Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Tuesday Tea at the Question Emporium

I have an odd query question for you. I've read your entire blog and the query shark blog, and have never come across the situation I had recently. An agent responded to my query by asking me to rewrite my query and resubmit it to her. This seemed odd. If she hated my query, wouldn't she just say no? And if she was intrigued, wouldn't she ask for pages? Query writing is a blood, sweat and tears process, and I'm wondering if this is common for agents to ask for a query rewrite? Thank you!

Don't get me started on the number of times I've wanted to do just that! Without seeing your query it's hard to know what was wrong or just not right. 

And I too am not sure what the point is.  Maybe she's better at tormenting writers than I am.

Did you rewrite?  


Adam Heine said...

That's... I have never heard of that.

JeffO said...

Maybe she thought it was a better use of time than asking you to rewrite 400 pages?

Colin Smith said...

That is odd. Perhaps the agent was intrigued but didn't feel the query said enough? Perhaps s/he wasn't really sure what the story was about? In which case, why not just request pages? Or the ms?

I think you're enjoying this, Janet! Are we going to have a Wednesday Workout at the Question Emporium--something to work off the calories from Sunday Brunch and Tuesday Tea? :D

Christine Monson said...

Maybe it's a test.

Craig said...

I learned of Query Shark from a literary assistant. She responded to an awful query by telling me about Ms. Reid. I hope she recognized the strength of my story line, but could not present it to her boss. I think that it is almost the same thing.

NotaWarriorPrincess said...

Oh you! NO one is better at tormentation than Janet, Janet!!

That said, I completely understand the request, weird as it is. Yesterday I was third reader on a creative writing theses for my school's MFA program. I am not on the faculty for the MFA, but as a "reader," instead of the director of the thesis, I still get to contribute to the discussion. I asked the student a fairly typical question, for a budding novelist: give me your long pitch, a medium pitch, and an elevator pitch. It was a little bit of a trainwreck, the answer. I had read the novel. Twice. Like a teacher: with a brightly-colored pen and an eye for where the clueless would be lost and an eye for where the intelligent would be annoyed; I read like a betareader on steroids, because this is what tuition pays for. I know the student *is* in fact familiar with the content of the novel, having, you know, written it, and rewritten rewritten and bled and sobbed and moaned and gnashed her teeth and been obsessed with it SINCE SHE WAS TWELVE. And she Could. Not. Pitch. It. I wanted the "rewrite," not of the novel but of the pitch; I wanted the *performance* of its *idea* (and all the cool ideas in it) to be a reflection of alllll that work, and yet those few minutes were probably the low point of the entire two and a half hours of defense. Which is tragic, BUT (thank the gargle-gods, "only" "academically" so), because the novel was so much better than the student's garbled and stumbling pitch efforts. At the end I pushed her ONE more time: "No, that was a description of what you'd sort of LIKE your pitch to have IN it; now give me the ACTUAL PITCH." And it sort of got through. But haltingly and cautiously and in NO way a reflection of the sellable bits of the novel I had read.

So maybe this agent is just a little bit like me: can see that there is something there to be interested in, but wants a chance to see you finesse this tiny piece of performance art that is a query letter.

Sorry this is so long. It's fresh on my tiny mind.

Robin Ruinsky said...

It's not a torment. It's an opportunity.

Jessica Peterson said...

Perhaps she wanted to see how willing you would be to do revisions and figured she'd start with the query? I've read that a lot of times what the agent shows to the publisher is quite similar to your query so maybe she was happy with the storyline but wanted a stronger pitch? Best of luck!

Papillon crew said...

I've turned around on query letters since I first began sending them out. They aren't a punishment; they aren't a trick. Query letters answer the question: Do I know what I am writing about? Do I clearly understand what is going on in my 90,000 word book?

As Query Shark has shown us time and again, we all tend to miss the forest for the trees in talking about our work - because we love each and every individual special little tree so very, very much. But a query letter is about the whole forest. Maybe this agent just wants to know that you see the forest out there, too.

Carolynn with 2Ns said...

Let’s see, which version of my query would you like to see? Reach into my fedora and pick one. I have written dozens and dozens of versions. All one page, all basically the same, all crap and I’m an essayist. I’m supposed to know how to pare it all down, get to the core and show the seeds.
If an agent asked me for a rewrite I’d bow down to the shark-gods and feel blessed. Hell, I’d kiss the chum and call it jello.

pitchingperfectly said...

I'm with Jessica, it might be a test. One of the companies I work with (not books, other writing) really likes to work with people who listen and take direction well.

They don't usually "test," but they do look for it in every interaction with a new writer.