Thursday, February 18, 2016

How long do I wait when I'm already a client?

I spent a couple of months reading Query Shark posts, taking copious notes, and hammering out my own query letter. Thanks to your terrifyingly sharp advice, I learned enough about querying to land an agent.

Unfortunately, it turned out there was a reason I was getting positive responses but no offers from the dozens of other agents I queried. The agent I signed with managed to get my manuscript in the door of several big publishers, but all the agents who had rejected me turned out to be right: this was some really good, totally unmarketable writing.

I took the hint when my agent stopped sending me cheerful updates about which editors were reading my novel and started asking pointed questions about how my next novel was going. After pitching the premise to her and confirming that this novel wouldn't have any red flags, I wrote a YA Suspense/Thriller.

I sent this manuscript to my agent a little over a month ago. She replied enthusiastically that she couldn't wait to read it.

I sent a friendly nudge a few days ago, updating her on my current project (yes, I'm keeping busy!) and saying I was excited to hear what she thought of the finished manuscript.

I was hoping for a quick update – something like "I'm swamped, but I should be able to give you a reply in X days/weeks/months." I haven't heard anything back from her.

I need a reality check from someone in the field so I don't turn into That Writer. My agent's site says that querying authors should be prepared to wait up to four months to hear about a manuscript. But I'm a client – my name's on their site and everything.

I've spent plenty of time in the slush pile, and I can hang out there a little longer if that's what I have to do. I guess I thought signing with someone meant I'd worked my way a little closer to the middle of the desk.

There are really two questions here: (1) how long does it take for your agent to read your new work, and (2) how quickly should you expect status updates.

Let's answer the second one first: you should get a reply within a couple days if only to say she got your email and will be able to answer it soonishly. Soonishly is my word for I have no idea but I know it's important and you're not forgotten, really.

What gets in the way of this kind of quick email is guilt: I know I should have read this by now, but I haven't and maybe I can get to it in the next three days so I don't have to tell you I didn't read it and holyhell, where did those three days go, now this email is a week old, and this is just mortifying, and maybe I'll just pretend I'm dead.

We've all been there. It took me a long time to realize that "I got this, I'm a slacker, you should throw me to the wolves" replies were better than silence. I hate telling clients that I haven't done something. HATE IT.

That said, it happens.

So, to avoid being That Client you'll email her about once a month. "Hey, just checking in, hope you're doing well, I am being fitted for a straitjacket!"

If it goes beyond six months, let your agent know you're seriously having a hard time with this silence and let's figure out what we're doing here. In other words, she doesn't get to drag her heels for an indeterminate amount of time here, guilt or no guilt.

The first question is what you really need to know though: how long does it take an agent to read your work. And the answer is a whole lot longer than you think.  Remember that she's going to read your whole manuscript AND give you notes, or at least feedback. In other words, she's not just skimming along with "do I love this, can I sell this."  That kind of read takes time. (Read, not reading for my eagle-eyed proof readers out there)

Agents prioritize their reading. The rule of thumb is: the closer you are to the money, the faster you get read.

Thus, things I read right away are: contracts. Contracts trump everything.

Next: books on editorial deadline. Those books have contracts and production deadlines. I read those as close to instantly as I can. Often getting that book to the editor triggers a payment and we like that a lot.

Next: books/proposals ready or close to ready to go on submission. Revisions to books on submission are here too.

Everything else comes after those three categories.  Your book isn't under contract, and it's not on editorial deadline. It's not on submission. That means you're probably not going to be read as soon as you wish (or your agent wishes either--trust me, I'd love to have eight eyes and a robot brain most days.)

What will surprise you here is often I'll read queries and requested fulls before some client manuscripts. That's because I can often get them an answer pretty quickly. I don't have to do more than say yes/no and I don't have to read the entire manuscript on a request if by page X I know I'm not going to take it on.

It can feel good to get something done, and off the to do list at least once a day, even if it's not the most important thing on the list. Sometimes mental health requires that. (At least it does for me. Other agents might be more mentally balanced.)

And just to make sure everyone is having a good time here, there's the really fun moment when you're just about to read something that's eight weeks overdue, and a client pops in with a manuscript on editorial deadline. Or a contract for a short story they sold. Or an editor calls with an offer to be negotiated.

Sayonara reading plans.

With manuscripts like yours I have to respond in detail and that means time.
Blocks of time are increasingly hard to find. Any kind of schedule is a fervent hope at best.

Bottom line: don't get on the rodent wheel of panic. Don't assume your agent is a slacker nincompoop. Do not assume she's lost interest in you.  Stay in touch with her gently. Have patience. Keep writing.


nightsmusic said...

Congrats, OP on the initial encouragement. I don't know what constitutes Great Writing That's Not Marketable, but it got you in the door. YAY! And good for you to continue working on new stories.

I am amazed with all our QOTKU does for us that she honestly has time to read anything at all. I don't know what your agent's schedule is, how many clients she has or what else she might be doing in the background, but I'm like you and would be sitting over the keyboard emailing her though I'd also be deleting all those emails. Sometimes, just getting it on paper helps. But Janet has given you sound advice as usual to gently nudge once a month or so. Maybe she read your email and then it slipped her mind. Things like that happen. I sometimes wonder if the agent doesn't email you with 'cheery updates' in order to keep things fresh in her mind as well. Probably doesn't make sense what I just wrote but hey, 7am!

Okay, off to find more coffee...lots and lots of coffee...

Lisa Bodenheim said...

"I'm being fitted for a straitjacket." Ha. Some days I should be. Except just the thought of it gives me the creepy-crawlies.

The priorities Janet lists make sense. Except, isn't that funny, I never would have thought of that on my own as a wee woodland critter. And that doing something not as high on priority list so that you can cross something off your to-do list. Been there in my other profession.

Opie: Take courage. Have patience. You have an agent. You have stories to tell so enjoy the writing. You're moving up on that ladder to publication. Celebrate these steps.

Unknown said...

Have patience, keep writing is my new mantra for life.

For Opie, I agree with Lisa! It's tough to celebrate the small steps sometimes when you're feeling so close to the big ones. My wife and I are paying off debt, for instance, and despite the ungodly amount of debt we have, we went out to dinner last week after paying off a loan. It was a small student loan, a very small step, but still we were excited.

Go out to dinner. You finished a second book. Revel in it! And start thinking of new ones! There are many worlds to conquer and you only have so much time to write them all.

DLM said...

Brian, it's a mighty fine mantra, that. Been nice catching a glimpse or two of you around here lately!

Oh, and I was all "soonishly" on YOUR writing there ... and am probably now so far behind you're not even dealing with it anymore. I really do apologize!

Amy Schaefer said...

Janet, you're missing the fact that the rodent wheel of panic is where writers get their ideas. We are champion over-thinkers for good reason. Sure, the anxiety-related side effects are horrendous, but it's worth it for that aha! moment we need on every page.

Unknown said...

I keep my rodent wheel of panic right inside the tunnel that leads up to the forest floor, the better to jump on and knock out a few hundred-thousand laps befor peaking outside. If only agents knew how far a one sentence email goes towards maintaining mental health. Emails like "I got your manuscript and I'll try to get to it in four to six weeks. Your pal, agent X

Lucie Witt said...

OP, hang in there. It must have been hard to set aside that first book.

We get so hung up on signing with an agent we sometimes forget that's just the first step in a very long process. Posts like this are excellent reminders/perspective.

Brian - congrats on the student loan! We are also crushed my obscene student loan debt. It's a huge deal to pay one off, no matter how small.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Have patience. Keep writing. Words to live by indeed. Janet wrote her own sub-header this week.

Congratulations, OP, you are past the first set of toothy gatekeepers. You have an agent. Hopefully, soon you'll hear from her on shiny new manuscript.

As to being on the very bottom of big slush pile, it's warm and cozy down here in the dark. I think I will just hang out here a bit longer and open a little cafe.

Lucie Witt said...

E.M. - will your cafe serve tea brewed from the tears of querying writers? I'll have a cup, thanks.

Lennon Faris said...

Hmm, Slush Pile Cafe? Think I'll take a seat by the window; they said my order might be a while...

OP, I think waiting is just the worst. Not knowing when that answer is going to come, and not knowing the content. If you could just know one of those two, it really wouldn't be so bad. Hope this agent shapes up for ya.

I love Janet's 'formulas' for waiting. I'm keeping a list of all this stuff in a word doc, right there with those questions to ask.

Laura Mary said...

EM - do you have cake?

RachelErin said...

I really appreciated the list of reading priorities. It reminded me of freelancing - the question was, what can I do to send an invoice today, or have one to send tomorrow?

I never would have thought of contracts as taking up reading time, but now that you say it, it's obvious they can't be absorbed through the gills.

Mental health - I try to start the day with my most important task, and end the day with a small one just for sake of ending on a "done" note.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yes to Lucie, Lennon, and Laura. The Slush Pile Cafe- seriously, every writer on the planet would come to hang out, sip their tea or coffee, nibble tasty cakes, spike their tea or coffee with something a little stronger as the hours passed, and commisserate.

Colin Smith said...

If and when I email an agent outside of querying, I expect my emails to get in line behind that agent's business correspondence. The job and the clients come first. I can put up with waiting for weeks for a response because that agent has no obligation to me. If I was a client, however, I would expect something quicker. Indeed, one of my biggest agent fears is landing an agent who doesn't communicate. At the beginning especially, I would like an agent who will email/text me periodically just to say "Hi, how's it going?" The relationship will be new, and I'll still be in that insecure woodland creature dream-state. I'll want to be sure this agent thing isn't just a mirage conjured by my fertile and romantic imagination. Over time, I expect we'll settle into realistic expectations with regard to communication.

But certainly, if I was to ask my hypothetical agent about submissions or edits--work I'm waiting on--I would expect a prompt response, even if it's "Sorry, not there yet." I would be more concerned to think my agent is ignoring my mail than whether or not he/she has finished those edits or submissions.

And... I think that's all I have to say about this topic. I'm not an agent, and I don't have an agent, so... what Janet said. That's always a good answer, anyway. :)

Megan V said...

Hang in there OP! First, congrats on getting an agent. Nevertheless, I can imagine that this bout of radio silence is nerve-wrecking. I think the QOTKU's advice is solid here. Agents have a lot to read, they have to prioritize, and I imagine that Agents read manuscripts slightly differently than readers do. This will affect reading time.

Plus, while plenty of agents are speedy readers, reading time is variable. I am a fast reader. When I was a kid my Mom LITERALLY rationed my new books—including library books! Some Agents may read faster than the average reader. Some might read slower than the average reader. Everybody is different.

Give it a couple more months.

In the meantime, write, write, write. And when everything else fails to keep the insanity at bay, listen to the singing fish.

Dena Pawling said...

I remember paying off my student loan. You deserve to celebrate!

>>"Hey, just checking in, hope you're doing well, I am being fitted for a straitjacket!"

Here's a few other lines you can send, depending on how evil you are –

I saw your obituary. You sure go to lengths to avoid me.

I'm just about ready to send you yet another manuscript.

I signed you up for kitten of the month club.

I signed you up for scotch of the month club.

Please reply with a check mark in the appropriate box –

_____ I'm dead

_____ I'm retired to the south of France

_____ I'm in labor

_____ It's nap time

_____ You're on my list. I'm not telling you which list.

_____ I'm a slacker.

_____ Please send medicinal scotch

_____ Call the police.

_____ Call an ambulance

_____ Call your mother, you've made her wait longer than I have

_____ Please send bail money

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I really appreciate Janet's answer here, especially that it's-been-too-long-to-email guilt. That is a feeling I can relate to on a spiritual level. I work in an extremely collaborative environment - which is awesome - but that means a LOT of emails requiring a quick response. Sometimes, emails get lost for a few hours (or days) and I realize my response takes 5 seconds.

It's such a real issue at my workplace that new hires are required to take a class on badgering. Yes, a real class. We learn how to badger. Aggressively.

Well, to be fair, first you start out as passive aggressive. One email, two emails, then a phone call (this can vary by urgency). Then another email with the first two emails attached. Then you go to their office or wait outside a meeting. Then you send them ANOTHER email and cc their manager.

It's a beautiful display. A ballet of badgering. An allemande of annoyance. A polka of pestering. A boogie-woogie of bugging.

As a side note, a think a Slush Pile Café would be amazing.

Craig F said...

I guess it's my turn to be crass. Two questions on what struck me the most about this.

1) If you know you have inadequacy in your MS or that MS is uninspired and you can fix it why aren't you? A large part of the definition of you as a writer is built on your debut novel. Make it the best you can. You do not want it to have a honored spot on your mantle and not be able to look at it because you know that it could have been better.

2) Why didn't this Agent spot the problems? I have heard other Agents rail against Query Shark. They have to work harder because there are great queries for shitty books coming their way daily. Your Agent should have at least asked for an R&R if they weren't in it just for the money.

Lucie Witt said...

Craig's questions are interesting. I read this scenario more as OP wrote an amazing but hard to categorize book. Agent loved it, took risk signing it, but couldn't find an editor willing to take a similar risk.

Lucie Witt said...

(I'm assuming "unmarketable" meant something like hard to sell and not inadequate or poorly written)

Colin Smith said...

Lucie: That's how I understood it, too.

Janet Reid said...

wait..agents are complainging about QueryShark cause it's makeing queries better??

Links or it didn't happen.

Colin Smith said...

That caught my eye too! (See, I told you I didn't have anything else to contribute--I'm just nodding my head at everyone else.) All the agents I've read recommend QueryShark. I've never read one critiquing it. But I haven't read everything...

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I've beta'd a couple novels that I loved but could easily be categorized as difficult to market. Like a novel that fit right between YA and adult. It read like a YA novel, but there were a few pretty explicit sex scenes that reminded me more of adult romance. That could be hard to market.

I, too, would be interested in hearing about these agents who dislike query shark. I mean, agents can be an intimidating bunch, but in general it seems like they do want authors to succeed.

Anonymous said...

E.M., I aspire to the day when I can hang out at your Slush Pile Cafe. First I have to finish the darn book.

Megan, there's a different singing fish I have adopted as my mentor for this process: Dory. Only I hear her singing "Just keep writing, writing, writing..."

Lucie, I also read the OP as having written a book that is awesome and brilliantly executed but somehow not marketable. It can only be published after she becomes famous for her second book.

Dena, your checklist gave me the giggles. Thanks!


Anonymous said...

QOTKU is correct as usual.

I kind of like Dena's plan, though I have an idea it would take a certain kind of agent to appreciate it.

I've been in a writing funk the last few days with little production, so I've been reading. I read a memoir written by a Union soldier at Ft. Sumter yesterday. It got me back on track.

I got some of those notes from agents about great writing, but not marketable regarding Far Rider. They asked me to contact them again with new material.

No problem, I have other things to write. Then the thought creeps in, what if the new book isn't marketable either? I can understand why the original questioner is concerned. All these questions and doubts start nipping at your heels.

Just keep working on something new. Check in periodically. Drink sweet tea.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Ok, I can see a query being fantastic and the book being a pile of not ready for prime time- but how is that QueryShark's problem? We know that sometimes we writers jump the gun and query before book is truly done done.

I would guess the reverse is a bigger problem- great book hiding behind inadequate query. QueryShark serves to fix that, no? Anyhow, I doubt agents would complain about good queries, but even before the advent of QueryShark, they probably never just loved getting a manuscript that didn't live up to the query.

And in case of the OP, none of this applies. First book was well written but could not find a market in current environment. New book sounds like it overcomes that bias. It's just she is stuck in some slush pile or another waiting for agent to get back to her. I am offering tea or coffee here at the Slush Pile Cafe while we wait at our various stages on this journey to publication nirvana.

Colin Smith said...

I think after three or four novels with consistent "Great writing but not marketable" responses from agents, I would seriously consider self-publishing. What do y'all/yous guys/you all think?

Donnaeve said...

I love how QOTKU shared a prioritization list for reading. Makes sense, but we knew it would. Her ability to knock out the query reading quicker than reading a client's ms is a quick win. Low hanging fruit, sort of like Capt. BS's small loan payoff. It's an accomplishment! A way to put the ole check mark on that to do list.

(congrats Brian! Totally get it. I was elated when I paid off my student loan!)

"At the beginning especially, I would like an agent who will email/text me periodically just to say "Hi, how's it going?"

Hey Colin, that happened all of twice for me in that first year when my debut was on submission. A "you haven't jumped off a bridge yet, have you" kind of email. And then a "hang in there!" I was, by the fingertips. :)

But more to that, I think agents tend to leave clients alone for the most part - unless they call to tell them they've sold the book, or want to discuss contract terms, or are discussing the next project. There could be other little biz tidbits they might contact you with, but honestly, you can count on months of nothing...b/c we're supposed to be producing the next magic thing they can sell. A "check in" email even once every three months could be perceived as "are you done yet?" or "Can you write faster?" Least that's how I'd view it.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

And Dena I loved your check list. And, word wacker, there's a writing room in the basement of the Slush Pile Cafe for those still polishing off that book. Access to critique partners and a craft beer and whiskey bar for inspiration.

And that's me over my limit again. I apologize, your Majesty. My bad.

Donnaeve said...

Ha Colin, it's like I have you on a target today...but I noticed you said this, "I think after three or four novels with consistent "Great writing but not marketable" responses from agents, I would seriously consider self-publishing. What do y'all/yous guys/you all think?"

I think OP only wrote the one that was "unmarketable," and has now submitted a second/no problem (according to agent) YA/suspense thriller - which is what prompted this, why hasn't may agent read it/responded to me yet post.

Colin Smith said...

Donna: You're just goading me into over-commenting... well, Janet, take note: Donna made me do it!! ;)

Yes, you're right, Opie's just dealing with the first novel right now. But I was also looking at Julie's comment, and speculating on from there. Just throwing out a hypothetical situation. :)

John Frain said...

This brings to mind the Kierkegaard (sp?) line that "life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." And here's why. At least, in my experience.

AFTER the fact, when you look back on correspondence with an agent, things happen at a fairly decent tick. That is, in the overall scheme of your life, agent interactions move along as you might expect. When you look back and summarize. Or when you look back at your Excel spreadsheet.

PRIOR to receiving a response, you're staring at your inbox. Clicking it constantly to see if there's a response. Time moves like 4th hour algebra. You can't believe how long it's taking for an agent to respond.

So you need to change your expectations. Know up front your agent's response will take time, but it WILL happen. Move your mind back to writing. You still have several other things to take care of, like writing your next one or penning a short story or some such. Train your mind to act as if you're not waiting for an agent response and take advantage of the time you have to write.

This isn't disagreeing with what Janet is saying in her response. That's spot on, of course. This is in addition to what she's saying.

Also, it amazes me how often Janet's answers strike me as common sense after reading them. Yup, that sure makes sense. Why didn't I think of that in the first place?

Theresa said...

Oh, yes, the straight jacket.

This is an illuminating post. The prioritization of agent reading makes a lot of sense in terms of the agent's work flow. For the writer, still kind of straight jacket-y.

Unknown said...

I appreciate Amy's defense of the rodent wheel of panic as part and parcel of being a writer. Who wouldn't be a skittish woodland creature when you can spool out an ominous scenario in such vivid detail?

I guess we all need a Shark nearby to keep us from acting on our dark imaginings!

Unknown said...

HA! All is forgiven! :) yes, don't spend time reading it now as I can't even recall what I sent! I've probably edited the life out of it by now. :)

Get on Twitter sometime and give me an update! I want to hear where things are with you!!! :)

Anonymous said...


"For the writer, still kind of straight jacket-y."

Yes, there's a reason so many writers are crazier than an outhouse rat. Fortunately, crazy and creativity make good partners.

Mary said...

I am in a similar boat. I've had an mss on submission since October and I have asked for updates once (no takers) and just emailed yesterday to ask about updates. I don't know how long to hang my hat on this, so I am starting on a new mss. But I am the type that needs more communication than once every six months, so I am rethinking my position. Sadly. It helps to hear Janet's perspective on workload also.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Janet. I always feel better when I stop by here. Sanity is a fine matter. And a tight rope with hand holds for the new guys.

Adib Khorram said...

I particularly appreciate the insight into an agent's process here. I believe Janet's talked about the Importance/Urgency rubric before, and here's a case of it being applied to reading time.

And I 100% agree with the satisfaction of crossing off SOMETHING from the to-do list, even if it's neither important nor urgent. I do that at work all the time.

Kae Ridwyn said...

Number three child is sick at 2am; hence the much-earlier-than-normally-possible comment...
Thank you Janet, for explaining your read (not reading, I guess?) priorities. As John wrote, it makes a lot of sense now I've read it, but I wouldn't have necessarily thought of it on my own. Would the majority of agents have a similar priority list, do you think?
I'm amazed that agents wouldn't love QueryShark. I was reading Chuck Wendig's THE KICK-ASS WRITER this week, and saw he gave it a 'go here, ffs' (typical Chuck Wendig) kind of recommendation. But maybe QuerySharknis one of those 'polarising' concepts. Love it or hate it; little in between. (Me? I grinned, seeing Chuck reference it!)
OP, congrats on securing that agent and writing such well-written stories. Hang in there! And congrats also to Brian. My debt levels are heading in the wrong direction at the moment. Sigh. But it's been fantastic to see you back; your comments are always enlightening.
And the name 'Slush Pile Cafe' should get registered ASAP- I think a non-virtual cafe with this name would be incredibly successful!

Kae Ridwyn said...

*QueryShark is
Sorry about the typo. Thumb size vs phone size. Plus, 2am.

Mark Ellis said...

I think a screenplay I wrote and pitched is an example of good if not great writing that was not marketable. It centered on a horror-flick-loving twelve-year-old who discovers his attractive babysitter is having sex in the house while on the job, and sets out to expose her. Call it Home Alone meets Risky Business.

I thought it was pretty good, worked on the plot points and everything. The proximity of kids and sex being problematic never occurred to me because (A) I've had a vanilla upbringing where the twain never meet, and (B)I viewed the script as serio-comic horror.

The young Hollywood agent I pitched to at a conference just shook his head, "No, no, that's not going to fly." and told me that nobody (not even in Hollywood) would touch it.

Christina Seine said...

Me: RWOPs? I don't think they exist.
Janet: As you wish.
Me: HELLO. My name is unagented writer. You killed my query. Prepare to sigh.
Janet: Is this a kissing book?

ACFranklin said...

Waaaaaaay back when Colin asked about consistent "Great writing/Not marketable" responses, I'd put forth that you should definitely consider self pub. Then again, I turned myself into an author who has self-published without knowing it, so take that with a grain of salt.

I can't get over the fact that short stories count. I've written so many of them in less than a day.

Can I lurk in the Café the way I lurk without commenting most of the time? And will it have ginger ale? If so, I'm in.

french sojourn said...

Julie; I loved the imagery,
"crazy as an outhouse rat....."grin.
Thanks, Hank

E.M. Goldsmith said...

The acquisitions minion at the Slush Pile Cafe will add ginger ale to the list. Good idea, Arri. And lurkers are always welcome.

Janice Grinyer said...

It is amazing how much people can tolerate when they are informed about any process in general. A quick email update of two sentences was enough to calm any of our Forestry Clients; they just wanted to know they were not forgotten.

It's funny, but I never made the comparison before of how growing trees is somewhat akin to the publishing world; they both take time to grow quality stock.

You did a great service to your fellow agents today by giving an insight of what goes on daily in an Agent's life, Janet. Us potential clients appreciate it too!

Joseph S. said...

That "guilt" thing caused me to spend many long nighttime hours and weekend hours working to keep from disappointing someone(s), to keep someone(s) from thinking I'm derelict, or to push that guilt onto someone else who might be better able to handle it.

One of the last really important things at work that hung heavy on me because it was "critical to get it done soon" wiped me out in October 2014. But I got it done. The management folks who wanted it so soon are still "thinking" about it almost a year and a half later. C'est la vie. That's French for "They did it to me again).

Colin Smith said...

Do I want to reduce my cable bill? Umm... no I don't think I need to. It fits inside the mailbox just fine!

Sorry--distracted for a moment. Where were we? :D

Kate Larkindale said...

Great post (and question OP). Maybe you need to arrange a certain date each month that you check in with your agent, or she checks in with you. That way you can write without being wracked by anxiety, and your agent can schedule in the 10 minutes or so she needs to give you a quick update on where everything is sitting.

nightsmusic said...

Okay, Joseph, I'm going to guess someone has asked this and I'm being redundant, but is it Snoe like Shoe or Snoe like Snow? Inquiring minds...well, really, probably just mine, but I'm a puzzle solver. :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ah, the joy of a straightjacket. I call it my Thunder Shirt.

nightsmusic said...

2n's, and my pop just went all over the keyboard!

Unknown said...

Thanks Donna/Lucie on the less debt front! And Kae for the kind words about my making sense once in a while around the reef!

I'm still bugging out about this agents not liking query tracker thing for the "queries are too good" reason. I mean, even if somehow on a grand-scale queries got better, that wouldn't be a nuisance. That'd be great news! It would mean more authors are more informed and can create better books!

As it stands, take a look at how many people tweet about queries getting their name wrong, or addressing to dear agent, and you'll see there's plenty of not-so-well-informed slush in the slush pile still.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

An artisanal whisky bar at the Slush Pile Cafe. What's not to like? I'm there.

Congrats Brian on paying off that student loan. I have a boomerang daughter her 3rd year living with me, still paying her varied loans off.

Colin Smith said...

NM: That'll teach ya! Water only when reading 2Ns. See, she's good for your health! :)

And by the way, it's Smith as in "Smith." The P is silent. But that's probably TMI. Sorry... :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Brian, Donna and Dena, don't get me started with student loans. I could go on forever, actually I think I did, here, a while back. Don't want to ruin my day.
Damn, it already is.

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: The trouble with Student Loans is giving them back. I have to do my own dishes now...

OK, I've outstayed my welcome, I know. I'll get my hat...

Anonymous said...

Do some agents really say that Query Shark is a problem because they're getting great queries for lousy books? I suppose it's possible. On the other hand, Query Shark probably stops some queries for lousy books from getting out there at all. I have noticed that many times the problems Her Majesty points out in the queries are there because of problems in the book itself.

Don't know whose story it really is.
Don't know what the obstacles are.
Don't know what the stakes are.
Don't know why it matters.

The only way to fix these queries is to fix the story. So if someone makes it through the full shark gauntlet, not only will the query be better, but the book itself will be better. How can agents complain about that?

Unknown said...

Will there be WiFi in the writing basement of the Slush Pile Cafe?

nightsmusic said...

Colin, LOL!

And it's diet pop, so no sugar.

And now, for my two cents and then I've overstayed my commenting;

I think a query is like a lot of other things, one part of a bigger whole. Unfortunately, bare with this analogy a moment. DD2 was an individual figure skater which I mentioned before. She skated on the ice with another girl who worked and worked and worked on one element until she was amazing. At that one element. But the rest of her program suffered because of all the time she'd devoted to that one thing. I think a query can be like that, especially to new writers. They spew forth a book that's passable at best thinking they've written the next Big Thing and do a bit of homework to see what's required. They plug Query into Google and of course, QOTKU's site pops up, so they start reading. And they learn how adamant she is about a proper query and follow her advice until it shines. But they've set their next Big Thing aside thinking it doesn't need any work, their friends loved it and so should anyone who sees their sparkling query letter. So the query becomes misleading because they have not devoted the time to their story they should have in favor of catching an agents eye. The agent then sees a sparkling query and a story that falls short or seems like it was written by someone else.

And that's why they might complain that Query Shark is just too good.

But that's my take on it.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Of course there is WiFi in Slush Pile Cafe so we can hit refresh on our emails over and over again. There's a reading room as well naturally.

Ok, I am going. Colin forgot his hat. I had to come back. It's a really cool hat. Dick Tracy like or maybe it's Sam Spade. But cool.

Anonymous said...


At Surrey, Laurie McLean cited Query Shark and Miss Snark, telling everyone to write that down and study those sites. She said, "Of course, it makes our jobs more difficult now because we get so many excellent queries, but that's where you learn how to write great queries." I think she's a fan.


Joseph S. said...


Snoe is Snoe like snow. Like Joe Snoe, which is what I really go by.

People refuse to accept that, of course. I see spellings like Snow, Snowe, Stone, Shoe, Sone.

And pronunciations like Shoe and Snoo.

I usually spell my name. Yesterday I spelled it for a guy writing up a ticket order. I said S-N-O-E. He said is that all? I said that's all I could afford.

Should I ask if nightsmusic is Night's music or Night Smusic or Night S. Music? (on some music blogs I go by AustinSoul; and people assume I live in Austin even though I live in Birmingham)

and no - no one here has asked abot my name before. This calls for a little music.

nightsmusic said...

Joe Snoe, I love it!

And mine is all one word. The closest I could get to something that reflected Phantom of the Opera since Music of the Night was way too long. But most on blogs and forums and things call me NM. Easier and way less to type :) My first husband told me he didn't really love me 10 days after we got married. Just wanted the big party. The day after the divorce, he told me he wanted me back. This was a lifetime ago and he still stalks so my online presence is obscured in aliases. Even my author name is a pen name. So you can us NM or nightsmusic or hey you! I'll answer to just about anything but poop...

Panda in Chief said...

Did someone say "Cake"?

I hope there are no prohibitions pertaining to pandas in The Slush Pile Cafe.

I love Janet's list. I have similar ones about my work load as well.

As usual, you guys all make me laugh.

Donnaeve said...

Janice, "It is amazing how much people can tolerate when they are informed about any process in general."

YES x 1M! When I know something, I go away. When I want to know something and I can't get an answer, or I don't understand that answer, I run my legs off on the hamster wheel. (I like hamster better than rodent, even though...I know, they're rodents)

Colin! Hee. Made ya do it!

2N's, Christina, Julie, E.M. and Joe Snoe and all the rest of you hooligans - are cracking me up!

I've been busy cleaning when I want to be writing. BUT, I've also been reading...guess?

Some advance BLURBS FOR DIXIE DUPREE. OMG. Swooning. Shivers. More swooning. I know we just had this conversation but when you read a blurb about your own sh**, you so want it on the book whether it matters a hill of beans or not to the decision making process of readers. Off to read for the tenth time.

John Frain said...

For the tenth time, Donna. Ha! That's exciting and cool stuff to hear. And I bet for you, it's still exciting and cool stuff on the twelfth read (it's been a few minutes, I figured you'd be at least up to twelve reads by now.)

Oh go, Joe Snoe.
Whoa! Whoa! Joe Snoe.
No, no, Joe Snoe.
Uh-oh, Joe Snoe.
Go slow, Joe Snoe.
Man, Dr. Seuss woulda had a blast with your name, Joe Snoe. I was gonna be the first to ask for your phone number, but I know people would start talking behind my computer screen so I'll leave ya alone.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ooooooh Donnnnna, ooooooh Donnnna, I'm singing the song just for you and your wonderful blurbs.
Wouldn't it be grand to see a movie in your future ???

Yeah I know this is way OT but my singing is usually off key and out of range anyway.

Anonymous said...

"The closer you are to the money, the faster you get read." This is a fascinating perspective. In a good and helpful way.

If it helps alleviate the guilt, I'd much rather get several of the "swamped, haven't gotten to it yet" emails than endure the dread-filled silence of being certain, absolutely positive, really, there's no other possibility than that the agent read it and hated it and can't figure out how to tell you it sucks and she's on her way to your house to kick your cat/dog/hamster.

Good luck with that whole patience thing, OP. I'm sure your pets are not in danger.

Helen DeWitt said...

Well, I'm baffled. In the first place, I've never had an agent take more than three weeks to respond to a query; if I were J K Rowling this would need no explanation, but then if I were JKR I wouldn't be seeking enlightenment from an agent's blog. But in the second place, when agents take a while (i.e. more than a couple of weeks), they explain that they have (say) 3 manuscripts from existing clients who obviously have first claim on their attention. So the existing clients are clearly getting read within a couple of weeks. Which is what I would expect if I were a client.

It sounds to me, in any case, as though OP is reading too much into the agent's failure to place Book 1. (That is, translating "failure to place" into "unmarketable.") You can have a book shopped around and eyed with skepticism, to the point where the agent wants to lock you into a small deal with someone you don't like - and later find, accidentally, that a powerful editor loves it and will pay a lot of money for it. You can send a book to a senior editor who likes your work, who makes face-saving noises (it would work as a novella...) - and years later hear from his erstwhile assistant that SHE loved it, and HE was wowed, but he thought it was too controversial. You hear from a scout who was at Publisher X when your first book was being shopped around - it was brilliant but it wasn't the kind of thing they published. You hear from an editor who was at Publisher Y when controversial Book 2 was being shopped around; once the book was published and brought to her attention she was blown away (not as in making nice noises, but as in putting it on an awards list), but she never saw it, because your agent sent it to two of her colleagues (one of whom was the guy who originally thought it was too controversial)...

Way over word count (but who's reading now anyway?), but... a friend had Book 1 published by prestigious NY publisher; editor couldn't see who would want to read Book 2. Agent couldn't sell it. She moved to Agent 2, who had an auction among 6 houses within a week. Now it's seen as the novel's answer to Girls. The problem MAY be with the book, but in the absence of substantive feedback it's silly to assume that it is. (I can see why an agent might not offer reassurance along these lines, but hey -- that's what blogs and their comments are for.)

RKeelan said...

Regarding Query Shark making agents' lives harder, I was sure I recalled reading that somewhere, and it turns out I did, sort of. I couldn't turn up any serious complaining, though.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Unexplained silence makes us woodland creatures nervous. Explained silence, while frustrating, will at least feed the patience a little longer.

Am building up courage to sub a query letter to Query Shark. It may or may not get posted, depending on its instructional value. One thing is for sure, I'm ready to go agent-hunting again, having reached the point where the repliers have replied, all the NORMANs' deadlines have passed on my last project and these other books in my inventory are ready to go. If only I wasn't freaking out over this query letter I've been working on for months.

Somebody tell me to Just Do It.

For Colin: I Got a Pea.

When I get back to the cafe, may I have a hot chocolate made with the bitter tears of frustrated authors sitting at the foot of the glacier of publishing?

Megan V said...

wordwacker, Dory is a fish with an fabulous motto. Great choice :)

HG Heidi Duchess— JUST DO IT! Go for it! Charge! Allonsy! Etc. Etc. It's well worth the shot.

John Frain said...

Your Grace, Heidi, the Duchess:

Two words: Just Doit.

Or, abandon Nike and Just Write It.

I can't help you with your hot chocolate order. That sounds like a drink that'd be too frustrating to mix, much less taste.

Dena Pawling said...


I sent the query letters for both of my current WIPs to Query Shark. Neither was posted, but the exercise was enlightening.

I sent my very-first-of-my-life real live actual query to Janet, following her submission guidelines exactly, even tho she absolutely does NOT rep what I write. The response I received from her was VERY helpful.

Do it.

Colin Smith said...

Heidi: If you find a little pea on the floor after I leave, I think it probably belongs to me. LOL!! Thanks for that. :)

Anonymous said...

Your Grace, I will remind you, and everyone else over here, of that famous (and somewhat abridged) quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:

“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.”

She also purportedly said/wrote this:

"Surely, in the light of history, it is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try. For one thing we know beyond all doubt: Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, 'It can't be done.'"

One hell of an example, that woman.

S.D.King said...

Colin, on the spread sheet, what are the extra winner columns for? I am guessing that finalists can enter their entries? Perhaps this could be a shared Google Sheet where others could edit?

Hobokenseller said...

Late to this one. It came up in a Google search because I'm on week 3 of waiting to hear back from my agent on my new manuscript. This entry calmed me down. Thank you. I'm lucky to have an agent. I'll be patient.

I guess we writers do fantasize that our agent will look at the first page, get sucked in, and run to the phone to tell us it's the best thing they've ever read. We have good imaginations, I guess. That's why we're writers. ;)

Jan said...

Just commenting into the void. My agent has had my manuscript and a nonfiction proposal for going on a year now. I hear you about being patient, but I just turned 50 and the iron she should have been striking (I write pointedly about race) getting cold. There has to be a cutoff. You can't leave someone dangling in perpetuity.