Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Query Question: On Second Thought

I have a full request out with one of my top-five favorite agents.  After my heart soared from the full request, I read everything left on the internet that I hadn't read prior about TFFA, over analyzing the garbage out of whether or not TFFA would like my manuscript, but I was disappointed to find (buried in a very recent interview on a little-read blog) my book contains something that I am almost certain she will reject. And it's not subjective. It's a bloody book, and she seems pretty clear on her inability to handle gore. TFFA even gave comp titles on level of acceptable and unacceptable gore.

To complicate matters, my current WIP (which is drafted, through edit 7, critiqued, and on its way to a final draft in the next 2-5 months) is literally RIGHT up her alley. It's in a different age range and genre that she represents FAR more often (still scratching my head as to why she requested my bloody full) and despite there being no guarantees, it just seems like a far better fit.

Now, I know the  answer to this question (or at least I think I do) but I'd rather look stupid asking a question than look stupid doing something silly.

1) Based on what I know, should it be on my radar at all to retract my full for fear of TFFA getting the wrong first impression and not wanting to touch my second (very non-violent) book with a 10 foot pole?

2) Or should I just wait it out and let her reject or (by some miracle of gastric fortitude) accept my blood soaked pages?

3) Has a first impression in terms of genre/style/common trope/pet peeve in writing ever set you off badly enough that you had a lurking impression on future submissions?

4) (and you can feel free to answer this one quietly) Am I... perhaps... just a tiny neurotic bit... over thinking this?

Let's take the questions in reverse order.

(4) No you are not over-thinking this.  This is a serious question of strategy.

(3) Sure, but that's not what this is. First impressions when someone says "please get back to me soon" are the ones you want to avoid.

(2) NO

(1) YES

Here's what you do. VERY SUCCINCTLY (and I think we can agree that this question to me was NOT THAT) you say "I believe, upon further research, that this novel will be too violent for your stated taste. Rather than have you invest time in reading this, I have another novel that I believe is more suited to both what you sell, and your preference on levels of gore. Thus, I'd like to withdraw this novel, and query you for TITLE."

Here's WHY you're going to do this: I'd rather read the novel that most suits my taste FIRST.  There's time enough later on to get the novel I don't like as much but since you're already a client, will have to just suck it up and sell.


french sojourn said...

It amazes me that each post is so enjoyable and instructional. With so little free time recently, I must say the time spent on your blog is easily justified.

Well done as usual.
Cheers Hank.

Donnaeve said...

Well, I just love this answer. In a way, it kinda, sorta relates to a project (long completed) which is a story I love, but didn't quite strike the same chord with my agent. He said he really liked it, just not as much as my first story, however, I see it as having all sorts of possibilities with a tweak here or there.

Which is to say, I hope he'll have your thought, "well, I'll just have to suck it up and sell it."

Pharosian said...

Wow. That's one situation I never even thought about. So if I sign with Fabulous Agent and she sells my cozy mystery (or mysteries), and then sometime down the road I write a slasher (or some other project FA finds distasteful), is FA obligated to try to sell it? And if FA doesn't want to, what's her recourse? Fire me as a client?

Unknown said...

One of the rare times the response to the posted question surprised me. It's a savvy response, but if the agent's aversion to any material is strong enough to reject future (unread) material from the writer, shouldn't that be stated more clearly in the guidelines?

What happens when the reverse occurs, a writer gets signed, does well, and then writes, say, book 3 or 4 in another genre. Does the agent refer them elsewhere?

Unknown said...

It surprised me too, Susan.

Oooh, I'd hate to be in OP's shoes! That's a horrible thing to have to do, right when hope is creeping up on you and making you think you might have made it this time.

Still if the agent requested a full of something that she/he wouldn't normally request, that's gotta be a flamin' good sign that she/he loved the voice/style/whatever that OP has going.

It can only be helpful to send in something that appeals to the agent's expressed tastes, as well.

Good luck OP!

Donnaeve said...

Me again, now that I've had more coffee.

First, I just read the rest of yesterday's comments, and thanks to those who sent their good wished re: my visit with Mom yesterday. She was in top form. She rode with me back to the funeral home to pick up Dad's portrait, and while trying to put the seat back and holding Little Dog on her lap, she somehow slammed herself into the full reclining position. She went backwards so fast it was like someone had knocked her out. Little Dog yawned. He wasn't impressed. But. I digress.

As to the OP questions and Ms. Janet's answers, I agree with Susan, that WAS an answer I didn't expect, but if I were in this questioner's shoes, I'd be breathing a sigh of relief at the answer.

This is about branding too. Once a book sells, a publisher will generally want more of the same from the author. The good news is agents rep more than one genre, and this can allow an author to explore writing in a different category (like I did)and IMO, gives even more opportunities to expand the chances at publication.

Anonymous said...

And THIS is why you research agents beyond the perfunctory Querytracker.

Great answer, QOTKU.


Colin Smith said...

Like Susan, I did not anticipate Janet's answer. I expected her to say, "Let TFFA read it. Who knows--TFFA might like it despite the blood." But no--she recommends the proactive withdrawal. I guess there is sense in that: it means TFFA can choose to read or not read in full knowledge of what to expect. One might hope, however, that TFFA has decided s/he loves it by page 10, even before getting to the gore, and may offer rep despite the bits that are contrary to his/her taste.

An interesting response Janet--keeping us on our toes here! :)

As for the question of being repped in one genre and then writing in another, clearly Janet's reply is authoritative, but from what I've read, this is not usually a problem. The agent can either rep the other novels anyway, or solicit the help of a colleague with more experience in that genre.

Good q., writer friend. Was Janet's answer the one you expected?

Anonymous said...


This was my OP, and the only thing Janet did that I expected was criticize my lengthy question. Because let's be real Janet... I'm nothing if not long-winded. But I'm working on it. Sort of... ;)

But yes, I am on the same page with Colin, Susan, Donna, basically everyone. I did not expect this answer. Which makes it less a relief and more a decision.

I suppose it was strange of me to hope for reassurance from a shark, but after my first few coffee's this morning I think I get the point.

You can't go back and get a new first impression. If fabulous agent likes my work outside her normally repped genre, chances are I'm safe to submit work in her normally represented genre with equal success. And if she hates the second query, she still has the option of recommending reading first book that she was intrigued by instead.

I hate to say it QOTKU, but you might be right.

I hate being not right. I don't like the "w" word.

Unknown said...

Off topic: Susan it was fun to see your quote below Janet's name in the banner.

Loved the answer to be as proactive as possible in the querying process. Mistakes will be made-- nice to be able to correct them when you can.

Anonymous said...

Yes, MB Owen! It's so easy to make a mistake and then plunge into the depths of despair because it seems unfixable. I'm all for the proactive approach.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

I think Janet's answer is on the money...but if I were the querier, I'd be less worried about whether or not the agent is going to be turned off by the book and more worried about whether the agent is right for me.

There are agents I absolutely adore and with whom I'd cut off a couple of my fingers to work with. Sadly, my work isn't right for them, which means they're not right for me. You've written one blood-soaked book and one that's not as blood-soaked. Are you going to feel down the line—if you sign with TFFA—that you can't write books closer to blood-soaked book 1 because of her tastes? Will that impede your creative process?

Getting the right agent is so, so important. You want an agent who really understands you. TFFA may be a brilliant agent, but she may not be the best agent for you. Personally, I'd take a step back and reconsider whether, based on her stated tastes, she's really the best fit.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Brian Schwartz long winded? Isn't that why your initials are BS ? Hahahaha. Good luck, looks like you are on your way, curvy road maybe, but headed the right way.

Colin Smith said...

Brian: I understand. My motto is, "Why use 2 words when 20 will do!" Which is why I enjoy writing flash fiction. I NEED the editing practice! And it really does help. :)

Anonymous said...

2n's, you get me. There's a whole lot of BS in my family. Beth Schwarz. Brenda Schwarz. Betty Schwarz. Bob Schwarz... let me tell you...

Thank you Shaun for your insight! But let's be real. The truth is, like most new writers, I have no idea what I'm doing. I get complete freedom as an unpubbed author. I can write 6 NA books, followed by a slasher, and nobody can say nay. But if I get in under one niche, I have no problem sticking to it. That's one of the first things I consider when writing a new book.

"Is this a one-off idea or something I could actually see myself writing and enjoying?"

It's not scatter-shot. I'm more the calculating type.

I wrote a slashy bloody mess because I grew up reading them. But now, I read a heck of a lot of YA. So naturally my WIP is YA.

I have no issue writing slashers for the rest of my life. Nor writing teenage romance. I'd like to write what I'm good at. And if one such respectable, cut-my-fingers-off type agent offers representation, I'd be happy to repeat what I did the first time around.

And as others have mentioned, if I really end up with some massive change of heart and decide creative Non-Fiction about baseball is my new bag... I'm sure I'd be looking for a new agent then too. But only after deciding that's what I really wanted, and not just thinking that's what I feel like today. :)

Lizzie said...

It's great to be prepared for a better first impression, but when that first impression is down the forest and through the woods and across a couple oceans, it feels more like postponing a promising date until you become a more desirable "future you." All based on a lark that those exercising/juice cleansing pics you saw on the date's FB are up to date.

Unknown said...

Carolynwith2ns: BS = funny.

Unknown said...

Like many of the commenters above, and after having read maybe every one of Janet’s blog posts, her answer did surprise me. After all, the OP did mention that the reference was obscure, and the agent did request the manuscript. Perhaps TFFA has changed his/her mind about what he’s willing to take on. I am curious why the perhaps less extreme measure of a quick email from the OP explaining his further research, warning that there is a lot of blood, pointing out that TFFA may not want to waste his time, and offering that the next MS sans blood, will soon be in the offering? Seems like that approach would politely keep all the doors open and allow TFFA to take on the project should he really want to.

And, regarding question 4, I am glad this was answered as well. I’m getting a little worried that I am becoming neurotic myself and it’s nice to hear that I am not the only one in that boat. I would have worried as well.

Christina Seine said...

See, on Carkoon we pay writers by the word. In M&Ms. Only red ones, though. I've asked Colin what happens to all the other colors, but he just looks at me with big, innocent eyes and shrugs. One of the interns tried to blame it on Atoll Amy, but we didn't fall for that one. M&Ms may not melt in your hand, but they sure as hell melt in Paradise.

And appropos of nothing, it is snowing cats and sharks here. Months and months of no snow, all through the end of winter, and it's balmy. Then Spring is supposed to happen, and we get dumped on - big, cottonball flakes. Very funny.

Christina Seine said...

Also, apropos of nothing but Twitter, I was not surprised to learn that Janet is a pimp. I kind of always pictured her as one, in a John Travolta suit, leopard skin coat, flat-brimmed hat, heaps of gold jewelry, base thumping in the background, and of course the razor-sharp teeth. SO badass.

Colin Smith said...

Christina: I really have no idea what you mean. :) Is that Intern Iris you're talking about? Bless her pointy ears! She has a picture of Janet on her wall that looks just like that. OK, so she cut up some pictures of John Travolta, Snoop Dogg, and Jaws, and says it's Janet. :)

Karen McCoy said...

I have to disagree, Mr. Brian, with your assessment that "you have no idea what you're doing." Your question proves that you have an extremely good head on your shoulders, and that any agent would be lucky to work with you.

I've deduced my analysis from a wide berth of evidence, but what really hit me was when you said your current WIP has been through seven drafts and you're looking to polish it further. My current WIP is almost three drafts polished, and this spurns my motivation to keep with it for the long haul (7 drafts, perhaps more, if needed).

You are very close to what you seek, sir Brian! Probably closer than you think.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I just got home from work and haven't read all the comments so x-squeeze me if I repeat.
Brian, how about you write what you want to write not what your dream agent handles.
Funny that I say that because I've written two novels, (women's fiction), essays op-eds, journalistic articles, a memoir, a bazillion newspaper columns on subjects from saving animals to the 2nd amendment, from poison ivy to patriotism, (plus too many more to list), and now, my WIP is science fiction. So who am I to give advice.

Last Sunday I had to turn under a garden to make it lawn. I raked and hoed and raked some more until the ground was just right. Finally I got a bag of Scott's Turf Builder, (who knew grass seed was so expensive), and began to hand-cast. I was trying to make the seed go a long way so I cast it wide until I realized that my investment in grass seed would be for naught if I didn’t attempt to be a bit more deliberate in where I was tossing it.
So Brian, if you want a lush lawn, spread your Scotts on the area in which you most want to place your blanket. Just think of the interesting beauties who will want to share that blanket, on your near perfect lawn.

S.D.King said...

2ns - I think they recommend that you put some BS on a new lawn to help it grow.

b-Nye said...

WHAT??? ..." WIP (which is drafted, through edit 7, critiqued, and on its way to a final draft in the next 2-5 months)....See, when i started down this path I was soooooo niave. You know you can create another human being in nine months, don't you...but publishing will take you well into Medicare? Sigh.

Ardenwolfe said...

Awesome advice yet again.

Anonymous said...

I can see Brian's point of view - he doesn't have to choose a genre forever. If he's just as comfortable writing YA as splatterpunk and has no problems writing more YA, then why not choose YA for now?

As I understand it, if an agent has a client who writes more than one genre, and one of those genres is outside their baileywick, they will often get another agent in their office to rep that genre from that author. I also know of people who have more than one agent for the same reason. One will rep one genre, another agent will rep another genre.

It's like having both a cardiologist and a neurologist - if you have heart problems and neural problems, then you need both of these doctors. They specialize on different parts of your body, but then, you have many parts to your body.

If your body of work contains different genres, you might need different agents. Granted, a general practitioner is all many people need, but sometimes you need a specialist who isn't your GP.

And all that comes down to your individual health / writing needs. So I don't see any reason why Brian shouldn't try to get his YA published by his first choice agent. He's not locked into writing YA and only YA for the rest of his life.

Many successful authors will also write one genre for awhile, then add another genre into the mix. James Scott Bell, for one - and I highly respect this author.

So Brian - not that you need my advice, because you've got a good head on your shoulders and Janet's boot behind you - follow Janet's advice, and don't be afraid to write anything you want to write. Once you're firmly published in one genre, you're more likely to get published in another.

Best of luck to you!

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

This is a question I've pondered without knowing how to ask. The first impression thing. Branded from the start.

What Shaun says: "Will that impede your creative process?"

Is this writing to agents tastes? Or is it communicating?

No doubt QOTKU knows what she's talking about and probalby who, too.

Brian, merde for the full request. Merde for the second book. Merde all around. All the power to you.

Anonymous said...

Donnaeve: Little dogs can cause ever-increasing, almost-always-embarrassing episodes, just by being little dogs. Especially wriggly little dogs. *glares at 10-lb dog temporarily sleeping in her bed*

A question just occurred to me, while reading through comments again. If an author withdraws a submitted manuscript for X reason, would it be possible - or even ethical - for the agent to decide that X isn't going to bother her and read the manuscript anyway?

I'm not saying 'ethical' as in morally right. I mean professionally ethical. Is it something that is seen as wrong in the publishing industry? Or is it really just a morally indifferent choice? I can see it going either way.

As for the original question and answer - it was a good question. I'm happy to know the answer now.

(And if anyone here is any more long-winded than Brian... it's got to be me.)

Anonymous said...

Merde? (Remembers back to French classes)... ummm... isn't that, you know, crap?

Colin Smith said...

bj: You learned that word in French class? None of my French teachers in school ever taught us that word. The visiting French exchange students provided that education... :)

Anonymous said...

In class? Well, not from the teacher, I guess. But you can bet that the students learned it pretty quickly without the teacher's help. All it takes is one student to do a bit of extra reading in the French-English dictionary to find all the French words for our naughty English words. Once that gets known, everyone knows it.

I also live in Canada, where French is our second language, nationally. And there are a few small French Canadian communities in Saskatchewan. Lots of resources. (Of course, in the area I went to high school, there were more Ukrainians, and those words were sometimes spread, too. Just not in class.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you to everyone who commented! I truly appreciate all the advice and.. apparently the merde... which, bearing in mind my initials, is my area of expertise... (Is Carkoon looking for an official expert on soil? I'm sure I could oblige! Lord knows I'm full of BS.)


After flipping back and forth, I eventually decided to take QOTKU up on her advice and sent my email an hour ago. After all, if it failed miserably, I'd just blame my writing career on Janet. ;)

But to my surprise, it turns out sharks are sharks for a reason. TFFA responded within the last hour and recommended I leave the bloody book in question on the table, but reply with my query and full for my YA novel. I suppose then if she hates the query for YA book, she can still read bloody mess with renewed fortitude and a more accurate expectation.

So basically, I owe Janet a drink. Let me know when you're in the Midwest.

John Frain said...

Brian, I'm reminded of a James Michener line that I love. Comes from his autobiography (and I'm probably butchering, but you'll get the point). Michener, of course, never even thought about typing "The End" until he saw page number 1,000 in the bottom corner of a draft, was asked by a publication to draft six pages on a topic. His response: "In six pages, I can't even say hello."

So there, Brian, now you've been compared to James Michener. Feel free to use that as a comp in your next query letter.

b-Nye said...

From my writing tribe....nice to know you. I was told after 1st draft if I have to take a breath to read a sentence it's too long. Maybe.lol.

Colin Smith said...

brian: Hopefully TFFA isn't English, otherwise "leave the bloody book on the table" would have a very different meaning! :)

And if every writer who owes Janet were to buy her a drink, she would be a thoroughly soused Shark. :)

Christina Seine said...

Oh dear, I read that the way you did Colin. =)

Once when we were on vacation near a famous dam, I rolled down the car window to ask the security guard if he could tell me where "the dam visitor center" was. He took off his sunglasses and said, "Excuse me?" in a very not-friendly way. I said, "The dam visitor center? Can you tell me how to get to the dam visitor center?" It wasn't until the giggling in the backseat burst into full guffaws that I realized how that must have sounded.

Oops. =D

Colin Smith said...

Christina: Ha!! At least you weren't wanting to read brian's bloody book at the dam visitor center... ;)

Craig F said...

I think the problem comes from targeting one of your TFFA. It has caused you to second guess yourself. You should wait until you have a couple books under your belt and a huge cult following before you go there.

Quit with the skepticism boys and girls. You are a reader of the Queen's blog and her entire point is to make you think and become a better writer. Yes you will end up with a big cult following. I'm going to do it by sending Janet three books so she can do a flash fiction contest with two of them. The third will be so she remembers she is human and let me get away.

After you are famous ask your TFFA if they would like to represent you. By then you won't be so nervous.

Donnaeve said...

bj: Little Dogs indeed tend to create/cause/inflict/promote the most embarrassing and owner cringing moments. The smaller, the more so.

Merde! Look at the time. Till tomorrow bloggies.

Christina Seine said...

Colin, right? =D

Craig, brilliant idea. Why didn't I think of that?

Anonymous said...

Brian: Congrats on the fast and positive response from your TFFA.

And I guess that answers my previous question about whether an agent should read the MS anyway. Of course, she did suggest you leave it on the table first. Which is a very proactive and nice thing for TFFA to do.

Dena Pawling said...

Lol Christina! That reminds me of a funny I read a looooong time ago when I was a purchasing agent for county government. I love this story. Hopefully this will link okay from my phone.


And Brian, I think both you AND that agent acted very professionally. I hope someday I'm repped by an agent like that. Good luck with your submission.

Christina Seine said...

Dena, that's hilarious! =D

Janet Reid said...

It's dam funny

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Christina, I just spewed hot tea.

Leave it to beaver.

Great question. We even saw QOKTU's advice put to use and work in real time.

Merde = break a leg. Never wish anyone good luck before they go on stage or play a tennis match or inaugurate a show. I thought everyone knew this. I guess I've lived here too long.

Information said...

A very good post

JEN Garrett said...

What a great start to this morning. I learned something new. Janet's answer surprised me, but of course it makes sense. That's why I stick around, there's always something new to learn.

DLM said...

Am I the only one who did expect exactly this answer? Now I feel like I'm learning something. :)

Gingermollymarilyn said...

Happy for your outcome, Brian. Nothing beats open, honest communication. A good lesson, or just a good reminder for some. Good luck! Maybe AgentPerfect will love both!!