Monday, October 02, 2017

Rant: if you put me in a quandry the answer is silence

I received a query recently from a writer with a familiar name. I wasn't quite sure why I recognized the name; it wasn't Stephen King or JK Rowling, but it certainly was someone I'd met somewhere along the way.

The query opened with the writer's publishing credits. I began googling the titles, figuring I'd find our connection point that way. Maybe I'd read one of the novels and liked it enough to tweet about it.

I soon discovered that all 10+ published novels were actually self-published. I was then pretty sure  I hadn't read them. (One of the "publishers" actually includes a warning label that the book has not received any editing whatsover, which I thought was an odd thing to mention as a selling point.)

The publishing credits also included a powerhouse line up of reviews and essays published in major outlets. Outlets to which I had paid subscriptions.  That was most likely where I'd seen the name.

So clearly this writer had chops.

The query said NOTHING about the book.

My quandry: do I write back and say "Hey Writer friend, I need to know about the book" or do I refer writer friend to QueryShark (as in "you didn't send a very effective query, here are some pointers.")

In other words, I'm in the rather mortifying position of telling someone who's pretty well published that s/he can't write a query for spit, and no I'm not going to request a novel simply on spec. I need to know a little something about it before I add it to the SEVENTY PLUS NOVELS I've got here to be read.

*excuse me, I had a brief fainting spell when I looked at my backlog of reading*

*snorts smelling salts like an asthmatic rhino on oxygen*

This is a quandry. Sure I don't want to miss good stuff, but I also don't want to engage in a back and forth with a writer about what I need before requesting a full manuscript.

And I don't want to be one of those people who "explains publishing" to someone who's clearly been in it for a good long time.

At this point, I've now spent 10 minutes flailing, another 20 minutes writing this blog post, and I still don't know what to do.

I'll tell you what the easy answer is: do nothing.

The initial query didn't tell me about the book. That's an automatic pass.

What a savvy writer at any level in this business knows: send an agent or editor what they ask for at the query stage. It's really simple. Most of us even have readily available lists or guidelines on how to do that.


Unknown said...

First time I queried, I was oh so clueless. Twenty rejections made me research how to write queries. At that point, all roads lead to query shark. I'd send your standard rejection and let the author work it out.

This author has 10 self-pubbed books and now isn't bothering to learn/follow rules for trad publishing. Rather, the author is sending a message, "I'm really important. So much so, that I want to skip to the head of the line. Rules be damned." Sounds like a big headache, possible nightmare, to me. Do you have time for that?

Kitty said...

You know what the answer is. It begins with The initial query didn't tell me about the book and ends with Most of us even have readily available lists or guidelines on how to do that. Isn't that how you would treat any other query?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ah Janet, about just plain, 'down-write' honesty.

As in, read your query, am somewhat familiar with your work and curious about the book you refer to in your query.
Yadda yadda yadda.

You know Janet, you don't need to teach all the time. I find this place incredibly informative and wonderfully supportive.
We are like those horses which are lead to water, some of us drink and some go away dry mouthed. It's up to us to hydrate here or not.

Sherry Howard said...

I went to a conference over the weekend and met lots of writers. Many were multi-published. Some were self-published. What shocked me the most were the significant number of people who had been working at getting published for many years, but still lacked the basic understanding of how to do a lot of things, including writing a query. I'm wondering if queryer is one of those people.

I was so naive on my first query that I didn't think a thing of answering the rejection with a note asking if I'd done the query right. I got a super nice answer that nudged me forward.

I understand being a little frozen on this one. The human in you wants to be helpful. The shark in you wants the system to rule, and the queryer to come back when they've learned to navigate the waters.

Susan Bonifant said...

I'm guessing you have worked with excellent writers who produce excellent writing but were clueless about protocol.

I'm guessing also, that you have a lot of the reverse: great queries that aren't necessarily crafted by great fiction writers.

The difference I think is in the intention of the writer who mangled the query/introduction. Arrogance would be a deal breaker for some, while for others laziness (or the appearance of it) would be intolerable.

Current demands on your time aside, if there is the possibility that behind this chaotic query is what you want - an excellent writer with an excellent story - I'd consider spending a little (a LITTLE) time to find out.

french sojourn said...

In a world of wonderment...the query didn't even include the...query.

See attached link to writers website for the downloadable synopsis. And I've decided to change the name of the m/s to

Tequila Mockingbird!

Good luck! Cheers...

Stacy said...

Personally, I'd give this person a mulligan and write back. I've sometimes missed BLATANTLY obvious things just out of unintentionally making things complicated (overthinking--I'm a natural), and that could be what's going on here. Of course, it could be that this person believes s/he's the exception to guidelines, but you'd probably get a sense of that in the first correspondence.

OTOH, I guess this is the first correspondence.

See? Overthinker.

Unknown said...

Tequila Mockingbird! Brilliant!

Janet, I had a thought about how to be helpful without engaging in a long conversation. Reply with nothing but two links: one to query shark and one to your submission instructions. If you get a real query afterwards, then engage, or not.

Prayers for Las Vegas.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Jeez Louise I used the wrong lead vs led. I'm taking up knitting. Knit one, pearl two.
And to think, my earlier comment referred to this wonderful place of learning. (Did I use the right "to"?)
And, the deleted comment is mine because I screwed that up too.

Have a nice day boys and girls, I'm signing up for English 101.

Colin Smith said...

My thoughts:

How would you normally assess a query?

If you know the author then it depends. If they're a regular commenter, you treat them with love, respect, honesty, gentle encouragement, and kind words. :D If they're a rock-star writer (e.g., King or Rowling), you toss the query and call them. After all, they sell themselves. Easy money. If you only know them because the name is sort-of familiar, you know of their books but haven't read them, then ask yourself if their genre is one you could sell, and if the published books have sold well enough that there's a sizable fan-base to work off of for marketing. If yes to both, then maybe write back and give them another shot at writing a query. If it's clear they can't follow directions, then you know what to do with that. :)

If you don't know the querier at all, and they have no other work to assess, or they fall outside the parameters in paragraph one, then business as usual. *CHOMP* ;)

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY for yesterday, 2Ns!!! And happy whatever-you-might-be-celebrating to anyone else whose special day I missed. :D

And thank you, everyone, for the congrats on the story (see my blog if you missed the news)!! :)

Julie Weathers said...

My characters decided to walk around in my head all night, so I am up early writing. I'm taking a break now and escaping the horrible news.

Carolynn Happy belated birthday!

"We are like those horses which are lead to water, some of us drink and some go away dry mouthed. It's up to us to hydrate here or not."

We actually bought a horse once we did have to "teach" to drink. He was an ex-show horse we wer egoing to buy for our youngest son. The people had kicked him out on pasture and not checked on him forever. He was nearly starved to death, but they delivered him anyway. We almost didn't buy him as I didn't think he would make it, but I was pretty sure he wouldn't if they hauled him home.

Getting him to eat wasn't the problem. He'd inhale the grass hay. Gettinghim to drink was another problem. He refused to and was severely dehydrated. I finally started mixing Jell-O and Gatorade with his water and he'd drink that then gradually weaned him off it. We had good water, so it wasn't the water, but I think it tasted different enough he wasn't going for it.

Kind of like people who eat off German silver flatware, silver flatware, and stainless steel flatware, I guess. You get used to a certain taste.

Anyway, on topic.

I agree with Kathy I suppose, though it irks me that someone who has been around so long needs this primer. How many other agents will even give this author a second thought? Rules are there for a reason.

And now back to writing. Lorena is threatening to shoot people again. You know how it is. If you draw your weapon, it's just rude not to shoot someone. Manners.

Unknown said...

Wait a minute - why does this guy get so much time and consideration? What about authors who pour hours and hours and hours into studying your Query Shark blog? What happens to people who take the time to write the best query they know how, get feedback, revise, get more feedback, and revise again until it's right? What's their reward for pouring every waking hour into a novel and then querying it? Do they get pocket-vetoes because potential agents are pouring time into situations like this?

OK, nobody said life is fair. Where do you make the most money and derive the most satisfaction? I have a hunch that's an easy question to answer, since you go to the trouble of keeping this blog.

- Greg Scott

Lisa Bodenheim said...

This writer is obviously trying to transition to a new phase, chapter, market. And their newbie status is showing.

It sounds like you're intrigued. You could use your wonderful sense of humor and just double check, briefly, to see if it's a Query Shark what not to do?

IF you wish to use it as a teachable moment. Their response will tell you all you need to know about their personality.

70+ novels? Wow. I'm assuming this includes clients you already represent as well as requested manuscripts?

70? I need some breakfast.

Julie: Ha! Rude NOT to shoot someone!! Lorena sounds like a character I want to meet.

Dena Pawling said...

Perhaps this writer wants you to rep his/her books that have already been published, and that's why you have a list of books and you don't have a description of the "specific book" being queried.

>>Most of us even have readily available lists or guidelines on how to do that.

I checked your list. It says:
Actively seeking: Domestice suspense; crime fiction.

Domestice suspense? That's a new one for me.

Happy Monday.

Colin Smith said...

Greg: I suspect this guy gets time and attention because Janet recognized his name and it's clear he can write. He has a track record, reviews in outlets to which Janet subscribes, so of course he's going to attract attention.

One of the things that has become clear to me over the 6 years I've been reading about and following publishing is that there is no standard formula for success. All kinds of factors come into play, not all of them seem fair, but that's the way it is.

A while ago Janet related the story of how she was shocked one time to hear an agent colleague (I believe) declare at a conference, "Yes, you have an advantage in publishing if you live in NYC." On reflection, she had to agree. That doesn't mean you can't be successful if you live elsewhere (obviously), but being where all the action is, when a chance encounter with an agent/publisher in a bar is much more likely, can make a difference.

One of the non-query things we can do that can help us get a query reading is to make ourselves known (in a good way, mind). Janet has said quite unapologetically that those who frequent the comments here should mention that in a query, since it will affect her response (personalized rejection, request for pages...). This writer has raised his profile in the industry by self-publishing novels that have garnered some high-quality reviews. Of course Janet is going to give him a second look. And that might not seem fair to those who have spent years studying queries and trying to craft the perfect pitch. But that begs the question: What else are we doing to raise our profile? To stand out in a good way?

Sorry... rambled a bit there... and, of course, Janet, stuff my nose with moldy marshmallows if I'm wrong about this... :)

Unknown said...

I think Lisa Bodenheim has a great idea here: go for humor, and see how the writer responds!

Happy Belated Birthday 2Ns ! And Colin many many congrats on the publication news! I'm so happy for you! With your talent and perseverance, it was only a matter of time. A well-deserved victory!

Mister Furkles said...

Perhaps the author is self published because they don't play well with others.

CynthiaMc said...

Tequila Mockingbird was a local band that was popular when I was in college in Alabama. May still be. I haven't been bar hopping back home in a while. Not that I ever did. I was usually playing in the band (not that one).

On topic - part of me says "that critter could be a giant PIA." Part of me also says "could be worth a lot of money." Your call. I'm getting a migraine just thinking about it.

Unknown said...

OT: Publishing auction for Puerto Rico started this morning. New Leaf Literary is offering a trip to their offices. Lots of other great ways to meet agents and get feedback on work for auction too. Wish I had more $$$.

Colin Smith said...

Publishing for Puerto Rico link:

Thanks for the reminder, kathy. :)

Jen said...

Hmmm... I wonder if said querier isn't trying to get a new book published so much as wanting his self-published backlist traditionally published?

Did that make sense? I haven't had my coffee yet...

Unknown said...

Re: Colin -

> One of the things that has become clear to me over the 6 years I've been
> reading about and following publishing is that there is no standard formula
> for success. All kinds of factors come into play, not all of them seem fair,
> but that's the way it is.

Very true, yes.

I knew Vince Flynn a little bit when I did the overseas video meetings with the Tee it up for the Troops events here in the Twin Cities. I did more homework on him after he passed away and I got serious about writing. Apparently, he went through 100 rejections and self-published his first novel before anyone paid attention.

Unknown said...

Greg, Never knew this about Vince Flynn. Gives me hope. I love his books!

Unknown said...

@kathy - I guess it was only 60 rejections.

- Greg

JEN Garrett said...

Can I be grateful for an agent's backlog of reading material? Sure, my manuscript may not be ready for agent eyes, but her backlog buys me time to work on it... and eventually she's going to run out of manuscripts to read. That's when mine will be ready for her.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Well, not sure what to say about this. It's migraine Monday so unable to do anything productive.

The 70 manuscript backlog - that Comforts me. More time to create an effective query. Or maybe not. Ok- going to put head on ice.

Colin Smith said...

Greg's link:

And just to keep things real here, when Janet says "70 mss" don't forget, the only mss we can be sure she'll read beginning-to-end are her client mss. With requested mss, she has no obligation to read beyond the first few chapters. As soon as she loses interest, she can decide to reject, or R&R, and move on to the next.

Just so y'all don't get too complaisant... ;)

Steve Stubbs said...

The querier (or is it querent?) has probably already seen your response on the blog.

I would think you need a new reusable form letter, assuming you don't have one already, that says the query is not in the correct form, and to read all through the Query Shark achives and query again ... and again ... and again.

The form letter could contain comments that could be reused or deleted as appropriate with future recipients:

I do not represent previously published books.

Self-published books are not pub credits.

I need to know what the book is about so I can feel good about rejecting it.

Your novel KRUD BY A DUD does not sound commercial enough to pay the rent on my elegant Brooklyn penthouse. might print it for you. But if it is really godawful you might have to pay them extra.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

On the topic of J.K. Rowling I was a little head scratchy when she produced her rejection letters for the Galbraith books and they flew around online. To me, it seemed like the letters were from editors (editors, not agents, mind) kindly informing an unknown author that they were going about the submission process wrong. Maybe I'm remembering wrong? But that was my takeaway, anyway.

In this unnamed author's instance, it seems to me that they've made a mistake beyond a more innocuous disregard of the submission guidelines, like instead of "oh god I sent a .docx not a .doc I hope that isn't an instant form rejection" they kind of thought "well I already have books that's the important bit, right?"

On that line between self publishing (my werewolves) and agent hunting (...something) I very much still read submission guidelines, and while there's a certain expected baseline, different agents do want different things. But they all want the query letter to talk about the book. Go figure.

Jill Warner said...

It's kinda nice to know that even Janet has her shark wheel moments.

Colin, Congratulations! That's so exciting.
And 2Ns happy late birthday!

BJ Muntain said...

Having self-published novels and having non-fiction (like reviews and essays) published does not mean he knows anything about querying fiction. He may feel his platform is enough - it can be, in non-fiction, if it's a damned good platform - but that's not how fiction is done. I think it's a mistake to assume he knows how publishing works.

"Dear Mysterious Writer, I didn't see your query among your impressive publishing credits. What, exactly, is your book about? If you want an idea of how to get this across, check QueryShark."

Colin: My reading was that the *author* had written reviews and essays in well-known venues. Not that his books had garnered those reviews.

Colin Smith said...

BJ: You probably have the correct take. Either way, whether he wrote the reviews or was the subject of them, they clearly raised his profile such that Janet didn't just dismiss his query.

RosannaM said...

Janet, Your brain power is important and so is your time. I wouldn't waste any more of either. You are intrigued enough to waffle, so in order not to miss out on what could be a humdinger of a manuscript, I recommend a quick, simple email.

Dear Writer,

Please send a proper query telling me about your book. See my submission guidelines.

Good day,
The Sharque

Barbara Etlin said...

If he can write and publish good essays and reviews, he knows how to research a journal's guidelines. Apparently some editors found him acceptable to work with. My instinct would be to give him a chance to submit an effective query and refer him to your guidelines or Query Shark archives.

But if he thinks he's too important for all that querying nonsense, he's wrong.

TEQUILA MOCKINGBIRD: Cocktails with a Literary Twist is a drinks recipe book by Tim Federle. :-)

french sojourn said...

Barbara: I just googled it, and some of the drink names are a riot.

Vermouth the bells toll....

When I was goofing around with the name of Tequila Mockingbird, I thought it would be a Mint Julep with a "shot" of Tequila. Upon reflection, there had to be a good chance it was already a made up re-version..

Now I'm off to google the band.

Lucie Witt said...

Thought y'all might be interested to know Adib Khorram, who long time Reiders might remember from comments has sold his debut novel and it's pretty damn exciting:

Lucie Witt said...

Thought y'all might be interested to know Adib Khorram, who long time Reiders might remember from comments has sold his debut novel and it's pretty damn exciting:

Colin Smith said...

Woohoo! Way to go Adib!!

Another one to add to the "Published Works..." list. :D

french sojourn said...

Lucie, thanks for sharing Adib's news. Excellent news, and very motivating. Congrats Adib, the story sounds wonderful.

(3 comments, I'm out.)

Cheers Hank.

Adib Khorram said...

Thank you! (And thank you for posting the news, Lucie!)

It still feels surreal to be putting this book out into the world.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Wow Adib That is fantastic news. Congratulations. Your book sounds fascinating.

Julie Weathers said...


I am thrilled for you. Absolutely thrilled. What wonderful news.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Yowza! Congrats, Adib! So happy for you

John Davis Frain said...

Me, I'd go back to the park and read Mary Stewart. Make it a week of Sundays. Maybe that explains why I'm on the outside looking in.

Like most citizens of the world, you'll do well to ignore my advice.

Barbara Etlin said...

Woohoo! Big congrats, Adib! Your book sounds awesome.

Janice L. Grinyer said...

Congrats Adib; well deserved!

John Davis Frain said...


That's fantastic news. So excited for you. Absolutely terrific. Enjoy the ride!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Wonderful news, Adib! Congrats!

CynthiaMc said...

Way to go, Adib! Woohoo!

Dena Pawling said...

Congrats Adib!!

Sherry Howard said...

Congratulations Adib! Way to go!

BJ Muntain said...

Congrats, Adib! Great news!

Adele said...

I swear I skimmed through every previous comment, and I don't see this mentioned, so here goes:

Janet? Quandary.

My apologies if this was mentioned before and I missed it.

Susan said...

Yay Adib!!! Glad I popped into find some great news on a heartbreaking day. Way to go--keep us all informed as release date approaches!

Jen said...

Congrats Adib! :-) I love good news on a Monday.

Panda in Chief said...

Congratulations Adib!

I really have nothing to add to the query quandry at hand. If I answered at all, I would go for the short and sweet, "please read my guidelines for queries" type of reply.

As for Tequila Mockingbird, I am embarrassed at how long it took me to get the joke. I was reminded of a book by an acquaintance, which I'm not sure if she ever published, "Book Lush: what to drink with what to read" I do hope she eventually publishes it, since I am dying to know what to drink when I read "The Phantom Tollbooth".

Theresa said...

Adib, what wonderful news! Congratulations!

And I, too, am puzzling over Janet in a quandary. Didn't know that could ever happen.

Adib Khorram said...

Ahh! Thank you, everyone. It's been an exciting day finally getting to share the news!

Megan V said...

Congrats Adib! I'm very glad to hear your wonderful news today.

Off topic: I'm set to donate blood shortly. I live close enough to Vegas that some of it will very likely end up headed that way. (Close enough that I've got a passing acquaintance or two that were at the harvest festival and/or in Vegas last night and that I am very thankful that my visiting gal pals and I decided against our last minute trip in that direction.) At this time, I'd like to highly encourage my fellow Reiders who are able to do so to donate as well. It's something productive that can be done and it really does help people in your community.

Katherine Klahn said...

Maybe he's trying to sell you something. Not a book. I'm extremely curious as to what he wants. My personality - I'd write back to him. It doesn't sound like a query at all - he's self published, why does he need an agent? There's no harm in asking for clarification.

Craig F said...

Congrats Adib, spectacular news.

On Topic: I'd agree with BJ. I think this writer feels he has acquired a platform and didn't think he needed a query. I have had the privilege of talking to a few fairly famous writers. They will admit that they don't know squat about queries. People pursue them because of their platform. I know it is the same for some self published authors but they must be way above the crowd.

Anonymous said...

Adib!! That is fantastic news, congratulations on the sale! The premise is compelling and I'm very much looking forward to reading it, so please keep us posted with pub date/buy links when you have them.

As for the unforthcoming writer, probably I'd write a blog post about the lack and send them a link. :)

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Yay Adib.
Yay Megan. (I'm A pos)
Yay Colin. (about time)

Your Sharkness,

Querier sounds like a complete noobie when it comes to querying novels, regardless of their background. I'd recommend a bland reply suggesting a proper query about the novel.

Either they'll requery and get it right-ish or they'll not and you'll have your answer.