Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fuck grateful

In response to my post below on query stats, this comment was sent (but not posted because I wanted to put it here)

I sense an egotism at work here that is a little annoying. Liked it at first, but you seem to be fixated on clever reasons not to read people`s manuscripts. I like the kind of agent who enjoys the slush pile, who is willing to read the first few pages of any mss. as long as it is well written. I would go so far as to posit that you get too many queries, probably because of your blog and no longer enjoy reading in and of itself. Insta-reject is a dangerous habit. But if you make a decent living, then I suppose we should be grateful you read queries at all.

If you read just that one post, ok, it's a fair assessment. The tone of the post can be interpreted as "I'm damn annoyed with queriers right now." I was. It's really really frustrating sometimes to work HARD to get information out to writers about how to write queries, and get 11 letters in 50 that don't even tell me what the novel is about.

But, if you've read this blog and Queryshark over time, I hope you understand why this comment annoyed me probably as much as the post annoyed the commenter. Context is everything.

If you really think I don't enjoy reading, or get too many queries, or do instant rejections (for anything other than these), you are wrong.

I don't expect you to be grateful. I'm annoyed you think saying "we should be grateful" is a compliment. I don't want you to be grateful I read your queries. It's my job, and it's in my best interest. I NEED good queries to make a living. Fuck grateful; write better queries.


Alan Orloff said...

You (and other agents) must be so sick of whiny queriers. It really does boil down to "write better queries." And, at the next level, "write better books!"

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I'm laughing "with" you because I feel your frustration. The world is full of "different" people. It's another reason I count to 10 so often, especially when dealing with talk first and think later.

You've heard all the lines, I'm sure. But it still doesn't make it any easier dealing with negative people, I'm sure. Here's hoping 90% of the writers querying out there understand what your job is and why they need you.

Bobbie said...

I read your previous post last night after hours of working on three pages of my WIP that still aren't quite right. And I wanted to leave a comment then, telling you that you're one of the reasons I keep writing and keep trying. I know what I write would never be up your alley, so it's not like I'm writing *for* you. But the fact that I can see you love your job--even with the frustrations of bad queries and head-against-the-wall banging--makes me feel like I'm hanging out in the right field with the right people.

So I'm grateful--not that you read queries but that you keep reading them and keep telling us about them and keep encouraging us. Thanks for that.

Anne Gallagher said...

Janet, you are one of the best agents out there and I am grateful to you that you take the time to try and teach us newbies what is right and wrong, and how to go about writing the best damn query we can. (Even if you don't rep my genre.) I, for one, appreciate all your hard work, and your staying up until all hours of the night to read queries from stupid heads who don't pay attention to a damn thing you say. Thank you Janet Reid for a job that's very well done, and very much appreciated from where I sit.

Shelly said...

Oh snap.

I am also grateful for the knowledge I have acquired from this blog. I sent out a few really shitty queries before I stumbled onto this blog and Queryshark. I was overly excited and hadn't done any research except skim through a book I picked up at the library.

You are one of the few agents who take the time to give us accurate info.


Laura C. Ombreviations said...

Oh em gee, hear hear. The answer is not "J. Reid is mean and hates to read"; the answer is "J. Reid loves to read enough that she does it for a living, knows good work when she sees it, and doesn't waste her time or the time of others by delving into things that aren't right for her."

And, as someone who loves reading unsolicited queries (so much! So much!), I think some of the most vocal people offended by the high volume of rejections have never put on their critiquing cap lamp, picked up the pick axe of saleability, and been down into the slush mines. It can be a very dark place.

Editorial Anonymous said...

I heart you, Janet.

Unknown said...

If a person can't handle the instructions to query correctly, why would an agent assume that they would take any better care with their work? I'd delete those on principal. It doesn't matter if the book could win the Nobel Prize for Literature if the author is too arrogant or lazy to follow simple query instructions. Further, if either of those things apply, the author will not be good to work with and most likely will end up on an episode of Authors Behaving Badly with the first negative review.

You are not special. You are not a unique snowflake. The rules still apply to... yes, you.

Just because you wrote a book, that doesn't entitle you to anything. Not petting, coddling, or special consideration by a person who sees hundreds just like you every day.

There is no gold star just for trying. This is publishing, not Kindergarten. That's not to say that I don't wish everyone the best with their projects and cross my fingers for them, but this entitlement mentality has to stop.

Yes,I've sold, but took me ten years. I'm still looking for an agent. And hey, I follow the query instructions by each agent that I've queried. If the directions say to do a headstand followed by Downward Facing Dog before I hit send, that's what I do.

I appreciate Query Shark like chocolate pudding. It's a resource that I've shared with fellow authors. Plus, Janet's blog makes me spew chocolate tea out my nose.


Don't let the snide bastards get you down, Janet.

I have nothing to gain from kissing shark butt here (already happily wedded to another amazing agent) but I still come here every day because this is hands-down the best online resource for writers.

For authors, learning to write a good query isn't just about wooing an agent. It's a skill you need long after you've got one. Agents and authors work together to write pitch letters for editors when the project goes out on submission, and as an author, you'd damn well better be able to contribute to that process. Even after you sell a book, you'll likely be called upon to help with marketing hooks and back-cover copy for the novel itself. These are all essentially forms of the query.

I get irritated when writers like spoiled children about the querying process. Writing a good query letter isn't just a meaningless hoop that agents are making you jump through just for jollies. It's only the start of where this skill will come in handy in your future as an author. Even though I'm well past the agent querying stage, I'm still grateful (there's that word again) for every ounce of information you provide here about what works and what doesn't.


J Decker said...

I get what that commenter is trying to say. In your posts, I feel you come off as honest and straightforward, and that can be misinterpreted as annoyed/jaded/frustrated/whatever. Really, though, it sounds like the commenter just had a fill of sour grapes. Perhaps he/she was one of your rejected queriers.

But it's good that you're honest and straightforward because there are a lot of us (potential authors) that need it. Everyone thinks they can write a book, but they just simply can't. So thank you for being the one to let them know this.

Deep River said...

Your post on query stats didn't mention if any of those queries were accompanied by a bottle or two of "query oil".

I have it in my mind that many lit agents would appreciate a little Scottish or Kentucky query oil to help things along, so to speak.

Unless, of course, query oil would appear ingratiating, which might be worse than expectant gratefulness. I'm confused.

Sarah Laurenson said...

If I can't write a good query, I also can't tell people - succinctly - what my book is about.

There I was, sitting at a dinner table with an Exec Editor and he leans over and says "What's your book about?"

Luckily, I had a funny log line handy that I had spent hours working on. He laughed and said he liked it.

So thank you, Janet, for taking the time and effort to show us how to write a damn good query.

And yes, most of us do understand why you reject so many. And why you wish the right one would cross your path this instant.

Anonymous said...

@ Deep R.

I've read slush. A barrel of query oil isn't going to help. ;)

Janet, I see a lot of people make dumb comments like this. They're so upset about some stupid form rejection, or are feeling too cowardly about sending off their baby. Or maybe they suck at following directions. Best to just ignore them.

VR Barkowski said...

I sense an egotism at work, all right, but it's on the part of the commenter. I presume when this individual says 'we' he or she is referring to those of us battling the query wars. I don't usually comment here, but it angers me someone has the hubris to step in and speak on my behalf and get it so wrong.

I appreciate all the agents who take the time and make efforts to teach how to write an effective query - THANK YOU. I know my manuscript is extraordinary, but my query sucks. Moreover, I know if I keep working at it, I will eventually capture the essence of what makes my book special and it will attract an agent. I'm no pollyanna about querying. In fact, I just finished a three part blog series on some of the associated frustrations. But writers don't have a monopoly on those aggravations, and to believe otherwise is thoughtless, self-centered and unfair.

Kregger said...

Dear Ms. Shark,

If you spent an hour reading fifty queries, you spent more time then the average agent. Thank you.

I have spent a little time at AW adding my two cents to help writers figure out queries. Over and over, the advice is, give us a main character, give us the stakes and the consequences. I can't say I know how you feel, because I haven't done this long enough, but I have an inkling.

I do not cast stones as I serve my penance for my own query submitted in aged exuberance. I thank you for your kind form rejection. I'm not only learning how to write a query, I'm learning how to write.

Dr. Cheryl Carvajal said...

I feel for you. I teach college composition for a living (and write), and though grading papers is one of my primary obligations, there are certainly times I hate it.

It isn't because I don't love writing, or don't love my job. My feelings usually come when a stack of papers is turning out awful. Great papers are so much easier to handle!

Your blog is a boon for us writers. Sounds like that one, in particular, is tired of writing queries, and would prefer you just lower your standards.

I'd prefer to write better queries. Thanks for all the help!

Christi Goddard said...

This person is not indicative of how the rest of us feel, as evident by our responses. You're awesome, and those who don't agree can just suck it.

Livia Blackburne said...

Hee hee.

Judith Mercado said...

That title coming from you actually turned around my challenging afternoon. For the better! So I am grateful and, yes, if anyone had read you in context they would realize that you're doing your job and, what's more, I sense you are a caring spirit.

Anonymous said...

Ha! See, this is why I like you, Janet. (I can call you Janet, can't I? No? Ah, well... I will anyway.) It amuses me no end that you're willing to put up with the bullshit that must come your way as a fairly high-profile agent-blogger, and that you manage to turn said bovine excrement into little nuggets of wisdom for the writers in the trenches. Brava, good lady.

And now I'll go back to lurking...

LeeAnn Flowers said...

Not only do I read your blog and Query Shark regularly, I take notes (okay, granted mental notes, but I do go back and reread certain entries) on how to become not only a better writer but smarter about the business of writing. I am very grateful to you and the other agents and writers who share their own experiences through blogs. If you didn't care, you wouldn't blog.

That and you have a wicked sense of humor. I may not agree with everything but I don't have to.

Unknown said...

I have to say that I'm offended by your swearing. For someone working in the literary world, I would think that you could find more creative words to express your thoughts. It really lacks professionalism when you use the f-word in your rants. Also, as aspiring authors, we are warned not to rant and criticize agents/publishers on our blogs/websites, as it could come back to bite us. Shouldn't the same apply to you?

Janet Reid said...

Hi Lou,
I'm sorry you were offended by forceful and explicit language.

I chose that word carefully and with specific intent and I don't apologize for using it. Furthermore, I don't intend to change my ways.

There are blogs by other agents that don't use coarse language:

Kristin Nelson
Rachelle Gardner
Nathan Bransford

You might want to read them instead of this one.

And the "rule" about ranting on blogs by authors isn't a rule. It's a suggestion about how to avoid looking difficult to work with.

My use of coarse and vulgar language here is in fact something you'd want to know about me should you be looking for an agent.

That kind of language not only peppers my speech, it appears in the books I sell.

You wouldn't want to be offended by your fellow authors, would you? No, of course not. Better to know now that we're all heedless unprofessional vulgarians, and query not only widely, but elsewhere.

Sarah Laurenson said...


Oh my, Janet. You are priceless.


*rummaging through files searching for something in Janet's chosen genres to query her with*

Unknown said...

Dully noted and blog subscription deleted.

Unknown said...

I'm gonna agree here that you're one of the reasons I a) have at least some clue as to what I'm doing and b) that I am able to see agents as real human beings who really love their jobs and work for the writers and books that they love.

I've learned more from the Query Shark and this blog than from any other source. I've read the entire things. When I see an entry describing why things were rejected, I can take away from that what *not* to do and find that helpful as well.

I think it's obvious to most of us at least that you you really do love your job, and that you care about writers. I'm sorry you have to get crap from people when you spend so much of your own time working on resources to help us.

I say this as a fellow querier, oft-rejected. Don't change a thing, and thank you.

Beth said...

If he (or she) doesn't like your blog, she (or he) can remove it from their reader. It's not like he has hired you to write this blog to his specs!

You write this blog for your own purposes. If it doesn't work for the reader, let them find one that does. :-)

I agree with what you said.

And also, if you want to swear in your blog, it is fine with me. The point of using language is to express an idea, if that is the language that gets the point across, then it is the right language to use (mho).


Jen said...

My gawd, I think I'm gonna change my name to Heedless Unprofessional Vulgarian. That's right catchy!


Janet Reid said...

Hi Lou, just in case you haven't unsubscribed yet, I really hope you meant "duly noted" rather than "dully noted." I hate to think unsubscribing from my trash talking blog leaves you feeling dull and lifeless.

Alicia Evans said...

"Fuck grateful; write better queries."

Fucking classic -grins-

Love ya Janet--you're all kinds of awesome.

Laurel said...

Ah, Janet! I was pleased you caught and commented on "dully noted".

Also, I wanted to recommend the same blog title with the words inverted for an entirely different flavor. If you try it as a mental exercise, you will find that the use of the Old English word for coitus is, in fact, most expressive and assumes a wide variety connotations once you experiment with it in different parts of speech.

Upon consideration, the word in question is one of the most versatile in the language. It can be used, unadorned, in almost any capacity as a part of speech. Noun, verb, adjective or adverb (usually with an "ing"), etc. I cannot immediately call to mind the use of it as a preposition but it would seem to suit if the occasion presented itself.

At any rate, I choose not to discriminate against Old English as I am not a Norman Courtier demonstrating my superiority by using French exclusively. In whatever language, it means the same thing.

Donna Coe-Velleman said...

LOL You tell him , Janet. Don't hold back.

Suzan Harden said...

Dang, woman! I'd like to buy you a drink.

And no, I don't have any ulterior motives. You don't represent what I write, so no pressure on either of us.

Anonymous said...

Well said!

Christi Goddard said...

" Better to know now that we're all heedless unprofessional vulgarians"


I KNEW there had to be a better name for what I was!

mallard said...

I am quite sure that you hate literature because you have yet to accept my monkey-book proposal. Maybe you just hate good ideas.

LMG Swain said...

Egad. Everybody's so friggin' sensitive. I'd hate to be an agent or an editor and deal with all these fragile egos.

I learned long ago that my best friend was my editor, and if she was ticked at my writing, it was because I didn't do my job, which is to first keep her entertained and second to make her look good to her senior editors. If she's happy, she fights for my story, and I get published. It's that simple.

The same with agents, who were all once bright-eyed little boys and girls who fell in love with reading and books and decide to make books and writers their mission in life.

I've taught Literature and writing nearly my entire life, and know from dealing with students who don't listen, don't pay attention, don't follow directions the frustrations of the agent and the editor who for the umpteenth time get a piece crap from a writer presenting him/herself and his/her opus as the next best selling novelist and novel.

My advice to those writers who were somehow personally offended by Janet's openness, my advice is Sit up, Listen up, Shut up, or Leave the room.

After all, unlike public education, sending your query/novel to Janet or any agent is not compulsory.

Flavio Q Crunk said...

Janet, you're now officially one of my favorite agents.

JS said...

As a fellow Heedless Unprofessional Vulgarian (I'd love to be a professional vulgarian, but Carrot Top and the South Park guys seem to have that market all sewn up at the moment), I salute you.

Fuck'em! Or, to be more Latinate than Anglo-Saxon, illegitmi non carborundum.

Stephanie Barr said...

I see this, in many ways, as confusion on the part of a writer.

When one writes something, no one is obligated to read it. No one.

There are many things out there to read and, in order for one's work to become one of them, one must either publish it oneself (self-publish) or convince others with marketing savvy, publishing capability and other useful distribution capabilities to invest in your writing - to in turn convince readers to invest time and money into one's work.

There are many many (many many many...) people out there believing they have something worth reading. Only a proportion of them are right. If they want an agent to invest their time and effort in representing their work, they have to (a) do good work and (b) give the agent the tools necessary to recognize the work is good in a sea of not-so-good.

It's a symbiotic relationship. The agent needs to find good writers, which is why they slog through far more examples of less than stellar writing than I (or most readers) would be willing to. It's a considerable investment in time and effort with no direct recompense.

The writers need a good agent to help sell it further up the publishing chain and, hopefully, eventually reach the readers - who get to choose between many books, but have the advantage that the books that reach them have been screened by many others.

Bottom line, if you can't sell it to an agent, either your pitch or your book isn't ready. Make it so. Try not to blame others (particularly not an agent who has gone through so much trouble to steer you in how to sell to her).

pmrussell said...

I can see why the person commented the way they did. On the surface it might seem that you are, indeed, annoyed with all queries. However, the way I see it, you seem to be communicating to prospective submissions. How else can you stop the madness? By telling us what you don't like, hopefully, it will stop some of the ambiguous, annoying queries. You're just trying to help us and yourself at the same time, right?

Christi Goddard said...

I've already commented twice, but I don't care. Since this post went up, I've returned repeatedly to read it since the whole thing (post and comments) just cracks me up. It makes me smile like an idiot.

Fuck fuckity fuck fuck, Janet.

Right on.

Leona said...

Thank you! You are the best. I can say that because most of what I write wouldn't fall in your range of representation. I have one that might, but I haven't decided whether to query you or not. I need to do more research on the books you've repped.

I started following your blog long before I wrote this particular manuscript because you are honest and blunt but have a 'human' edge that keeps it from being cruel.

Thanks for keeping it up.

Unknown said...

I've enjoyed reading your posts today. It's nice to "get in the mind" of the other side of the book writing spectrum. I do feel bad for the agents who have read some of my earlier work...queries and manuscripts alike! Kudos for speaking your mind on here!

Unknown said...

Let me preface this by saying that I was the writer who wrote the posted criticism. I do feel honored in a perverse way at having my dirty laundry aired––even having an unmentionable word affixed to the heading. Kind of like when I got my fan letter published in a comic book letters section at the age of 12.

I actually didn`t read the comments for a week. I figured I would be lambasted, if not feathered and tarred. Now that I have read the comments, it feels more like being tickled with feathers. Thank you gentle readers.

That said,
Of course I realize Janet Reid is doing us a service.
Of course I was in a shitty mood when I happened to read her reasons for mass rejections. And, of course––as one astute commenter picked up on––she did reject my query summarily, or at least for no “sharky” reason that I could decipher.

I don`t however want to fall back on the simple excuse that I am a frustrated would-be author, (though I am at this point capital WOULD-BE).

In these 2 short months of querying I have had five requests for partials (still on the “to-be-read-when-Steven-King-quits-bugging-me” pile, hopefully) and a requested full that led to a requested revision, that led to a revision and a requested revision of said requested revision.... yes you can write, but editors these days...

I think what was in the back of my mind when I commented was: Janet Reid gave me the template that allowed me to write a query that has elicited some positive response, and yet... my query was probably a scratched line in one of her clever, off-hand posts of rejected queries.

I appreciate you Ms. Reid and I agree, bleep annoying whiners. But we all whine in our own ways. Even agents.

I sensed you were whining about a lack of excellent queries and responded with an annoying comment about excellence being in the written matter, not the query per se.

Still stand by that. And yes, I do read Query Shark as humor.

Damon Shulenberger