Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Personal connections with agents who have "gone dark"

Over the last nine months or slightly more I've been personally connected with at least two agents who have requested to read samples but gone completely dark. The first agent was a reference via a published colleague who asked for 50 pages. The second was an old classmate who has moved into the publishing world. The latter did not seem like a good fit (in all truth, neither did the former) for what I was writing and to tell even more truths the work was raw.

However, I've sent multiple follow up emails after waiting two months or so in between communications just to check in on progress. The first agent has never responded to any of my emails after her request for pages. The second has sent notes of a more social bent ("how are you? what's new?") but when I ask about the sample I sent ... crickets.

I'm totally disheartened actually and I don't know how to take this. If two agents to whom I have a personal connection don't have enough regard for what I've written to just let me know definitively that they aren't interested does this mean my work is really that bad? (i.e.: Are they so embarrassed by the quality of the writing that they cannot even deign to even say "thanks but no?")

Is this normal or should I stop typing for the rest of my life?

These are the stories I like to point to when someone insists "you have to know someone" in publishing. 

I'm convinced it helps if you don't.

On my end, when someone comes via a friend or a connection, there's no way to simply send a form rejection. (Remember, form rejections don't indicate your work is bad; only that it's not a fit for what the agent is looking for right that minute.)

Often that "personal connect" query sits in my query in-box waiting for me to have the time and the composure to write a note that is both kind and considerate but in the end regretfully passing.  If you think we just whip those things off the top of our heads, you are SADLY mistaken.

Which means that you hear...crickets. Often for a long stretch of time.

And worse, with a personal connection of sorts, we feel like we should at least read the pages even if the query is for a book we know is a pass, and that adds MORE time to the delay.

Right now you know only one thing: you do not have an agent. You know nothing about the quality or caliber of your work. You know nothing about what they're looking for (or not.)  

Well, ok, you know two things: you don't have an agent and the second agent you queried isn't dead.

Here's the solution: QUERY other agents.

In fact, query a lot.

Cause really the best revenge is going to be  when you have this email exchange:

AgentSlackerPants: oh man, I just read your pages and you have a terrific novel. I feel bad it took me so long to get to it. (Subtext: I was clearing my inbox for vacation and finally read this)

You: Oh gosh, I'm so sorry! I just signed with Agent NimbleToes two weeks ago, and she's got the manuscript out to twelve editors, two of whom have already responded that they are putting together an offer.

Personal connections are not always helpful.

Don't let these two agents discourage you.

In fact, if you need your hopes and dreams crushed, there's really only one place to go: my inbox.



Kitty said...

I'm first!

Kitty said...

Now that I got that outta my system...

I have absolutely NO experience here, but I'd just let it slide, especially since the work was "raw," and vow to never submit raw work to anyone again. And good luck in the future!

AJ Blythe said...

Love that image of Bruce. And when I eventually do submit to the SharkBox I'll be prepared to have my hopes and dreams crushed.

Opie, as Janet said, keep querying. Just polish that sucker until it shines first!

If you don't think either of those agents are really the best fit for you than they probably think the same. Doesn't mean your work isn't good (although if it was raw it probably isn't the best example of what you can do).

Don't fret over something you already know wasn't the best for your career!

Good luck with your future queries.

Colin Smith said...

Oh! From the topic I thought this might be about having drinks with an agent at Bouchercon whom you later discover has become a Sith lord. :)

I've often thought about this, as I send friendly, non-writing-related tweets and emails to agents, trying to cultivate some kind of friendship with people in the publishing industry. I hope that makes it easier for honest dialog in the event I actually submit work to them. But there's always a nag in the back of the mind that it could adversely affect my chances of becoming a client of theirs because they don't want to say "no" to a friend, or at least someone they have a friendly rapport with, fearing a rupture in that friendship.

So, since the publishing world reads this blog, can I just make a PSA: It's okay to be honest with me about any query or pages I submit. I'll still be your friend! :D

There, I'm glad I've got that off my chest. Now... where's that guy selling kale pancakes...?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Man! I got to work early and everything and I am still not first :( Oh booger toes!

My cousin introduced me to her agent. I have talked about this before. It was an entirely positive experience but the agent, although very reputable, was not best fit for me. And my book was not at the time ready. I am on the agent hunt with people who don't know me from Adam. Maybe it really is better this way and perhaps I will get the agent who is best fit for me. Provided my exile in Carkoon doesn't put me on some blacklist that may or may not exist. Ok, coffee now. OP, go query lots once your book is not "raw". The shark may enjoy raw meat, but not sure that extends to raw manuscripts.

Kae Ridwyn said...

Opie, I feel your pain! And Janet's explanation of how agents must feel when wording a sympathetic 'sorry, but no' to someone they know personally - wow! That makes so much sense, now. So, yes, Opie, query more, and more, and more (wasn't there a comment in the not too distant past about different eagles for different woodland creatures or something like that? I know I remember the "because: ew" bit)

Also, I had to shake my head at the truth of the post I found linked to the post that Janet linked to (there's a few there: the one I'm referring to is ) because it is just SO true! Other people can't crush our writing dreams. Only we can, by giving up. To get from writing dreams to author reality is hard - but the only way is through persistence. So don't give up, Opie! As QOTKU writes, "Revise, resend" (but in this case, I mean it as "polish then query some more"!) Good luck!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Going Dark, Ghosting (from last week), a sharp-toothed shark grinning? What other horrors await a furry woodland critter? Such exciting times lie ahead of me. I need to get that novel finished.

Opie: Polish your manuscript and, as the others have written, query widely. And btw, make sure you have your thick skin on.

Colin: are you still awaiting transport?

Colin Smith said...

Kai's link:

Lisa: *munch munch* sorry, you caught me with a mouthful of kale pancake. I have my seat ticket for the shuttle today. Just waiting for my number to be called... Number 9. Number 9. Number 9...

LynnRodz said...

OP, two things stood out in your post:

1. You yourself said your MS was still raw. Agents and sharks might like their meat rare or medium rare, but they definitely want an MS well done! Don't query until it's well done!

2. If two agents, who you yourself think are not a good fit, have disappeared and you're asking if you should quit, then this writing business is not for you. Think about quitting after querying numerous well done manuscripts and you're still in the dark because the 500th agent has not answered you.

The difference between published and unpublished writers is, the published ones didn't quit until they found an agent. The unpublished ones gave up. Don't give up!

Kitty, you probably missed the memo where Janet said, being first only counts if you write something pertaining to the post and not just, "I'm first!" In any case, you still are first thanks to your second comment which in reality is your first. Uh, yeah, I just woke up in some sort of holding area...

Anyway, I'll shut up now because what do I know? If you read the last comment yesterday, I don't even know where I am!

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

This sounds like a hard place to be in for all parties. Perhaps OP is expecting too much from these personal contacts. I would honestly ask myself, OP, what outcome you expected when you sent those pages. I'll prospect:

1)They will be madly insanely overjoyed to have discovered the next (insert your fav author) which will lead to my blockbusting career, I can leave my day job...
2) What if they hate my writing, I should bake some cookies and post them (do sharks like chocolate or spare-tire)
3) If they don't like it I'll quit writing forever

Step back, let them off the hook and do what QOTKU offers, which is of course, the best solution. Not like I would know, I'm a query virgin. I may never step across the threshold.

That link to the Militant Writer is a good read. I read through some of the comments but not all 442. And love the Editorial Anonymous too.

Delusional writer's anonymous. DWA twelve step method. Step four: the agent is not my fairy godmother.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Lynn, I am not quite sure where you and Colin might be. My best guess is some kind of infinite slush pile. Anyhow, you have a blender so perhaps you could blend something for the two of you. I am a little worried about Colin's health. Not sure all that kale he is eating has enough kick.

I am off to hunt stray kitten. I think perhaps I can procure Colin an imp from Hell by getting a kitten to guide it out of the fiery pit. I will call the kitten Virgil. What were we talking about?

DLM said...

*Fakes liverpudlian accent*

Nice reference, Colin.

*Falls back into normal speech*

Nepotism is a favorite scapegoat for those who have not met with success on their own terms, which may be unrealistic. It's also a great excuse not to (a) keep editing, polishing, and looking for problems, rather than remaining convinced our work is perfect just as it leaked out of our heads and pens; or (b) keep querying, perhaps for years, taking advice and studying successes, in writing the query, the synopsis, and perhaps maintaining some manner of platform.

My Imaginary Alaskan Boyfriend ("His name is George! George ... Glass!") and I have known a few folks we refer to as 'nartists. This is the person you meet carrying their sketchbook in a bar, who introduces themselves by saying "I'ma'nartist!" The 'nartist may actually be HUGELY talented, but apart from trying to hit on girls by showing them the armored, pneumatic beauties they've dreamed up in their sketches, they're not showing their work with an eye to professional success. And they sometimes can be glum about professional success not seeking them out.

I'm not a'nartist, I'm a damned author. I've done the work, I've seen it to completion - I've taken my rejection/stripes, and I've come back for more, a little wiser (don't tell my wee and paltry brain I said that), and CONFIDENT. Nobody's taking an agent away from me, nobody's going to bar my way. And when it happens - I'll have nobody to blame but myself, and the partners I will someday find, who are as excited about my work as I am.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Lynn, I just read yesterday's last few comments. Now I understand what cartomb is, or could be.

Mister Furkles said...

This is a hint to those who are easily discouraged:

Steve Berry has written fifteen novels that have been published, all in the past twelve years. It adds up to twenty million volumes world wide. According to him, it took twelve years and 85 rejections before his first was published.

Suck it up and keep working; nobody said it would be easy.

LynnRodz said...

EM, dont worry, I snuck a few bottles of tequila with me, but, alas, no limes for the margaritas. Perhaps I can substitute some of Colin's kale, if I can only get it out of his grubby little hands. Yes they're grubby, slush piles tend to be that way.

Angie, you tell me because until Janet decides to send us and we land there, I have no idea where we are. Waiting is the worst, and patience is not one of my virtues, especially when there's nowhere to plug in the blender.

Julie said...

I feel like this is vuja-de. Something we see regularly and never want to see again, not because we aren't all wondering it, but because we all want to get published and put it behind us.

Woodland Creatures everywhere, UNITE!

Dyslexic Woodland Creatures Everywhere... UNTIE!

Did you hear about the dyslexic agnostic veterinarians, all sitting around wondering about the existence of Dog?

Anyway, so what you're saying is... Query... Widely?

Hm. I've been going about this all wrong. See, the thing is, although I read your words repeating this - what, five, six, eighteen, three hundred - times per week, I still have the gut instinct to:

a) Submit Query to The One.
b) Play Elton John's The One on my computer playlist. Loudly. (Play... HERE)
c) Sit and stare in my email inbox until The One replies to me.
d) Repeat.

And yet, now I feel like I need to send out more queries.

Actually, this fits with my own plan (see "a-d," above), because I just got a rejection yesterday. Although I'm hearing crickets of my own from my own The One, so...

Insecurity, anyone? I think they fly overhead, spraying known Woodland Creature habitat with Insecurity Napalm on weekends just to make sure we're well and truly consistently neurotic.


Julie said...

Um. Okay. About the video - I never saw it before.
I really just meant the music.


Julie said...

So, from reading yesterday's comments (oh, and yes, feeling better today, though McDonald's smoothie machine is broken down and strangely resisted the Glare of Immediate Scorn my father taught me... Hm...), I am left wondering...

How In The Heck Does One Steal A Vowel?

And Does One Need Vanna White To Do It?

"Vanna, I'd like to steal a vowel?"

Wa-Waaaaa! "Nope, Colin, and off to the outer rings of Dante-Land with you!"
(I always wanted to open a theme park based on Dante. Three parks. And instead of Mickey, there'd be Virgil. Imagine riding the Inferno Igniter through the Ninth Ring of Hell... or sailing through the Sea of Putrescence...)

Anyway, I know that's slightly off topic. But it did get me - good LORD, it's TEN O CLOCK!

LOOK AT WHAT YOU PEOPLE DO TO ME! THIS is why I haven't been on!
(Pulling hair from head!) AAAA! SOCIALIZING!


PS, Colin, you truly must get on my FB page and tell me what in Dante's name you DID, dear boy!

Laura Mary said...

I've had such little time to write over the last few months, and so much work to do that last night, as I stared at my terrible opening chapter (that was perfect last time I looked at it) I had one of my rare 'I should just quit' moments.
Instead I used the 90 minutes I had vaguely free to nitpick the first page, and I do feel better.
Suspect it will be a decade before this book sees the light of day, but I'm not giving up!

DLM said...

Laura Mary, sometimes a good recipe takes a while to make. *Cheers* to those of us who take ten years! May yours actually SEE the light of day (unlike mine) ... :)

Donnaeve said...

I'm convinced it helps if you don't.

THIS, is Ms Janet at her best - the honest answer which is why we appreciate these posts. Dont' get me wrong. Knowing someone in publishing is GREAT (whoop! Janet!!!) but is likely to set expectations of hope even higher. Hope is a wonderful thing but I think it can get amped to a mind bending degree of angst beyond what would be experienced by sending to someone you don't know.

It becomes this personal thing. It makes one more sensitive. Which is why OP is feeling extraordinarily unhinged by the SILENCE. I agree with the others about the "raw" statement. But...was it really raw? Because I have to think, OP, you'd be smarter than that! You wouldn't send out your shitty first draft to an agent, right? To be sure you sent what you considered as you best work, and maybe you're now only thinking of it as "raw" now b/c you're in such a quandary of doubt. Yeah, it could have been better. I could have written it this way or that. (honestly? Everytime something of mine went on sub, I thought of a BAJILLION ways I could have written it better)

These connections are fine, they're great, but this is like putting all your eggs into...well, two baskets. Come on OP! Are you in this for the long haul? Or are you going to fold like a lawn chair already? If so, like someone else said, this gig ain't for you.

Donnaeve said...

Typos galore, hope the gist of my message is clear though.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Donna, I know just what you mean. I am going out of my mind worrying about my subs. I keep wanting to tweak this or that. It's like I can't let go. And another big thank you. You really did help my synopsis. I think that submission is much stronger for it. But I still fret. And the waiting...

But no matter what, I am not giving up. Even if it means an 8th or 9th year of revision. I will find an agent. And my stories will see the light of day. OP, keep working. You will get there too. And maybe you will do it without the detour to Carkoon.

Susan Bonifant said...

Back when I was a wee writer, an investment guy we knew mentioned that he handled an agent who represented exactly what I wrote and would I be interested in having him send my manuscript? Well, yes, I would said I.

The OP's comment in the earlier part of the post, "My work is really that bad?" touched me. Much as it makes sense to assume a great or even good work brings a faster response, it's no given.

In the time it would take me to read a long short story my friend's agent responded to say that he'd now had a chance to read the manuscript, and sadly, would have to pass.

As heartbroken as I was (I had picked out music for the movie) I am grateful to have learned and share with you OP, that while referrals are thrilling, it gets back to the same drum that has been thumped for a long time: the writing, the story, has to mean more to the agent than the referring party.

Colin Smith said...

Hmmm... there's half a bottle of Jack Daniels in this slush box... with red lipstick around the top? Janet doesn't wear red lipstick does she? It's in her box... who--? They're calling our seats! Boarding the shuttle!! Here goes to... somewhere... :D

Wendy Qualls said...

You should never *get* to that exchange with Agent SlackerPants, though, because the day you get the offer from Agent NimbleToes you should have emailed Agent SlackerPants (and anyone else who currently had pages) saying "Hey, I've got this offer, I said I'd get back to her in a week, so hurry up already!" I mean, yes, it's annoying that Agent SlackerPants took so long, but it's rude for you to make her go through the work of (eventually) reading a partial/full if you've already signed.

Unknown said...

Agent Nimbletoes. HAHAHAHA...snort.

DLM said...

Amanda, I liked that one too.

Janet, I call Gossamer the Editor Cat Nimbletoes or Nimblefoot. He has the best hop.

Donnaeve said...

Ah, good catch Wendy Qualls! (channeling her inner Janet most divinely, I might add)

E.M., you're most welcome - I'm glad it helped!!! Yes, waiting is the pits. And you're probably hitting send/receive on your email more than you'd like to admit. I love your writing, so no, you shouldn't quit. And don't worry about how many revisions it takes. It needs what it needs, until you - or your future agent says it's baked. Then it will need more with the publishing editor. :)

BJ Muntain said...

OP: You've given them enough of your time and your heart. They're not reciprocating. They're not worth waiting for. It's time to move on.

I tend to find that I'm most comfortable around agents who don't represent what I write. That's probably because I haven't queried them and don't plan to, so my stress needle isn't on red every time I talk to them. For instance, I've had several pleasant chats with Michelle Wolfson on Twitter, and was so happy to meet her last year at Surrey. A very nice woman with a great sense of humour. But she doesn't rep science fiction, so I can feel more at ease talking to her.

Yes, despite my boundary-pushing pitch sessions and meeting all the people at conferences, I am still a small furry woodland creature (and sometimes critter). Maybe I'm like the rabbit from that video I posted a while ago: a cute bunny... until you give me a reason to be couragous. Like facing agents in the flesh. Or talking in front of a group of people. Or standing up to people who don't treat my dogs with respect. Yes, that has happened. And that is when the dark side shows its face.

EM: That term, "booger toes", says it all.

Julie said...

@BJ & EM - Booger Toes.
"Dear Agent Booger Toes..."

On the topic of Agents not getting back to people, I'm at the co-helm of a new writing group starting up way up here in the Permafrost of VT. I shared this on Janet's page yesterday, but I thought I'd mention it here because it's actually RELEVANT (gasp) to the ongoing topic of when silence means that Agents are on The Dark Side Of The Moon (reading your stuff? contemplating a kind farewell? upchucking into a nearby bucket? tangoing with Reacher? Hm.) and when silence means that Agents are simply hoping you will Take A Hint For Heaven's Sake.

So, we're sitting at this table in the library. Two Woodland Creatures were complaining that at a recent conference, they met several Agents, and gave them their information - names, phone numbers, emails and everything! - but never heard back! So it was an entire waste of their time and money, and why should they go to the upcoming Writers Meet Agents conference I'm helping set up for this summer? Nobody contacted them at all, by golly, so what was the point?

My brow furrowed.

I frowned a little.

I thought about that. Really, really hard.

So, you see, I'm in a bit of a Catch-22, here, because my only publishing credits are of the "short article in a local newsletter" type, which really doesn't give me a whole lot of "author cred," so to speak - but these two are looking at me expectantly with, "Why should we bother, huh, HUH?" in their eyes, and I'm thinking, "Seriously? Did you look into your end of the bargain at all?"

So I pursed my lips and nodded and said, "Well, let's focus on today's writing prompt, and we can talk about Writers Meet Agents separately."

But the bottom line is expectations. It is, in my opinion, right and proper to expect that a professional submission - a query letter, +/- synopsis, and requested manuscript portion, receive due attention and eventual response. That response time clearly will vary with the Agent, and whether that should be established ahead of time or not is something we can debate until the cows come home, but the fact is that currently, there is no standard. I think you should send your stuff off with a reasonable expectation of response, and that the Agent should give you some estimate of when that response might occur - couple of weeks, couple of months, just this side of Rip Van Winkle waking up, etc.

On the other hand. The burden of proof lies upon the writer. It is the writer's job to establish that s/he is a writer, and that furthermore, s/he is a writer worth the Agent's time and effort. This isn't done by shoving personal data into the Agent's hands and creating useless work. This isn't dating. The Agent doesn't have a product s/he is trying to sell at this point; the writer does. (Yeah, I know, they both do, but at this point in the negotiations, it is the writer with the product - not the Agent). So asking an Agent to do more than lay eyes on exceptional writing that says "I AM THE BEST WRITER FOR YOUR AGENCY!" is beyond naive, and it also sends a message to the Agent that the writer hasn't done his/her homework.

Not doing homework, to me... doesn't look so good.

Anyway, I guess I'll make suggestions to these two folks at the next meeting. I'll very strongly suggest that they come to the next Writers Meet Agents conference, and I'll go over with them what both parties can get from it - if both parties are suitably prepared ahead of time, so that nobody's time or money is wasted.


Susan said...

I'm late to the party, so anything I add will probably be an echo of what's already been said, but here goes:

1) Janet's last line and accompanying picture cracked me up.

2) I feel for OP. It's so easy to get caught up in the excitement of being one step closer to your dream. Not only did you finish a book (which, let's face it, is so much harder than anyone realizes), you have connections to an industry that often feels like it's a magical, mythical world and landing an agent and/or publishing deal is like finally making it to Hogwarts*. Oh, that's good. Let's follow this metaphor:

Some of us will get there by a magic, flying car (the success stories we all think of and secretly want to be). Most of us will board the train and stare up at the sky while we drown our frustrations in liqourice wands and bemoan the fact that we're not the ones in the flying car. Meanwhile, the train chugs on as we edit, revise, query, edit, revise, query, ad infinitum (the standard path to getting an agent/publication).

Then there are a few of us still stuck at Kings Cross Station, rubbing our foreheads and staring up at the brick wall between platforms 9 and 10 and wondering what the hell just happened (never submitting at all or giving up after a few rejections).

The thing to remember is that both options lead to the same destination, and even though it's disheartening to realize you don't get to go in the magic, flying car this time, there's a train chugging along in the same direction with like-minded folk who are eager to lend support.

OK, I think that metaphor got away from me.** The point is: don't give up. If you hit a brick wall, try again. It's so hard when you send your work out into the world and hear radio silence in return to think you're doing everything wrong, but that's when you have to keep believing in your book. You will be your book's greatest cheerleader, and this is the perfect time to start.

And if, as OP said, your manuscript still feels a bit raw, take this time to revise it and send it to some beta-readers for fresh-eyes. Make sure it's a book you're thrilled with. Then keep going. You'll get there one way or another.

*Confession: I've only read the first book in the HP series. Blasphemy, I know.
**I need a nap.

Julie said...

(Let me make clear that the two Woodland Creatures in question gave no material about their Works In Progress - only their contact info. Why they would do such a thing was a question I chose not to broach at the time.)

Janice Grinyer said...

I am under the assumption that the querying process takes a period of time not in days, but in months. Just because I queried Agent X today does not mean they will be able to respond promptly in 3 weeks time; their backlog may extend even further. And so I should have a system in place to check that.

I am also under the assumption that it is best to query in groups i.e. as in 10 agents at a time? That way you can have an organizational system in place that can check off Agents as you go.

And I am also under the assumption that if I have edited my MS to perfection before query, made sure my query letter and synopsis is clear and appropriate, then it is ready to be queried.

I am also under the assumption that I should not assume that someone "hates" it. If it is rejected, it will most likely be due to theme, genre and proper representation, then it is a piece of crap, if I have put in the work required to produce a MS worthy of a reader's time.

What other assumptions am I missing in the querying process ? :D

Julie said...

@Susan - maybe you just need to run at the wall a little harder. Knock yourself out! ;)

Panda in Chief said...

I have had a similar situation with a full proposal request and then months(now 9) of darkness. I understand the "No reply means no" on queries, but once someone has requested a full, a rejection email would be very appreciated. Sigh. The situation was compkicated by said agent changing agencies. While she was at the first agency, her assistant there was good about keeping me informed.

I know...keep querying.

I agree with the previous commenters that if two rejections (or non-rejections) are making you think about quitting, maybe the professional writing world is not for you. If this statement makes the OP say, "oh yeah? I'll show them who's tough!" Then fire up your computer and stay in the fray. Doesn't mean that each rejection doesn't hurt. It means picking yourself up off the floor (after your soul soothing indulgence of your choice) and sending out another bunch of queries.

Loved the comment about the 'nartists. Ha ha! We have a lot of them around here, although less in evidence since the tavern of choice closed down some years ago.

John Frain said...

Dear Crusher of Hopes & Dreams:

How DO you sleep at night? Oh, right, you don't. Things are starting to make sense now...

Susan said...

Julia : Speaking of Rip Van Winkle... ;)

Also, I agree with you about setting a reasonable response time. I CNR at 3 months for queries, though I've read instances on QueryTracker where people have received responses for queries (rejections mostly) after a full year. This seems ludicrous for me, especially with the majority of agencies taking the 'no response mean no' stance.

Like BJ says, there comes a point where you have to move on.

And to everyone saying to let rejection fuel you forward--YES. Let it thicken your skin (good for winter, I hear) and light a fire in your belly and build your resolve and

OK. I'm done.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Susan- read the rest of HP series. It is cathartic. And wonderful. You never know. Maybe one of us woodland creatures, wherher feral or gentle, might offer the next series that turns off the television and has whole families sitting on the floor together reading out loud.

My best memories of raising my daughter involved an ice storm that knocked out power for days, a fire blazing on the hearth, scent of 10 or so candles burning, two of my daughters' friends stranded at my house, and the four of us taking turns reading Order of the Phoenix out loud. No one wanted to sleep or complained about the sparse meals of griddle cakes and carrots. And once the storm passed, no one wanted to leave until the story was done. They were disappointed when on 3rd day, power was restored. The girls were all 10-11 years old at the time. It was magical.

But yes, we all have different paths to our goals. Just keep swimming. You'll get there. I do believe everyone has at least one great story to tell. Few of us manage to write the tale down so if you have finished book, truly finished something, revisions and fretting over each sentence, you are already well ahead of lots of those aspiring writers who don't actually write. It seems Julia encountered some of those.

And BJ, I am with you. If someone mistreats one of my animals or any of my neighbors' animals, dog, horse, or barn cat, the feral woodland creature emerges and they will damn-well see my redneck side. Not pretty. The slacker agents get a wide berth- I have this childlike faith that if I do my job, persist, never give up the right thing will happen. And the agents that dragged their feet, well it just wasn't meant to be.

And to echo Colin, for those agents I have become acquainted with through this blog or writer's conference, It is ok to reject me. If the book isn't a fit, I understand. I would rather get the rejection email than silence. I will still like and respect you.

(Did I just set myself up for an inbox full of rejections?)

Julie said...

Hey, man, I was negotiating pancreatic transplant and trying to stay on people's good sides! I have a legitimate excuzzzzzz....

Julie said...

And... um.... revising a manuscript for submission. :)

Pam Powell said...

Ms. Toothy Grin gives the best advice: Query widely.

When you encounter rejections/crickets, you can do what kitties do: bury them and walk away.

Susan said...

EM: That's such a lovely story! Memories like that really do have a hint of magic about them :)

And I hear you and BJ both about the dogs. They're my family, and if you mess with my family (or anything that can't defend itself), I'll turn from pacifist to aggressifist*** real fast.

***Not a word.

Wendy Qualls said...

I ended up coming at this from the other side - I queried my critique partner's agent, not because she would be the best fit for me, but because I knew she'd done great things for my critique partner's career and I figured hey, the personal connection is a nice touch, right? My critique partner also sent her a "Hey, this person is awesome and you'd like her" note, which turned my query into a full request on the spot.

And then I got an offer from her.

I had just finished doing a R&R for another agent at the time, and I was honestly torn. Because my critique partner's agent is amazing, and clearly knows her stuff, and has been doing this forever, and we could have made it work . . . but she really wouldn't have been the right fit for me. I nudged my R&R agent, who then offered me representation even though she hadn't finished reading my revisions yet :-P That was great, but of course it put me in the position of going back to this agent whom my critique partner loves and saying "Yeah, thanks for jumping me to the front of the queue and talking with me on the phone for an hour with some great suggestions and being an all-around awesome person, but I'm going with someone else." She was great about it, of course, but that email was a lot harder to write than it would have been for someone I didn't know.

I'm not complaining - hey, I got an agent, woo! - but it could have been frustrating. Because if I hadn't had another offer on the table, I would have said yes, and I probably would have been trying really hard to keep up a different type of working relationship than I wanted. And I'd constantly be second-guessing whether I should have said no.

Bottom line is you're wasting your AND your agent's time if you query "just because."

Anonymous said...


"Julie MW, reports indicate that you have an agent right here waiting pretty dang eagerly for your work, so it may not be so hard for you!"

True. Unfortunately, the work that is finished and looking for an agent is high fantasy, which Her Sharkiness does not rep. We all know which book QOTKU wants and I am working on it, but here's something else to think about. There have already been books written about these women. I've read some of them because I needed to know what was out there. A couple were so awful I wanted to throw them at a wall.

There's a chance even when I finish COWGIRLS WANTED it might not strike a chord with Herself. There are few guarantees in life let alone writing.

I'll just do the best I can with it and see where it lands.

Laurie McLean, an agent with Fuse Literary, did the pitch and query master class at Surrey. She was remarkably gracious and funny throughout the conference. She sat at one of the lunch tables with part of the B&W crew and wound up passing out her cards to all of us and invited everyone to submit to her. (We took up 2-3 tables.) Then she repeated something she had said in the master class. When she takes pitches and invites people to submit, 85% of them won't.

Think about that. A woodland creature has paid for a conference, suffered through the pains of birthing a pitch, probably driven everyone nuts as they practiced it, and pitched to an agent who says, "Great! I'd love to see more. Here's my card and instructions on how to submit."

Said woodland creature then gets home and decides not to submit for whatever reason. I might note Laurie is closed to open submissions. She accepts only referrals or people she met at a conference.

Only 15% take advantage of the opportunity. Laurie, btw, listed queryshark as one of the primary sources writers should research. She put up the address on the board and underlined it so people would not forget it.

Eileen Cook, the author and editor, said most people are way ahead of the game just by following instructions and writing a decent query.

Eileen is also the one who said 50-100 rejections is normal.

Writing isn't for sissies. Querying is worse. You better put on your big person knickers, gird your loins (or your lines), take up the sword and maybe a bottle of Writer's Tears whiskey.

The Prefect Asclepiodotus burned all his ships after he arrived in Britain to prevent his men from thinking they could retreat. Fight or die, there was no giving up.

I think there are times we need to get some of that fight or die attitude. No more thoughts of quitting because you haven't heard from an agent or ten. You just haven't heard from the right agent and you won't if you give up.

John Frain said...

"When she [Agent Laurie McLean] takes pitches and invites people to submit, 85% of them won't."

That's me being speechless. This statistic is true? Or reasonably close? Just, wow.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I must echo John's amazement. A writer spends their hard-earned money to attend a conference, pitches, gets request, and what? Perhaps 85% do not actually have actual pages? Or are not truly finished with their book? I suppose that could be it. Still, wow!

DeadSpiderEye said...

It's like this: you're in a lifeboat after being shipwrecked in the Atlantic. There are hundreds of heads bobbing on the waves, each needing respite from the chill of icy water but there's only room for one more on the boat. You spot your mate Percy Trubshaw among those desperate faces, the notion of discriminating in favour of Percy takes hold. As you row over to his location, your attention is drawn to the plight of those your course action will doom to an icy fate. You notice that one of 'em is a rather attractive young [select gender here], then you recall Percy's annoying habit of contradicting you over trivial issues...

If you're gonna draw on personal relationships, make sure you're a really really great guy.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Susan, I must be stuck at Kings Cross. Never submitting.

I'm rereading a memoir I wrote in 2011 because I want to rewrite it as a roman à clef for NaNoWri. I've had a NaNoWri profile for 5 years but never participated. Three days left to decide.

Julie said...

@John & EM -
Christina, Bri & I heard the same statistics this summer at WDC, but we heard reasoning. Writers went and pitched - but they also went and learned, and after learning, they felt like they wanted to change their manuscripts, and by the time they did that, they felt as if it had been too long since they'd been invited to submit... so they didn't. They HAD stuff to submit when they pitched, but by the end of the conference, they were no longer happy with it, and by the time they fixed it, they were embarrassed to submit, figuring that Agent Tippy-Toes would a) no longer remember them, b) no longer want it, or c) be astonished at the gall of someone who would waste their time like that, not realizing that the Offer Had Expired.

No offer expires.


One way around this is to do this: "Dear Agent Tippy-Toes; after receiving such a wonderful education at this weekend's fantastic Wham-Bam-Con, there are some modifications I'd like to make on my MS. I'm happy to send the requested partial to you as it stands, but I'd prefer to make changes first, if that sounds reasonable to you. Please let me know what your preference is." Yada yada whatever to get the point across that a) you really DO have something done, b) you really DO care and ARE a professional, and c) it really IS going to take a little extra time for you to get it right, because you Can Be Taught.

Paula Munier put it this way this summer. "If you come away from this conference thinking you have no revisions to make, then you haven't been paying attention."

And they all know that. But ignoring it is only going to make you feel Really Awkward later on. So be proactive.

Or something.


Janice Grinyer said...

To echo EM's amazement with john's amazement,

I would insert the gif of Husky that was used last week by Janet.

When opportunities come a knockin', dont let yourself stand in your way. Damn, lock your ego in a closet if you have to, but if a notable Agent requests to see your stuff, SUBMIT IT.

Susan said...

I'm another one who's speechless, but I can kind of understand. Once people start learning how much work writing and publishing actually is, they tend to shy away from it because they had different expectations (Money! Fame! Easy! everyone says. Until they realize it's not that at all). If you go to a conference, however, you'd think that people would already know this, but I can see how some may go away being more disheartened. You're never finished.

Just like there's no crying in baseball, there are no shortcuts in publishing.

Angie: Never say never! And go for it! Another JR reader and I are doing NaNoWriMo and holding each other accountable. You can join us--it'll be like our own Janet Reid Support Group ;)

Anonymous said...

John, Janice, and E.M.,

I think it's pretty accurate. There are lots of reasons, some of which Julia touched bases on. Another might be the person decides the agent isn't a good fit after they talked.

One friend was invited to submit, but the agent wanted her to delete a character and rewrite it without him. That's a pretty big change.

Other agents were pretty hard and fast about word counts. One agent thought I might have a YA and asked how attached I was to the words. YA means I need to cut 70,000 words.

Another of the crew had her first page read in the Idol workshop. Laurie said she wanted it. Another agent talked to the friend at lunch and said, "I know you're stuck on the other agent, but I'd like to see this also when you're done." R made it plain the book wasn't finished, but both agents said they didn't care. Send it when she was ready and mention Surrey.

If it were me, I would not contact an agent and tell them you're doing a rewrite. They have enough stuff in their inbox. Just do it, remind them they requested it and then go into the explanation about rewriting it. Maybe Janet has some ideas about this.

It reminds me of the story about the pre-query letters. An agent gets a letter saying, "It's coming." The person periodically sends letters saying, "Wait for it." and various other reminders about the impending query. By this time, the entire office is really curious about this query and can't wait to see it. The final letter was a never mind, I changed my mind.

I probably messed it up, but that was the gist of the story.

And, yes, we should always be improving until the day we die, but we can't keep putting off submitting a book because we learned something new.

BJ Muntain said...

Susan: 'aggressifist' needs to be a word.

Regarding conference pitchers who don't submit: It does happen, and sometimes for good reasons. There is one agent I pitched at Surrey, years ago, but after meeting him, I didn't think we would be a good fit. First, he told me that he doesn't rep much science fiction (despite his bio saying he was looking for it), and only reluctantly requested pages. Nah. His lack of enthusiasm turned me right off. I can't even remember who this agent was. Too long ago.

I've only once had an agent not request a partial, but we had a good discussion about my novel. That pitch session was valuable just for that discussion.

To be fair, pitches aren't the only reason a writer goes to conferences. (If they were, I wouldn't have gone to either of the summer ones I attended - each only had one agent in attendance.)

Last summer, I pitched a couple publishers at one conference. They want partials, too, but I haven't decided to actually go that route yet. It's nice to know there's interest, though. Again, I pitched, but might not follow through. Again, for good reasons. I'd really rather have an agent first.

I've always heard that agents EXPECT you to take some time after a conference to revise. I think it was Don Maass who said that, if you send the requested material immediately after the conference, he's going to wonder if you really learned anything at all.

In other words, even if it's been some time, it doesn't matter. Just make sure you mention that they requested the material at that conference. I doubt they'll question how long it took. And if you're worried that they won't remember you - they probably wouldn't remember you if you sent your pitch right after the conference, anyway. That's why you remind them you met them at the conference.

BJ Muntain said...

Sorry. I meant they probably wouldn't remember you if you sent your *requested material* right after the conference. You already gave them your pitch.

Anonymous said...

I'll echo what everyone else has said about being discouraged after only two no-response "rejections." If that can make you quit, forever, you might want to go ahead and do so. Right now. And count yourself very fortunate that you don't want a writing career badly enough to suffer for it. If you're able to do that, to quit, I almost envy you.

Also, I have to wonder, if you sent admittedly raw work to two people you thought weren't the right fit for you or your work and therefore most likely couldn't help your career, were you looking for representation? Or were you looking for validation. If it's the latter, perhaps a critique group/partner or even a few good beta readers might be a better step for you right now.

As for personal connections, I agree. They can be a PITA. One of my sisters recently wrote a book. It's non-fic on a topic I know very little about and was born from frustration and a LOT of anger on her part. It's the first thing she's ever written and I encouraged her to write it. I was supportive every step of the way and so very proud of her when she finished it. Then she started making noises like she wanted me to read it and give her feedback. And I told her that under no circumstances would I read it, because I would never, ever tell her what I thought about it. That my opinion didn't matter.

I suppose that sounds harsh. Part of the reason I declined is because I have no contacts in publishing or in social media that could do anything to help get it published or to gain an audience. But the main reason is that my opinion mattered too much to her, on a personal level. Regardless of how much praise I might have heaped on her, it wouldn't have been enough. And any little criticism would have destroyed her. It was an awful position to be in. Luckily, I'm not an agent and had the option to tell her no without reading anything.

Anonymous said...

"I've always heard that agents EXPECT you to take some time after a conference to revise. I think it was Don Maass who said that, if you send the requested material immediately after the conference, he's going to wonder if you really learned anything at all."

One of the girls submitted to Laurie during the conference and Laurie was thrilled about it. I told her I'd be submitting when I got home since my laptop wasn't working and she said that was fine as long as I sent it to her soon. She was anxious to read it.

I asked C.C. Humphreys if he had written any books on writing and he said no and then added, "And you don't need to be reading them. Your writing is there. You just need to get it in front of an agent. I'd be afraid of you messing around with craft books and ruining your voice or style."

I'm not saying I know everything, but if a person rewrites their manuscript every time they read a craft book or go to a conference, they'll never submit.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

OMG, just jumped in and wow, so many in the pool I had to skim.
I have decided, once I'm done with book number three, and ready to query, I'm changing my name. I've queried my two books, to so many agents, I'm signing up for the writer's protection program. I was thinking of taking the name Lee Davis but it's already been taken.
If I took my middle and maiden names I'd have two last names that sound like a shady law firm. Or maybe I'll take one name like Oprah or Cher or Elmo. Maybe I have too many Ns. Getting rid of one would be heartbreaking. Either both go or...I just can't do it. Ah, what's a writer to do?

Megan V said...

Susan & Angie— YES! A Fintastic Support Group sounds lovely.

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: How about TwoNs Lee? Or maybe backwards: Eel Snowt. :)

By some miracle, the shuttle actually moved... to Hanger 8. Apparently there's a departure line and we're at the back. We've been given lima bean soup while we wait.

That bottle of Jack Daniels with the lipstick still bugs me though...

Anonymous said...


I'm surprised they don't have Writers Tears whiskey on the shuttle.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Sorry Opie, what was the question? Oh yeah, I had a connection a few years back. Sent my manuscript to a hell of an editor. She was a best friend of a relative. I figured I would get honesty and expertise. Even after two polite well spaced pokes I got crickets, lots and lots of crickets. Either my work sux, she's rude or both. Since I know I'm a brilliant writer, it must be her. Did I mention how humble I am too?
Connections don't help, they raise false dreams.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Colin, next stop area 51.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Susan and Megan, I'm in. You two are pros. I'l be in good company.

I've been practicing producing word count without listening to evil self critic. I haven't NaNoWri participated because I didn't know if I could do 50k in a month but it doesn't really matter, right? Now if I can follow Julie M. Weathers advice to not revise every time I read a craft book I may even break my zero query record.

OP, or anyone else who's signing published books. There is bookstore in a hip town called Frederick, Maryland, just west of D.C. The store, The Curious Iguana, hosts author events. Every Thursday it's thriller Thursday. Tomorrow Keith Donohue will read fromThe Boy Who Drew Monsters. Stupidly I won't be there. Woe is me.

Anonymous said...

Colin, are you sure you're not already at your destination? Eternally stuck waiting between hope and dread? Sounds like a torture a sharp-toothed agent might devise.

Oooh, I just had a thought. By any chance, did you see Agent 99 scoping out Hanger 9? Perhaps Agent 86 lurking in Hanger 8? Have you noticed any signs of KAOS? Maybe a spare shoe phone?

[I know, that was a mean thing to do, referencing a TV show Colin probably wasn't here in the States to watch at the time. Of course, *I* saw it in reruns. Ahem.]

BJ Muntain said...

KD, I'd say you missed it by thaaaaat much.

Karen McCoy said...

LOVED the link to Editorial Anonymous. Reminded me of a recent article I saw on Little Buddha:

They also tweeted this quote: "Strength shows not only in the ability to persist, but in the ability to start over." ~F. Scott Fitzgerald

Colin Smith said...

Mechanical fault. Ha. Saw that one coming. Surprised we made it next door. So we're shuffled off the ship through a door at the back of Hanger 8. Down a corridor. Through a dirty green door. Down another corridor. Through another dirty green door. And into another hanger.

Wait. I recognize that box. And that bottle of whiskey...

John Frain said...

Susan, Megan & Angie ... If you'll keep the door open I'll join you in Nano. Trying to finish outlining, I'm way behind because something else that was finished turned out to be unfinished.

Great explanations by several of you on the 85% figure. Totally makes sense that after a conference you suddenly realize there is yet another set of revisions awaiting you.

I have learned to embrace revising. Oh, and what a big embrace is required there!

Countdown to Nano: 72.5 hours for me, 71.5 Eastern Shark Time.

Kae Ridwyn said...

Thought I'd quickly check back and see what I missed while at work today - and holy dooley but that's a LOT of comments!!! Thanks, Colin, for linking that correctly - I'll really need to learn to do that (or maybe re-learn; I'm sure I used to know at one point)

Too much to comment on, but LOVE the Area 51 and Maxwell Smart references :)

And as for NaNoWriMo - that's just far too scary territory for this little woodland creature...