Friday, January 16, 2015

Rant: never even think you're wasting my time by querying

In the case that you have something very unusual that presents unique challenges due to it's weirdness, where do you go to send queries that don't waste agent's time? If anything, I'm just looking for what the industry language is for "I look at really weird stuff, man, even if it's pretty much the weirdest."

Well, this is your lucky day. You've earned the second rant of the new year.  Congrats!

I want to just reach through the computer screen and throttle writers who say "I don't want to waste your time by querying you for X, Y, or Z."

It's NEVER a waste of time to receive a well-written query for a well-written project. I may not take it on, it may not be in my category, and you may be the least suitable client in this universe plus the next one over, but you are NOT wasting my time.

Thinking that you might waste my time makes you FEARFUL of querying widely.

Querying widely is your best strategy for connecting with the right agent. That means you don't try to find only   the ones who say "I like weird";  you strike off the list only the ones who say "I don't rep fiction."

Fortunately, you're not alone in attracting my wrath: I also want to reach through the monitor and throttle agents who prattle on Twitter about queriers wasting their time.  It's both unprofessional and disrespectful. You may quote me to anyone who says it.

Writing an effective query letter is not easy. Following the various submission guidelines from agencies adds another level of difficulty.  Trying to figure out what various agents want or don't want is not as easy as it sounds, even when we try to be clear about this.

If you add further hoops by making sure not to query anyone not interested you've set yourself up to fail.


The world eats writers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's an incredibly hard task to get your work seen, published well, reviewed, and read.  You MUST have an ironclad sense that your work is worth everyone's time to have a tough enough hide for this business.

And let's just remember, I make my entire living selling work I find from people who send me query letters.  You're not wasting ANY of my time by giving me a chance to make money with you.

Are we clear?

Are We Clear?


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

It's clear.
I can't handle the truth. That's why I want you on that wall.

Amanda Capper said...

yes, ma'am. Crystal.

MB Owen said...

Right? Who's scarier? Jack or Janet? :D However...I do love a good morning rant as it inevitably leads to her understanding of the industry + love for writers. (The cuff to her own colleagues' bad behavior is a bonus).

Susan Bonifant said...

I like the reaching through the screen visual so very much.

And I myself needed needed needed this pep talk this morning so thank you.


stacy said...

Anymore, I go on the maxim "You never know." I once submitted my resume to a temp agency that specialized in hiring accountants. I wasn't even remotely qualified for that kind of work, but I was so desperate at the time, I sent them my resume anyway. Turned out, unbeknownst to me, they partnered with a creative temp agency and sent my info over. Two weeks later I had a nice-paying job that I eventually spun into something full-time. That never would have happened if I hadn't thrown something out there.

Another opportunity I had was writing some stuff for an educational publishing vendor. Started off with one small assignment, and the next thing I knew it turned into about $15,000 worth of work (that was in addition to the editing stuff I was already doing for them). I'd just read Martin Seligman's LEARNED OPTIMISM and I was in the right frame of mind to recognize the opportunity and go with it. That job took me out of poverty-level wages.

The positive psychology industry tells us differently, but I've learned through painful experience in many, many missed opportunities that optimism is really a practice and not a belief system. When the cost of failure is low, I practice optimism. In querying, you only risk losing a little time (if you learn from it, you haven't wasted your time). You might as well put something out there and see what happens. You never know.

SiSi said...

You wrote a rant. I read a halftime motivational speech. Okay, coach, I'm ready to get back to it!

Colin Smith said...

Okay, Janet, call me a woodland creature, but define "least suitable client." Are we talking axe-murderer crazy, or won't-answer-the-phone reclusive, or...? It's a bit off-topic (like that's ever stopped me before), but I often hear "agent success stories" where either the writer or the agent talk about how they knew they would have a great working relationship because they "hit it off" over The Call. Is that what you mean?

I suspect you might answer something along the lines of "they need to be serious about their work, meeting deadlines, listening and responding to editorial comments, etc." But it seems to me that's something you would only know AFTER the query has done its job and you've had The Call. Or are there signs of problems to come you've learned to discern over many years of swimming these waters? Things you can pick up even from a query or a brief phone conversation?

Yes, I'm getting picky over a detail. Don't get me wrong. I love the spirit of your rant, and I wish you could be QOTKU so all agents would think this way. I just saw that phrase and wondered... :)

LynnRodz said... a bell. Ding, ding, ding.

Anonymous said...

Goshamighty, if that wasn't the epitome of sheer perfection for an answer.

The roar you hear is the standing ovation from all writers who have been reminded (yet again) we aren't sidling up to a buffet, waiting for permission.

The happy yapping is Little Dog

He concurs.

Anonymous said...

Well. At least I had no grammar mistakes today. Trust me, the pic of Little Dog was cute.

Colin, might have to pester you on the hyperlink thingy again.

Amy Schaefer said...

I agree with stacy. Look at it this way: if you query your weirdness, there is a chance (however small) that someone will ask for pages and good things will follow. If you don't query, there is absolutely no chance of that outcome.

It isn't as though an agent is going to read your query, turn purple, start shouting to her colleagues about what a moron you are for querying her with such an insane book, then drive to your house to beat you with her Cluestick for daring to send her 250 words of weird. No. At worst, she'll scan your query, think: "nope", form-reject and move on.

Maybe you'll catch someone on a quirky day. Embrace the weird, and give it a shot.

Colin Smith said...

Donna: You've got the correct principle. You just need to put the link in the quotes. Assuming you have the picture somewhere on your blog (or at least on your blog site). Bug me if you need more help. :)

S.D.King said...

That rant was the most helpful motivation so far in 2015.

I am polishing up my query in hopes the Shark will critique it. I have submitted 6 places (5 agents, 1 dream publisher)and gotten: 2 no response, 2 no thanks, and 2 very encouraging letters saying the manuscript is strong and concept is fresh (the publisher said she read the whole thing she enjoyed and admired it, but didn't love it "quite enough" to take it on. She added that she was confident I would find representation.)

I have now wasted weeks wondering if all that was just a polite way to say, "Nice to meet you - now go away."

So should I keep querying or should I wait to see if I can get help from the Shark?

Dena Pawling said...

While my manuscript is with my freelance editor, I'm researching agents who rep women's fiction. So far, I've compiled a spreadsheet with over 100 agents, and I'm only about 2/3 finished. Once the spreadsheet is complete, I'll go back thru it and figure out which agents might be a good fit for me. I've already followed a few on twitter who appear to be likely prospects.

Janet's chum bucket page says she reps:

A. Narrative non-fiction, principally history and biography.
This is not me.

B. High concept crime thrillers
This is not me, not that I'm fully aware of what “high concept” means, but this is definitely not women's fiction.

C. Astonishing-mind boggling-throw-your-hands-up-with-joy at the beauty of the writing literary fiction.
This is not me. “The beauty of the writing” does not gel with my Plain English for Lawyers training.

She does NOT rep:

A. Anything YA.
This is not me.

B. Anything paranormal, or supernatural.
My other WIP is urban fantasy and/or paranormal, not that I really understand the difference between urban fantasy and paranormal, but I'm not querying this WIP and maybe the agent I find for my women's fiction either will rep this one too, or ask a friend to do it. I don't know, but I'll include this in our conversation if I ever get “the call”.

C. Science fiction or fantasy.
See B.

D. Horror.
I got nervous at the beginning of Perry Mason and Columbo episodes. I do NOT write horror.

E. Suspense. Psychological, romantic or otherwise.
See D.

So since women's fiction isn't in either of these categories, what's the worst thing that can happen if I query the Shark? I'll get a REJECTION. [Some might argue that qualifies as horror.] But I can 100% guarantee the rejection won't say “why are you wasting my time?” Perhaps it will be wasting MY time, but I can handle that.

My thoughts:

I need to learn how to handle rejection, and this is likely to be a “nice” rejection, so I'll risk that. But I can see it as a concern for those who are trying to minimize their chances of rejection.

If my WIP is “weird”, I'd wonder if I can ever find an agent to represent me. But if I want an agent, I'm gonna have to risk it.

If the agent actually WILL think I'm wasting his/her time, will said agent tell all his/her friends that I'm an obnoxious writer? I hope agents have more things to do with their time than to talk about the random queries they receive [that don't stand out for any reason other than this].

So maybe I'll query the Shark after all. Might be a really funny addition to my blog. “The Shark rejects a fellow shark.”

Colin Smith said...

@Dena: I have a suggestion. Why not submit your query to QueryShark, especially if you're sure Janet wouldn't rep your work? Queries submitted to Chum Bucket are supposed to be for projects within Janet's preferred fields. The purpose of QueryShark is to help writers of all genres workshop queries. She gives a detailed critique regardless of whether the query is something she would be interested in, and blog readers can also pitch in with their (usually well-intentioned) thoughts.

Just a thought...

Kelsey Hutton said...

@Dena - In the spirit of "why knows?" though, Janet has said before (on QueryShark) that she's on the lookout for good book club fiction. So maybe your novel could fall into that category.

I think Janet has also said elsewhere on this blog that her authors' genre/category often changes from what they said in their query to her and what she pitches it as to editors.

Kelsey Hutton said...

Gaah - and by "why knows" I meant "who knows" .... back to coffee for me.

Dena Pawling said...

Colin - I've submitted both queries to QueryShark [three months apart]. It's been well over 90 days on the second one, so I'm sure she won't be using them. But then I guess that has the added benefit of her already having seen them. At least chum bucket would be a quick rejection, reducing my suspense/stress level :)

Kelsey - yes, I've read her "book club" comment. I don't think my WIP qualifies as book club, but then what do I know? She can always say "no". It'll give me practice.

Colin Smith said...

Good point, Kelsey. I've wavered between categories on previous novels. And I think you're right--Janet has said that while you should have a good go at defining the book's genre, don't be surprised if you get it wrong.

french sojourn said...

"We are not beggars at the banquet of publishing...maybe one of the great unwashed, but definitely not beggars.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being the voice of reason in a most unreasonable world.

Anonymous said...

When I left my adoring husband of 33 years, partly over my writing, I was faced with the unpleasant proposition of finding a job. I'd been writing for a horse racing magazine for 23 years, but hadn't held a job in the real world for years and I didn't make enough money with the magazine to survive. My son told me to apply at the Family Dollar distribution center. I did. They read my application and pulled me aside to talk to me about an office job.

That would be right up my alley, except reach forklift operators made $5 more an hour. I applied for the forklift operator position even though I was 56 years old, overweight, bad knees, and a female. I got the job and passed my two week training period with flying colors.

I should know not to limit myself.

Then I start reading twitter and see exactly what Janet says about agents telling people not to waste their time.

"I don't do (long list of very specific things like WWII that aren't listed on websites), auto pass."

I rep fantasy, but only x fantasy and no a, b, or c fantasy.

Is it any wonder writers are nuts?

We got into a discussion on Books and Writers about our beloved Janet Reid last week. One of the ladies there writes beautiful literary fiction and was confused about what Janet reps. It says x here but y there.

Fearful writer syndrome.

I like to think my breathtaking Buffy does epic fantasy will win over haters of sword and sorcery, but I think that's like marrying a drunk and thinking he'll change.

Anonymous said...


You need to query Janet. Trust me on this.

On the plus side, women's fiction is popular right now. It's amazing how many agents are scrambling for it. I wish I could write it, but it seems fantasy and Civil War are my thing these days.

This is your year.


Brian said...

Thank you so much for answering this type of question Janet, I know it definitely helps me. When I submitted my query for one of the Chum Buckets, I was worried I would be wasting your time since it's not a genre you represent but the more I thought about it, the more I told myself, the worst thing she can say is "not for me"(which of course happened but the point is that I did it instead of not doing it and thinking, "what if...")

Jenz said...

Brian, I did exactly the same thing, submitting in the Chum Bucket even though Janet doesn't take on SFF. I really wanted a heads up if the query was in the red hot mess zone.

In general querying, I don't plan to query agents who are specific about not wanting SFF. At least not yet. I might get braver/foolish about that as I become increasingly desperate.

Colin Smith said...

Here's a sobering perspective from writer Susan Dennard (scroll down to the heading "Daydreamers: Please Don't Quit Your Day Job"). As I think about what Susan says, it gives me perspective on why agents seem so very picky, and say no to great books, and turn away authors they love. They know what publishers are looking for, and it's not always what you're writing, no matter how great it is. In fact, the odds of an agent matching your manuscript with exactly what a publisher's looking for are probably a lot slimmer than we care to think.

The big message out of this, though is (I think): persevere. If you're not prepared to stick at the day job for as long as it takes, and keep writing, and keep submitting, and persist in the face of rejection, then maybe being published isn't what you want.

Julia said...


I know you don't "do" Fantasy - we've discussed this, and I've even benefited (greatly) by emailing you regarding my own work. I therefore will not be querying you about my current project.


I've been discussing the series with a local indy publishing co to tighten the first MS for traditional publishing, and we've started working on it together, and we are wondering whether it even needs to go into genre fiction at all. The work uses supernatural elements essentially to access European history - not to play with magic as a primary plot device. Authors such as Rice & Gabaldon, among others, have done similar things and have had success with non-genre fiction publishing.

Many agents seem to prefer not to work in fantasy. My indy publishers have said that the series have the potential to enter fiction, YA, historical fiction, fantasy, and romance.

Given this particular thread, I'm wondering whether it's preferable to agents to target "fantasy" once one has thrown magic into it - or to stay with non-genre "fiction" if at all possible.

Thanks much,

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Time to go fishing in a new pond.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

This must be one of the questions that made the Shark jump up and down.

Tonight I am unusually verbacious. This post takes me by surprise and everyone’s comments are worthy, as usual.

Dena hits all the points concerning my current MS except it has a dark side and is cross cultural urban and has some romance. C is definitely not me. Those are all the reasons I've told myself I could not query to the Shark. But she's probably heard that before. Guilty is me.

Dena, lawyers make great writers and all those I've met (a lot) have imagination to boot. Your blog posts are delightful. I clicked on your name because I like your voice -something dreamy- in your comments and my expertise is merely a reader searching entertainment.

Stacy makes a great point. I think of Wasily Kandinsky who never painted until very late in life and he is one of the 20th century icons. You just never know.

Colin, I read somewhere else on another blog exactly that: Don't quit the day job. I wonder about all those MFAs in creative writing; what will they do with their soft hands? Drive Forklifts, doesn’t sound bad. A friend of mine after finishing her dissertation wanted to go work in a chicken factory. Creative writing was for floozies when I wanted to study writing. Art, forget it.

The point in Janet's rant that surprises me is those agents on twitter bashing authors for sending querys. Naivete or dyslexia, both maybe.

I haven't queried yet and think I am ready for the rejection after living through years of snotty gallery owners. But I know the burnt milk in my heart will still leave a ring in the pan.

Luckily there are the professionals who just work the business and deal with the scurrying forest side of the creative individuals .

I think the main problem of landing The Shark as an agent is that one would have to work work work. They query is just the hook. The scary part is what comes afterwards.

Ginger Mollymarilyn said...

Two things. First and foremost, thank you for your solidarity, Janet. You really "get" us writers. Second, if you're the Queen of this universe, who is Queen of the next one over?

Anonymous said...

"The point in Janet's rant that surprises me is those agents on twitter bashing authors for sending querys. Naivete or dyslexia, both maybe."

I don't think it's so much bashing as it is "words to the wise". I was going through some more query comments today.

Still don't rep mystery.
No thrillers.
No angels.
No WWII (again).

pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass

I wish agents would not only list what they want, but what specifically they are going to auto pass on. Not every author is going to search out every comment they make on twitter to know that lovely women's fiction you have, which was great until you mentioned the ghost, will be an auto pass.

Dena Pawling said...

Julie – I sure hope you're right, and this really IS my year :)

Colin – I'm not planning to quit my day job, but I can start considering it “research” since my MC is an attorney.

Angie – You like my voice because it's “something dreamy?”
Don't say that too loud. You'll absolutely RUIN my well-deserved reputation of snarky, obnoxious, heartless, callous, cruel attorney who evicts poor, innocent, down-trodden tenants, throwing them out into the cold, cruel world at Christmas/holiday/winter/during the school year/any other inconvenient time. Like any time is convenient, but whatever. [Did I use enough adjectives there?]

On the other hand, my blog posts are delightful???????????????????


Hug Hug Hug Hug Hug Hug
Can I adopt you?????

But seriously, I need to figure out how to do a few things on my blog, like create new pages. I'm one of those “oldsters” that had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. And I'm not done yet with the kicking and screaming.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

The bashing being complaining for wasting time.

I imagine that refers to those who don't read the instructions. Surely it is frustrating to have 300 emails, many clueless emails. To complain about it seems unprofessional. With self-publishing's crescendo, complaining about being solicited does not seem like a good idea.

Yes Dena, your writing transports.

Jenz said...

Complaining about clients, customers, people in general at work isn't new, and I don't think there's anything wrong with a little venting. Just not so publicly. Firing off a venty tweet is tempting, but you might eventually regret giving in to that temptation as much as giving in to that third pint of ice cream (the first two were enough).

White Bebe said...

Janet, that was very nice and encouraging of you. I respect your directness. Speaking from experience, some of us writers go through MFA's where professors basically say that anyone who thinks about publishing is a fool. Writers deal with fellow writers who think low of themselves because of lack of support, and because of that, graduate from MFA's saying, "I didn't write at all this summer." Will they write again? $50,000 on a lost dream? It makes me squirm.

I completely understand that we should focus on the art of writing, without obsessing about outcome and fame etc,, but people need a push. They need to see the sun coming up to feel like there is a purpose. It's basic psychology. People don't expect others to go to medical school just learn about medicine, and then never apply it.

Why does most of society believe that artists should create but not show off their works, or try to make a career out of the art that they love. What is wrong with that? So I want to thank you for actually believing in writers. It's odd that so many writers hardly believe in one another. What a strange profession. Don't we get enough crap from our families and friends for doing what we do? Do we also need negative people in our field to make us feel like shit? Nah. I'll pass.

Agents go into MFA programs and basically say, "Well. I don't really look at queries. No no no. Good luck." If what they're saying is fuck you, then why're they at our school talking crap? They should go home and stick their finger up their ass and get their next book from their friend that they probably represented already. People are afraid to branch out, take a chance. Thank you for allowing us to believe there is a chance for writers. That's all i have to say.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for calling out agents who are snarky on Twitter about bad queries. Those tweets only serve to convince me that the agent is cruel and self-important, not the kind of person I want to do business with. Don't they realize the victim probably follows them on Twitter?

Williebee said...

That's a good rant. Well said.