Tuesday, July 03, 2012

A new wrinkle in the query game

There I was bright and early on Sunday morning  July 1. I'd forgotten it was the day I reopened to queries. You guys had not.

Bing, bang, bong. 10 queries in 10 minutes.

Funny thing was though, I forgot to send a form reply.

Instead I answered each one.

And then I got this:

I know you get a lot of crap from writers for sending personal rejections, so I wanted to say THANK YOU. ... I know this rejection probably took you less than a minute to write, but it has really helped me out. Please continue to make little differences like this in the lives of authors- for every one author you get who snaps at you for it, there will be another ten of us who are truly grateful. I have other works in progress. Expect to hear from me in the future if I ever have something that's a fit for you!

well, you had me at thank you of course. It's always a pleasant surprise not to get yelled at for rejection.

And then it occurred to me that there were probably a lot more people like Miss Z here who were glad to hear more than "no" and weren't going to shriek bloody murder.

How to reach those folks?

Here's the idea: One night a week, probably Friday or Saturday night, between 9pm and 10pm (Eastern Shark Time) I'll reply individually to queries received during that time slot.

The queries get a reply NOT to be confused with feedback. There might be some feedback, but that's not the point of the experiment. The point is simply to reply individually, not via a form letter.

The queries need to be for realz. No querying western haiku just to try to get a reply.

I'd like to ask for no crazy replies, but I think we just need to let the chips fall where they may.

What do you think of this? Comment column replies welcomed.


Karen Baldwin said...

I think you're awesome for taking the time to do this.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ah...Fri or Sat? I'll be there with a re-query, book's better now.

What five words do you want us to use and may we write more than one-hundred words...hahahahaha

This is a great idea because 10 pm is still early enough to hit a couple of bars to drown expectation.

WD PLANTE said...

Encouragement is fuel for the creative engine. A personal reply would fill the tank up.

Mark Koopmans said...

Aloha Janet,


Looks like I wasn't the only one to set an alert for "Janet Reid - Query Open July 1"

Thanks for adding the personal touch via those ten responses.

I bet it meant a lot to at least most of the worried writers.

LN said...

Awesome idea! I love it!

Quick question: If our query is for the project we submitted for the Liz Norris contest, is it still okay to submit it as an official query to you? I thought it might be okay because it's the difference between submitting a project for a contest versus querying directly for representation, but then I thought it would count as re-querying because you'd essentially already read it and passed.

Thanks as always, for all you do to give writers a resource.

Ali Trotta said...

It's things like this, Janet, that make you more awesome than I thought possible. You give a damn to the nth degree, and I can't help but respect that and be thankful for it.

Leah said...

Coolest idea ever!! This writer-girl is grateful. I know when I was querying my first, *any* response that wasn't form was fully appreciated! Seriously - some made me do a little dance! Even though they were no's, still...it made a difference.

I'm about to start querying my second project (and by about I mean, within the next four months, ha!)...knowing you're doing something like this is encouragement enough to keep forging ahead!

Thanks, Janet!! :)

Clare said...

I think that's a wonderful, considerate thing to do for querying writers, and I'm sure most of them will appreciate you for it.

I will keep it in mind if I ever have something for you.

Simon Hay said...

That's cool. A few words do make a difference. For some it might invite a response, but there's always auto delete.

Laina said...

I think that would be awesome and I wished you repped my genre :P

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

I'll be honest on this one... unless there was actual specific feedback, I'm not sure I would care.

Knowing that agents receive gajillions of queries on a regular basis, I completely understand the form response. Having also received bunches of form letters, I'd be hard-pressed to even recognize one that was not a form. Sure, my name could be put in there instead of "author" along with the title of my novel... but as far as I can tell, that is the only personalization given. Does this make a difference to me? Over all, not really.

I guess I would have to query you myself during that timeslot to see what you really meant by personal response. Ha!

Unknown said...

I thanked an agent named Michael Ebeling and since then we have developed a business relationship. I will always send my queries to him first now b/c he took the time to respond to me.

CobraMisfit said...

The personal touch would certainly stand out and likely be a major encouragement to some people.

That, or fuel the fires of crazy. "ZOMG! She respondificated to me! I must sends her more!"

Charley said...

Any chance I could buy you a beer, or a bourbon? An agent who does as much for writers as you do should at least get one of her favorite drinks. I'll be in NYC next week for Thrillerfest.... Anyway, thanks!

Riley Redgate said...

That would be insanely awesome of you. I'd be sort of nervous on your behalf because of the inevitable inundation during that specific time slot, but you know. The selfish side of me is like HOO YEAH, OH BOY, GO FOR IT, I WANT TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS.

Graeme Smith said...

Lady Janet

I think most of us have been in a new town some time in our lives. Some place we've never been, filled with people we've never met.
I know I have.
I have no few memories of those times. Some of them, a lot of them, I've been walking some street, whether with putpose or without. And the street runs by me, both literally and metaphorically, and the only impact I have on it is the river of people (sometimes) parting to flow past me, and flowing together again. Like I was never there.
But there are the other times. Not many, but I rememeber them. Times some random person looked my way - and smiled. And for a moment, everything was different :-).
I like this idea (and I know - it's easy to like ideas I don;t actually have to work to implement :-P). In the ideal world we never get to live in, I'd say maybe only for people who have:

1: Never had a reply from you before.
2: Are currently unpublished.

I know. The admin overhead would be evil, keeping track. So that's not a suggestion. Just an ideal world :-).
It's a busy street out there. See all the little pebbles, the river just bulging slightly as it flows over them, passing on? No. They're probably invisible.
That's sort of the point :-).
I went swimming once, and got a smile from a Shark. Just a smile. A grin. but it made a real difference to me :-).
Yes, I know. I blether. Shutting up now... :-)).

The Idiot

Becky Mahoney said...

Though I'm not querying anymore, I think this is an AMAZING idea, Madame Shark. :) Thanks so much for all you do for us!

EliasM said...

Linked from Twitter; just so you know. First you kindly "guide" me to query shark then Query Trackers and now this. I think you're aces, Sis.

JessWiz said...

I think you should make the decision that best fits what you want to get out of it. Impersonal rejections are a sticking point for you. I completely understand why they might bother a person who is forced to send them out for expediency's sake.

You're inviting our gratitude with your kindness. As a querying writer, I appreciate you taking the time to make it more personal - even a rejection. I might find it less disheartening to feel a real person on the other end of my heart's work, even if it's them saying, "I'm sorry, but no."

But with every risky move comes the possibility of a spectacular mishap of some sort. My fear as a writer? That some jack-wagon will use the opportunity of your personal attention to act like the 1 out of 100 that the other 99 of us have to apologize for. If that happens, well, you have to evaluate risk vs. reward - as is the case now.

Either way, you're still a mensch for all you do for our writing community.

Durango Writer said...

I think it would be awesome -- but I also think your email server is going to crash because everyone will decide to query you during that time frame.

Colin Smith said...

Janet--I am continually blown away by the fact that, as much as you get frustrated with writers, you put yourself out there to try to make us better--whether by pointing out where we make common writing errors, or helping us write better queries. I understand it's a win-win (we become better writers, you get higher quality submissions), but this is not part of your job description. You don't *have* to do these things to be an awesome agent!

I like the idea of a Golden Query Hour. You said it will apply to queries *received* during that time. Do you mean this literally (i.e., queries actually appearing in your inbox at this time), or will these be the queries waiting for you in your inbox at that time (that might have been there a few days)? Unless you're saying that your inbox is usually empty by Friday or Saturday night, I think the latter would be better. That way, the writer doesn't know whether or not his query will be getting the personal touch since s/he can't predict when you'll read it (as was the case with the 10 queries on Sunday morning). Just my 2c.

Kathryn Elliott said...

Um,*clears throat*, between 9-10 on Friday/Saturday nights there’s a good chance I’m snockered - probably best to avoid professional correspondence in a Pinot haze. The idea sounds interesting, but after a week of Ringling Mothers and Gargantuan Family, unwinding trumps all else. I’ll take my rejection during business hours, thanks.

Unknown said...

As someone who has queried extensively I have to say that while this sounds like a great idea in theory, it could raise a lot of false hopes in authors.

The personal replies I've received during the process have been special to me because they were earned. They showed me I was on the right path after submitting several other books that netted only form replies.

Call me a romantic, but in a time when anybody can claim to be published and anybody can claim to be a bestseller without earning it I'd hate to see something as special as the personal reply from the agent added to the list of things people can claim just because they submitted one the right day and at the right time.

Steve Forti said...

I think it's a fantastic idea (for us writers, of course - probably a headache for you), and like the commenter in the post, we're all truly appreciative of the extra efforts and connection you make with us.

Keep rocking!

Gabe (Ava Jae) said...

I think it's wonderful that you're even considering taking the time to do create a time when you answer to queries individually. I know from experience what a difference a personalized rejection can make, especially if you've been receiving a lot of form rejections. Granted, it's still a rejection, but it feels different.

I have a feeling, however, once word got out that you will be answering queries personally at that time, that you'll likely be flooded with queries during that time frame. But if you're willing to do it anyway, I think it's fantastic. :)

John Lucas Hargis said...

I'm not clear on what you mean by 'reply' as opposed to 'feedback'.

Is your plan to at least include a tidbit of info to help the author? Or are you simply plunking the title into what would otherwise be a form letter?

Even the tiniest scrap of response which answers the writer's question "WHY did she reject it?", is worth it's weight in gold.

Even for form rejections: I'd love an agent to simply check a box:
[ ] I don't rep this genre
[x] The voice needs strengthening
[ ] Too much editing needed
[ ] This genre is saturated
[ ] Etc

Unknown said...

I look forward to learning about the fruits of this experiment. Both what you and the submitting authors take away from it.

Jolene Louise said...

That would simply be incredible.

Anonymous said...

incredibly generous of you, but honestly, I think you're opening yourself up to getting a vat of frustration dumped on your head. Maybe one test run, but take a stiff drink (maybe two) before you click 'inbox'.

delilah s. dawson said...

Some of the personal rejections I received were so important to my writing life that I thanked the agents in the Acknowledgments of my first book. If queriers are putting in the work, your sharkly thoughts could be the turning point for them. And an hour sounds more than reasonable. Make 'em pay attention!

Richard Gibson said...

It's certainly a nice thought, but as one on the (potential) receiving end, I guess I would rather have a form letter, or genuine feedback, or a random-nice-not-form response rather than time-programmed "I'm not sending form letters this hour only" or whatever.

Your service through this blog is so far beyond "thank you" that most of us wouldn't want more (IMO) -- unless as someone said above, it were useful feedback. The very first query I ever sent (not to Janet) was to a big name agent, and I expected nothing, ever. He replied to my email in a half hour, asked for the full proposal (it was non-fiction). A week later he passed, "not for him" but with an incredibly helpful, specific "rejection." I was astonished, and extremely encouraged, since he pretty much only does 6- and 7-figure deals. And moved on confidently.

I guess I feel that if you don't have the time or inclination to give a line of real feedback, why bother? Sorry if this sounds cynical, I don't mean it to be, but I think I'd prefer honest form rejection over a time-dependent special something that might actually be no more meaningful...

Cindy C said...

This is an incredibly generous offer. I suspect you'll be innundated with queries during that hour, and that the responses you get to your response may not all be filled with gratitude. I'm not ready to query yet, so I hope this is something you can keep going for a year or so!

Janet Reid said...

BryonQ: your comment is certainly food for thought. Thanks for posting.

I'm reading the comment trail here with great interest.

michael said...

Thank you for caring, but I worry about your email crashing from the mob of queriers attacking it during that hour. Perhaps a better choice for your computer would be to respond to a random query a day.

Christine said...

I'm on the fence here... it's wonderful to get a glimpse of feedback (the "why" of rejection, especially if it's the query itself that's the problem, and completely fixable).

But when you get a form rejection, you can (almost) convince yourself that the agent didn't really see/read your query. If the personalized rejection has your name, book title, and "I would never represent YOUR SPECIFIC book, not in a million years," it's way more crushing!

Megan said...

I have no problem receiving form rejections, as a rejection is better than never hearing back. To receive a personal rejection on a query would be amazing! Writing can be a lonely business, so it's comforting to be reminded that there are real people out there reading our queries. :)

Anne-Marie said...

Your innovativeness and generosity are to be admired.

CourtneyC said...

Hooray! Huzzah! This is very generous of you, considering the slings and arrows you've comments on receiving in the past. Thanks! Now, let's hope nobody screws this up for the rest of us.

Kay Camden said...

I've been foaming at the mouth for the past 2 days, waiting for your blog to update to say you had reopened. Ten people were much smarter than me.

I'm starting to see it's survival of the fittest in this world of querying. I need to stop running around with a spear and pick up an RPG like the rest of you.

I don't think your inbox would be brutalized in that hour. It all depends on how much it's advertised.

Elisabeth Black said...

Like Delilah Dawson said, personal replies make a big impact.

It's a really kind idea.

CW Browning said...

As a writer making the rounds, I have to say that I understand the need for the form replies from agents. Form rejections don't bug me as much as the no-reply-at-all rejections. That being said, the occasional personal replies DO brighten my day. I think the personal touch means much more to some people, even if it is a rejection. It serves to remind me, at least, that agents are human beings as well...(or sharks, as the case may be...)

So I think its a fabulous idea! I hope you do it! (and I just may hold off querying you until you decide if this is a viable option...)

Sara said...

Yes! I love it! And even if I never submit during these times, o behalf of everyone who might, THANK YOU for taking time out of your weekend time to do this!!

And thank you to Miss Z for taking the time to say "thank you" and therefore making this possible. I could not agree with her more! Every time I read an example of the the crazy visiting the Shark, I think to myself, "But for every instance of the crazy, there are 100 non-crazy, grateful writers out here!"

It's amazing how much good manners and a simple thank you can mean :)

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful gesture, but I'm with Brian Q.

The Writer Librarian said...

Would love this--most writers just need a compass to ensure they're on the right track (or on the wrong one). But I share Durango Writer's concern: better make sure your email has adequate server space.

Has your wish list changed? If so, what current genres are you looking for? Maybe only provide query feedback for those if you get bombarded.

Anthony Pacheco said...

I disagree with BryonQ. Let's take a step back. Will the "traditional" method of email queries work in five years from now in connecting great new authors with readers?

Think about it. In an eye blink queries went from needing a SASE to email only. No there is a large segment of people who don't know what SASE means without looking it up.

So I say mix it up. Forget about the whole false hope thing. I say go for it, try it out, and if it doesn't work try something else. Get ahead of the curve.

The only way to fail at this is not to try.

jjdebenedictis said...

Very brave. I hope it works out well for you!

Elissa M said...

This will please many writers. I'm not sure I would personally care because I'm happy with any response, form or personal. All rejections mean the same thing to me: the fish didn't bite. Maybe I need to change my lure. More chum, perhaps?

Still it's a nice gesture on your part.

BP said...

What a sweet offer! Not a surprise coming from someone who already takes so much time to educate and better (or at least tries to!) the writing community at large.

Regarding Bryon Q, the concern is trivial, if not completely irrelevant. In business, if people go out of their way to do research, meet the right people and understand their market, it almost always pays off, and rightfully so. Why should it be any different in writing? If the trepidation is that writers will take the personal response too seriously and get an 'undeserved' ego boost, I think we underestimate the amount of encouragement it takes to boost a true artists' ego lol ;) and frankly, after doing this research and following directions, I think it would be a good reward that would be, if not effective, at least well-deserved.

If people confuse a personalized no with a possible maybe, that's wishful thinking on the writer's part and although it can be partially quenched by a form rejection (as many unfortunate agents have learned the hard way), it's not necessarily the agent's fault, as if *they* are the ones raising false hopes.

Considering that the amount of personal replies an agent sends out does not lower their credibility, and that any word of help (not even a critique! Just a friendly "hey, read the guidelines, buddy, I don't rep this" or "this is not even a query I don't even know what this is start over please") from an industry pro to a writer who does their research, I think this is an experiment worth trying, until enough idiots cry FOUL! or your fingers fall off, whichever comes first...lol

Hope it works out!

AimeeLSalter said...


(Alternatively, when you have an occasional slow afternoon *snort* consider just twittering that any queries received during SLOT that day will be replied. That might help avoid the craziness of all your queries for the week coming in one hour).

Kimbra Kasch said...

So nice of you to give your time to help others :) it's the best gift of all

Liesl Shurtliff said...

I think you're going to be getting a lot of queries on Friday or Saturday between 9 and 10. So do you plan to just make personal replies during that time-frame? Or actually reply to ALL queries that land in your in-box during that time? If the latter, you may be up pretty late. Have fun!

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Awesome shark is awesome . . .

Emily said...

If I were ready to query, I would make a point to get it in your inbox in the specified time - anything to avoid a form letter. This is awesome!

Bob M said...

This is a cool gesture. Thanks so much for trying this out.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

So, after this blog post, I had an exchange like this with Janet:

"Dear Janet, query query query, sorry it doesn't feature any wombats."

"Dear Redleg, pass pass pass, it's probably due to the lack of wombats."

Best personalized response I ever got.

Kristy Shen said...

The sound you just heard is the sound of a thousand hopeful writers running off to add "Query Janet on Friday &Sat 9pm - 10pm" onto their calendars.

Janet, you rock :)

mogblog said...

"Dear Lackey of the Capitalist Pig Industrial Publishing Combine:

Enclosed please find the first draft of my ground-breaking novel, which also outlines, in thrilling narrative, the manner in which we should reshape our planet and the collective human psyche.

I trust you will drop everything you are doing in order to obtain my mutli-million dollar advance check ASAP. My next project (campaigning for the office of Ultimate Deity) is in need of funding.

Sincerely, The World's Greatest Unrecognized Author (of all time.)

Ellen Saunders said...

I think it's a decent experiment. Random spam aside, you should only hear from those people who take the time to actually read your blog and follow directions. So, okay, after awhile the desperate-for-any-connection writers may start flooding you with inappropriate queries. Few nice things live on unscathed.

For a time it could be a great way for you and some of your avid blog readers to connect. At least those who write material you represent. Whose work is polished and query-ready. Who can concisely tell you what that work is about. (sigh)

Have fun!

Fanfreakingtastic Flower said...

Once upon a time, you were kind enough to send me a substantive reply that included feedback. It was absolutely thrilling!

That rejection kept me going. :)

I know there are so many other writers out there that would feel similarly, so I think this experiment is wonderful.

Unknown said...

Do writers seriously get mad at rejections enough to email a gripe back??

I always politely thank the agent for taking the time to at least consider my query.

Unknown said...

I think that's a super sweet idea that would be greatly appreciated!

Unknown said...

This is a late post, but I was moved by your generosity, Janet.

My mouse hovered over the “Send to Janet” button one week after you opened for queries again. The query was ready and all the boxes in the “Hook Janet” column were ticked, including that my book is a crime thriller. But I couldn’t hit Send. You know there are fears that go with that click. Query rejection, of course, even though, at the very least, it means someone took the time to read my words—maybe just the first sentence or two of the query—and then respond. Worse, being ignored, but then been there too many times.

No, that’s not what paralyzed my finger. You see, confident everyone would love my finished novel, the week before I had sent my masterpiece to first readers with the instruction to “be brutal.” And the day I pondered submitting to you, the first two had come back. They were brutal! There were places needing rewrite. OMG!

So, my fear that day? What If the perfect query yielded a request from you for a partial or a full, and because the book wasn’t really ready, you rejected it then?

Watch for it soon, maybe some Friday night.

Anonymous said...


Your tough, no nonsense approach is EXACTLY what we writers need.
An angry response is the result of fear. The fear is there for a reason that truly has nothing to do with you.

**I say that knowing I will never send you a query. I write romance.