Sunday, September 06, 2015

Rule for Writers: Be Resolute

Back from vacation has meant tackling the incoming queries. I was glad to find something delicious early in my foray, and requested the manuscript.

Back it came, so I sent my usual acknowledgement.

Then, a second email arrived from the writer:

I need a little clarification on your message. I understand that it may take up to three months for you to read my work, but are you also asking for a 90-day exclusive? I've just started querying agents for this book, and you are on the top of my list. ... your well-published stance against exclusives was an important draw for me.

what! Where? Huh?
I pulled up the template I use to acknowledge receipt of fulls:

Got this, thanks.
I'm asking for 90 days on fulls right now to my chagrin.

Given my "well-published" (ha! SHOUTED! RANTED! Buttonhole anyone who will listen is more like it!) stance on exclusives: they stink

I was surprised anyone would think I was asking for one.

Well, this writer was not alone. Another writer had asked the same question just a few months earlier.

Thus it's not them, it's me. This reply is NOT as clear as it needs to be.

I made changes:

I'm asking for 90 days on fulls right now to my chagrin.
(This does not mean exclusively. Exclusives stink.
Keep querying as I read.)

I admire both writers for asking what they might have feared were stupid questions. They were resolute in their determination to query correctly. They were not afraid to ask about something that seemed odd. Or they were afraid, and did it anyway. That's resolute. A Very Good Thing for a Querying Writer.

When in doubt, ask.

If an agent doesn't respond to your question (and I don't mean tens, I mean two or three at most) now at the requested full stage, it gives you valuable information for prioritizing agents.


Noel (tell me now) said...


This is a good reminder. I've probably missed out on quite a few things (not all of them writing-related) due to being too scared to ask...

AJ Blythe said...

I can be quite terrible at asking. Probably for the same reason I'm not very good at saying 'no'.

Although I am getting better. I will make a note to be more resolute.

Yes, I will need to pin it to my computer to remind myself.

Take for example the fact that even as I type this I have an email in my draft folder (directed to an agent with 1 question in it) that has been sitting there for the better part of a week while I stress over hitting send.

Maybe as well as resolute I need to add the words have courage, the world won't end!

Unknown said...

See, I, if I was the gosh darn lucky writer whose manuscript you were reading, would not have taken your 90 day reading time as a suggestion of exclusion, and not just because I know your stance on them, but also because I didn't agree to it. I'd have responded, 'Hope you enjoy it. Meanwhile, I'll see if it catches anyone else's attention, but you'll always have first dibs because you rule'.

Surely it can't be exclusive if I don't agree to the exclusion.

Susan Bonifant said...

The stress of a unasked, unanswered question is so much worse in my book than the passing discomfort of asking.

I think worse than that though, is trying to answer someone who says "Why didn't you just ask?"

E.M. Goldsmith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Although hesitant to ask, I am determined to state OT, that every time I see the word “resolute” I think of the Resolute Twins’ desks of NATIONAL TREASURE 2. Which draws me to the conclusion that QOTKU is actually Nicolas Cage. So tell us, what was it like being married to Elvis Presley’s daughter for three and half months?

Donnaeve said...

These latest posts are like refresher courses for your "Rules For Writers," on the right hand side of the blog here. This one is a newbie.

Like many, asking questions is something I've been hesitant to do, yet funny how I'm always happy when someone else does.

BJ - as to your question yesterday, Ms. Janet's site here offers me two choices for sign in - OpenID or Google+. When I use Google+ I get the Blogger profile you'll see here. When I use OpenID, I choose Wordpress (only valid ID for me under it) and it directs people to my web page. I've been using Google+ b/c it seemed to offer more functionality (ability to delete comments)and I also thought it would allow me to use hyperlink per Colin's instructions, but they still don't work - for me at least. And he's looked at it offline just to see if I did it right.

Donnaeve said...

Clarification: "always happy when someone else does..." meaning always happy when someone else asks the question I've been itching to ask yet I'm too nervous to do so.

:) Maybe ya'll figured that out.

Elissa M said...

I feel a bit like Amanda, though I doubt I would even say anything to the agent unless they specifically asked in so many words, "I want this as an exclusive." To which I would reply, "I'm so sorry, I query multiple agents at once, and I don't offer exclusives." I would probably go on to express my continued interest in that particular agent/agency but graciously (in my correspondence) accept that they may no longer be interested in my manuscript.

Honestly, as much as I want an agent, life is too short to deal with someone who makes demands about my career when we aren't even officially partnered (and may not ever be). It seems to me it takes a special kind of hubris to insist on exclusives. An agent's time is not more important than a writer's.

Anonymous said...

A friend just got a request for a partial and a request for a 90-day exclusive while the agent was reading. She was bumfuzzled because she already has queries, partials, and fulls out with other agents. We suggested she send the partial with a professional, "Thank you so much for your interest in Ten Nights With A Knight, Ten Days In A Daze. (Title changed to protect the innocent.) Unfortunately, I can't offer you an exclusive as it is already out with other agents. Kind regards, etc., etc., etc."

We resisted adding, "Janet Reid says we shouldn't get in the van with agents who ask for exclusives."

I took agents who request exclusives to query them off my list. I'm too old for that silliness. I'd like to get an agent before I die.

Back in my younger days Bud, my stepdad, took me out behind the house where there was a very steep and deep gulch. He pointed across it to a hay pasture where a cow was grazing. There weren't supposed to be any cows in there. My job was to go get the cow and put her back in the adjoining pasture.

Now, this was my stepdad's ranch and I hadn't lived there that long. I really only came back to visit Mom and got talked into staying. I wasn't familiar with the property and should have asked him the best way to get to the cow, but I didn't want to look stupid.

He rode away and I started Cowboy down the side of this gulch. He really didn't want to go, but finally did. When you're going down a steep incline, you usually don't go straight, you zig zag back and forth so you don't go tail over tea kettle. After several zigs and zags, we reached the bottom, which was very wet. Cowboy was sucking up to his knees in this wet clay. I got off and finally got him across the bottom. We scrambled up a deer trail to the hay pasture and moved the cow.

I decided not to do the gulch thing again as I'm dense, but not stupid. I try not to tempt fate too often and I didn't want to wind up on a milk carton with my horse.

So, I circled through some pastures and came around headquarters the other way.

Bud stared at mud-covered me and horse and asked where I'd been.

"Moving that cow."

"Where'd you get all that mud?"

"The bottom of that gulch. It's a wonder I didn't kill myself or Cowboy going down that thing."

"Why didn't you use the cat trail?"

Come to find out there is a nice, wide trail cut in another gulch, which was the way they usually moved from headquarters to the western pastures.

"Nobody told me."

"You didn't ask. I guess now we need to build a new fence. If you can get across that gully, a cow will too."

Thus I learned the lesson of stupid questions. If you don't understand something, ask. If someone thinks you're an idiot, that's their problem, not yours.

That being said, interrupting a famous author's private conversation to ask, "So, what do you think about publishing?" proves you're an idiot.

InkStainedWench said...

If there's a lack of clarity in Janet's receipt-of-a-full note, it's in the word, "asking." It confuses woodland creatures, because we expect agents to tell, order, demand, reject, or psychologically damage us.

Agents ask for exclusives. Agents who don't, tell us they need 90 days.

Craig F said...

Cool, Sunday morning and I get to rile the following again.

I like the idea of an exclusive better than I like the idea of a minimum of 90 days to read a full. The reason has to do with my power as a writer. If you ask for an exclusive I am no longer a supplicant. I have bargaining power.

For an Agent to ask for an exclusive they have to see something. It is probably dollar signs. I like visions of dollar signs because it means the same for me.

Make a request for an exclusive a two way street. There is a reason they want it, make them pay. Start negotiating a timeline for your manuscript to be read. If they are already reading something get yours put behind it. Do not blindly grasp for an exclusive, negotiate for it.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

People come to the desk at the library sometimes and said "I don't want to seem stupid, but...." or "I must be stupid, but...." and my stock responses there is like "It's what we're here for! Always ask." Our online system can be unnecessarily obtuse (if it's even working; sometimes that's the issue, and it's nobody in my building's fault) and our shelving system can be....well, not labyrinthine, as the building is small-ish (for a library. it was in an old mansion) and old, so we work within certain constraints. If you haven't been there for years, you might legitimately not know. And that's okay. It's what we're there for.

I feel like agents are the same way. They're the ones with the intimate knowledge (and with perhaps the personal preferences) and they're the best ones to consult with questions. One just hopes they answer. This is among the myriad reasons this blog is so helpful, Janet, and we thank you for it!

CynthiaMc said...

I am so glad to see this covered. Back years ago when I was sending things out on a regular basis and working as an editorial assistant, everything was exclusive (at least everyone I dealt with).

Jack Bickham in his book suggested submitting to multiple agents just not telling them. I had way too many years of Catholic school to try anything even remotely shady. Therefore I wasted a lot of time.

I'm with Julie - life is too short.

I'm playing a 70-year-old in the new show. I think she's rubbing off on me.

Thanks, Janet. You're saying what I always felt. Glad to know times have changed.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Should agents ever ask for an exclusive? Or does that just happen when you acquire an agent and are submitting to publishers? I have one full request out, and the agent was clear that it was not an exclusive thing. That would be most inconvenient. I am not getting any younger here.

90 days seems standard so I was not put off by this agent telling me it would take her 90 days to review my work. I rather expect full and partial reviews to take some time given how busy most credible agents are. Heck, I can barely keep up with my email and it's mostly just friends and family checking in to see if I am still alive. Anyhow, this is, as most of Janet's advice, good stuff.

Reposting due to a terrible tense error. I deleted the first post and probably created new unforgivable errors. Ugh!

Lizzie said...

Why do agents lowball the response time?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I agree with Julie/ Cynthia. Life is too short. This is already a slow process so until there is some commitment, it seems sort of unfair for an agent to take you out of commission for three to six months.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I wonder if there are a lot of agents asking for exclusives now? I wouldn't even have thought about it if it didn't actually say 'exclusive' either in that e-mail or a previous one, or on the agent's website.

Would I offer an exclusive? If an agent asked for one, and if I were excited enough about that agent requesting, I could probably accept a time-limited exclusivity. It would probably be something like, "I can offer you a one-week (two-week, maybe a month) exclusivity on the full manuscript. There are partials out to two other agents and I have several queries out there."

The reason I can offer a short period of exclusivity is because a) the chance of hearing from those other agents in that timespan is probably negligible, and b) the chances of them asking for a full are even less likely. That's my experience so far with this particular novel. However, I do hold enough hope for a positive response that I wouldn't offer a very long exclusivity period.

I definitely wouldn't accept a 90-day exclusive period on a partial. Fulls are different. If an agent requests a full, there's a much better chance they'll offer representation than from a partial. I can accept a 90-day *response time*, but I would not make that time exclusive.

Here's a question: If you do get agree to a period of exclusivity on a full, does that mean that you can't send out partials if they're requested? I would have assumed that if exclusivity (I'm using that word far too much here, I know) is given on a full, that would mean that that's the only agent who has a copy of the full, but that partials are fair game.

Craig makes a good point: A one-month exclusive is still shorter than a 90 day waiting period.

Thanks, Donna. I have a couple other questions, but I'll e-mail those ones. Thanks again.

Lance said...

I find it difficult to balance resolution and courage with what are my strong points: paranoia and ignorance. Ms. Reid, your encouragement helps tremendously. Thank you.

Marc P said...

Think of it one stage ahead too. Would you want your agent to accept a Publisher saying they have read the book are interested but want 90 days to make a decision and request no other publishers can see the work in that time. It wouldn't happen and for a very good number of reasons. Main one being good agents are good. Sometimes the best thing is an auction where the publishers battle it out for your book - obviously you can;t do that at the getting an agent stage lol.

For me if I wanted a specific agent to represent me above others and they were saying it would take them ninety days to get back to me - I would probably hold out and not sub to others. Probably. But if a full was requested and I liked her work and rep - and I was confident of my own - I'd give her that time. But that is coming from me as a potential client and a personal choice based on what I wanted. The agent writer relationship is a long haul thing after all. Confidence is important and comes from belief in your material I guess - which hopefully is there to the best you can make it before subbing in the first place. But like I say this is different from an Agent demanding or expecting it. In any relationship the golden rule is to respect each other and not get hurt. Unless you are Christian and Stacy I guess.

Timothy Lowe said...

I had a full out with a very professional agent from Writer's House last year. He only took about 3 weeks from the query to passing on the manuscript. The funny thing is, Writer's House spells out an exclusivity policy on the site, but the agent never mentioned it when requesting the full. I never honored it (since, honestly, I missed it on the site and only saw it later). It wound up not mattering but in the meantime I had other fulls out (some which are still out).

Since he didn't ask, I didn't feel too bad about it. Honest mistake. He might not care about exclusives anyway. But if he did, he should have mentioned it in the request.

Ardenwolfe said...

Outstanding advice as always.

Adele said...

"For an Agent to ask for an exclusive they have to see something. It is probably dollar signs."

I'd agree if the exclusive cost the agent anything, but it doesn't. To me it's like saying "I don't want to bother thinking about this right now, but I don't want to lose by procrastinating. How about I consider it in a month or so - you don't mind putting your career on hold for me, do you?" And by agreeing, the writer gives up their own power to the agent.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Jennifer, my dear departed Uncle Dutch, may he rest in Smithsonian Peace, (he worked for them on a NASA/Smithsonian moon watch team) back in the 60s and 70s used to say, "the only stupid question is the question not asked." He operated a 3 ton camera.

In his free time he'd lecture at colleges, government agencies and for the American Information Service. He lived all over the world and I got to live with him and my aunt in Jo'burg South Africa for a year. I attended many of his speaking engagements. There was not a question asked he could not answer.
He also said, "if you don't ask, you don't know."

Theresa said...

Oh, what Lance said. Absolutely.

LynnRodz said...

The way it was worded:

I'm asking for 90 days on fulls right now to my chagrin.

I think I would've been confused as well. I know you hate exclusives, but I would've questioned it all the same.

I would have added "to get back to you" to make it clearer.

I'm asking for 90 days to get back to you on fulls right now, much to my chagrin.

My 2 ¢.

Janice Grinyer said...

Clarification is an important item when discussing business. Any business.

For our Forestry Consulting business, I have a certain agency letter that accompanies a signature page, deadline date, and a request for payment, to our clients. However I still receive phone calls from clients who want clarification. When asked, I have been told numerous times over the years from forestry officials and our lawyers that this letter of mine cannot be any clearer. It wasn't until I finally recognized there are certain clients who needed the voice contact did I realize the letter is okay; its the personal acknowledgement they were seeking. So for me, whatever it takes to get the job done and paid for. Its just the way in Business. In my belief, there are no dumb questions in business, ever, and yes you can interrupt me anytime to ask, because, well, business.

Just don't become arrogant or meandering in your questioning - That slows the process down ;) .

One of the reasons I read this blog and admire Janet Reid is because of her business sense. I have been working on a novel series for a few years now, and in a few more it will be ready for query. Having a consulting agency like us to prevent timber abuse and theft in the Forestry world is important; in the literary world it is no different, so I do want a professional agent to represent my work. In the end, its business, and there are no dumb questions if the end result is successful.

LynnRodz said...

Btw, Janet, thank you for answering those questions we had yesterday. It was very helpful.

Marc P said...

To me it is the juxtaposition of the word full(s) to the word right - that could throw into the readers mind full rights ( I.e. the exclusivity notion)

So I would word it:

'To my chagrin I am now asking for 90 days to respond to requests for fulls' - to separate the words full and right

But of course the explanation that you do not mean exclusivity - well... it explains that.

So just pitching in in the juxtapositional nuance and why there may have been some misperception. And I will get my coat....

Anonymous said...

This would confuse me too. Because I wouldn't expect an agent to ASK for anything at this stage. It implies I should answer, like I have a choice or something. I won't even tell you what kind of smart-ass reply I'd be tempted to send.

It would be clearer to just say response time to fulls is running around 90 days right now, so don't worry if you don't hear anything sooner. And maybe, if you're trying to be all polite about it, say you hope the writer will be patient with you during that time. But honestly, from what others have said it sounds like just giving an estimated response time, or even acknowledging receipt, is more than most agents do. That's awesome.

I'm surprised so many of you (in the comments) are saying you're hesitant to ask questions. I don't see that as looking stupid, I see it as being curious and engaged and interested.

Donnaeve said...

Ah, but, kd...we are only wee woodland creatures and the big scary publishing types sometimes send us running for the nearest hole.

So, veering slightly OFF TOPIC - This is my feeling. Because their business model (not all, some) is so different from the norm, i.e., being responsive, it can be interpreted in many ways. Silence is intimidating. Yes, Ms. Janet has beat us over the head with a wet noodle about not acting as if we're "beggars at the banquet of publishing," yet, we want something and lets face it - likely more than the agent. We want an agent BAD, or to be published BAD. We need them and yes they need us, but we are millions compared to just over a thousand (last time I checked) We don't want to seem as pesky, difficult, as an AUTHOR ASSHAT. :) Before we even have the door hit us in the a**.

I think that's why we hesitate.

nightsmusic said...

I ask. The worst answer I could possibly get is 'no.' In most cases, that answer won't kill me so I ask.

Anonymous said...

Donna, yeah, I know. The first time I sent Janet an email, I hit send and immediately panicked and said to myself, "OMG. You did NOT just do that. What the hell are you even thinking?!?!?!!" But she's really very-- um, that nasty four-letter word that starts with N and ends with ICE. :)

I've always liked this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt (although I think it's a bit abridged from the original):

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Speaking of quotes . . . isn't it time for a new sub-header? This wee timid woodland creature is feeling sort of conspicuous up there.

Donnaeve said...

kd - Oh yeah, that (what seems like) autonomous thing our fingers do as our brains scream NO! Been there.

I was going to commend you the lasting effectiveness of your header - while the rest of us feel like we've done something by commenting first. No comparison.

Or maybe since you wrote that, Ms. Janet thinks nobody's come up with a better one. It IS a goodie, although it's entering "oldie" status.:)

Panda in Chief said...

It's also a little confusing/daunting because every agents rules and preferences are just a little bit different from each other. I love the agents who, when you query them, send an automated reply, acknowledging the query. I mean, if those agents figured it out to do that, why doesn't everyone? I am so much less anxious knowing that the query has been received, especially if the agent states a "no response means no" policy.
We furry woodland creatures can find so many things to worry about. Everyone is busy, we get that. But with the automated response thingies that are available, wouldn't it be nice if everyone used them?

And I thing the "no response" rejection on requested fulls or even partials, is unconscionable.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Janet, I love you dearly. You ought to know this by now.

So this: I'm asking for 90 days on fulls right now to my chagrin.


How about: Right now, I expect to need a good 90 days to read this. Please continue to query widely and don't forget to write your next one, too.

Love and kisses--
Your favorite West of Martian --