Tuesday, September 12, 2017

7 fast ways to hear no

There are just a few things that are automatic passes at the query stage.

1. Fiction novel
This is the big one. All novels are fiction, and since words are the tools of your craft, when you abuse them, I know you're not the kind of master craftsman I want to hire to decorate my bank account.

2. Unfinished novel
I can sell unfinished novels. I've done it. But that novel didn't arrive in the incoming queries; it was from an established client.
When you're querying for representation, your novel must be finished. I pass on everything that isn't.

3. The novel has been previously published.
Some agents take on previously published work. I don't.

There are a couple other things that aren't quite auto-pass but pretty darn close.

4. "Tell me why I should hire you?" leads the list.
I'm not going to pitch you on the value of an agent for your work, or why I'm the best choice for you unless I've read your work and want to take it on.  If you don't understand the value of an agent, or don't want an agent, or think agents are slime creatures, that's fine. Don't query me. I'm totally ok with that.

5. No query letter, just pages.
I'll give those queries a very VERY quick skim but someone who doesn't include a query isn't telling me what I need to know to evaluate the project. I'm passing on those cause frankly life is too short to provide Remedial Querying one to one. And there's this thing called QueryShark...

6. Homonyms
I'll give you a pass on lie/lay/lay since dollars to doughnuts, at least 25% of y'all get it wrong.  But homonyms, those I don't forgive so easily. As in #1, words are the tools of your trade and if you don't know wave/waive or shudder/shutter that's just sloppy proof reading. It's not bad that you make the mistake, it's bad that you didn't see it and fix it when you revised your query.

7. Typing your email query in all caps

I respond to these emails with the same form letter I use with all other passes.
It's up to you to re-read your query and make sure none of these things are there.


kathy joyce said...

Janet, I'm curious. Yes, it's the writer odds game again. If we're trying to figure out the competition (not just number of queries, but competition from good queries/ projects), how much of what you get is just crap? Alternatively, out of a hundred, how many are good, competitive queries? Thanks!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

8. Other eliminators.
My mother loved my novel.
Dear Jenny,
Dear Jessica,
Dear Agent,
BTW IMHO UR an awesome agent.

Ardenwolfe said...

What kind of writers sends a query CAPS ALL? An unpublished one.

Kitty said...

Those nasties lie/lay/lay are like quicksand to me.

Colin Smith said...

I remember you posted #4 in Twitter not long ago, Janet, and my comment then was along the lines of "If you have to ask, why are you querying?" In other words, if you don't appreciate the value of an agent, or even what the agent you are querying can do for your writing career, then why are you querying? I think it's a safe assumption for the agent that you queried them for a reason--you like her clients, you like her experience and knowledge of your genre, you like her taste in chum... whatever. It's not up to the agent to guess why you queried, other than you want that agent to represent you.

Think this through, people! :)

Donnaeve said...

I've heard of most of these before (and can't believe it still happens), but the "why should I hire you" is the one that always makes me raise my eyebrows.

It's as if the writer has already declared "special" status to their work, above all others. As if they have a choice of agents and all are waiting at their beck and call, but, doggone it, they just haven't decided yet. As if they're "letting" you read the ms. As if they believe you have been waiting all your life for them to arrive.

As if you can't hit reject button fast enough.

I'm stymied by the ALL CAPS.

Lennon Faris said...

Some people - especially guys it seems - hand write in all caps. It's usually to improve their handwriting. Maybe that translates to the keyboard for them? Unfortunately all caps SOUNDS LIKE YOU'RE SHOUTING!

A few years back, my main character peddled her bike. I guess she sold it to someone on the sidewalk. Thankfully that was long before I started querying.

Colin Smith said...

Although the concept of having agents query me for my story is an interesting one. Could make a good fiction novel... :)

Donnaeve said...

Ha, Lennon I had to do a double take. That was a sneaky homonym!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Donna Thank you for pointing that out. Otherwise I missed Lennon's homonym.

And Lennon, when I studied drafting in college (back in the age of dinosaurs), we wrote in all caps on our blueprints. But yes, on computers, it's shouting.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I know you're not the kind of master craftsman I want to hire to decorate my bank account. That made me LOL. For real. (Do people still use LOL?)

Sit and Lie both have an i - If you're going to sit on the bed, you're going to lie on the bed. If you sit on the floor, you'll lie on the floor. If you need to sit down, you need to lie down.

I've found some embarrassing homonym mistakes in my writing, along with various other embarrassing mistakes. I suspect we all have. Catching them is key. Read and reread and reread again. Lennon, Your "sold it on the sidewalk" comment made me laugh.

Colin, You also make me laugh. I would buy your fiction novel. Get writing, Sir. Tick-tock...

I needed the smiles. We all know that the winds of a hurricane blow. I'm here to tell ya, they also suck. Especially when they come roaring through your woods and across your pastures. But all is well at the sanctuary this morning.

Colin Smith said...

Melanie (and Craig): Glad to hear you've come through the storm safely. I hope damage is minimal.

Those who follow me on Twitter (and perhaps read what I tweet) will know that I recently started pansting a short story that has intensified into a novel. The scope kind of grew on me. This is both exciting and frustrating because a) I'm trying to write more shorts to sell, and it doesn't help that they want to be something more, and b) I already have an unfinished novel--I don't need two! Tick tock indeed, as Melanie says. Anyway... we'll see how that goes.

Hmmm... not sure if that was on topic...?

Robert Ceres said...

If you are dyslexic then homonyms are especially problematic. I hate lie/lie/lay the most, but hate all other homonyms only slightly less. My trick is to use find for each and every possible homonym, deliberately check for proper usage, and change what’s wrong. Then I just pray that I got them all write, (LMAO)!
And Melanie, I have been told that "LOL" is passé and that "LMAO" is much more hip. Oh, and “hip” is another term that is now passé, apparently. Anybody else have teenagers?

Julie Weathers said...

I'm wasting time as the coffee brews. So here I am! Lucky you. I couldn't help popping in and spouting off because yesterday the lie lay thing came up yet again and Diana Gabaldon kindly explained for the gazillionth time to someone how to keep them straight and someone else corrected it. yeesh

OT. I was reading through yesterday's thread and someone linked a post by Jeff Somers about leaving a little in the well. Know what you're going to write the next day when you stop. That's what Hemingway did also. He always stopped while he still knew what he was going to write. Then he'd reread what he'd written the next day and pick right up.

Yesterday a mushroom character popped up named "Bad News" Cumming. He's a fire eater politician who got the nickname because he's always predicting doom and gloom like a fire and brimstone preacher. I wasn't really sure what I was going to do with him, but I knew he'd be on the roof with my MC watching the firing on Ft. Sumter, so I'd have a thread to pick up.

Anyway, I agree with Jeff, leaving a thread to pick up the next day is a great way to avoid writer's block.

lie, lay, lain

Julie Weathers said...

Lennon I notice my son writes/prints mostly now in all caps. I think this has transitioned from his time in the army and filling out thousands of requisition forms while he was in Iraq. Very legible handwriting is imperative.

Robert I've noticed I've become worse at typing the wrong words when I know perfectly well what I mean. Their I go again down to there store for route beer. Really, Julie?

It's why I have to slow down and read things aloud before sending them out. You can't dempend on spell check.

Janet Reid said...

I often reccomend getting a set of professional eyeballs on your work.
Here's a way to do that without spending money.
You have to contribute time, but sometimes a writer has more time
than money.

I've been friends with Ben for a long time.
I've sold him books.
His editorial eye is one of the best.

Here's the link to his offer.

Megan V said...

*drafts newest query*

Amy Johnson said...

Number 1 sounds basic, but I had a bit of a tricky time with it when writing women's fiction. Now that I'm writing MG, I can say I'm working on my middle-grade novel. What was the right thing to say before? See what I mean? I sometimes used "project," as in "my 85,000-word women's fiction project."

It's weird--my mind's ears hear "science fiction novel" as okay. Like "sciencefiction novel." But they hear "women's fictionnovel." And I so don't want to say "fictionnovel."

Julie: What a great name for a character!

Elissa M said...

Though I'm not quite ready to query, I keep an eye out for agents to add to my list. Recently, a brand new shiny agent caught my eye. She's with an established agency. Her "about" page at the agency site says she likes books exactly like mine. But...

Every time her page mentioned the word "novel", it was preceded by the word "fiction". As in "submit the first 2-3 pages of your fiction novel" and "(Agent) is looking for fiction novels in the following genres".

I just can't let that go. I think I'd rather query Janet (who most definitely does NOT represent my genre) than this agent.

Adele said...

I don't see anybody else mentioning this but - Janet? Shouldn't the title be "7 fast ways to hear no"?

BJ Muntain said...

Hey, Janet. Have you considered putting a link to Query Shark in your form rejection e-mail? Something like, "If you think I rejected because of the query, not the work, read Query Shark (link)'.

Melanie: LOL is now used as punctuation. It means 'I'm smiling while I write this, even if I'm serious or complaining or spitting angry. Please don't hurt me.'

Amy: If 'fiction' is part of the genre name, and you're using it as the genre name, then do. I use 'science fiction novel' all the time. 'Women's fiction novel' is also correct, because women's fiction is a genre name.

Colin Smith said...

According to my 21-yr-old daughter, LOL is still used, though it no longer carries the full weight of "Laugh Out Loud." If something is really funny--truly LOL funny, the kids will either "smash keys" (whatever that is) or say "hahahahaha." But it's okay to use LOL, as long as you don't over-use it, otherwise you'll appear old and out of touch. LOLOLOLOLOL... oops! :D

That's what my daughter says, anyway. Completely off-topic I know, but since people asked... :)

Janet Reid said...

Adele yup. And thanks for the heads up.

You'd think I'd have seen that, but nope nope nope.


RosannaM said...

Thank you, Julie for that lie, lay, lain link. It was hilarious and actually very helpful. I have been known to have my character put a book down, snuggle into bed or some other such nonsense because I want to avoid using any form of lay. I especially dislike lain. I don't think I ever use it in my speaking vocabulary, so I find it just sounds and feels weird.

As far as LOL. It will forever remain in my mind as Little Old Lady, which is an acronym from the medical field. Maybe not very politically correct, but many a chart entry would start, "This LOL presented to the ER with c/o abdominal pain..."

Joseph Snoe said...

Everyone must learn the industry conventions, and it’s usually by tiny steps. I still fear what I don’t know.

I saw an extreme case once. An author (Max Everhart) spoke at a local library. In passing he said he typed his books on his computer. In the question and answer part, a man asked if it was okay to write in a spiral notebook in pencil. Max naturally answered sure, in fact he often writes on a notepad.

But Max wasn’t listening for what the man really asked, which was, can I write (and submit) my novel to publishers written in pencil in a spiral notebook. After the session, I tried to explain the very basics to the man.

Julie Weathers said...

Amy Roger Pryor a southern senator challenged a Wisconsin senator to a duel over a debate in Congress. It was a fairly heated debate. Since Pryor issued the challenge, Potter got to choose the weapons. Potter chose Bowie knives. Pryor's second protested, saying no gentleman would use such a barbaric weapon. Fortunately or not, the police arrested both of them before the duel could take place, but Potter lived with the nickname "Bowie Knife" Potter the rest of his days.

Colorful times.

Barbara Etlin said...

But Carolynnwith2Ns, my mother did love my manuscript! And, as she would say, "And how often do I rave?"*

*She asked that once and my husband and I answered simultaneously,
"Constantly!" and "All the time!"

Carolynnwith2Ns said...


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Barbara maybe we had the same mom.....nahhh.

CynthiaMc said...

Just a quick flyby from Hurricane Central (Orlando). Still no power at the house but we have running water and a camp stove so we're good. I'm at work today at the hospital. It seems surreal to have air conditioning and light.

Thank you all for your prayers. They Worked. Our 40-foot palm tree fell alongside the house instead of on it.

I tried reading today's post but it scared me worse than the hurricane.

Love to all.

Back to campfires and lanterns.

kathy joyce said...

Robert, I have 2 teenagers. Who recently told me that the correct term is "teens," not "teenagers." Both just got their driving permits. The correct term is "heart in my throat, I wish I could put my head under the dashboard."

Amy Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amy Johnson said...

BJ: I know you're right about "women's fiction novel" being correct, but I just can't bring myself to do it. :)

Julie: Colorful times indeed. LOL or hahahahaha (Thanks, Colin!)

Cari said...

My husband and I were playing the Sims with our kids on Sunday. My Sim wanted to become an author. I had the choice of writing a "fiction novel" or a "nonfiction novel." *insert Marge Simpson groan here*

Colin Smith said...

Amy: With science fiction novel, you can get away with saying sci-fi novel, because everyone understands the fi goes with sci not with novel. Could you say wom-fi? A wom-fi novel? Or, maybe capitalize: Women's Fiction novel. Or hyphenate: women's-fiction novel. Just to make it clear to an agent you've been through Shark's Acadamy. :D

Cynthia: Good news! Thanks for checking in. I hope and pray life returns to some semblance of normality soon. :)

PT said...

Dear Janet,

If I remember correct, you've said it's OK to point out typos etc. on your blog, so hope you don't mind:

On point #5, last sentence "And there's this thing called QueryShark..." - the link is not correct (only http://queryshark./ when it should be http://http://queryshark.blogspot.com).



Janet Reid said...

Hi PT>=
Yup, totally ok to point out errors, and thanks for the heads up.
It's working for me, but let me know if it's not for you.

Steve Stubbs said...




kathy joyce said...

Submitted a short story today. All this lay/lie talk fertilized my self-doubt, so I made a last minute change from "lay the table" to "set the table."

Janice Grinyer said...

AH! That caps response of Steve's burned holes in my retinas...!

Craig F said...

I got around the science fiction novel conundrum by saying that I am offering a work of science fiction. Don't yet know if it works, early days.

Homonym still sounds like a kind of grits I got in North Carolina one time.

OT: I almost got arrested again today. I loaded my truck with a chainsaw, a few hundred feet of line and some ladders this morning. Went to a less privileged section of the city to help some folks that needed it.

A cop showed up and asked to see my contractor's license. I explained that I was doing it for free but he persisted. It drew a crowd and jeers started. Then some other cops arrived. It almost got ugly when another cop asked for my volunteer number. The state has decided that you have to sign up with them to help people. I don't like that idea.

A lieutenant cop that I know showed up and defused the situation. It is a shame that there is such a problem eith looting and scams after a hurricane.

BJ Muntain said...

Steve Stubbs: "Now I lay me down to sleep" is correct English. 'To lay' is a transitive verb, meaning it takes an object, while 'to lie' is intransitive and does not take an object. In that phrase, 'me' is the object, therefore the correct verb to use is 'to lay'. If you took the 'me' out of there, though, you'd have to change the verb to 'lie'.

You're welcome. :)

kathy joyce said...

BJ, we must share Joyce blood. It's infused with grammar. The first thing I ever published was an essay about my grandma's death. My aunt copied it from the magazine and mailed me a copy, marked with her edits! In red! ;)

Lynne Main said...

Hey, seven query screw-ups I've managed to avoid! And them homonyms are tricky little buggers, aren't they? While lie/lay/lain trips up so many, it seems to/too/two also does too (or it is to? two?). ;)

As for #7...hoo boy. Talk about headache inducing.

And I won't even go there with #4 (I read that tweet, Janet!).

Glad to hear all the Florida folks on here are okay.

Brig said...

Oh my gosh BJ, I just took a screenshot of your post. Brilliant thanks! Australian education in the 90s went through a very ce sera sera phase in its approach to literacy, so grammar was a no no. It was only through studying Italian as a teen that I got to the point of doing/being/describing word stage. I mostly just go with what feels right, and then google it. 90 percent of the time it's all good, and the other 10 it's way north of no. So thanks for laying the groundwork of my grammar education.

BJ Muntain said...

Brig: You are very welcome. :) I often have a problem explaining grammar things to younger folks because, it seems, they no longer teach transitive vs intransitive verbs, or even subject, object, or predicate. Which is sad.

But even though I've had a life-long love affair with grammar, I sometimes have to pause over lie/lay. I actually use that line "Now I lay me down to sleep" to remind me which is transitive and which isn't.