Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"next project" in query-and a nice little rant

At a conference I was at, an agent said that they wanted a line included in the query talking about your next project, because she's going to be more likely to sign you if you have career potential. Should I add this line to all queries, or just hers?

Oh lo, we do find new ways to torture you don't we.

I can hear you all now getting back on your rodent wheels wondering how much to include; what if it's not the same category; but the next book is a sequel and you're not supposed to talk about sequels; what if it's a memoir and you don't have any more subject matter? Whirl! Whirl! Whirl!

Honest to god, I want to smack any agent who does this.

For starters, she's asking the question WAY TOO EARLY!

She's not going to know if she wants to sign you until after she's read the ms. Is she going to NOT read the ms because you didn't include a line saying you plan to work until the Grim Reaper comes calling, and if you can get wifi in hell the afterlife you'll be working after that too.

Second, at this point, how can an agent not know how writers fret?

Oh wait, they're too busy telling you all the fucking hoops you need to jump through and making it clear that, but for writers, this would be a nice job.

Honest to Smut (and I mean the dragon-Smaug's younger sibling- not the category) agents like this should be required to be novelists for a year. They'd clean up their act pronto.

As to the answer to your question: add it just to hers.

You don't need the hassle of trying to work it into your query for the rest of us who have our priorities in the right order.

And when agents toss off those thoughtless little nuggets at writing conferences, you should all hold up signs to remind them that submission guidelines are to help writers and should be simple and easy. Not filled with little idiosyncrasies that aren't as transparent as the idiot agent thinks.




48 comments:

luciakaku said...

"Um, Miss Agent, will you go out with me?"
"Before committing to a fist date, I like to check bank statements. Have yours on you?"

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Well, that rant set my week in good order! Thank you to the Shark for chomping on that bit of excess requirement. Whew. Get off that hamster wheel and roll it out of my cage. NOT needed.

And I never knew Smaug had a little sibling named Smut. Oh wait. Are they the twins? Smut and Smack?

CynthiaMc said...

Hell has wifi? Hmmmmm....

Honestly vacation may be a curse. I'm finding myself with time to worry about stuff I don't have time to worry about when I'm rushing to work and rehearsal.

I've gotten my projects organized and I still love them all. They're all very different. They're all farther along than I thought they were. Some are even done (when did that happen?). I'd love to see all of them in print or on the screen.

I keep thinking Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee only wrote one book each and they did okay (I do not acknowledge Watchman).

I didn't think I had time to be a woodland creature, but apparently I do this week. Or maybe a hermit crab.

So I will stop pacing and write, polish, pray and send those suckers out to earn their keep instead of lolling in a box in the garage.

Hell is being on vacation with a zillion manuscripts and not knowing what to do with any of them.



Kitty said...

I would not include a line about my next project. In fact, I don't think I'd even query an agent who made that request, because I don't think the two of us would work well together.

But that's just me.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I can confirm, Hell does, in fact, has wi-fi and I will still be writing after shedding the useless shell I inhabit at the moment. Will I be mentioning my sojourn in the nether regions in a query. Not so much. So that's me back to the hamster wheel.

french sojourn said...

Interesting you should ask, at present I'm outlining a fictional novel. It's a who done it, or a who wouldn't do it...

The local watering hole is filling up with writers queuing for different items. A pipe wrench, (wench?) a candle stick, a trusty, rusty revolver. Happy hour comes early. The now armed vigilante march to a certain literary agents office. Some chanting, some humming, and one was even skipping.

AJ Blythe said...

How perfect you are, Miss Janet, to know that a rant is exactly the type of post I was in the mood to read tonight.

OP, it's rather mean of that agent to throw you a curve ball like that. Take Miss Janet's advice because she is the Queen of the known universe, and probably the one beyond that. And best of luck with your query!

As an aside, for such a long time now I've been imagining our Queen as Miss Janet. Any Aussies of my vintage here will understand why... I can't help but think of beloved Miss Jane from Mr Squiggle - she manages the grumpiness of Blackboard and the neediness of Mr Squiggle all with a smile on her face. Okay, so Miss Janet's smile shows sharp pointy teeth, but otherwise she's a doppelganger.

Rose Black said...

Good to know Hell has wifi, as I suspect I'm going to find myself there once I shuffle off the mortal coil. I was worried they'd still be on dial-up.

Colin Smith said...

If/when I actually get to go to a writer's conference, I'm going to avoid ANY and ALL sessions on writing queries. Seriously. I don't think I'd be able to resist the urge to raise my hand and say, "Uhh, excuse me, but are you really interested in getting queries, or do you just like jerking writers around?" After all, I know what I need to do for a query. The theory is pretty straight-forward. The execution is what's hard, and there are enough examples in QueryShark of how to do it well that my time at a conference would be better spent elsewhere. Maybe the bar, with QOTKU, and Ms. Barbara "The Agent Formerly Known As Norman" Poelle. You know that's my writer dream that almost came true at Bouchercon (except Ms. Poelle had "business" to conduct--though she sat NEAR us--that sort of counts). :)

Colin Smith said...

BTW, if you've been studying this blog for more than 2 years, you should know how Janet knows all about WiFi in Hell. After all, one of her top clients lives there... ;)

Donnaeve said...

"...because she's going to be more likely to sign you if you have career potential" = cart before horse. Which is what QOTKU was saying in a different way. With a F bomb to boot. Yay! My day is made!

What are the odds this agent will even remember what she said after the fact?

Sometimes I think some agents have a moment of super rockstar stardom when at a conference. There they are, on the stage and Wow! Look at all those shiny, eager faces hanging on to my every word! All these people are here for me. They want my attention. They want me. And I get to eeny meeny miny mo my way through them all. Bwahahahaha!

Okay, maybe not quite that sadistic, but ya'll get what I mean, I'm sure. In the space of a second, they have what they think is an "good idea," and throw it out there, really not thinking about the consequences.

I agree, write for a year..., better yet? Make them query. I.e. maybe they ought to have to query for their job at an agency.

:)

Colin Smith said...

SmutSmutSmut... I knew that name rang a bell. Thankfully, when my exile on Carkoon was abruptly terminated, I just had time to grab a couple of books before being hauled onto the homeward-bound shuttle. Smut was the original proprietor of a lima bean farm on the island of Spraggt. There's not much else to Spraggt save the lima bean farms. This one was quite prosperous because, well, Smut is a dragon. And even those used to the warm climate of Carkoon know better than to get on the wrong side of a dragon's breath, so the crop thieves tended to stay away. Interestingly, one of Smut's few regular visitors was Mr Bubb (Mr B. L. Z. Bubb), who, as we know, vacations on Carkoon for a few weeks every summer. I speak of Smut in the past tense, simply because I don't know if he is still around running his lima bean farm. This volume by Buttonweezer and Thropmorton doesn't mention Smut's demise, so I presume he's still alive and well. For the record, he grows excellent lima beans. :)

DLM said...

I've seen this advice in interviews and "how to do your query" articles etc. Honestly, I'm a little surprised by the passion - it has never struck me as a big deal. I think in an early draft of my query I did do this - after all, my now WIP bears a significant relationship to The Ax and the Vase, which I was querying. It's not a sequel - each stands determinedly alone, and the POV affects each novel very, very differently - but the WIP was born of A&V, certainly. So sure, I mentioned it for a while, then I edited that out - but not because I felt it was premature for an agent to consider future prospects. It just didn't have anything to do with the query at hand (see also: standing alone).

Janet's rants are OSUM, but as things to worry about go, this line in a query is not high on my list.

Jenny C said...

If there's no WI-FI in the afterlife at least that will keep me off of Twitter so I can get some writing done. There is access to Word, right? Or at least paper and pencil?

Arri Frranklin said...

Jenny, there's probably a typewriter in hell but the postage has got to be murder. Also, don't ask what the typewriter was previously used for.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

This is why we bow to the Queen, kiss her shoes and burn candles to honor her.
Oh thank you royal one. To have one less writey-thingy to worry about allows me to actually have time to eat, sleep and if a special occasion warrants, shower :)

Cheryl said...

I'd be inclined to just say "I have three more novels in various states of readiness."

Let the agent in question interpret that however they want.

Craig said...

If not to fuck with your head is there a reason for writing conferences. Oh there is the name dropping thing you can use after it is over.

I will save my 250 words to try to define my story arc in an enticing way. Thank you.

Adib Khorram said...

I feel kind of bad for Smut the Dragon. It has to be hard growing up when your older brother is the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities. "Hi, I'm Smut, the, uh, Second-Chiefest and Second-Greatest of Calamities."

Imagine the family dinners.

Jason Magnason said...

So just so we are clear: I am going to be subject to agents who do not have the chops to be good agents?

I don't have any more time. Back to homework at work. I mean work, I mean sleep. I don't know what I mean.

Sherry Howard said...

Beware the writer's rodent wheel--it leads only to exhaustion.

Colin Smith said...

Adib: Buttonweezer and Thropmorton say that part of the reason Smut moved to Carkoon and started his lima bean farm was family pressure. It seems he didn't have the temperament to compete with his older brother. Mind you, he doesn't think being the Chiefest and Greatest of Lima Bean Farmers is in any way taking second best. He's quite proud of it, in fact. Yes, Smaug may have all that gold, and strike fear in the heart of mortal flesh. But how good are HIS lima beans? No-one asks Smaug for HIS "Lima Godiva" casserole recipe, whereas Smut's is the talk of Carkoon! :)

Julie Weathers said...

Well, Surrey is coming up and God willing and the creek don't rise, I will be there. Registration is June 1, so I'll be spending part of today poring over lists for blue pencil appointment and pitch choices as you have to choose them with the registration.

I know, I detest pitches, and I may not do it, but I'll pick one. The main reason is I am so terrible at them and I really need to get more comfortable with the idea of being able to discuss my work briefly. It's amazing that a person does actually run into people who will ask you what you're writing and I usually stutter and stammer through some nonsense.

I will be taking a workshop on queries if there is one as I still sucketh at them. The one I took last year with Laurie McLean was very good. It was where she was promoting Ms Janet hot and heavy, Ms. Snark and Query Shark. Bless her heart, you could tell she was tired, but she stayed until the last dog howled helping people. She is the one someone sent a bottle of wine to the night before with a copy of their two-page single space query. She doesn't drink.

Anyway, if an agent asked me that I wouldn't mind telling them I had other projects. For one thing, I seem incapable of writing a single volume of something. My hamster brain will far outstrip my hamster body methinks. They'll probably be closing the coffin lid and hear, "Wait, wait, I've got another idea!"

When I pitched Far Rider last year, both agents asked if they thought it had series potential and how many books did I foresee. Three, but you never know how these things go. Hopefully not much more. I have other things I want to do. They asked what else. We shant discuss what else.

I think if a person has an opportunity to attend a conference they should take full advantage of all that is offered and go forth fearlessly. Make new friends, network, learn, get comfortable with this circle of hell. You're not going to agree with everything you hear. You shouldn't. But at least listen.

Craig, I suppose I am guilty of the name dropping thing and I'm going to ask forgiveness, though I don't know Diana and several other authors through conferences. It won't happen again.

Jennifer D said...

Jenny C, in hell they won't give you Word or paper/pencil. They'll give you a stone slab and a chisel . . . but no hammer. You'll also have the option of Libre Office, but without access to the help forum. So, I'd recommend going with the stone and the chisel.

For the OP, might I suggest "In addition to this manuscript, I've begun a series about a writer's descent into madness after attending a conference. The working titles are 'Writer Run', 'Writer is Rich', 'Writer at Rest'." [apologies to Updike]

And lastly (but not leastly), this made my day, even as it made espresso nearly exit through my nose: "but for writers, this would be a nice job." Well played, Madam.

Colin Smith said...

Hey, Janet--how's this for a project? A picture book: SMUT AND THE LIMA BEANS, the story of how a young dragon learned to come out from under his older brother's shadow. It would teach young children about accepting the skills they have and making the best of them. If we market it as a Smut Picture Book, it will sell like hot cakes! ;)

BJ Muntain said...

I agree with everything Julie said. That doesn't mean I'm not going to throw in my own essay. :P

As for agents who ask for extra things in a query? Meh. Different agents want different things. I have my regular shark-approved query letter, and in the housekeeping area I put small things that the specific agent says she wants in whatever interviews, articles, or talks I've read/heard from that specific agent. They want a short bio? Sure! They want to know if it's part of a series? Sure! Why not? It's just a few words. I've got millions of those.

I don't stress over these things, though. A few words, more or less. No big deal. I stress over bigger things - like trying to figure out how to give pills to a little dog who just had several teeth out without actually grabbing her sore little jaw or giving her something she needs to chew.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

BJ- poor little pup. Have you tried crushing pill into powder and mixing it with soft wet food or peanut butter? I had to do that with my pug, Frankie when I first got her because she had a couple of teeth extracted. I hope the dog recovers well.

Arri Frranklin said...

I concur. Pill in peanut butter works okay for my family's fussy eater.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Colin, mentioning "smut" and "lima beans" together just makes me think of corn smut, aka Huitlacoche (which I learned of from the short running but still available to read web series, "Don't Eat it, Steve!")

I think if an agent I was querying asked for this, I (like Cheryl) would just say something like "My other completed novels include book 1 of a werewolf trilogy" or "my other novels in progress are 1. exorcist bikers and 2. ghost whisperer with a service dog " or some such. But, none of the agents I've queried have asked for this, thankfully.

Verna Austen said...

Janet, I just have to tell you that you are so awesome and smart and funny! Your blog is the first thing I read everyday when I turn on my computer. I SO wish you rep'd my category so I could have a chance to work with you. (But you don't : (((((

You are absolutely QOTKU

Lennon Faris said...

Haha! I love the rant. And love how you are always sticking up for the writer, Janet. This isn't something I'd personally get too worried over as a writer, since every agent seems to have their druthers, but I still enjoyed it :)

BJ - poor little thing. If the crush/ pb/ cheese trick doesn't work, your vet can prob. give an injection of pain meds to at least get over the first 24 hrs of swelling.

Eric Steinberg said...

Everything you write something like this makes me wish you repped YA.

Lucie Witt said...

Sigh. I think if agents truly realized how much writers freak out about everything, they would chill out on comments/guidelines like the one referenced in today's post.

We writers do a phenomenal job freaking ourselves out without an agent's help. Just yesterday a querying writer told me if an agent doesn't followup on your full within 5 days, it means they aren't really interested. The writer's logic was based on observing that when agents sign new clients they sometimes state they couldn't put the book down and contacted the writer within mere days. So says Twitter, the Honest to Smut arbitrator all things true.

Now, I read this blog, so I know that's not true, and it STILL momentarily worried me. I can't imagine the tailspin it might cause for someone new to the query trenches.

OP's question is the kind of thing I would generally stick in the housekeeping section, and I would keep it pretty short (this is a stand alone with series potential, I am currently working on my next YA project, etc.).

Colin Smith said...

I have an honest-to-Smut (he's an honest dragon) real ON TOPIC (sort of) question:

Does it seem to be the case that agents who rep mainly MG and YA have more... um... specific query guidelines than those who rep more "adult" (as in "not-MG/YA," not necessarily nudge-nudge-wink-wink-say-no-more-say-no-more-a-nod's-as-good-as-a-wink-to-a-blind-bat "adult")? In other words, is the kind of thing Opie was told more likely to come from a YA agent than a non-YA agent? I ask because it may be reflective of the kind of queries they see.

My understanding is that a lot more young people are writing these days, and if my own youths are anything to go by, they often need more guidance on correct procedure--and often need telling multiple times (and even then don't get it... *parental grumble*). Not to say adults are immune from such hard-headedness, but youths are, maybe, moreso. Which of course is probably a bit frustrating for those more mature writers who write YA.

Maybe I'm making a bunch of assumptions and making all you wonderful YA writers angry? If so, I'm sorry, and I'll see you on the other side of Carkoon... :)

BJ Muntain said...

Thanks, EM and Arri. Perhaps I should get some peanut butter - Little Girl Dog is very fussy. This morning, I put her antibiotic in a small piece of left-over penne carbonara (tasted like bacon, though I made sure there was none on the penne) and it took 3 tries to get her to eat it. I'm not sure how she feels about peanut butter. I think I'll have to find a few things to try. I'm not sure if her current pills can be crushed. I have to stop by the vet today again, so I'll ask. It was so much easier with Koko, who sadly passed a few years ago. He would eat anything.

Thanks Lennon - The vet did that before I even picked the little girl up yesterday. And gave me three liquid doses that should be easy enough to give her starting later today. The antibiotics, unfortunately, are more difficult - she had some injected yesterday, too, but now needs them twice a day. This next week (with the pills and the cone and the pain) is going to be very interesting...

(Sorry for hijacking the post. Little Girl Dog is the only thing on my mind today. And yesterday, too, while all that was going on in her little mouth.)

Colin Smith said...

"...but youths are, maybe, moreso." Moreso what? What kind of a sentence is that?? And I call myself a writer?! I'm sorry. I'm way over my comment allowance, and clearly there are consequences. I'd better stop before the Comment Police make a complete muss of my sentonciz... poo!

DLM said...

Holy leapin' weepin' Smut, how could an agent even GET to a full within five days, never mind evaluate it that fast? Gossamer TEC is rolling his giant, jewel-like green eyeballs, and I'm just smacking my head.

Good lord, the self-flagellation we indulge and then go around encouraging in others. It's a contagion.

DLM said...

Meant to add - and it's worth burning up my 3rd comment for the day to say - BJ, I hope Little Girl Dog feels better fast. Hopefully puppy mouths heal as fast as ours tend to. Poor thing!

CynthiaMc said...

BJ-if peanut butter doesn't work (which it should) our picky Japanese Chin will take crushed meds in vanilla ice cream. Sending healing thoughts.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I may have missed this, no time, had to skim:

Okay now, everybody join in...

Smut the gabbing dragon lives by the sea
And frolics in the lima fields in land called Limalee.
Little Colin Writer loved his magic Smut
And when he went to bed at night he prayed that Smut shut-up.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ah, I need to get a life.

Karen McCoy said...

To answer Sir Colin's question: I've queried for YA plenty, and have never seen this kind of restriction. I think Janet's right--a good year in the writing trenches would do this other agent some good.

An anecdote I'm not sure is true, but proves a good point--a congressman who hadn't mailed anything himself for decades tried to lick a self-adhesive stamp.

People who keep an ear to the ground with what happens on the front lines (much like Janet does with this blog) are the ones who end up surpassing those who remain in their self-built ivory towers.

If hell has wi-fi, there's probably a strict fee that also requires signing up for a yearly subscription to either Time or Us Weekly.

Craig said...

Julie Weathers, are you okay? I know your state is half way underwater and your normal frame of mind is stronger than it is now.

You can normally tell when I am being facetious. Even if I wasn't there is a difference between name dropping and using a name to give credence to an edifying point. Almost always that is what you do. I have learned a lot from your points and would not ask you to quit.

We all participate here in the hopes of learning more. I know that I have and many of those things that I have learned came from you. Thank you.

DeadSpiderEye said...

I've seen the, looking for writers with a prospective career thing, more than occasionally, maybe not spelt out in such explicit terms but I'm thinking, perhaps we're missing some context for the agent's statement here. A line overheard at a conference, relayed through the either and internet, leaves more than a little scope for misinterpretation.

My next project is a mystery thriller, with political implications in the Day the Jackal mode: a single mother blah blah blah... I'm not really sure how that kind of thing reads, seems a bit presumptuous to me. I would say though, that if you can fulfil the concomitant expectations, that letting a prospective agent know that you're a dashing colt, fresh from the stables rather than a nag on its last legs, is no bad thing.

Colin Smith said...

I'm supposed to be shutting up, but I had to comment in support of Craig vis-a-vis name-dropping. Real name-dropping is just casually for no particular reason mentioning that I've met Juliet Grames, Gary Corby's Soho Press editor, or that I've shaken hands with Karin Slaughter (and lived to tell), or that my brother was in a stage play with James McAvoy before Mr. McAvoy was famous. That kind of thing is shameless and reprehensible, and nothing like what you do, Julie. :)

BJ Muntain said...

Thanks again to all those wishing good health for my little girl dog. I have bought peanut butter and Pill Pockets (TM). If I switch them up, she may not get suspicious. She's a bit more active this evening. And she's playing up the 'aren't I a cute little sick dog' thing for more attention. Which she deserves, anyway.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Bj: glad Little Girl Dog is perking up. Poor little thing! Elka believes firmly peanut butter is a must-have. But really, she's interested in whatever you've got.

Sam Hawke said...

I definitely had agents ask about future projects before offering. But that was after they'd read my MS and were thinking of offering, not at the query stage! I don't know why any agent would assume that someone querying a novel only wanted to write one. Surely they know there is no stopping us once we've managed it once. I'd have thought the default assumption was that writers wanted to keep writing and selling and making everyone money and happiness for as long as they can! Sure, it's worth discussing that with the writer to make sure their desire to write wasn't a temporary disease, but not til later.