Thursday, November 14, 2013

FAQ help, please

I'm getting ready to end the query hiatus in January 2014.  In order to hit the ground running, I think it's time to freshen the FAQ's on my website.

Here's what it has now.

Please let me know if there's anything that should be added, deleted, or isn't clear.  You can answer in the comment column of this blog post or you can email me.

I'm not above lifting good ideas from other agents' websites either so if you see on that's really good, let me know.

This page answers questions I hear most frequently from authors.

What are you looking for?

I'm particularly looking for narrative non-fiction; history; current events.

Other areas of particular interest in non-fiction are: justice and death penalty issues; African politics; contemporary art; contemporary music; and, how-to books.

I'm also actively looking for high-concept thrillers.
Just FYI, I do not consider books that deal with assassinating the US President as a major theme.

What have you sold?

Here are the most recent (forthcoming means the book has been sold but not published)
  (updating list of books here)  

+writers whose initial contact with me was by a query letter in the incoming mail.

Are you a member of AAR?

I'm also a member of  Biographers International Organization; American Historical Association; American Library Association;  the NYC chapter of Mystery Writers of America; International Thriller Writers; and, the Women's National Book Association.

What does a literary agent do?
I represent authors in the sale of their work to publishers. 
That's a little like saying "a real estate agent sells houses".  It's accurate, but it doesn't give a good picture of what really goes
on here and the value an agent can provide to you.

What value does an agent provide?
I keep up to date on all aspects of publishing, and the people in it so I can place an author's work with the right publisher,
and then coach them through the post-publication process. I handle the business side of things so you can focus on your work.

Post publication process? I thought agents just sold manuscripts.
It's not enough to write a good book these days, you have to be part of the marketing and promotional effort as well. 
I work closely with my authors to make sure they are ready to hit the ground running when the book is published.

How do I get you to look at my work?
First, look at my list of categories.  Does your work fit into one of them reasonably well? If yes, follow the submission guidelines
and send me a query letter. Please, follow the guidelines.  It really helps me evaluate a project if I have all the information.
You're in a VERY competitive field.  Give yourself a fighting chance by following the guidelines! 
What are the guidelines?
Click the button at the top that says "Query Information"

What's a query letter?
A query letter is a sales pitch.
It should entice me to read on. It should make the reader eager to find out more.
It should also be businesslike.
There are several examples of query letters and suggested revisions at

Can't I just email you my idea so you can tell me if I'm on the right track?
I emailed you a query and didn't hear back.
There is a post called Query Letter Diagnostics on my blog that might help you figure out what went wrong.

Can I email asking if you got it?
No. I don't keep track of query letters. If I have it, I will respond.

I have just a quick question about how to do something correctly in my query?
If you have a SHORT question about procedure or a technical problem (for example what font to use- NOT what kind of projects I want to see) you can email me. Put QUERY QUESTION in the subject line. I'll answer if I can;
if I can't I'll reply and tell you that the question is beyond the scope of the QQ project.

Do you charge reading fees?
No. Be careful of agents who offer to read stuff for money. 
Make sure they actually SELL work, not just "read it".

Do you take new/unpublished writers?
Yes.  And I sell their work too.

Do you consider simultaneous queries?

Can I send to more than one agent at a time?
Yes. Exclusives stink.

Can I send to more than one agent at FinePrint?
One at a time please. And of course, me first. If I pass on a project, it's quite all right to query other agents at FPLM.

I have a friend/child with a book... 
  ...stop right here.  Generally, I only want to hear from the author directly. If you are going to write the book, you send the query. 
If someone else is going to write the book, s/he needs to be the one to query.  Writing is hard work.
The actual author has to be committed first.  No one can do it for them, no matter how great the idea.

What happens when you get my query letter?
I respond  to queries very quickly. Usually the same day or within a day for email queries, a week to ten days for snail mail queries.

If I want to see a partial or a full, it usually takes at least 90 days to read and consider your work carefully.

You said no, and it’s a form letter that says “not right for me”. What does that mean?
 It means no.  There are a lot of reasons to say no. Don’t waste time or energy trying to parse out the hidden meanings.

I know you made a mistake saying no to this.  If I write again, telling you that, will you read it again?
No. There are more than 600 agents in New York City; double that figure in the US.  Query others before you re-query those who said no. Everyone is looking for different things. None of us is perfect, and none of us have a lock on what’s going to sell.

Why did you say no? I need help here!
These emails get deleted with no response. I don't offer critiques or feedback on queries.  Don't assume there is something wrong with your work either. I say no to many good projects that aren't right for me, or I simply don't have time to take on.  I do keep a blog about query letters and revisions at

I'm also trying a new experiment called The Chum Bucket.  Read the FAQ for Chum Bucket too.

I have more questions
For general questions about the publishing industry pick up a copy of Writers Market.

I also answer questions sometimes on my blog:

For questions about whether your work is right for me, send a query letter.


Curt David said...

In the section, "What happens when you get my query letter?", I think something was left out before the sentence, "It means no."

Janet Reid said...

thanks Curt, yes indeed a sentence got left out in the cut and paste. Fixed now.

I read over this too before I posted! Yikes!

Wendy Qualls said...

"I sent my query into QueryShark and you didn't (or did) review it; can I send it to your regular address too?" / "Do you take submissions through your query critique blog?"

"Where do I send submissions?" (I know you don't put the email address right up front for a reason, but sending you a query question took more digging than it really should have, and I've been a regular reader for ages . . .)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I think it looks clear and covers the bases. You might also want to suggest Query Tracker as a resource (when you mention Writer's Market), but that's a suggestion you could take or leave, obviously.

"There are several examples of query letters and suggested revisions at"

I had a little snicker at this. "Several."

Ashes said...

Under "How do I get you to look at my work?", when you say "follow the submission guidelines", maybe you should point users towards the FinePrint website? I say this because those guidelines aren't readily available on the blog. Also, if someone tries to contact you through the blog using the email address listed under "View my complete profile" on the right there, they'll get a Gmail address.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

Seems clear. Not sure how much that will help. Some people don't want to know the rules, don't want to believe the rules apply to them because their work is so special and different. Maybe you want to add a FAQ along the lines of, "Do your rules apply to everyone? Even ME?" And the answer, of course, would be "YES."

Bonnie Shaljean said...

If we get as far as submitting a partial or full, are there any acceptable open-source alternatives to Word? They're now going on to an annual-subscription basis at (I hear) $99 per year, and making older versions obsolete on the new Mac OS - which means having to buy something we already have, all over again. Will submissions done on any other word-processor suffice, so we don't have to keep paying and paying the same big powerful software company just to stay in the game?

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

For what it's worth, Open Office can save as a Word doc. The only thing Word has that Open Office doesn't that I miss is a dynamic word count. Other than that, it works fine for everything I do.

Bonnie Shaljean said...

[The above was me... trying again because MS WORD PAD put in a bunch of linebreaks, even in plain text. Tried cleaning it up, here goes:]

What about the iteration pass-throughs (not sure what you call them*)? I remember dealing with a journal editor who wanted my piece in Word for this specific reason, which was fine because I have an older version. But it's going to become highly un-fine when the current software on my elderly Mac becomes obsolete. As far as paying a yearly 100-buck sub/ransom to M$oft, fergeddit. (If at all possible to, that is... if not... #bitethebullet)

@John - do you happen to know if it's feasible for us to send a manuscript in .odt format or odt-converted-to-doc, then the agent/editor opens it in .doc format and does her amendments & questions and passes it back to us for revision, and we open it as an .odt and do the fixes then resubmit in the same manner? Will the multiple passes still transfer across the file types, do you know?

If they won't, is there any acceptable alternative to Word? If not free, then affordable, or at least buy-it-and-they-let-you-keep-it?

- - - *Or is that what you mean by 'dynamic word count'?

Bonnie Shaljean said...

Handy linebreak-remover tool, because even using plain text from the get-go doesn't always zap them:

dylan said...

Dear Ms. Reid,

Under the heading:

What Are You Looking For

I did not see this statement from your webpage:

Bottom line:
When in doubt, query me. I'd rather see something that's not right for me than miss something fabulous.

I hope this still applies.


Jeanne said...

Bonnie Shaljean, I'd suggest a serious consideration of Scrivener (by Literature and Latte dot com). It's made for writers, has writerly tools not available in Word or text editors, and it's very affordable.

Originally written FOR the Mac, then due to demand, offered for Windows. It's a dream. IMHO, it blows Word out of the water.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...


That's the first time I've ever used an @name! Yes, I am THAT old.

I have Open Office configured so it creates and saves everything as a Word doc. My work requires docs, and Open Office does the job.

Open Office does have "track changes" capability, which I'm pretty sure is the same as – what did you call it? Iteration pass through? I know because I accidentally turned it on once and it took a while to figure out how to turn it back off. And I believe it's compatible with Word.

But you should probably double check that with someone who doesn't remember Eisenhower.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

I've also heard very good things about Scrivener, but double check on the track change and saving as docs. And it only costs something like $40.

Bonnie Shaljean said...

Thanks for the helpful replies, guys! I actually have Scriv, and love it (and Keith B and his gang are so helpful when anyone has problems) but it's based around Word. I don't need a writing tool, I need - or at least would like - to find something to submit to agents & editors which THEY will accept. As far as I can see, this would have to include the "track changes" facility. (Thanx John, that was the phrase I was looking for.)

I also have a PC, but it is now Wordless. Initially it came with that freebie Word Starter I got with Windows 7, which was klunky but at least worked. Guess what? In a recent security update, with no warning that I ever heard of, Microsoft disabled it. Simply took it off us. So now I can't use ANY of my Word docs on the PC unless I start paying their yearly fee. And the minute my ancient Mac wheezes its last, its replacement will have an OS that doesn't recognise my existing Word (2004, from Office For Mac) which I paid extra for. (How long before the older Word packages become obsolete for PC users too?)

So new customers will be in the situation of having to continually re-buy Microsoft Brand and after two or three years, their "subscription" fees will have exceeded the original purchase price. If Word is the one and only programme the industry will accept, we writers are going to get stung every year into forking out (and I don't want Excell and the rest of the stuff). We really need some alternative choices.

I can certainly understand why agents & editors would require the track-changes facility, but apart from that - ??? Is there anything else the publishing industry will accept?

But I do appreciate the very useful suggestions above, for which many thanks.

Maple and Baobab said...

A post by Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency.

Do we need literary agents anymore?

JMD said...

I wonder if other prospective authors (except me) would also be interested in which conferences you are planning to attend in the next few months.

But then you'd have to keep the list current :(