What I hear: "I am a self-published author"
What I do: look for your name on Amazon
Your takeaway from this: tell me who published your book. Self-publishing isn't a crime. Don't hide it.
What you say: "I am a published author" with title and publisher
What I hear: "I'm dumping the agent who got me that deal"
What I do: search out the name of your previous agent
Your takeaway from this: if you're parting with your agent, just say so.
What you say: This novel has elements of sci-fi/thriller/YA/romance
What I hear: "My novel will appeal to EVERYBODY!"
What I do: skim the first page to verify you don't know what you're writing.
Your take away from this: Your book will not appeal to everyone. Get over it. Pick one category.
What you say: "my main character is besotted/beguiled/helped/whatever by a gorgeous woman who is a secret nudist/stripper/former stripper/prostitute/former prostitute/schoolmarm by day-high end call girl by night."
What I hear: "female characters in this book are caricatures and described only in sexual terms."
What I do: Try very hard not to respond with "are you fucking kidding me, this is 2016, get a clue" by hitting the rejection key very very quickly.
Your take away: all characters should be three dimensional. Describing a man only in terms of his sexuality is just as loathsome as doing that to a woman.
What you say: "I am resubmitting my query."
What I hear: "I don't understand what a form rejection is"
What I do: Look up your previous query and my reply. If my reply is anything but a specific instruction to requery, I will reply it's still a pass. In other words, I don't read it again.
Your take away: if I want to hear from you again, I'll say so. Requerying after a form rejection is generally a waste of your time, and unless you have unlimited time, you might want to spend it doing things that will help you move forward, not repeating things that have already proven fruitless.
What you say: "There are no books on this topic"
What I hear: "I couldn't find any books on this topic"
What I do: Search Amazon. If I find books on the topic, I almost always send a form rejection. This is just sloppy research and wishful thinking. I can live with wishful thinking, but I don't want to work with writers who are sloppy. Mistakes are one thing (god knows I've made my share and more) but making a mistake on "books like this" means missing one or two, not ALL of them.
Your take away: Look till you find a book in your category. Even if you are writing about something fresh and new (discovery of alien life forms on Mars for real) you need to know what the other books about Mars are about. There's always a book. Don't fall in to the trap of thinking you've invented something new. If you can't find it, ask your librarian for help. If you don't have a librarian, you haven't read enough books to even think about writing one, let alone querying.
What you say: "I'm querying you because you represent [an author I do not rep]
What I hear: "I am doing cursory research cause I read that you have to personalize and it's a total waste of time."
What I do: write back to tell you I don't represent that author. And then discard the query. I don't want to work with someone whose idea of research is reading only the headlines on a google search.
I agree that personalization is a terrible waste of your time. How about we solve that by just not doing it? I don't care if you've EVER read a client's book**, or know what I sell. I'm interested in what you write. Tell me about that. Leave all that other
**ok, that's a lie. I think everyone querying me should read my entire list but that's not cause it improves your query it's cause it improve my clients' sales figures. Fortunately I am not yet QOTKU so your wallet is not in danger.....YET.
Ahh, so the newsletter listing all your clients' releases is part of your nefarious plan to rule the world? I can live with that =)
More to add to the QOTKU Rule Book (yes, Colin, still working on it).
I love how, when you explain the 'what I hear' and 'what I do' responses to what queriers write, it makes COMPLETE sense - and yet, I doubt I would have figured it out for myself.
Thank you SO much, Janet, for enlightening us! This blog is truly an educational one :)
WHAT YOU SAY: "Thank you for summiting your novel. At this time I am not accepting new clients. Good luck querying other agents."
WHAT I HEAR: "Your novel isn't a novel, it's a smear of crap, scribbled on a piece of paper towel no one would even use to clean dog poop off the floor with.
WHAT I DO: "Climb to the top of the highest building with a ledge, walk out on a bridge, find a gas oven, buy razor blades, a 38, ammo and a hungry pit-bull and end it all in hail of regret as to why I spent the last twenty years of my life with a Sharpie and a jumbo pack of Bounty only to have you dismiss my effort as less than poop.
Ah, my second fiction novel is on a few rolls of Scotts 1000 sheets, wanna read that?
Okay, so Ms. Majestic QOTKU Ma'am Sharkiness, this whole "Look till you find a book in your category..." thing--you seem to imply here that you're looking for comp titles on a query. Are you saying we need comp titles, or does this only apply if we decide to list comp titles? It seems to me, if you honestly can't think of a comp title, you shouldn't list comps at all. Better to say nothing and let the agent think, "Oh, cool--this sounds like The Exorcist meets Romeo and Juliet!" than to risk an instant form rejection, is it not? Yes, comps can be helpful. But so can nailing the correct genre, and you've told us that calling our Speculative Fiction "Sci-Fi" isn't a deal-breaker. What gives? Ma'am. :)
Janet, you are my queen no matter what you hear when I say it. I hope my eventual agent can handle that. *sigh*
Coffee time I suppose.
"Your novel isn't a novel, it's a smear of crap, scribbled on a piece of paper towel no one would even use to clean dog poop off the floor with." (2Ns)
I can hear Janet revising her form rejection template now... :)
And, Carolynn Amen to all that
2Ns: haha. High form this morning.
But, Miz Sharque, if I write that I am a published author, name a non-fiction book and my publisher, can't the agent I'm querying just assume that my non-fiction publisher does not do fiction?
And following on what AJ Blythe wrote....wouldn't the QOTKU like to start with the U.S.? This year?
The strike throughs are always my favorite part of a post!
Agents are from Venus, writers are from Mars. Some writers are from Carkoon.
There are very few books about the American Civil War and...okay, okay, the county library has fewer volumes than there are Civil War books but it's a small county.
Like Lisa, I'm wondering about a previous nonfiction publication. I wrote a college textbook 24 years ago, published by Wiley (a highly respected publisher in the field). There was no agent involved, as is typical for that sort of deal. When I query my novel, I would assume no need to explain what happened with my nonfiction agent, since there was no such person, or why I'm not trying to place my novel with a textbook publisher. I still think it would be worthwhile to mention that earlier publication since it shows that I can write coherent sentences, finish a project on time, work with an editor and copy editor, and so on. But maybe not? Is an old nonfiction publication completely irrelevant and not worth wasting precious query words on?
BTW, for those getting anxious about contest results, please note that for the backward poetry contest on December 15, 2011, Janet didn't get around to posting the results until January 8, 2012! So, patience, folks... :)
Have we ever considered having a Casual Results Day, where we all stay in our jammies or sweat pants, keep hitting refresh for the contest results and then spill coffee on our laptops? Oh, wait - that's how we regularly do this... never mind.
S.D., I actually ordered new pajama bottoms just for this reason. My old ones were hopelessly coffee stained. Also, I am steeling myself for next query round. That also involves obsessively hitting refresh button on email. Like Carolynn, when rejection comes in "This is not a fit for me" or equivalent. I hear "you suck- get away from me." So new jammer bottoms, more coffee, and a touch of something-something for courage.
So in my query letter I include "I've been published with Carkoon Press", and Her Sharkness looks it up. She learns it's a small but reputable Small Press whose clientele are mostly unagented, and lookie there, she finds some of my books.
Not every quality publication happens with the hand of an agent. However, now that I have a few books out with Carkoon Press, the question isn't so much, "Can I write", but "How well do I sell?" I've got a bit more pressure on me than a debut novelist has.
(Having a few good stars next to my books on Amazon also helps.)
It's like going to Oktoberfest and trying to choose which beer to get. You ask your mate, "Should I get some Lobrau?"
Either your mate will say, "Dunno. never tried it." You might grab a mug and give it a go. Or he'll say, "Tried it, wasn't impressed." What are the chances of you getting a mug? Much lower.
But if your mate says, "Loved Lobrau," while sipping a stein, you might either get a mug for yourself or you might choose to try the Heibrau brew also put out by the same company. Obviously they do good beer.
I love it here! Like a cool steady wind after a year in the doldrums. Now we're moving!!
Also, Janet posted an amazing quotation on her Facebook page, if people have not seen it. About books and spider webs.
Just signed up for Janet's newsletter. At last, I can find out when the next Gary Corby novel will be released from somewhere other than Amazon... ;) [Yes, that was a passive-aggressive wrist/fin slap.]
THE SINGER FROM MEMPHIS comes out May 17th, btw.
Ya'll are hilarious. Honestly, Carolynn, I look forward to your comments almost as much as I look forward to Janet's posts. :)
Colin, I don't think the point was that you need comp titles. I think the point was that if you think your book is the perfectly unique little snowflake the likes of which have never even been thought of before, you probably haven't read enough about your subject. And if you haven't read enough, then you probably shouldn't be writing about it.
I think the brightest warning flag there is the tendency to assume. If an agent can find a book with roughly the same subject as yours within a cursory google search, then you're assuming that your work is unique. That's indicative of two potential issues: arrogance and/or laziness.
Maybe it's neither. Maybe you really just think that your novel about great white sharks chomping on sunbathers in the Pacific is a totally different book than the novel about hammerheads munching on surfers in the Atlantic. But then you're spending your time explaining why your novel is unique instead of saying what your novel is actually about.
On the issue of subjects, for what I say, what you hear -- what taxonomic level can writers assume the agent is operating at? So, taxonomy, the classification from specific to general. Bio refresh: genus, species, family, order, class, phylum, kingdom...Take the common house cat:
As it relates to queries, I'll use a personal example. I said in OP from earlier this week that there was almost no current fiction about Cambodia. Janet replied that there were six books. We had two different understandings of the subject. I was at the species level, i.e. "books set in 2016 Cambodia in which the Khmer Rouge try to return", while I think Janet replied more at the more general Phylum level, i.e. "books about Cambodia".
Without understanding people's taxonomic assumption about a subject, seems like confusion/lack of understanding could arise.
I think Robert Earl Keen said my reply best.
I remember my Christmas present from the Queen last year. That was when she said that when she rejected a manuscript it wasn't worth what could be scraped off of used toilet paper.
I am one of those scrapings.
I realize that I a fool when first I queried. It wasn't the first time, nor will it be the last time, that I played the fool. But even with the massive amount of knowledge I acquired from this blog I will not re-query here.
That doesn't mean that I will never query it just gave me incentive to do it right when I get there.
Craig's Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdnP4XsfUzI
Great post, Janet. There are definitely two languages being spoken. As Sherry says, Venus and Mars, but I beg to differ. Writers are from Venus and agents are from Mars. It's the whole Venus rules the arts, while Mars goes into battle. We write and agents step up to the plate for us.
Then there's Janet who does both very well.
Her Grace, when you're at the Oktoberfest, forget the Löbrau, stick to the Bitburger Pils. (You'll be able to drink more.)
Her Grace, when you're at the Oktoberfest, forget the Löbrau, stick to the Bitburger Pils. (You'll be able to drink more.)
I'd say skip all of the festbier 'cause its not that good. I preferred the hefeweissbier from side spot at Oktoberfest last year to the actual beer in the main tents. Augustiner was a favorite although we spent more time in the Hofbräu's tent.
Having been to Oktoberfest, I'd skip it in the future and just head to the Bamburg Beer Trail. Although it's worth seeing Oktoberfest once.
What you say: Can't get to contest results til Wednesday. Wait, make that Thursday.
What I hear: Somebody had a liiiiiiiittle too much scotch while "editing" over the weekend and the hangover lasted longer than expected.
What you should take away: Janet, it's ok. You don't have to spend 24/7 on this blog helping writers not your own. You're entitled to "edit" once in a while.
Colin: When Ms Sharkiness says 'Look till you find a book in your category', I hear: Don't say your book is a special snowflake that no one in the universe has ever thought of. Even if it is, because I will prove you wrong, anyway." What I do: I do NOT put in a query letter that my book is so unique, they'll have to build a whole new shelf at the bookstore just for it alone. I might think that, but I don't put it in the query letter.
(For the record: I don't really think that. Especially because no book store is going to build a shelf for a book in a genre all its own, and if it doesn't fit somewhere on a bookstore shelf, book stores won't sell it.)
I find the question about a previously published textbook interesting. Just yesterday, I was helping a friend of mine with his query letter, and he mentioned a textbook he wrote. He didn't give its name or publisher or even subject, but he gives his area of expertise: engineering. Which is relevant for a hard science fiction novel, so I left it in. I didn't insist he include title or publisher for the textbook, though, simply because it's a completely different category, and as Celia said, one where agents aren't as involved. He has never had an agent before, by the way, so he's not holding that back. His query does mention the (unagented) SF novel he had published with a small press.
One question that I hemmed and hawed over: He does have some fiction in a different genre that he collaborated with someone with, and that they have self-published. He doesn't mention them in his query letter. My suggestion for him was to only mention them if they sold well. If they didn't sell quite well, I told him to make sure he told an agent about them when they offer representation, but I didn't think they needed to be in the query. He's already said he's not a 'debut author' by mentioning his previously-published SF novel, and the self-published books are published under a pseudonym with a collaborator in a completely different genre, so there won't be competition between the two of them. Janet, would it be wrong to not mention them in a query, as long as his future agent is aware of them before taking him on?
I know, I know. Let's get hyperspecific, shall we? But I'd like to know if I gave him some really bad advice.
What you wrote (condensed version): Make a bold statement and I'm going to fact check until Google/Amazon/even the Library of Congress beg for mercy.
What I read: I can't believe I have put every single stinkin' thing I know out on Query Shark and STILL. This.
Donna: Love it!
BJ: It's the fever talking. :)
Oh, dear. I had no idea my query was saying so much about me. I am a published author of non-fiction, and said so. It never occurred to me that the agent would think I self-published. A Google search would reveal several top-drawer publishers; it never occurred to me that an agent would think I got in a bar fight with my agent.
I had no agent; my books were works-for-hire. I was asked to write them by a book packager who placed them with big houses. Should I have explained all this in my 250-word query? Or say nothing at all about my publishing history?
So just to be clear Janet, this is in context of your agent site not QueryShark, correct?
Just want to make sure that I was not in the: "Your not getting better" zone and that's why I haven't seen a response in a month or two.
I don't want to query an agent who has already said no thank you. That would drive an agent up the wall. Or they would just create a mail rule to delete your queries whenever they came in.
If you could have worked in the five key words in this week’s contest I would have voted your lead comment today as the winner.
Celia and InkStainedWench,
It never occurred to me an agent would wonder about what happened to my agent on my academic books. Like you, I dealt directly with publishers. The only time I pitched my novel (not my academic books) at a conference, an agent asked me who the publishers were. My answer just rambled on since the companies were being bought and sold so frequently.
I’ve loved Robert Earl Keen since his first album. Listening to him on YouTube now.
Craig and Joseph Snoe, I'm excited to find a few other REK fans here. I've also been a fan for years.
He's playing a show with Lyle Lovett about two hours away from me next week, but it's a terrible day for me. Seeing just the two of them (and four guitars between them) would be amazing.
I did see Hayes Carll in an acoustic show a few months ago so I'll have to be happy with that.
Do you really have a rejection key? Because that would be so cool. Can we see a pic? Does it only work on queries or could it be used on all of life's irritations? (asking for a friend)
Also, I signed up for your mailing list. I'm telling you, it was a tough decision. I need more email like I need fewer hours in my day. But then I remembered all the conversations we've had over here on this topic and I figured if there's anyone I can trust not to send me worthless spammy email, it's got to be you. Please don't prove me wrong.
I had great seats to Lyle Lovett and Vince Gill two or so weeks back(just the two of them in a talk and alternate songs show). The night before that I saw Billy Joe Shaver for the first time. And that Sunday afternoon I caught Andrew Duhon Trio at a house show. A fun weekend.
The first time I saw Robert Earl Keen was as the opening act for Nanci Griffith's Last of the True Believers album release show.
Joseph, I saw Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt perform together once in a similar format (just the two of them alternating songs and talking). It was a blast.
I've seen REK pretty much everytime he's come through Oregon since about 2001. My favorite was his show at the zoo. It's always amazing to see how many Texas flags and the sheer amount of A&M shirts that show up.
I'm hoping there's some naughty bits in the new email extravaganza.
I caught Lyle and John too. Unfortunately they both talked way too much and sang way too little, That was the only time I've been disappointed in a Lyle Lovett show.
Quick Lyle Story: The Nanci Griffith show I mentioned earlier occurred soon after Lyle announced his engagement to Julia Roberts. His first record was being acclaimed everywhere. He was high flying. On one of Nanci Griffith's songs, Lyle and a female singer walked onstage to sing harmony. When the song was over they walked off stage. They were never introduced or thanked or named. I may have been one of the few people in the audience who even recognized him.
If you are pitching a LGBT fiction piece, how do you suggest conveying that in a query without without sexual undertones, especially in humor?
Actually, what you want to do is write the one unique never-been-done-before book within your particular genre.
To use Kae Bell's example, of all the books about Cambodia, nobody else has written a book in which the Khmer Rouge try to return in 2016. (That we know of. I'm not familiar with literature about Cambodia.)
This is called a twist. This is what they mean by a fresh and original idea. This is what readers look for--something in a beloved genre that hasn't been done.
A few years ago I thought I'd done something new and fresh and original with a magic-laced Regency Romance, only to find out Mary Robinette Kowal had just done that, and probably did a better job than I did. *shrug*
It's one thing to have an idea that nobody's ever done before. It's completely another to have a genre that nobody's ever done before. To further the biology analogy (because this semester I'm studying astrobiology and this stuff's stuck in my head), everything is evolved from something. Even genres. Nobody is going to spontaneously generate a new genre. You might start to evolve one out of another, but it will take more than one author and more than one book.
There are no special snowflakes. There are those one strange phenotypes due to genetic mutations.
"If you don't have a librarian, you haven't read enough books to even think about writing one, let alone querying."
Had I never heard of you or had I never read another word of yours, oh queen, I would love you for this sentence alone.
On another note, I would have bet anything agents' keyboards all had rejection keys.
The Affordable Shark Act:
1. A well-stocked library, being necessary to the education of a free state, the responsibility of the people to keep and read books shall be enforced monthly.
2. Every member of the Known Universe is required to purchase one book per month from the Shark Insurance Marketplace (hereinafter referred to as the Sharketplace).
3. The only books qualified for the Sharketplace are those repped by FinePrint Literary Management.
4. If you cannot afford at least one shark-repped book a month, your neighbor will be required to buy them for you.
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