Thursday, December 14, 2017

"I don't want to be a nuisance"

A few years ago I did a year-long internship for a fabulous, huge literary agency. Since then I've had an agent and lost her again in an amicable breakup.

I've now written another manuscript, and the agent at the head of the agency I used to intern for is my #1 querying choice. However, she's closed to unsolicited submissions.

When I interned for her, she told us she was always interested in work her interns did. But that was a few years ago, and I can't find out whether or not this is still the case, and I can't find information about whether or not ex-interns count as exceptions to "unsolicited".

What should I do? I don't want to be a nuisance, but I don't want to miss out on what could be a great opportunity.

We're following each other on Twitter, so one option is to DM her, but the idea makes me nervous. I definitely have the patience to wait for her to open to submissions again, but knowing how popular she is, that could take years, and I don't want to wait if it would be okay to just ask her.

Thanks for reading, and for any advice you might have!

Under no circumstances (unless specifically told to do so) should you DM an agent about anything related to querying. Twitter is not where most of us conduct business, and there's no way to know if she'll ever see the message. (In fact this prompted me to check direct messages since I haven't thought of them since summer '16)

The other thing you need to do is believe people when they tell you they're interested in your work. If I had a nickle for every author who has said something akin to "well, she said that but maybe she says that to everyone" or "yes but, maybe she's changed her mind" I'd have enough money to buy myself a bar.

And you're not annoying her if you write to confirm she's still interested in looking at former intern's work.

Well, you're annoying her if you write to her sixteen times asking sixteen questions, and phoning to confirm her email address, but that's not what you intend to do is it?

While I respect your effort to behave professionally, never let that interfere with advancing your career in a polite, prepared way. When I say prepared I mean you are ready to send the query or manuscript the same day she replies with "yes I'm still interested, please send."

And by polite I mean you say thank you not apologize for writing.

The bottom line is this: Yes, you need an agent, but agents also need writers. Assume your work is something we want to see. We'll let you know if that's not the case.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Why would you not, in a respectful way, present that which she said she wants? What do you have to lose?

Janet told me years ago that the book I was working on was something she would love to see. Does she remember saying she'd take a look, probably not. Have I finished the damn thing? (I think I'm afraid of success.) Someday when I'm old and gray, sh** I already am, I'll send it. Will Janet remember and does it matter? By then I'll probable forget who she is/was anyway.

Lennon Faris said...

I always love these encouraging posts.

2Ns, what ARE you waiting for?? Finish it and send. When you get published I will buy your book. FINISHHHHHH.

Donnaeve said...

2Ns - now you're sounding like OP, and you should follow your own advice to OP.

Janet's answer smells of "you are not a beggar at the banquet of publishing."

Or however that was worded all those years ago.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

One of the best landmarks in this blog, for me, are the "Rules For Writers" over on the right. And of those rules, my three favorites are: Be Positive. Be Confident. Be Brave.

OP, You said: "I don't want to miss out on what could be a great opportunity." The only way *not* to miss that opportunity is to go forward and actually reach out to Agent Extraordinaire. Politely.

Be Positive. Be Confident. Be Brave. Onward!

And 2Ns, What Lennon said.

Nathan Holland said...

OP Be brave, be polite, be professional. All great adivce

Everyone else One of the best part of this blog, besides Janet's advice, is how positive and encouraging you all are. There is a dark side to writing that we are all familiar with, but here you all shed some light on those darkest corners. Thank you.

Karen McCoy said...

What Lennon said! 2Ns, I would love to read more of your voice.

A few years back, I went to the Backspace conference in New York. I had an in-person consultation with an agent, and I wanted my pages to be perfect. A fellow conference-goer kindly agreed to read my pages, and ended up shoving them under my hotel room at around midnight. I didn't want to disturb my roommate, so I went inside the bathroom to peruse them.

They got wet.

I took a blow dryer to the pages, which was probably even more invasive to my roommate's need for sleep.

The next morning, it turned out the agent was stuck at an airport in the Midwest--it was tornado season. But, she offered to have phone consultations with all of us that she'd missed.

We ended up having a 45 minute conversation over the phone, and she was excited about my novel when it was just an idea. Now, it is almost ready to query. Said agent is closed to queries. But this inspires me to contact her anyway.

The moral of this story--tiptoeing sometimes makes for elephant thumps. And, things have a way of working out the way they're meant to.

The Noise In Space said...
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Sherry Howard said...

OP, you don’t have anything to lose by trying. Nothing, nada, bupkis.

Colin and John Frain, your comment brought memories flooding back. Ha! I’ve been called four-eyes since I got my first pair of glasses at birth! So fitting then to have that fourth eye surgery. Now, if I mention a fourth-eye surgery, you guys can buy tickets on the shuttle to my planet.

Hope it’s okay to share this here. It’s a nothing ventured, nothing gained writing story. I wanted a little more practice writing romance. So I wrote a flash romance. Just for kicks and giggles, and to see if it would float, I submitted it to a Journal I have a history with and love. And, voila. (I tried five times to linkify! Got so tired of proving I was human I gave up! I usually have no problem!)

Bethany Elizabeth said...

OP - As someone with occasionally crippling social anxiety, I totally relate. I always feel like a supplicant when I send emails. Whoever I'm writing to is always smarter than me, busier than me, and meaner than me - or that's what it feels like! Interestingly enough, it's still the case if I know the person I'm writing to personally.

The only thing that really helps me is rebalancing my perspective. "No matter how smart/busy/mean this person is, will reading my email take more than a minute or two? No. Replying may take more time, but how/if they reply isn't under my control."

As long as I'm respectful and brief, the worst reasonable response is, 'I don't have time for this' - which I can handle. And if the response is unreasonable, then screw 'em anyway. (That's what I say. That's not always how I feel!)

Steve Stubbs said...

OP, you wrote: "I definitely have the patience to wait for her to open to submissions again, but ... I don't want to wait."

When you do counseling work you learn to discern what people are saying even if they don't know themselves what they are saying. When people use a statement with the structure "A but B" the word "but" means ignore A and go with B.

You don't want to wait.

So don't.

Query someone else.

If she opens to queries later and you do not have an agent, you can always stick your head up and say, "Remember me?"

In the meantime ponder your statement, "I've had an agent and lost her."

Eh? I assume that means your stuff does not sell. Changing agents may not change that. You may have to change your MSS.

I was encouraged that you did not say you were getting ready to self-publish. Whenever anyone says, "Every professional says unanimously that my stuff is crap, so I am going to self-publish," I feel this sinking feeling in the pit of my estomac.

If you are writing to sell, write something that will sell.

Kathy Joyce said...

Sherry, You can share that here, even without the background of why you wrote it.

In my writing group of long ago, everyone started every reading with some version of "this is just a draft," "this is just for fun, it's not a serious effort," "this is a work in progress." We called it "ritual apology," and it's a writer's curse. We're always afraid that it's not good enough, so we think of ways to make it less important, or to (ahem, OP) come up with excuses why someone might not want to read it, or (ahem, 2Ns) reasons not to write it.

I'm so guilty of all of this myself, but I'm trying to stop, trying to own my writing and myself as a writer. Let's all try to be more confident. We're good writers with important stories to tell!

Susan Bonifant said...

I think I'm being preachy but I've become good at managing this situation.

For a long time, I've believed that if one action can bring a positive or negative result, err on the side of success.

Agonizing (and it is never less than agonizing) over what an agent will think, will never make you right or wrong. Worse, it could lead you to back out of a decision because you're confusing nerve-wracking with "inappropriate."

Ask yourself a couple of pertinent questions:

Am I knowingly disrespecting the rules (and therefore the agent) out of eagerness? You know when you are.

Am I sure I am pushing my best work or could it stand a couple of days in the drawer? You know when it could.

My preachy advice is work with the information about which you're confident, which is you and your intentions, and enjoy the risk of being absolutely right.

Colin Smith said...

Opie: What Janet et al. said--email the agent, and ask politely if you, as a former intern, may query her. The only way you miss a chance is if you don't take it. :)

Sherry's link:

I've also added this to the list of Published Works of Janet's Blog Readers in the Treasure Chest.

Your bio mentions other published stories, Sherry. If you want me to include these on the list, drop me an email with the titles and where they can be found. It's okay if they're print-only. I'll still list them. :)

roadkills-r-us said...
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roadkills-r-us said...

My first though on reading OP's question was, "Always means always." That's how I would take it until the originator told me otherwise.

I think a lot of us do things out of a fear-based mentality- whether that's insecurity or something else. That's no way to live. But I also lived there for years; it's tough to get out.

Pretend! That's what most of us do, anyway, whether in our writing, or in exploring what we want to write. We are actors in our minds. So act! I built my software career and my follow-on IT career on acting- acting like I was confident when I wasn't, acting like I was an expert when I wasn't YET one (never giving bad answers, but making it clear I would have the answers when they needed them), acting like it was no big deal to get on stage and speak to hundreds of people, acting like it was no big deal to query a magazine, etc. I never lied, but I pretended to be someone confident. It has taken me on a wild, wonderful journey.

I even acted like a confident actor when a friend roped me into being one of two main protagonists in a play, despite feeling woefully out of my league.

And then one day I woke up... confident. I have to act far less often. I sometimes still do, but now it's just for fun.

Eileen said...

I'm just going on the record with if you ever did open a bar I totally want to move in.

Beth Carpenter said...

Sherry, lovely story, especially the last line.

OP, I know you'll send that query. Best of luck. Can't wait to hear your success story.

2Ns, the world needs your voice.

MA Hudson said...

OP - I think you have to put yourself in the agents shoes. Would you mind receiving a query from a former intern? If it's polite and to the point, then you can't go wrong. The worst that can happen is you'll get a polite decline. The best, of course, would be a request to see your MS. Or, you could get a polite decline PLUS feedback which would be invaluable. Go for it and good luck!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

OMG... I just jumped back on after a really long day.
I'll do it. Did you hear me Lennon, Donna and all the rest? I'll finish.

WTF did I just promise?

Kathy Joyce said...

Do we need a ReiderWriMo for support and encouragement 2Ns?

Lennon Faris said...

OK 2Ns I hear you. Timeline plz...

Ginger Mollymarilyn said...

Sherry, lovely, well-written story. Congratulations!

OP - If you're at a fork in the road, choose the one most beneficial to you. Personally, I think the fact she said she's interested in seeing interns' work negates her current state of Closed to Queries. I say "Go for it!" If I were an agent (hahahaha), I'd be curious, quite curious, to see one of my past interns' work.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Jeez Louise you guys.
I'm at 25,000 words now.
80,000 1/31 (it will be a bowl of spaghetti crap)
Short F-month to recover because my brain will be fried and my carpal tunnel worse than the Holland after Sandy.
When's Easter, it'll shine by Easter.
Hahaha, what the hell am I doing?

Has a book ever been dedicated to a rag-tag bunch of reiders?

AJ Blythe said...

Easter deadline noted, 2Ns ;-)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

AJ, deadline carved in granite.