Tuesday, March 05, 2019

So, what aren't you looking for?

A recent #AskAgent on Twitter, hosted by the Fierce and Amazing BookEnd Ladies (and by ladies I mean agents who ride unicorns and slay dragons, and no that's not a metaphor) generated a tweet from a writer who said he liked lists of what agents are NOT looking for. It's so much more helpful.

That's probably true.
If you know I'm not looking for SF and you write SF, well, you know not to query me.


I want you to query me. With anything. Agents who carp about writers querying them need to remember who writes the ransom notes** around here. It's not me.

What if you have the category wrong? At least 35.24% of queries have what I'd call the wrong category listed in their queries.

Aw c'mon SharkForBrains, you say. Surely we all know what SF is? 
So, is Patrick Lee's The Breach SF? Is Runner SF or a thriller.

Is Steve Forti's account of his time in the flash fiction pits of Carkoon a memoir or a dystopian thriller?

This is one time where you really don't want to assume you're right.

And what if I say I'm full up on horror writers, repping as I do two of the very finest, but you're a writer with a contract in hand, and as it turns out I love your voice, and you're a pretty hilarious guy...well, yes, I want you on the list and aren't I glad you ignored "no more horror."

I think the don't query me for lists are helpful, but way too many of you self-select out of my query pile.

That's my loss.

Again, that's MY loss.
And if you think I like that, well, you're new here, aren't you?

There's literally no cost to querying me.
Even if I say no, you haven't shot your chances with any other agent here at New Leaf. We simply ask you to query us one at a time, with 30 days between queries.

"I don't want to waste your time/an agent's time" is something I hear when I've said this kind of thing before.  Please pause for a moment so I can bop you on the bean with a nerf bat.

You're not wasting my time if you send me a thoughtful, well-written query. Not now. Not ever. Not even if it's for dino porn, kale haiku, or the Annotated Lyrics to Louie, Louie.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words:

when asked what writing paid best, Harry Zimm famously replied "Ransom notes" 
which I think is so funny I try to work it into a blog post at least once a year.

Also if you don't know who Harry Zimm is, we can't be friends anymore til you fix that.


E.M. Goldsmith said...

I have already brought a frame for QOTKU's response to my query. Whatever that response. Once I get to those trenches. For this book, I want to be truly ready to query. Not like last time or the time before that with my myriad of rookie mistakes. I want responses of the positive kind among all the inevitable rejections.

I do love the BookEnds gals. Jessica is amazing. It's a good group of agents there.

But the shark is my queen. Even if she probably wants to exile me to Carkoon for all eternity. It's just the way it is.

Kitty said...

Get Shorty is still one of the funniest movies ever and, in my opinion, it was John Travolta's come-back movie. What a great cast, too. My husband and I still quote Dennis Farina's line about the f'n sunsets.

One of my favorite scenes was between Bo (Delroy Lindo) and Chili (Travolta) discussing how to write a movie script:

CHILI: You know how to write one of these?
BO CATLETT: There's nothin' to know. You have an idea, you write down what you wanna say. Then you get somebody to add in the commas and shit where they belong, if you aren't positive yourself. Maybe fix up the spelling where you have some tricky words . . . although I've seen scripts where I know words weren't spelled right and there was hardly any commas in it at all. So I don't think it's too important. Anyway, you come to the last page you write in 'Fade out' and that's the end, you're done.

Timothy Lowe said...

Going to try to channel Elmore Leonard for the next few hundred words of my WIP -- wish me luck. If I can be half as funny and a third as gritty, I'll count myself lucky.

Mister Furkles said...

So, Janet, if you don't do SF, when are you going to jettison Jeff Somers and Patrick Lee.

Nathan Holland said...

This is the second best thing I have heard/will be doing all week. Thank you Janet for this post.

Craig F said...

In a week , or so, I'll write off someone as unresponsive and send you a sci-fi query. It might seem to be speculative, because it is set in modern time, but aliens show up later.

Just a warning. I would be more imaginative, but jet lag and the thought of Daylight Savings Time looming (politics and weather, too)have left me numb.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

This is really encouraging, Janet.
But it's really confusing too, because you are the only one out there saying it. Every other list of tips on how to query says query only agents who love your genre; personalize your query; mention it if your book matches their wish list. You are the only person I've read who finds those things annoying. In fact, some agencies get quite exasperated on their web sites about authors who: write follow up e-mails ... Query again after a rejection ... "Don't follow directions."

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Runner is just thriller enough that my library doesn't have it in the scifi section. It's thriller enough that the people who are afraid of genre can happily read it. There are scifi elements to it, sure, but that's not the entire point. It's kind of like how J.D. Robb's "In Death" books are set in like, 2061, but are very much mysteries rather than thrillers or scifi, subheading cyberpunk (I haven't read any of them,but I'm considering it. I've read about them)

And also, the next novel I've got whipped into shape for querying will certainly take a dip in the shark tank ;)

Steve Forti said...

See, no need to differentiate whether it's a memoir or dystopian thriller. It's simple - it's both. It's everything. Thriller? Yup. Romance? You betcha. Cookbook? Definitely (though no kale). Dino porn pop-up picture book? Three whole chapters dedicated just to that.

So rather than worry about where in the store to display my book, just put it everywhere! That way everyone will find and love it. See, problem solved! I don't know why nobody has ever thought of that before...

But really, this is a good reminder. One of these days...

BrendaLynn said...

did You guys know that there really is a thing called Dino porn?
I’m gobsmacked and oddly curious. I may have to switch genres.

Claire Bobrow said...

I will confess, I had to look up Harry Zinn. Yes, I saw ‘Get Shorty.’ And yes, I love Gene Hackman, but (please don’t send me to Carkoon) I didn’t remember that role. In my mind, Mr. Hackman will forever be the detective in ‘The French Connection,’ the corrupt lawyer in ‘The Firm,’ or – my favorite - the hermit in Young Frankenstein. “Wait! Where are you going? I was gonna make espresso!”

Timothy Lowe said...

Claire -

Don't forget the sheriff in "Unforgiven", which has to be one of my all-time favorite flicks.

Claire Bobrow said...

Timothy - I will put Unforgiven on my list. And apparently I need to watch 'Get Shorty' again!

CynthiaMc said...

I had the pleasure of meeting Jessica several years ago at a conference. She said "If I am your agent I will fight for you." Since I am a lover not a fighter that stuck with me.

Janet, be careful what you wish for. I am querying you on everything.

Kitty said...

Claire, this should refresh your memory: Harry Zimm meets "Bones" Barboni

Claire Bobrow said...

Oh, Kitty...I almost lost my coffee. Poor Harry Zimm (not Zinn, lol) and the other guy. Sheesh. Mobsters!
That's it for me today. Apologies for the Gene Hackman detour!

BrendaLynn said...

I feel like the inappropriate Great-Aunt who lost her polite conversation filter.

Kitty said...

Oops, sorry. My bad. I should have posted a LANGUAGE warning with that link in which Harry Zimm meets potty-mouth Bones Barboni.

Amy Johnson said...

Belated congrats to K! After over thirty hours of trying, I have finally been able to book a dragon act for your winner's party.

Hank: More hugs heading your way.

Laina said...

Not gonna lie, I do wanna know when agents don't want my book for certain reasons, mostly when those reasons are they only want books that reflect "Christian values" and I'm too queer for them.

That's... happened a couple times

Janet Reid said...

Second on the list of actors I miss a lot: Dennis Farina. (First is Alan Rickman of course)

Eric Steinberg said...

New Leaf Literary's submissions instructions read: "Do not query more than one agent at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc." I've noted this and have been trying to decide which agent to query.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

I think they mean don't query more than one at a time. But, yes, confusing.

MA Hudson said...

Haha - ransom notes! I suppose you’d need a strong voice, compelling hook, and unforgettable characters. All this query writing might payoff after all!!

AJ Blythe said...

And yet there are agents who rant about writers not reading the instructions and querying the wrong genres. No wonder writers go round and round on that hamster wheel.

Betsy said...

As encouraging as this post is, since all who know you love you and want you for their agent, I'm guessing from past posts that this "query me with anything" approach doesn't extend to YA, correct? I was ready to rush to dust off my query letter, but figured I'd better stand down.

The Noise In Space said...

I'm wondering the same as Betsy. Surely there are SOME genres that are out, right? Like picture books?