Monday, February 01, 2016

Now that I have your attention

My queries piled up in the last few weeks so I spent an hour reading them last Friday morning. (Two requested fulls out of fifty or so, for those of you torturing yourselves with stats.)

All too frequently I'd get a reply along the lines of "well, if you didn't want that, how about this."

And of course, what followed wasn't a real query. Sometimes it was just a line or two with pages included, or maybe just a paragraph.

I can't tell you how annoying that is. Maybe this will help.

Just because I'm replying to a query does not mean you get to avoid actually writing the next one.

You write a real query every SINGLE time you want me to consider reading a project.

No half-baked, after thought, second hand prose. NO NO NO.

Here's why:

My answer is always no.

First, I've just told you no so I remember that. You want to give yourself some time here so when I get the query for that next book, my first thought isn't "oh yea, that's the guy I just said no to."

Second, if you reply to a query you've got the wrong subject line most often. And you've got RE: whatever that wrong subject line is. I think I've got a reply, not a query. Which means I'm skimming at BEST and tossing in the trash unread at worst.

Third, it's ineffective. I'm not MORE likely to consider your work at this moment. I'm less. That's NOT something you want.

A real query every single time, no matter what. No exceptions. NONE.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

So, even if you arranged for our families and friends to join us on the fifty yard line of the Super Bowl, and you got down on your knee and showed my the ring in the velvet box, and asked me to marry you, and I said no - don't bother to show up at my door after the game with a silk rose, a six pack and another velvet box. The ring is the wrong size babe. Move on.

SiSi said...

2NNs, you made me laugh out loud--a good way to start a Monday morning!

If you've just turned me down on what was, presumably, my best shot, why would I throw my second-or-third best shot at you? This sounds like desperation overtaking common sense.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Whew. So good to be back (sort of) after my laptop froze. Yup, WIP saved. Son is fixing mine and letting me borrow his laptop in the meantime.

Back to today's topic: love that face. Message received. Got it.

And yesterday's WiR: A first page critique website sounds intriguing Janet, but only if you're passionate about it. Well, we know you're zealous about the craft of writing. I can't imagine you'd have time for 3 blogs related to writing. But maybe sharks have superpowers? I'd love to read your biting analysis on first pages. I learn from your comments on the winning entries of your flash fiction contests here. Not sure I've applied the lessons EFFECTIVELY yet, but I'm working on it.

Congrats Colin and kd for heading the column this week. And thank you, Colin, for getting my website listed on Carkoon's Most Wanted list.

Now...time to see if I can remember how to get back into my website to do more changes...aack.

Amanda Capper said...

Nice try, buddy boy. Cutting corners never works, and I take back the previous 'nice try' as well. Lazy. Running rampant these days.

Jeezuzjumping, I've got to stop saying 'these days'. And using quotes.

I'm so pissed at myself for missing yesterday's conversation. I made Janet crack up (the good least for now), but I was so busy concentrating on remembering Downton Abbey is on Sundays, I forgot the WIR. And I loved all the headers (we are a creative bunch), but Colin brought it home for me. They are priceless. Even the snow-shovelling ones.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

2Ns priceless! What a great laugh for a Monday.

The query is inescapable. That is one harsh blow of reality to start out the week. Second only to your book must be finished AND polished before you dain to query. Or else.

Having been on the receiving end of that "or else", trust me. Let the beta readers have a 3rd or 4th go before you proclaim the book finished.

I am skipping work to revise said finished book. So it can be absolutely, totally, utterly done before resubmerging it in shark infested waters. I want blood-squirting bites (offer of rep) this time, not just nibbles (partials - R&Rs).

Coffee time. Love you guys. Have a great Monday.

Donnaeve said...

I suspect the folks who queried might *ass*u*me a response means even though it was no, they have The Shark's attention. And while they have The Shark's attention, HERE! How 'bout this? They should study up on shark behavior. Sharks hunt. They will test bite and if the test bite proves to be something other than what they want, buh bye.


Interesting to me, maybe others, is the fact publishing editors sometimes take a similar approach when the say "no." To have something follow up too soon after a no isn't a wise move. Example, I was on submission for a while, when I had the opportunity to place another story on submission. I was advised by my agent to use a pseudonym because "editors will recognize a name they've said no to recently." It had been A YEAR. But, he said they'd remember, and it would be considered too soon.

That little lesson still sticks with me today. I didn't submit the story, btw.

Anonymous said...

Third, it's ineffective. I'm not MORE likely to consider your work at this moment. I'm less. That's NOT something you want.

I kind of assumed that would be a given. Isn't it in most situations?

Choose the answer most likely to yield a yes out of a no:
A) Oh, you don't like Kales'R'Us? If I take you to Carkoon Fine Dining, will you go out with me then?
B) "Pretty please" isn't enough? What if I hold up a picture of an adorable loaner cat and say "pretty please" again, will you turn my F into an A?
C) So, my finely tuned, polished audition didn't get me the part? Are you perhaps interested in my half-asterisked Alan Rickman impression? What do you mean, "Alan Rickman in what?"

Also weighing into yesterday's conversation on the first page critique site, I'd be all over that like kale on a dumpster. Comments on the first page can be applied to anywhere else in the novel, not to mention getting insight into where you're losing interest. Whoever said yesterday that authors were complaining that the agent didn't "read until it got good" and that made it "unfair" hit on a very important point of this exercise: you can't expect they'll go until it's good. You can't assume they'll give your writing three or five or fifty pages to see if it's worth their time. They value their own time and spend exactly as much on your writing as you sell them on. And that's true of anyone reading it, not just agents.

Colin Smith said...

Before I get to my comment...

Lisa: Thank you! You're welcome! And congrats for getting your work salvaged from your frozen PC. Remember to make back-ups! *Makes a note to back-up his stuff...* And I believe if Janet were to do a page critique blog, it wouldn't be in addition to QueryShark. I think she would rest QueryShark. Keep the site active (because it is a goldmine of examples)--hopefully keep a BACK-UP of it. But she wouldn't try to juggle three sites at once. I agree with you, though--she should only do it if she's as passionate about the project as she was about QueryShark.

Now, to the topic...

2Ns summed it up beautifully, like the seasoned writer she is (no, that's not a euphamism for "old"--I mean experienced, someone who knows what they're doing--at least with words). What amazes me is how anyone who has done their agent research would do something like this. Don't tell me a regular Reider did this. We all know that if you're serious about getting an agent's attention, you scour social media for everything that agent has said about querying. You pay attention to their pet peeves. If they say they like for you to mention any social media interaction they've had with you, then you mention it. If they say they only accept email queries, then you only send them an email. If they say they don't want attachments, then you don't attach anything. If they ask you to format your query in a way that doesn't conform to the Janet Reid standard, then... well, you ignore them. She's QOTKU for a reason, ya know. ;)

You get my point, though. How ANYONE could have done their research on Janet and made an error like this, I don't know. Is there a blog post about how to reply to a rejection? Let's pull some posts from the archive about replying to rejections:

From that little collection, you should be able to discern a couple of important points:

1) The correct response to a rejection is either nothing, or thank you. Not "So, what about this other novel of mine...?"

2) Nowhere does Janet indicate an alternative to querying a project. If you get a rejection, you continue querying agents. If you have a new project, you query it.

There are a lot of articles on Janet's blog. There's also a pretty good "search" facility. I found these using it. So can you! :)

S.D.King said...

Somewhere out there is a writer who watched the movie "Rudy" and won't give up. He/she may be making mistakes, but this early on Monday morning, I am still rooting for him/her. 99% of writers spend 6 months not getting out of bed, dissecting the rejection, looking for hidden meaning in every word.

Anonymous said...

'Now that I have your attention..." Yes, I've got your attention at this moment because you just said "No." Seriously, though, I need to think about whether that's the kind of attention I want from the person evaluating my work! Of course I need to wait until that kind of attention has faded before asking for another evaluation.

Janet, you are a kindly shark indeed, posting messages like this so that other woodland creatures who might make the same mistake can realize, Whoops! That would be a mistake. I thank you from the bottom of my little squirrel heart.

Also, add me to the "Yes, please!" list on the first page critique site. What a wonderful opportunity for all of us!

nightsmusic said...

My thought on this is: how in the world does the querier (Is that a word? It must be! Because we all are at some point.) know if it was a "no" on the query or the first however many pages? I don't know that Janet would say what she based her "no" on. So, making the jump from, Oh, you didn't like that? What about this? Or better yet, this? How about some kale with it? How about some whiskey soaked kale with it? How about I send you every word I've ever written?

No, please don't do that. Recover, regroup and write a new query for the next submission. It's the only way to be sure.

Lucie Witt said...

Donnaeve, that's really interesting about submitting to editors.

This post brings it back to first (or otherwise early) impressions. I don't want an agent to think I try to cut corners or otherwise short shift necessary work (and we might hate it, but queries are necessary).

I didn't chime in yesterday on the first pages idea. I love it, of course. Though I wonder if first pages aren't wildly more subjective than queries?

Donnaeve said...

Lucie, it was to me too. I was like huh? Really? Well, okay. Moving on. Not to say all editors are like that..., but I bet a good majority of them are.

Sometimes though...editors will ask to see something else if the door is opened during a submission, and they are interested enough. (this is what happened to me) So back to that post/comments from a couple days ago...that's why it's good to write another book - and another - and another. You never know when you'll get that chance.

But...I wonder (cause you know I like to wonder) do any agents ever do this? Without a formal query? Hmmm, inquiring minds wanna know. :)

Now, I'm off to Raleigh for the day! Ya'll have a good one!

Colin Smith said...

I'm with you Donna. I wonder if Janet has ever been so impressed with a query/pages that, even though she has to pass on that project she proactively asks the writer if s/he has anything else. Janet?

Karen McCoy said...

2Ns! What a beautiful analogy. It reminds me of the following:

On the first attempt, guy left half-drunk bottle of wine and a set of wilted flowers on the front porch. Even if he had persisted, I would have said no.

As Janet always says, it's the writing. Any further attempts will only result in wilted flowers. Give it time.

Brigid said...

The first pages critique blog sounds incredible. I've learned so much from QueryShark, not just about querying, but about stories. About writing. It took years for it to occur to me that the same tightening-up and strengthening of voice applies to the danged manuscript, too.

I've had a hard time writing on paper lately. Lots of writing-in-my-head when I'm behind the wheel or in the tub, but the only things getting written down are these little poems I write for each month. For February's, I think I've taken out the same -ly and put it back in again five times now! I have more sympathy for Oscar Wilde's comma.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

2Ns made me laugh out loud - and I'm not supposed to be reading blogs at work. (Just kidding, I'm on a coffee break. Those are a thing, right?)
I just don't see how insta-re-querying could ever be a good thing. Hopefully, the story you submitted was the absolute best thing you had to submit. Hopefully, the query you wrote was the absolute best query you could write.
Having a backup for a project you've spent hundreds of hours on is a little... disconcerting. Kind of like a doctor from a prestigious medical school pulling out his community college associates. It's not that it's a bad thing to have it... but if you need to show it off to sell your skills, something went wrong somewhere.

Dave Rudden said...

So what Janet is saying is that I should change the title of my book, change my pen name reword my query letter and resent it to her.

This blog is awesome. Janet is the best. Here are some of the things I have learn from her:
1) Add the line "I want to be a paper back writer" to every line in my query letter
2) Make sure to send roses and topless photos with my letters. Topless as my head is cut off. No one wants to see me with my shirt off.
3) Be sure to write my letters in size 18 Comic Sans to make it stand out
4) If I don't hear from Janet in 90 days, go to her office singing show tunes from a meg phone with her name tattooed to my chest
5) Loaner Cat is 10x funnier than I am. Be like Loaner Cat

Of course I might be misreading a few of these lessons.

Still a robot

Lucie Witt said...

Colin's comment about reading query shark and taking notes made me wonder how many of us have a query shark notebook. I know I do. I think when I finished Id read all (then) 230ish queries and taken around ten pages of notes.

Colin Smith said...

I can't help myself. I've been thinking over possible names for the page critique site Janet is contemplating. Here's what I've got so far:

Opening Bite
Page Chum

I'm sure my fellow Reiders can come up with better ideas... :)

Craig said...

No, no and no. I am sorry my Queen but I have to think differently. I have not yet really queried but I have to hold out hope. That hope is that I will make a splash. Hopefully a large enough splash that by the third deal I should be able to get it from the notes on a cocktail napkin.

Of course by the time I have mastered the wide brush and learned to control the tense of my queries wanting to not query will be moot. I will probably be enjoying the writing of queries and synopses by that point.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting way to start the day. Much better than the phone call waking me up to tell me they can combine my credit cards and get me debt relief. I don't have credit cards.


"If you've just turned me down on what was, presumably, my best shot, why would I throw my second-or-third best shot at you?"

Sometimes you might have a second project that is simply a lot different than the first. I've had agents reject Far Rider and add, "Please keep me in mind for future projects."

Those agents will go to the top of the list for The Rain Crow when it's ready. If I still had Dancing Horses floating around and I felt it was ready, I would have submitted it with a complete, polished query.

The reason I would is sometimes a story just doesn't resonate with an agent. Far Rider is high fantasy. QOTKU doesn't do high fantasy. It's possible she might like a book about, well, say, cowgirls. If that was done and polished, I would follow up a rejection with a query for that.

The Cowgirl Hall of Fame has agreed to open their archives to me, for those keeping track. So, I am off to Ft. Worth this summer. Praise the Lord and pass the taters, going to Texas!

Anonymous said...

Boy howdy. Janet should not have mentioned possible pages critique.

"I heard you say I'm getting a big pony! Oh my! Oh my! Oh my! I'm going to call him Roy Rogers! What if he's a girl pony? Snickers!! I'll name her snickers!! What do ponies like to eat? I need to go to the library and read about ponies...again! Maybe I'll name it Misty after my favorite book. I know they like carrots. Mom can you buy carrots when you go to the store? And a brush? Ponies like to be brushed. Do you brush their feet? The hard part? What about their teeth? I need ribbons!!!! I'm going to put ribbons in his hair. I'll braid it every day and put ribbons. Mom, can we show my pony? Remember that movie on tv where the little girl showed her horse? I want to show my pony. Not just show, but jump stuff, like the movie. Oh my! Oh my! Oh my! This is just the best day ever. I love you, Mom. And Dad, too."

"Darling, I was telling your grandmother you're getting a bit bony."

"Oh. So, how are we going to get my pony home?"

Sherry Howard said...

I found a little mercy for this person because. . . well, at the beginning of every learning curve we all plummet off the road a few times. And it takes someone like QOTKU to share the wisdom and the rules so we know better. We Reiders know better about a lot of writerly etiquette that others may not, based on my some of my interactions with beginning writers.

Dear QOTKU, Your first pages idea sounds wonderful! I do think it could be so much more time-intensive than queries. I love following some blogs that do this (contests usually and temporary). The pattern of some mistakes is pretty steady and predictable, but voice is so subjective. That's the stink eye only a shark brings to critique. I've often paid for first page critique, or first fifty page critiques, and it's ALWAYS been worth it. Need a panel for that? You'd have volunteers here.

nightsmusic said...

Oh, Julie, Misty is my favorite horse book ever!

DLM said...

Donna and, I think it goes even a step further than the attention.

I think what happened here is that the queriers are so excited to get any response at all, they mistake it for the beginning of a personal relationship. We've discussed the NORMANs (this should perhaps go in the Glossary?) often here, and your not being one - in addition to your being generous enough to conduct both this blog and the Query Shark experiment - makes you seem ACCESSIBLE, Janet. You have become a person, and people talk to people. Right?

Sooooo ya said no. You said something, anything! We're past business correspondence now! I can treat you like the palsy walsy you are!

I think these queriers' real mistake was in failing to include kitten pics.

I've done live first pages critiques and they are FANFOOGOOTASTIC - would adore to submit with Le Shark. My apologies I missed yesterday, it's been horrible headache time with the weather jumping from blizzard to near 70 degrees - with snow still on the ground.

John Frain said...

People are constantly looking for shortcuts. From my vantage point, I'm not sure there are any in the path to publishing. Something like write a good story keeps getting in the way of any shortcut.

Now I'm going to tiptoe into the shallow end to make this next statement, just in case...

Here's a thought, Janet, if you do go forward with an opening-page critique blog. Maybe you post the opening page on Day One, give Reiders a chance to view it, digest it, think about it and critique it on their own, and then you come back on Day Three with your perspective. I think the benefits are intuitive, so I won't get wordy here.

Just a thought. I notice my foot is bleeding, so I think I'll step out of the water entirely for a little while. G'day!

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

What if instead of a query I put my pitch in a comment on your blog? Picture this: a famous Italian chef is turned into a zombie. I call it PASTA FA-GHOUL!

DLM said...

Gotta admit, Stephen. I kinda want to read that.

LynnRodz said...

Actually, I think Janet was kidding about first pages, but now that she sees how popular the idea is maybe she will consider it. Just saying.

As for today's post, I think writers who would do that are those who might feel a "friendly" rapport with Janet and didn't think they needed to query like everyone else. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense.

BJ Muntain said...

It's a basic sales technique: You don't want that? What about this? In sales, you don't stop until you have a sale or the customer walks out on you.

Some salespeople can do it, acting professional and knowledgeable the whole time, making sure they're trying to sell the customer something they want.

Others come off as more desperate: "Please buy from me. Really. I need to get my sales up to get my commission."

The former are more successful. I've seen it. The latter are all about 'me'.

We've discussed 'all about me' before. 'Pity me' doesn't get sales. 'What do you really want?' does.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

My general impression is one should not respond to one's rejections. Not with a tirade about why the agent is wrong, not by showing up at their house/kid's school/place of work, not by sending a printed copy by mail with a bouquet of flowers, not by pitching another project. Not. At. All. I do not like that, Sam I Am (though I guess that's a poor parallel to draw, as the narrator relented at the end).

Though I guess the first project queried is not necessarily the writer's only book, or necessarily best book (though I guess we'd be hard pressed to say without reservation what our best books are, n'est-ce pas?). I mean, I'm querying the second book I wrote, edited, and polished to completion, not the first. Though the more I think about the first, the more I think about the adjustments that need to be made. Sigh. The number of unfinished manuscripts on my hard drives abound.

Kregger said...

I reply with a thank you to every query rejection. I add a, "thank you" in the subject line after RE:

I'm not snarky or hateful, because I don't feel that way. I express sincere thanks. I have used a stranger's time for the purpose of our mutual benefit. It doesn't always work out.

I end the missive with,

You are a scholar and a gentleman/woman (as the case maybe).


Snookums or whatever pen name I chose for that day.

The odd thing is--I occasionally get a form rejection for my thank you.

Opie's behavior never occurred to least not without a fifth of spirits for a bribe.

Theresa said...

Janet's already written the subheader for the week: A real query every single time, no matter what.

Janice L. Grinyer said...

Quality queries, not quantity.

Like when I bake cookies. Somebody has to eat the rejects so that the good ones stand out.

*JLG's eyes look up to the left*

It's the best analogy I got for today.


Mona Zarka said...

Colin, those links! Thank you. The Shark Delay Team made my day. Next time someone irritates me to no end, I might laugh.

Nightsmusic: usually I just check a box to claim I'm not a robot, but today reCaptcha had me choose images with street names, and then images with trees. It tried to trick me with roses and a wooden table (hey, wood comes from trees, right? It didn't specify living trees).

Lennon Faris said...

I imagine that Janet's 'no's' contain something encouraging because she knows how easily a writer can be crushed. And then (that infamous writer's ego whispering on their shoulder, I'm sure) they took that as, 'oh she likes me, she just doesn't want THIS particular work of mine.'

And then, because hearing from an agent must be like getting a letter back from Santa Claus, their common sense probably just plummeted and they went into panic mode of 'don't let her go or she'll disappear again' and they threw something at her that if they'd taken just 24 hours to consider strongly, they probably wouldn't have.

I hope I will never be this person, but like Sherry Howard, I do feel some sympathy!

nightsmusic said...

HAH! Mona, reCaptcha is insidious. It's slowly messing with our minds and trying to eventually take over the world.

Panda in Chief said...

I know we've been told (probably here) that we're not supposed to reply at all to rejection emails, but when it is a particularly encouraging personal rejection, I can't help sending a quick "thank you for reading my query."

So sue me.

Actually, one of the more succinct rejections I ever had, (this was for getting into a gallery) was a post-it-note stuck on to my slide sheet (back in the days before email etc) which said, "The work doesn't interest me." I don't recall sending a thank you.

AJ Blythe said...

Could only skim the comments today, but read the first - hilarious 2Ns (needed the pick-me-up).

Replying straight away with another idea? Surely everyone drowns themselves in a bath of chocolate for a week before turning on their computer again?

SiSi said...

Julie, I agree completely with what you said about going back to an agent later with a different book. When I said going back with a "second or third best shot," I was talking more about this particular case-- if the agent turned down my well- crafted query, it seems unlikely she would then be happy to request a full based on my rushed, blurted out mention of another novel.

Also, like you I heard "we're getting a pony" when Janet mentioned a page(s) critique!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

So glad I tickled a few funny bones today.

And Colin my friend, I have been writing for quite awhile so perhaps I am a seasoned writer. As for whether I am old, the only difference between well-rendered and rot is age.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey I just realized that my comments today were mere seconds shy of exactly twelve hours apart. You know what that means? Not a damn thing.

Megan V said...

Seeing as I committed the cardinal sin of the querying process recently—and am keeping my fingers crossed that I don't earn a Carkoon-worthy boot to the stratosphere 'cause I ought to know better—I'm probably the wrong person to pipe in on this conversation.

Nevertheless, I'm I the only one who's been seeing an upswing in the 'tell me if you've queried me before and with what project' addition to agencies' querying guidelines? I wonder if that's playing some role in the, well you didn't like that so here's this mentality. IT doesn't excuse the lack of an actual query, but it still makes me wonder.

Anonymous said...


I agree about the second or third shot.

Re the pony thing, I'm not trying to be a wet blanket, I often am, but y'all are tickling me.

Caitlin Lane said...

Pretty sure I need that dog to follow me around and pull that face whenever anyone tries to talk to me while I'm working. Come on dude, I didn't put these headphones in for no reason.

Thanks for the tip, though! I've never replied to a rejection before, but good to know.