Monday, September 15, 2014

Query Pitfall: failure to include pages

This morning I emerged from the incoming mail deluge, clutching my queries, ready to read.

The first query I opened had a problem: no pages.

My submissions guidelines (designed to make sure you know what I want) always say "include the first 3-5 pages."  Most people do this.

This fellow did not.  But, he had a concept that wasn't an instant rejection. The writing wasn't great, but then I never want to decide yes/no based on queries alone because I think queries can be harder to write than novels.  (One of the MANY reasons I ask for pages.)

Instead of saying no to the query at this point (my normal reply) I noticed the author had written an earlier book. I looked it up on Amazon, and availing myself of the "look inside" feature, read the first pages.

And then I wrote the rejection.

What's your takeaway from this? Three things:

1. Notice I didn't ruthlessly discard the query for "not following the submission guidelines."  Honestly I don't care overmuch if you follow them or not. The reason submission guidelines exist is to give you information about what I need to evaluate your work. If you don't send what I need, well, ok, sayonara sasquatch.

2. Notice I looked at the previous book.  I decided his new project wasn't getting a request based on the writing in the previous novel.  If you're ok with that, well, so am I.

3. Notice I didn't email the writer back asking for pages.  That's because the query came by mail.  I'm never going to tell you not to query by email, but querying on paper means you're the least likely querier to hear back from me with ANYTHING but a form rejection.  If you query by email, and you're writing something I don't take on, chances are I'll email back to say "sorry, I don't take on adult westerns."  When you query by mail, the only thing I'm going to say is "sorry not for me."

Any questions?


Kitty said...

You didn't say he had an earlier book "published," just that he had written one. Which leads me to wonder, Was it self-pubbed?

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

"Sayonara sasquatch?" OK, that's a good one to star t the week with. THank you.

Susan Bonifant said...

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for saying it's harder to write the query than the novel.

Maybe I'll do it backwards the next time - craft an outstanding, killer query and write a book about it.

Amanda Capper said...

Like the picture of the cat. No idea what you look like, Ms. Shark, but I'm thinking it's very similar to this cat.

Colin Smith said...

I always try to follow submission guidelines, even though they're just "guidelines", because I think it shows respect to the agent who took the time to spell out what s/he needs to evaluate my work. However, remembering they're just guidelines does take away a little (just a little) of the stress that comes with sending queries and wondering if I remembered to do everything.

Saying that, I consider missing the opportunity to send pages to be a big mistake. I would sooner err on the side of sending pages the agent didn't ask for than not sending pages when the agent asked for them. After all, I can't build a novel-writing career on my ability to write queries, so whether or not the agent loves my query is secondary to whether s/he loves my novel. In other words, I'd sooner have a passable query and killer pages than a killer query with passable pages.

Just a thought. :)

Anonymous said...

If this happened to me, and I figured out what I'd done wrong, my regret would be...,, it would be megalodon'ish. Especially knowing my writing from Book 1 to Book 3 is so very different. (notice I didn't say better - although, obviously, I hope that's the case)

Julia said...

I find it endlessly amusing that on the one day that your blog includes a cat, I have forgotten to bring my mouse to the library. :D And my most recent contest ended with a similar, "Got it, everyone?" pic, which, naturally, I can't post, alas. How sad.

But I sent off a bunch of queries last week after this Agent (I always capitalize "Agent" now - it's like "Superman") I really admire advised me that She Did Not Manage Fantasy I did ponder, for a while, the feasibility of turning my Angelics into cowboys or investigative agents, but then sighed and sent my queries elsewhere.

Without platform info.

I still have the bruise on my forehead from when my head hit the desk. I sent off cheery (and professional) letters explaining my error and including the info, and I sincerely hope that the error doesn't disqualify me. However, I'd much rather work with an Agent with a sense of humor who can see past the error than one who would prefer poor writing with the Letter of the Law met over decent writing (always assuming that's what I sent - a tricky assumption) with omissions hastily and humanly corrected.

Julia said...

Gawd, what a horrid sentence. Repeal! Repeal! And yet... I suspect you get my meaning.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ya know what grinds my wheels, when guidelines don't ask for pages. How the hell will they know what a stellar (and humble) writer I am if they don't see my pages?

Julia said...

Carolynn, you can always put in your bio, "I am a stellar and humble writer." :D

Steve Stubbs said...

Here are some suggested form rejections for an agent who exists to crush hopes and dreams/ They are hereby in the public domain, so use freely.

There were three agents here fighting over your book. The most desperate fight I have ever seen. All three wanted the pleasure of rejecting it. I won.

I don’t think I can sell this MS. It is so bad I sent it out for recycling and even the City rejected it.

Your book is too kruddy to merit a “no response means no” response. So you don’t get one. You get this instead.

Thank you for printing this on only one side of the paper. I like the unprinted side much better.

There is something wrong with every manuscript. And boy, is there something wrong with this one.

This book is not just not right for me. It’s not right for anybody.

This is a real page turner. Long before the end of chapter one the pages turn into a pile of crap. I threw it away,

How does this story end? Who cares?

Usually publishers pay a $5000 advance and see to it the book gets published. If you pay me $5000 I will see to it that it never gets published. That should save your reputation.

The good news is, you are to writing what Ringo Starr is to music. The bad news is the good news is really dreadful and that’s as good as it gets.

I am glad your first grade teacher assigned you to write this. But it gets an F. Stick with SEE SPOT RUN.

Anonymous said...

Steve!!! Are you by chance that evil agent over at Slushpile? I was laughing so hard my little dog ran away and is hiding from me. (not sure what I sound like when laughing hysterically, but I guess scary to him)

Anita Joy said...

*snort* Steve Stubbs! I almost sprayed my cuppa over the keyboard. Disaster narrowly averted, although my desk plant may never recover.

DLM said...

Strangely, one of the best agent acquaintanceships I ever struck up was on a no-pages query. Either the agency guidelines said don't do it, or there was a form which wouldn't allow it, I can't recall. What stands out is the email conversation, the feedback, and the confidence that came out of what eventually became a rejection which came down to timing more than dislike of my work. His past clients were swoon-worthily successful, and he was a good writer in his own right (indeed, his agency's site was one of the best-composed I have ever seen). I can confess a certain pride that all this came out of a letter-ONLY query, but I do prefer and appreciate Janet's way of thinking!

Lance said...

DLM, good thing you threw that last clause in there, or else it would be Sayonara sasquatch!

That's a cat?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

So Steve Stubbs how bad were those pages?

They was so bad my canary wouldn’t poop on the pages I used to line his cage.
Those pages were so bad, I made paper airplanes out of them and they couldn’t fly.
I got some dry kindling, a match, crumbled the papers to start a fire and the dry wit was so wet they wouldn’t ignite.
Those pages were so boring I threw away my Ambien and read myself to sleep.

BTW Julia, the next time I query I will be sure to humbly mention the breadth of my genius. Although, I will have to be careful not to make them feel unworthy of representing me...hahaha, this shit cracks me up :)

Colin Smith said...

How bad were those pages?

"Sample pages? I thought there was something wrong with your keyboard..."

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Not include pages? That sentence is not in any language I understand.

Unless a query gives a specific number of pages or said, "DO NOT ADD ANYTHING TO THE QUERY OR I WILL HURT YOU," they got a minimum of 5.

I'd send cupcakes, but they kept refusing to attach to the email.

I had about 6 different packages made up according to the most common guidelines I ran into: query+5, query+10, query+3 chapters, query+50, query+synopsis+5, etc.

I can will also have fulls available in a nice mobi/epub format as well.

I have learned . . . I am evolving.


Stephanie Bittner said...

A lot of (okay, well, some of) the agents I've been querying don't want pages. They even state it in their guidelines that you should send only the unadorned query letter, no other book material of any kind. I don't understand it myself, but I give them what they ask for.

And I always query by email. Snail mail would require me to check my mailbox more than once a week, and that's too much to ask.

Janet Reid said...

this made me laugh so hard I scared donnaeverhart's dog.

LynnRodz said...

Is that the same dog I saw running across my computer screen and then jumped out onto my lap? Cute little thing, but I was wondering where he came from.

Julia Munroe Martin said...

I recently did just this (forgot to include the first requested pages) and I realized it immediately after pressing send. I resent the query with the word "resent" added to the subject line and a very brief explanation in the email. Is this a good approach in the future or is there a better one?

Anonymous said...

...An all nighter under the bed for "little dog," thx to JR and the rest of the crazed chortling hyena's.

Day late - how bad were the pages?

I threw them in the trash, and the trash can threw them back at me.

Little dog howled for days after I read the pages out loud.

Julia said...

Holy God.
Agents scare the crap out of me.

I'm coming to realize that I truly do believe that if they say, "Queries only, please," that if I add anything other than the words "Queries only, please," that meaning - I did not send my query, only the above words - I will get a pair of highly muscled men in sunglasses at my door.

Janet, before I Understood Things A Little Better (Read: Before I Realized That You Would Never - no, NEVER - Take A Fantasy Query), I sweated for DAYS over whether to put quotation marks around "Query Shark: I promise I read the archives thoroughly" in the queries I sent you. What to do, what to do? Did you MEAN that you wanted quotation marks? You said it wasn't a trick... but did that mean you only wanted what was within the quotes because the quotes indicated what you wanted within the subject line? Or were you JUST THAT MEAN???

Do you sea what I mean? (Like what I did there?)

I think I'm ruined for Agents forever.

I have Pre Agent Stress Tisorder.

Julia said...

Damn. I think I ran over that dog this morning on the way to the library.

Kathy Shutt said...

Every agent I have seen on line say they don't send out rejections. You should assume after not hearing for 6 weeks that the answer is no. Personally I find this rude. How long would it take to email out a form letter saying they aren't interested? Really? I took my time to look for an agent, I chose them and they can't email me back a simple no?