Saturday, October 06, 2012

The intangibles

I recently received a reply from a disgruntled querier who was unhappy I hadn't taken enough time to consider his query. He knew I hadn't taken enough time because I'd said no to it.

Contrary to his assumption, I'd said no because (1) he didn't tell me what the book was about  and (2) later in the query it was clear he was off his rocker.

Which brings me to the value of a query in addition to all the stuff I've been ranting about for years (plot mostly.)

I'm also getting my first sense of whether you're someone I want to work with.

Here's a list of the things I really want to find in prospective clients. I can't alway tell from a query or manuscript if a writer meets these criteria, but it's the starting point:

1. They think I'm the cat's pjs.  In other words, they've read my blogs; they think I'm funny. They think I'm good at my job. They want to work with me, and when I call to chat about the book, they're pleased.

This is not to say you should be slavishly effusive cause that makes me insane.  I just  want you to want me! Not "an agent' but THIS agent.

2.  They don't interpret everything negatively.  Or if that's their first reaction, as it is with most of us, they've learned some balance and perspective. Queries are rejected for lots of reasons other than "it sux." Books don't sell for lots of reasons other than "it sucked."  Agents aren't able to sell things for lots of reason other than "they're idiots."

3. They've got a sense of humor.  Almost everyone on my list has a wicked sense of humor. I know this cause we laugh at the same things and crack each other up.  A couple of my clients are so damn funny I barely speak when I'm around them cause I'm too busy trying not to pee my pants from laughing.

4. They're ready for the work.  They don't rise from their beds bright eyed and bushy tailed like some sort of Stepford/Pollyanna doll. (That's AFTER the coffee IV)  But they are prepared to work and do what needs to get done.  They may not like it much (promotion is pain) but they're eager to have careers and understand this is one of the requirements.

5. They read. They read a LOT. They read their fellow client's books, they read widely in different genres and they read things they end up telling me about and make me want to read them too.

6. They're generous to the writing and publishing community.

7. They're neurotic and crazy and brilliant. All in the best possible way.  They aren't perfect, but they are Fabulous.

You can tell a lot from what people tell you about themselves in a query, and how they respond to rejection (and what they say in blog comments!)

Yes, I am paying attention.


Wry Wryter said...

Because you have rejected all my queries, nailed your office door shut when I showed up and stand ready with pots of boiling fish oil just in case I breach the helm, I thought I communicate just how prospective a client I really am.

1.I find it interesting that a modern woman such as you is so enamored by a 1920’s term relating to pussies on her sleepwear.

2.I’m not a negative person; I just lack confidence in my abilities to communicate in an unenthusiastic way.

3.Write a 100 word short story using the words, ‘coffee, spewing, booger, giggle and bladder and I will send you a 36 pack of Depends.

4.If you look up ‘eager’ in the thesaurus, ‘excited’ comes up. Oh, I’m sorry I thought we were talking about George Clooney.

5.I read a lot too, I’m up to Psalms.

6.I would be very generous, not just with money either, I would offer my very tasty cupcakes to the little guy in the basement of the New York Times who compiles the best seller list.

7.The best conversations I have are with myself.

I’m paying attention too Snooks, thanks.

Rachel Schieffelbein said...

Until I started blogging I seriously had no idea what kind of crazy crap agents had to put up with. It still amazes me.

Keisha Martin said...

Not "an agent' but THIS agent.

my favorite quote of yours, I would be honored if you were my agent however, I know you don't represent the novels I write, so instead I look forward to participating in your wonderful sometimes challenging contest, and also waking up at night with intense tremor because I had dreams of sharks lol jokes aside you give so much to aspiring writers and I hope you can tell by this comment I am not kissing ass but being honest you are so good at what you do and that individual that said those awful things did not research you enough to see all that you do to help writers improve their craft simply looking at your query examples is a good start to understanding the craft but you also offer great advice and your tough but honest. Life sometimes has too much B.S so its like a breath of fresh air when someone is genuinely honest. I wish you plenty of success and keep doing awesome things for your clients and writers.

Stephanie said...

Keisha took my favorite comment. "Not an agent, THIS agent. Thanks for giving so much information here, and for a glimpse into the real world of an agent. I laugh out loud then shake my head at what some people say to you.

michael said...

I have a question about #4 on your list. I am fifty-eight years old and in ill health. I am limited in career possibilities and the ability to travel. Is it worth your time to even consider my book?

Renee Maynes said...


I can only feel sad for those who get feedback from you, whether query or pages, and don't take it for the great learning opportunity it is. Pitching you at Crimebake a few years ago and getting your feedback on my ms helped me grow as a writer. My only regret is not sending you a bottle of scotch or the like as thanks, but was worried you might think me an unbalanced stalker ;)

Michelle Kollar said...

Comment, comment, comment, comment, comment, commitme commitme commitme. Well since your reading this...

No really this was good to know for querying you and any agent. Thanks!

Sheila JG said...

I never know what to share about myself in a query. I'm a boring person, but I do own a beach house, I married into a family with ties to a major spirit producer, and I'm a fifth degree black belt in taekwondo. A quiet retreat, free booze, and bodyguard protection - what agent is going to be interested in that?

Stephanie Campbell said...

I think it's horrible what agents have to go through sometimes. I know that recently Pam van Hylckama got attacked for rejecting a query, and she was just doing her job.

Steven J. Wangsness said...

Writers -- excuse me, "writers" -- who get upset that an agent says "no" have clearly not queried much. "No" -- get used to the sound of it, kids!

Josin L. McQuein said...

Janet is the only agent who ever sent me threatening pictures of rabid wolves in a query reply.

That got her on my Ten Favorite People in the World list.

If that hadn't done it, the YT video in which she made one of her Godsends sink along to "O Christmas Shark" would have.

I'm weird that way, and La Shark reads everything.


Eileen said...

Michael- I can assure you that travel is rarely an issue. I go through long stretches of time where I can't even remember how long it's been since I wore pants that had a zipper. Book tours are rare. However, published authors are expected to participate in marketing- blog tours, social media, doing local library events etc.

I can't speak for Janet- but most agents/publishers hope that you have more than one book in you as it takes time to build a career in this business.

BP said...

OMGOSH! I'm already crazy and neurotic...still working on brilliant. That's two out of three, right? :D Muchos gracias for this great reminder.

michael said...

Eileen, thank you for your comment.

My next step with my book is to save up for a copy editor, but then what? I am trying to decide should I try to find an agent or go direct to e-publishing.

I can handle the e-marketing part, but going grocery shopping is difficult for me. Among my problems is positional blood pressure (I am allergic to gravity) that has caused five mini-strokes. Add my age and other issues and I wonder how brilliant my book has to be for it to be worth an agent's time and effort. I'm not sure I can handle the pressure to be that brilliant.

Thanks again, Eileen for your thoughts.

Colleen Marie said...

I'm the same way Rachel. I had NO. IDEA. Sheesh.

Colleen Marie said...

I used to try to keep my Query all business never sharing personal details. It's good to know a little personality is okay (as long as that personality doesn't belong in a padded room). Thanks for the tips!

Mary Shannon said...

Ummm...I am that annoying person jumping out of bed at o'dark thirty, singing loudly, laughing at my own jokes and headed for a run. I'm perniciously perky, perennially pleasant, ungodily optimistic. But I'm also sawin' logs on the couch by the time Jeopardy comes on, so there's that.

Marsha Sigman said...

That list is perfect. But I would put sense of humor at the top my list for an agent. And not just any humor but my own special cheerfully dark brand.

If they don't understand my humor then they won't like my writing. Pretty simple.

Angie Brooksby said...

It seems artists and writers are similar. There are artists that think their gallery is out to get them, use and cheat them and there are those who would eat turds and lick hineys and those that are happy to have a gallery. I think it's the distinction between professional and dilettante.

When I first discovered your blog QS I was surprised that it was female writer. Then I had the idea to offer you a free stay in my apt in Florence. I invited several artists to do the same, no writers or agents except for some journalists. But then it seemed like bribery, not a crowbar. There aren't any writers conferences in Florence, why would you be enticed.

Then I sold the apt. so there's no danger anymore.

Anonymous said...

We Island Stepford Wives--who never rise before noon, and then only with a vodka-laced fruit juice in hand--have a fun little game we like to play. Because we're marooned here for two years without the American creature comforts we love, we liken the things we miss with how desperate we are to get them.

Example: "I would blackmail a government official to see the new Bourne movie." Or, "I would murder an immediate family member for a Taco Bell Chalupa."

So, I hope you don't find it weird when I tell you that I would literally fire a baby seal out of a cannon if you would be my agent.

...Too much?

J.M. Bray said...


Not to sound overly dramatic, but "Query Shark changed my Life." Well, that and author Valerie Cole who helped me hone it.

Now I sit here having coffee before church, reading yet another great blog and I'm tempted. By what? To find a way to turn the college student facing paranormal stuff in my MS into a gum shoe PI. Then I could honestly query you.

Yes you have "genre bending" powers of attraction.

Ailsa said...

"7. They're neurotic and crazy and brilliant. All in the best possible way. They aren't perfect, but they are Fabulous. "

This is how I feel about a lot of my favourite authors. They are crazy, funny, and I love them. I'm glad this is one of your criteria.

Michel King said...

I admit that I am a sharkly stalker (cue the Jaws theme song). Alas, the last time you posted a run down of what you represent, my genre was not listed. :( C'est tragic!

However, I think you are hilarious! And, aside from the aforementioned limitation and my agregious abuse of the exclamation mark, I would absolutely query you.

Instead though, I will sit back with my pumpkin beer (oh yes, it is real and it is awesome), watch "Pride and Prejudice", and kill off a few thousand fantasy creatures in an epic battle of ego.

(I really hope that is all spelled correctly because I have no spell check at the moment, and that just makes someone look tacky, LOL)

Donna L Martin said...

Hi Janet!

I just wanted you to know that I am one of your faithful followers who truly enjoy reading your blog posts. As a writer, there is nothing within my work that would be of interest to you as an agent, but as an agent I find your posts to be everything I need as a writer.

That being said, I wrote a post today in your honor, highlighting some of your wonderful writerly wisdom and I hope some of my readers will join the growing circle of people who respect and appreciate all you have done for the writing industry!


Donna L Martin