Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Query: How many rejections (is the wrong question)

I'm querying agents for the first time and it's not going well (form rejections from some, silence from others). I follow each agent's requirements, so I'm confident the problem is in the content of my work/letter. I was wondering if there was a magic number of these to get before I should read it as a sign to put on the brakes and rethink my strategy. The form letters all graciously concede that maybe another agent would like the story, but do you have any estimate for how many flat-out "no"s I should receive before I have to stop and change something dramatically?

On a similar note, how important are previous publications at the query stage? This probably varies, but I was wondering your take on it. As the rejections are coming in, I'm trying to figure out if it's the story that the agents don't like or if it's my lack of publishing experience. If it's the latter, I'd want to stop and focus my time on developing publishable short stories and building up that bio section.

Rejections don't tell you anything other than the agent you queried is not going to read the full manuscript. It's the ONLY thing a rejection tells you.  At this point you do NOT know whether you have a good query for a project no one thinks they can sell right now, a good query for a project that sounds like it's a Lifetime movie, or a terrible query for something that might be ok.

This is where you get your query in front of an agent in real time and get some feedback. This is what writing conferences are good for.

Thus don't ask how many of these rejections you need to acquire before moving on. Ask how long you're going to wait before getting some advice.  That answer should be sooner rather than later.

There are a LOT of writing conferences and writers groups offering workshops both in person and on-line.

I'm giving one myself on Feb 1, 2015 here in Brooklyn.  Details are here on my Facebook page for those who are interested.

I know my slithery competitor Barbara Poelle and her companion in comedy Holly Root do webinars from time to time for Writers' Digest. Barbara and Holly know their stuff, and they're good workshop leaders. You can't go wrong with them.

As for pub credits: no one says yes or no to a query based on pub credits. If you've got 'em great, if you don't, not to worry. Beefing up pub credits in a bad query won't help. Beefing up pub credits for a book I don't want to read won't help either.


Anonymous said...

If you follow #tenqueries, #500queries, #1000queries, #querytips, etc. on twitter, you figure out real quick how subjective it is. There are a whole lot of, "Writing didn't grab me, premise didn't grab, burned out on ghosts, don't like southern fiction, can't sell paranormal, too manly, no strong female leads, don't like WWII, no more sentient penises, please," in addition to the, "writing isn't very strong, didn't follow directions, sent pages as attachment, query is confusing, writer only talks about themself and not the work, no idea what the genre is or the premise is, etc."

Unless you're getting feedback, you don't know what the problem is and don't know how to correct. It's like shooting at a target blindfolded without having someone to tell you how to correct.

Ms. J is correct, find some kind of good workshop. I'm not sure I would recommend just getting feedback from a group you don't know. I did that with mine and the advice was all over the place. Very few people liked the query and yet it's getting requests. Workshops seem like the way to go.

Colin Smith said...

"The form letters all graciously concede that maybe another agent would like the story..."

It's a form letter, so they're going to say that regardless of the quality of the query (or your story). No matter what you might think of agents after the 50th "thanks but no thanks", most want to encourage writers and realize how devastating it can be to receive a rejection. They're letting you down gently. But this statement isn't really very helpful (other than telling you something that is universally true of any query). Personally, I'm to the point where if an agent just responded with an email that had "Form Rejection" in the subject line, and nothing else, I'd be okay. I get it. :)

When should you stop querying? When you stop believing in the story. When you've lost enthusiasm for the story. When you no longer believe the story is worth the pain and toil of querying.

If you're not to that point, then as Janet suggested, you should get some objective critiques on your query. I presume you had beta readers look over your novel before you sent it out into the world? Ask those folks to read your query and get some feedback. Look for places online that do query critiques, or, as Janet pointed out, conferences that offer query workshops (though I know how expensive conferences can be).

And though I have yet to submit any of my short stories or flash fiction for publications (I keep posting them on my blog instead, and then later think "Oh--I could have submitted that to XYZ Magazine!"), I would suggest that writing short stories (and/or flash fiction) will benefit your writing more than your query. I think Janet would have to admit that if your short story won a prestigious national (or international) competition, she'd be hard pressed to ignore that on a query. But it's true that even a Nobel Prize for Literature isn't going to make her like your story. She may want to follow you on Twitter, though. :)

Susan Bonifant said...

Colin, your observation turned my day around: it isn't time to give up until you stop believing in your story.

Clarity comes in all kinds of forms, thank you.

Anonymous said...

"I follow each agent's requirements, so I'm confident the problem is in the content of my work/letter."

Not only is this woodland creature asking the wrong question, they've possibly landed on the wrong conclusion. Not to discount The Shark's sage advice, but I wonder if this isn't just lack of confidence?

Let's say you, little woodland creature, have dressed up in your finest, and everything about you is polished to perfection from the hair on the top of your head, to the designer shoes you've strapped on your feet. You clickety-clack (*hey, just go with me here, I'm making you a female lead not knowing your gender*), out to your car, hop in, and head on down the street, glancing every now and then at your very clear and concise directions. Yet, somehow, you end up at the Hardee's over on South Boulevard. Oops. You scan the directions again and off you go once more - cruising the avenues and boulevards with your eyes peeled for the address clearly stated on said directions. Round and round the city you go. Several times you glance in the rear view mirror. Your lipstick is still perfect, and every hair is in place. Confident you've got things just right, you keep on driving. After all this work to get gussied up, you're not about to call it an evening until you find the location of this big party.

Moral of the cheesy little story: Even with clear directions, sometimes the road to where we need to go isn't as straightforward as we thought.

Maybe something does need more work. I just have to think, with you landing here in the Question Of The Day on The Shark's blog, that you're not naive as to the process, or how to go about effectively writing/querying. Maybe you're only suffering from a lack of confidence, like most writers.

I always think back to all the other writers who suffered dozens and dozens of rejections and somehow find that one perfect agent who loved their work.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I do so love reading #tenqueries and #millionqueries and all of that, much like how I love reading drama which has no impact on me. It's like popcorn, but though somewhat instructive (following directions is important, natch), I'm not going to query or not-query an agent based on the material of the tweets. The tone, though....I daresay there are a couple of agents I won't query based on a tone I feel represents an individual I probably wouldn't work well with.

That query letter (or short story sub cover letter) does look mighty slim without pub credits though, doesn't it?

Tony Clavelli said...

"Ask how long you're going to wait before getting some advice. That answer should be sooner rather than later."
All right, then. I'm convinced. And the answer is "Now." Thanks for this response (and gentle shove), Janet!

Julie, those hashtags look like they'll be very useful. I'm in a bit of a jam for in-person workshops because I live in Seoul (with not enough English speakers and Janet's Brooklyn workshop only 6700 miles away!). You sounded skeptical of on-line groups but are there any you've found useful?

Colin, yes! That "graciously" was meant facetiously--I know the form's a form. But I think you've got something with that subject line idea! Crush that glimmer of hope before it sprouts.

I haven't and won't give up. I just need to hunt for a good on-line spot to get critiques.

Thank you all for these responses. It's really comforting not to toil alone.

Kelsey Hutton said...

The website www.mswishlist.com/ accumulates most of these Twitter feeds into one place. It's how I read them--very useful if you're not on Twitter much.

I have to echo though what other commenters have said about some of the agents' tone. Basically, following those Twitter feeds has made me enjoy Janet's blog all the more. She may berate us worrywort writers from time to time (out of Tough Love, I'm sure) but I NEVER get the sense that she is making jokes at our expense.

Good luck!

Colin Smith said...

Tony: If a subject line response would encourage more agents to reply to every query (as opposed to "no response means no"), then I'm all for it.

Megan V said...

Although twitter hashtags are great for a sneak peek into the Mystical Agent Forest, online forums like AbsoluteWrite and the ABNA thread are great places for woodland creatures seeking advice and feedback on their queries and manuscripts. Such forums are especially helpful when conferences, webinars, and workshops are simply not in the budget...which is true for a lot of us woodland creatures. In other words, woodland creatures shouldn't let money keep them from seeking out/getting advice on how to get into the Mystical Forest. And, as the wise Shark suggested, it's important to seek advice sooner rather than later.

Ardenwolfe said...

Kelsey, I tried using that website and nothing, as far as further information came up. It just refreshes the same images.

Registered just to make sure I wasn't missing out because I was a visitor, and still nothing?

What am I missing?

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

What Kelsey Hutton said.. I double that.

Brenda Drake is currently hosting a query workshop with an editor on her blog

Then #PitMad (also Brenda Drake) at the end of February. If you're ready this may be a good place to pitch for wide exposure.

I too would love to go to Brooklyn and hear some genuine four letter words from the Shark's mouth but it's an ocean away.

Kelsey Hutton said...

@Ardenwolfe - Hmm, I'm not sure I understand what you mean when you say "nothing as far as further information is coming up" ... are you able to see the website?

At the moment, it's not actually loading properly on my desktop, but I can still access it on my phone.

Once you can see the website, the most recent tweet is always at the top. That also means that to read further back in time you just have to keep scrolling down endlessly, but it should update when there are new tweets using that hashtag. (Sometimes there can be a few days in between activity, especially if you exclusively read the Queries categories, etc.)

Does that help at all?

Ardenwolfe said...

Strange. I'm not seeing anything except links. I'm trying this on my laptop, so maybe that's the issue.

Regardless, thank you.

I'll try again later. :)

REJourneys said...

(First post! Finally got an account)
What a timely post!

Reading the email, it's almost like I wrote it (I didn't).

This has been my concern as well. The only consolation prize was a semi-form rejection letter from a very kind agent telling me my query was "well written with a strong plot." Truly, it was the boost I needed.

The problem is, I still haven't had a single request for even a partial.

I'm currently rewriting my query, but the critique angle sounds like the way I need to go before I continue to stress over the rewriting.

Now I just need to find a conference hosted in a "fly over" state. :)

Ardenwolfe said...

I found the problem. My ad-blockers were stopping anything from loading on the site. ;)

Had to allow/disable.

Again, thanks for the link.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Okay boys and girls, I'm typing on my kindle so bear with me.
Here's the recipe for an accepted query.
one pound of linguine
6 quarts of water
Let water come to a rolling boil
Put linguine in the water, stir often,let boil about 10 to 12 minutes
When you think it is done remove one linguine strand from water
Let it drain well and then throw it at the wall
If the linguine sticks to the wall it's done
If it does not stick sit your ass back down and continue to work on your query.
It's not done until the agent asks for seconds.
Sauce is optional but every agent I know likes the kind that comes in a bottle not a jar.

AJ Blythe said...

Cracking up over your post, Carolynnwith2Ns. Glad I'd finished my cuppa first or my keyboard would be wearing it.

I think getting the query letter right scares me more than the ms. There aren't many opportunities in Australia to get f2f time with an agent at a conference (although I will in August), so I think I might have to put my big girl pants on and brave the query shark's tank.

Nice to know there are other woodland creatures out there :)

Lilac Shoshani said...

Wow, Janet. Thank you so much for yet another timely post.

And thank you all the commenters. I learn so much from all of you.

@Kelsey, great link.

@Donna, comparing querying to driving to a party is very cool.

@Colin, your comments are always so helpful, and I love your flash fiction.

@ Carolynnwith2Ns, lol. You always crack me up. I'm going to try your recipe now. :D

By the way Janet, I don't know if Tel-Aviv is much closer to Brooklyn than Seoul is. Still, it would be amazing one day to attend any event which involves you.

Plus, I'd get to visit bookstores that actually carry books by Patrick Lee. What else would I need?

(OK, confession time: I would also need a red lipstick from Sephora. We don't even have a Sehpora here. I really feel sorry for myself right about now…;-))

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Lilac. I love your name.

Sephora - I too love Sephora, so, why not just buy it online. I don't have a Sephora near enough either and that's what I do.

:) See? Another helpful hint - although not as cohesive as Colin's or as sticky as 2N's linguine.

Kelsey Hutton said...

Ahh, but some of those international shipping regulations would require an entity straight out of the Breach to get around successfully. And I only live an hour and a half from the U.S. border--my deepest symphathies to Australia or Tel Aviv!

Lilac Shoshani said...

Thank you, Donna. I also love your name.

And how wonderful that you love Sephora too. Yours is a great hint, although I must admit, it's not as sticky as 2N's linguine, lol…

The thing is, Sephora won't send anything to Israel because of politics. :-(

My very logical conclusion ;-): I must travel to the United States.

This way I'd get to meet with awesome writers like you, go to bookstores that actually carry books in English, study with Janet and write the best query in this universe (and the next universe too), and last but not least, visit Sephora.

I hope that one day we will visit Sephora together, Donna. :-)

Lilac Shoshani said...

Kelsey, thank you for your deepest sympathies. Although Sephora would send nada here, there are ways to bypass that. The thing is it gets really expensive. One must become a bestselling author to buy a Tarte's mascara. ;-)

Exaggeration never killed anyone…I hope. :-)

Colin Smith said...

Lilac: You are very kind. Does this mean I'm an internationally renowned author, now? Can I put that on a query?! :D

BTW: Shoshani... Hebrew for lily?

I find it interesting that as connected we all feel online, there's still that longing for in-person communication. When one of us becomes a rich-and-famous author, s/he will need to fly everyone to NY for a blog party. :)

Lilac Shoshani said...

Colin: but of course you are an internationally renowned author, now. And you can and should put it on a query. :D

Wow…Your Hebrew is excellent! Shoshani is Hebrew for lily, but also for rose according to a few biblical references.

I feel the same way about that longing for in-person communication. What an amazing idea to fly everyone to NY for a blog party when one of us becomes a rich-and-famous author.

I'm in. You've got yourself a deal. :-)

Anonymous said...

@ Lilac Shoshani, if you make it here to the US, we will absolutely have to do a Sephora trip - and I promise, we won't end up at a Hardee's on South Boulevard.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I'LL DO IT !!!

I'll fly everyone, Donna, Colin, Lilac, AJ, every single one of you, to the blog party. I'll charter a plane, buy a plane, whatever it takes.
Now, all we have to do is convince Janet to make ME rich and famous. She can do it you know, because she's QOTKU and that other universe you guys are talking about.
And, now this is the most important part, I'm cooking pasta for everyone. Janet brings the booze, Donna the hush puppies, and Colin (you can bring all your kids too) will lead us in grace.
I promise.

DLM said...

I'll bring Gossamer the Editor Cat and his magical fur. Penelope the Puppy is up for referendum. :)

This post brings me back to why I like a face-to-face (though I risk shark attack saying so!) - it's incredibly clear what works and what doesn't! They may not be an effective way to do much more than a pity-full-request (and possible feedback, which is worth it!), but they're certainly a gauge of what is effective to include, and what is not. :)

OH - and I could bring fudge and bourbon balls! I never did make 'em for Christmas, and suspect we have a crowd who might not snub them as non-seasonal ...

Lilac Shoshani said...

@Donna: yay! This thrills me. I will make it to the US and we will absolutely have to do our Sephora trip. Thank you for reassuring me that we won't end up at a Hardee's on South Boulevard (had to look it up).

Then again, unless I somehow stumbled into a goggle operation in a parallel universe, they do seem to have french fries at Hardee's. And I love french fries.


Lilac Shoshani said...

@Carolynnwith2Ns, lol. No problem. I'll convince Janet to make you famous (it's a piece of cake. You are hilarious). Then you'll have to convince Janet to make me famous too.

(It's 4:40 in the morning. I hope I still make some sense).

Other than that, give me a grand piano and you've got yourself free entertainment. In fact, an accordion will do too. But a rock n' roll band is better. That is as long as I don't get drunk.

I might as well keep pursuing a career as a rock musician, if I need to make sure that you become a famous author first. ;-)

AJ Blythe said...

Oooh, what fun! Count me in, Carolynnwith2Ns :)

Of course the QOEU (Queen of Every Universe) can make it happen. And when she does, can you put in a good word for me?

Anonymous said...

Lilac Shoshani,

"The thing is, Sephora won't send anything to Israel because of politics. :-("

This makes me sad. I guess I won't be buying any more Sephora. Can you find a friend to buy it and send it to you?


Jenz said...

Why writing a query is so hard: You spent years reading books and stories. You did not spend years reading queries.

Back of the book copy isn't really the same.

Give yourself a break, it's okay that it's hard.

Lilac Shoshani said...

Julie M. Weathers,

Thank you so much for being so kind and taking a stand for my country.

I think that the issue with Sephora is probably less about sending products to Israel (although they don't send anything to Israel -- some companies don't), and more about their boycotting products that are made in Israel. I learned about this via the internet a few years ago and it just got stuck in my mind. So putting two and two together…but to be on the fair side, it might be a good idea to research this issue in depth before coming to a drastic conclusion, like stop shopping at Sephora.

Being a makeup addict, I don't want to unfairly deprive others of their Sephora. ;-)

On a happier note, I do believe that things are going to change for the better both locally and globally. Even if it takes time. I'm an eternal optimist.

By the way Julie, the hashtags you share are great! :-)

Anonymous said...

Tony Clavelli

"Julie, those hashtags look like they'll be very useful. I'm in a bit of a jam for in-person workshops because I live in Seoul (with not enough English speakers and Janet's Brooklyn workshop only 6700 miles away!). You sounded skeptical of on-line groups but are there any you've found useful?"

I'm so sorry, I missed this when you first posted this. You probably won't see the answer now, but I'll post anyway.

I've belonged to the Compuserve Books and Writers Lit Forum for years. The members are very good about giving you feedback and I trust them. Quite a few very successful authors have spawned there.