Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The thing that made me happiest in 2012

Chum Bucket.

After 16 weeks of Chum Bucket nights, I'm in awe of the talent, courtesy and tenacity of the writers who query me.

I hope I don't sound maudlin if I say it restored my faith in the query process.

It came about by sheer accident (but then, a lot of great things -- at least in my life -- do!)

I'd been on a query hiatus. When it ended, I forgot.  Query writers did not. They queried. I wrote back. I'd fallen out of the habit of clicking the form response.

Then, a miracle.

A miracle in the form of Ashley Z writing back to thank me for what I'd said. She pointed out it hadn't taken me very long to write the email, but it was of great value to her. 

Such a small thing, and yet, that's what it took to make me realize that if people WANTED feedback, and were willing to buy in to the social contract to not respond angrily, we could do some really good work here.

And we have.

I confess I'm astonished we've gone 16 rounds with not a single angry response.  Let me assure you that it wasn't cause the replies were decorated in flowers and pink frosting either. I was as direct and to the point as always---and that's the kind of stuff that is VERY hard to hear.

I truly believe the secret is that we aren't talking about it widely. I've asked people not to tweet about it, or blog about it.  It's something you know about if you're paying attention to my blog, or my twitter feed. That means the people who are participating are generally the ones I WANT to talk to. The ones willing to hear direct comments. To suck it up and come back for more.

Can it go on? Probably not forever, but honestly, at this point, I'm in. 

Thank you to all the writers who queried during Chum Bucket. You made my year.

And let's hear it for our Number One Chum: Thanks Ashley!


JeffO said...

Writers just want to know that someone is actually reading the queries. Even if the agent states up front that no response means no, you can't be 100% sure the e-mail got through, or didn't get stuck in a spam filter. I pretty much give up on everything over 3 months old, but it would be nice to really know.

I'm glad it hasn't gotten too big for its bucket and hope it never does. And I'm glad we haven't had any cases of 'man bites shark.' My guess is most of the people who are taking the time to find this site and work at reading it aren't going to be the sort that get all pissy about rejects. At least not publicly.

Merry Christmas, happy New Year!

Huntress said...

If only you wanted my drug of choice, urban fantasy. :-<

But enough of my whining. As a writer, I appreciate your cool service to writers. CPs are great but hearing an agent's opinion is icing on the cake. Thank you.

Frankie Brown said...

Wonderful. Thanks for doing this, Ms. Shark. I know you've helped a lot of aspiring authors. Wish I'd known this was still going on before I emailed you last night, but the eggnog slooshing around in my tummy filled me with boldness.

I hope Chum Bucket continues :)

Loralie Hall said...

I still think it's incredible that you're doing this. I wasn't able to think up a response when I queried you, but I always meant to say thank you for reading, for responding, for showing that our words don't fall on deaf ears even if those queries don't make it past that point :)

Carolyn said...

I will raise a cup to Ashley! The chum bucket has made me extremely happy this year - and I haven't even been a participant. It's just the fact when I was querying three years ago, you sent me back a critique. It meant the world to me and helped me tremendously. That letter from you changed my life. It gave me hope, direction, and a map as to how to get there. An absolutely incredible gift.

Anonymous said...

Chum Bucket was a highlight of my year too. You gave me the courage to keep trying. Thanks so much!

Stephanie said...

I want to add my thanks for Chum Bucket and the fact that you are continuing. It really means so much.

Anonymous said...

Hooray for Ashley, is right. I follow your blog because not only do you make me laugh, I learn stuff. So, I'm also in.

Mark Koopmans said...


I'm sure Chum Bucket will one day be "outed" to the mainstream, but in the meantime, it's great to hear *you're* stoked!

Susan said...

Janet, thank you for this, on behalf of all the authors you have helped and are helping.

Since you won't see me in the bucket, I thought I'd comment here to say thanks for all the help you've given me (silently). I've read your blog and Query Shark for several years now, and acted on the advice you give.

In October 2011 I signed with my agent. In January 2012 my ninja detective mystery series sold (to Minotaur) in a three book deal. In July 2013 I'll be on shelves - and your help and advice is no small part of that, even though you wouldn't know my name.

You've touched many, many more lives than you know, and there are many authors who share my gratitude. On my own behalf, and for all the other lurkers who learn silently from your generously shared (if toothy) wisdom: thank you, thank you, thank you.

Amara Royce said...

Just one of the many, many reasons you are awesome.

And it's wonderful that queriers have responded so well!

Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said...

A sincere thanks for the Chum Bucket! I think we've all benefited from it. It might have restored your faith in the query process, but it restored a lot of writers' faith in it, too. Any personalized response from an agent is worth its weight in gold. Thank you.

Sara said...

I loved the CB! I really appreciated the good old fashioned humanity of the exchange. Thank you for your continued efforts on this front!

Heidi Schulz said...

Chum Bucket is pretty high on my list as well this year. Thank you again. Truly.

Anonymous said...

There will be a lot of writers who will look back at chum bucket as an oasis in the desert that got them through the desert of form rejections. We ask "How? Why? What?" all the time. Your answers, however direct and to the point, are what we seek. Thank you for doing that, Janet!

Lauren said...

I have never heard of Chum Bucket.

Courtesy goes both ways. I have sent close to 100 queries with only two TOTAL responses. Not just negative responsses--that's total. I responded to those two with thanks. I will never query the others again, because I don't want to work with someone who thinks discourtesy is a legitimate business choice.

It's encouraging to find that there are courteous agents out there. I may continue querying after all.

Joanne Levy said...

See? You're wonderful and gracious and full of awesome. Do you get tired of hearing it, because I'll never get tired of saying it. And I put it in my book because I really, really mean it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ms. Reid,
Thank-you for not only Chum Bucket, but for the smile on my face every time I see your name in my inbox. It's like an old friend has remembered me again. I have not participated in Chum Bucket, but as an insecure, undisciplined writer with a dream of publishing that won't leave me alone, I take your honesty and in some ways pretend that it is directed at me to somehow practice the rejections that will come my way in 2013 because I am committed to be disciplined and write in 2013 and take what I have learned from the most generous agent on earth. Thank-you for your humour, honesty, reliability and evidence that you love your job. May you be blessed with finding more talented authors to represent.

Wry Wryter said...

Ya know Janet, if you were some bottom feeder eel of an agent, we writers wouldn’t give a krill for chum bucket but you’re the best, the most generous with information, and above all else, you are honest in an instructional way.
I cannot express adequately how important your comments were regarding my query. Like most writers with finished work I have a list of dream-agents. You’re the one on the surface dear swimmer. I have to resist the temptation to write what you sell, just to swim in your tank. (I’m an essayist and columnist, not your meat).
I have said it before and I will say it again, I like you and respect you, you make me laugh but frankly you scare the shit out of me.
Happy New Year Janet; I mean really, Happy New Year.

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

I admire your directness. It comes across in everything you do. Also your heart. Don't bite me. Okay, you can ;) In any industry that deals with people's hopes and dreams, it's important not to be too polished that we're not available to the people who make our careers. When you tweet back to me, I do a little puppy wee. Keep up the good work. Love the bucket! Coffee in NY in 2013. Happy New Year everyone.

Ashley Zimmerman said...

Just read this blog post, and I desperately needed the pick-me-up, as I'm back in the query game right now with a new book. Thanks for the thanks, Janet, but most importantly, thank YOU! :)))