking at your list of authors and the books you've sold. Not only are you working in four or five genres, but you've never sold anything in my genre. Ever. Sure there's a minuscule chance that a voice will be so original that you'll take on that writer no matter what genre it is. For the other 99.9% of us, we'd like to know what your interests are so we don't waste our and your time.

Anthony said...


Your guidelines are very simple and easy to follow.

One suggestion, in your QueryShark pointer, is to expand it like this:

"There are examples, both good and bad, of how to do this at QueryShark.blogspot.com. Five examples where I would ask for a partial are here (link), while five queries that would be rejected are here (link)."

With my lone suggestion out of the way, here's what I love about your guidelines:

1) You don't ask for a synopsis

2) They are presented in a numbered list

3) You accept email queries

4) Your blog indicates the date in which you've caught up with incoming queries

5) You don't ask for a synopsis

Really, about the only thing that would be better for both you and the submitter is a web form. The benefits for you would be automatic categorization and normalization of the data presented. The benefits for the submitter would be error elimination.

But that would cost money to put together. :-)

JohnO said...

I agree with Joseph. Spare us the "compelling story and great characters" filler, and list the authors you represent, and maybe a profile on something like agentquery.com that lists what you're seriously interested in.

Also, don't tell me where you graduated (I don't care, all this tells me is you're from the East Coast), or the names of famous writers you worked with a long time ago--unless you personally pulled them from the slush pile and sold their first book.

Your guidelines are quite good. But others? Not so much.

wickerman said...

Not necessarily aimed at Janet specifically, but to all agents (hey you opened the door :) )

- Specifics on genre. I like 'fantasy' doesn't help me. Too many agents are gravy trainers who want Urban or paranormal romance only. So me easting your time sending something along the lines of George Martin's stuff is gonna happen.

- Agree on insane formatting guidelines. If you are going to be that picky, I probably don;t want to work with you anyway, but hey...

- A lot of agents give no indication yea or nay as far as including the first few pages of the manuscript w/ the query.

- Agree on the response policy too. I'm not one of those 'my mom didn;t love me enough' types who needs hand holding. I just want a thumbs up or down. Form letters are all that I expect (and Janet had made it well known what she thinks of the no response means no deal) but some agents really think I'm psychic or something.

- Agencies in general could help by letting us know if 'no' from one agents means 'no' from all the agents at the agency.

Thanks for everything you do, Janet. You have no idea how much you help, even if you think you do!!! :)

Christi Goddard said...

I've already queried you and found your guidelines exceedingly easy to follow.

As I query others, things that make me think twice about querying:

1. Vague or conflicting information of prefered genres on multiple website resources. If I meticulously study every site an agent is listed at, it would be nice if they made sure all said the same thing.

2. One email for all agents, and a statement that a rejection from one is a rejection from all at that agency. How fair is that? One agent decides for everyone. We are mostly desparate enough to query anyway just in case, but it limits opportunity (in my opinion).

3. Guidelines that state 'query only.' Without a written example, how can an agent find 'the voice' they are looking for? It makes no sense to me. But they say if you don't follow their rules, it's a rejection without being read. I'm glad you're more efficient.

What is most helpful:

1. Bullet points.
2. Accurate genre preferences.
3. Whether you're accepting or not. Too many rejections I get state 'our list is full.' This should be posted, as Colleen did for a while.
4. Agents listed separately at an agency website w/separate emails and listed interests. AND PICTURES. JANET, WHERE'S YOUR PICTURE???
5. Ones that accept email submissions. There is a recession. Of course we are going to choose email agents before old school snail mail agents.

Okay, that's my 2 1/2 cents.

Joseph L. Selby said...

Ooo ooo, one more thing. This one seems like a no brainer, but I've been diving pretty heavily into the query process recently and some agencies have multiple agents that rep the same genre. Now, general consensus is that you pick which one you want to query and they do all the talking on their end. A query to one is like a query to both. But I got a few rejections from such agencies with such quick turn around that it's hard to imagine that there was any discussion between agents.

Now some agencies specify not to query multiple agents but some are silent on the discussion, which is all my second-guessing devil needs to hop on my shoulder and tell me I should query the other agent(s) as well.

That kind of specificity really helps.

Joseph L. Selby said...

I'll even offer Fine Print up as the perfect example of that conundrum. I have manuscripts that I could submit to Peter, Colleen, Suzie, and you. Is a rejection from one a rejection from all four? The Fine Print website does not say.

Joseph L. Selby said...

@Mystery Robin: Steampunk is a subgenre. Steampunk is fantasy but fantasy isn't all steampunk. There are consistent themes in the subgenre, a specific technology level and technology design that could be called spec fic.

Here is a steampunk webcomic that might illustrate the genre for you: http://shawntionary.com/clockworks/?p=31

Sakura said...

I thought to myself that the guidelines here are absolutely crystal and couldn't be improved on, so why comment?

But I've just seen an article entitled "28 agents who want your work" and seeing them all together made me realise, WHOAH, all guidelines are not created equal.

Particularly annoying to me was one agent who DID want supernatural romance and steampunk but NOT science fiction or fantasy.

As JOSEPH mentioned right above me, steampunk is fantasy. And if you have angels or zombies, that's fantasy, too, I don't care how romantic (ugh!) you make them.

Why would you want someone representing your work who a) obviously knows nothing about your genre and b) wants to jump on the popular bandwagon without being seen to invite that horrific, degenerate class of writers called fantasy writers into their bed?

I'm willing to bet half those agents who "don't like science fiction" have never sat down and read a Hugo shortlist in their lives and think what they are turning down is Muke Schmyvolker blasting Space Worms.

That's their loss, but then don't reach your greedy little hands out for steampunk.

Joseph L. Selby said...

@Sakura: I doubt it's that they don't understand the differences between the sub-genres, it's just that they're expressing their interests. I'm sure some are just focusing on which sub-genres sell. Urban Fantasy and Steampunk are hot right now, epic fantasy less so (if nothing else just because of the numbers given the size of an epic fantasy manuscript).

I complained about this on Kristin Nelson's blog the other day. A number of editors on my list that said they are interested in fantasy now only say they want urban or steampunk. I think it's trend chasing, and I think they'll change their tune later when the market inevitably shifts.

I cannot imagine there is any genuine agent in the profession that reps one of these sub-genres doesn't understand the difference between urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, epic fantasy, steampunk.

And, in an old post that Janet made that I only recently reread (that is a perfect response to my own comments above), who cares? Query them anyway.

Kathleen said...

I'm starting to research agents, and to echo the others here, all guidelines are not created equal. You don't rep what I write/want to write, otherwise I'd query you just because you make it easy for people who can read.

(1) What is most helpful to you in submission guidelines?

Details. Again to echo someone else, I hate it when someone says "synopsis" without clarifying "one page" or "five pages."

Checkers isn't a complicated game unless you're playing blindfolded.

(2) What is least?

A list of authors that flatly contradict the "looking for" list. I get that agents will take things that fall in between categories if the writing is good enough - but how would I know? Of course I think my manuscript is the exception to every rule, but that's no reason to spam agents with it. I don't show pictures of my kid to captive audiences for the same reason.

(3) What questions about queries can be addressed in guidelines without making the specifics overly complicated?

Category is the hardest one. To use an example from otherwise perfect guidelines - your own site says you take women's fiction and not romance. When you remove category romance from the equation, I can't find a nickel's worth of difference between a lot of single title romance and women's fiction besides the cover art and the marketing. There's probably a distinction I'm not seeing - and that distinction is one I'd like to see in the guidelines.