Thursday, May 05, 2016

Interesting you should ask

Last Tuesday I posted an example of a particularly ineffective third party query and Colin Smith asked under what circumstances third parties might actually be effective.  His example:

But that doesn't exclude the possibility of getting help if offered? For example, say I run into Lee Child at some future Bouchercon (in the book room, of course):
"Hey, are you the Colin Smith who writes flash fiction?" 
I nod sheepishly because, you know, it's Lee Child so my brain has seized (this happened to me for real when I met Colin Baker, the Sixth Doctor--but that's another story). 
"Oh, I loved that one you wrote for A-to-Z... um... 'Used to Be Bad' was it? With the ice box?" 
Sheepish nod. And a grin. 
"Are you working on a novel? If so, here's my email. Send it to me when it's done and I'll put in a good word with my agent." 
Wonderful Bouchercon staff hurry to scrape me off the floor.

Okay, clearly I write fantasy now. But does that kind of thing happen? If YOU, dear Shark, were the agent Mr. Child contacted, would you say, "Sorry, Mr. Reacher--I mean Mr. Child--but I must see a query first!" or would you immediately put my ms at the top of your reading list?

I realize this is a very unusual situation, and it's not the same as the situation you wrote about because you KNOW Lee Child. But I'm curious what level of familiarity there needs to be with a third party before you would bypass the query and read a ms.

Hmmm... I wonder if I could have Lee Child riding away on a dragon...? :) 

If Lee Child sent me an email saying he'd read and liked your book,  I'd read the book when the author sent it.  Notice: when the author sent it. If Lee sent it, I'd ask for a direct submission.

Interestingly enough he has sent me writers: twice. I sold both books.

Recently another publishing acquaintance wrote to me about a book she loved. I asked her to have the author send a query and the ms.  Notice again: the author to send the query and ms.

And my friend was right. I did love the book. And signed it.

An editor gave me a heads up that she'd read and loved a manuscript and told the author to query me directly. I kept an eagle eye on the incoming queries to make sure I spotted the author's query.

I did like it a lot, but I wasn't the right agent, so reluctantly passed.

Here's the take away from this:

1. I knew all these people. In Lee Child's case I knew his writing (which I love and admire a lot) and his taste in books.  We don't always agree on every title, but books he likes I generally like too. And I was (still am) thrilled to bits that a book I sent him with "you gotta read this" he liked AND talked about too.

2. None of these people told me they were sending to a select group of agents. They were sending to me, and me alone.

3. None of these people appeared to have a stake in the outcome. More than anything, paying someone to query bothers me. It doesn't cost money to query me. Anyone who starts making it cost money is not someone I care to work with, even indirectly.  Writers have enough challenges in their careers without someone adding barriers without adding value. I don't mind if authors pay for expertise, or even for query letter help, but paying someone to send an email is money wasted.

If someone offers you help akin to that described by the author of "Lee Child at Boucheron" (CarkoonPublishing: 2017) here's what you need to find out before saying yes:

1. Does the person offering to help you actually KNOW any of the agents. I'm going to define know pretty loosely for me because I know a lot of you without having met you.  If a regular blog reader like Amy Schaefer said "hey, this book is terrific" I'd pay attention. I know Amy. I know her writing. Same with a lot of you who read and comment here.

The gold standard here is they both know and have worked with the agent. That includes clients and editors. "I read her blog" and "I met her at a conference" aren't even close.

2. Is the person telling you to do something that sounds iffy? Jason Magnason's comment on Thursday about a lady offering help on queries who said "ignore the guidelines, they're just for show" is a good example.

I've said before, I'll say again now: the query guidelines are to help you present your work in the way most likely to get me to read it. You're welcome to ignore them if you want, but the chances of your work being read DROP like a rock when you do. Anyone who tells you differently is just plain wrong.

Have confidence in your instincts. If you're reading this blog, chances are you know a lot more than you think you do. If something sounds weird, fire up the Googlemobile and find out what agent blogs have said on the topic.

3. Is money involved? This is a huge red flag. In all instances I cited above, no one was paid to refer the writers to me.

4. The person offering to help actually knows you and has read your work. Genuine help is like the in-house buzz we talked about on  Donnaeve's book last week.  Someone who has read your book and loved it, and must, simply MUST, tell people about it.  That kind of enthusiasm can't be bought, rented or purloined. We all know it when we see it. I've loved books I knew I was the wrong agent for, and sent the author to more suitable agents WITH that kind of enthusiastic endorsement. We all know that kind of thing when we see it.

Don't settle for anything less.


nightsmusic said...

If I can do something myself, why would I pay someone else to do it? Granted, I could replace my toilet, but right now, I have a husband to do that however, though I could replace it, I might choose not to. That though, is not my person, my baby, my heart and soul and frankly, it's scary enough to hand it over to an agent that loves it within an inch of itself, but to pay someone else to get it to that agent is just wrong. I can do that for free and quite possibly, get better results.

They used to call people like the "I can get your book sold for you," Snake Oil Salesmen. I don't think much has changed there...

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Years ago I wrote a book with a format very much like a book represented by Awesome-Agent. The format fit me to 2Ts.
Short time later I read a blockbuster which I loved, because, (spin-my-wheels), same agent. I contacted the blockbuster author and asked what AA was like to work with.

BA loved, loved, loved AA.
Use my name BA said. Your book will have to stand on its own but my name may get you to the head of the queries (to be read) list.

Sent my "perfect" query and first chapter. Four hours later a reply and first five page line edit. I was so, so thankful. Got me where I had to be back then. And even though the book wasn't ready I graciously thanked AA and BA.

Backdoors sometimes make a better entrance.

Anonymous said...

I was shocked when I entered the writing world and found out that the "get in price" was 0 dollars.

Now that I know how the system works, Caveat Emptor to anyone who is considering paid for services for new authors.

I trust Janet Reid, she is a debut authors best adviser.

Why, because she has been in the business long enough to know better, and successful enough that her work speaks for itself. Oh and also because she, like many/most/all agents in the business don't charge you a fee up front.

Janet Reid, a guide through the real world of publishing.

Colin Smith said...

Thank you so much for this clarification, Janet. I get it. There is no bypassing the query/ms submission. Even with a Jack Reacher recommendation and a bottle of whisky. Minor detail follow-up: Would the hypothetical me mention the Lee Child endorsement in my query trusting that he has contacted, or will contact, you to let you know how much he loved my work?

And for those who are curious, I wrote LEE CHILD AT BOUCHERCON during my Carkoon exile last year. It took six months to find an agent at FuzzyPrint willing to take it on. I tell you, that place has gone downhill since LynnRodz left. They kept asking me where the naked dinosaurs were. Took me a month to catch on they were talking about my novel. I had to add a character who has an uncomfortable romantic liaison with a stuffed triceratops to get someone to even read it.

As Janet says, if you bypass the submission guidelines, you just make life harder for yourself. :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I have been introduced to an agent through another writer represented by that same agency. It is as Janet said. The writer emailed her agent about my work, and I was asked to submit directly. I was made to follow all the same submission guidelines as anyone approaching this agent. At this point, I had never written a query before so the query was terrible. My pages saved me. In this case, the agent was not open to unsolicited queries at the time so this was a nice perk to get the introduction.

The agent did not much like fantasy so he passed it on to one of the new junior agents at the agency. This resulted in the R&R I talked about here. In the end, the junior agent moved from fiction to non-fiction and ended up passing. Still, this is a nice way to get an introduction and cost nothing. This kind of networking or the Lee Child example in Colin’s fevered head is nothing like that inane 3rd party query Janet described last week. This is more like networking and it does not absolve the writer from querying and preparing their own pages.

Although, I must say, by now, I am sure Lee Child is well-aware of Colin’s brilliant flash fiction abilities, and if he will finish his full length book, well, you never know. Stranger things have happened. The Reef is, after all, a wondrous and glorious place.

Colin Smith said...

Elise: That's very nice of you to say, but I doubt Mr. Child has read a word I've written (though I have talked to his brother). That doesn't bother me. After all some of my A-to-Z flash stories carry the endorsement of Janet Reid Flash Contest Winners Celia Reaves, Elise Goldsmith, and John Frain, as well as STBNYTBA Donna Everhart, AND peerless purveyor of Civil War perfection, Julie Weathers. That's enough to put a spring in one's step. :D

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

My local writer friend told me to send The Last Song to her agent. He rejected it, kindly, and invited me to think of him for his next project. I know that whole "think of me next time" is a "nice" thing to say....but he also didn't have to. So I always take that as genuine. Even when it's a magazine form, for a short story rejection, because sometimes they have a form that doesn't say that. And this is as far as I let my neuroses take me on that topic.

Lennon Faris said...

Seems there's a fine but definite line here. I think I hang about a mile back, so there's no danger of crossing it.

OT - Jason I just realized your name rhymes. That's kinda funny. Up until now I've always read it as 'Jason MAG-nuh-son' or something like that in my head. Guess I really do need to start reading things out loud like the Shark suggested!

Colin - will copies of LCAB be available in the US? Does this change your debut status?

Colin Smith said...

Lennon: Since the only agent on my list has read it ("You have a list??!"--still makes me chuckle), I'd say my chances of becoming published period in the US are pretty much shot. ;)

Donnaeve said...

Clarifying and answering Colin's question from last week is so important. A situation where you have some unknown entity schmoozing an agent on behalf of some unsuspecting writer is as bad (to me) as a vanity press, where yet another unsuspecting individual forks over a boatload of money to have their book published.

And to this comment from QOTKU, "That kind of enthusiasm can't be bought, rented or purloined." SO TRUE. It is priceless and I am so very grateful.

OT: For the sites I got around to who were doing A-Z, ya'll definitely stepped up to the plate and I was duly impressed at the diligence shown and the stories told. I had considered joining in, but I was close to The End on my latest WIP. It paid off in that I did get to The End this past Sunday. :)

Julie Weathers said...

I've told the story before, but maybe it bears repeating.

Diana Gabaldon wrote a "practice" novel in the wee hours of the morning some years ago. She wasn't finished, but she asked a friend on Books and Writers who was a published author how a person goes about getting an agent.

Well-known author who had read excerpts of the novel Diana was working on said, "Let me talk to my agent."

Agent wanted a brief bio, synopsis, and chapters.

Problem, Outlander wasn't finished and Diana is a chunk writer. She wasn't really sure how it was going to end and didn't have it in chapter form yet, but she decided to contact the agent anyway before something happened to close the door.

She hammered out a 28-page synopsis of what she thought might happen, sent some chunks of the book and pointed out where they would fit in on the synopsis, sent some samples of her writing for Disney, and bio. Synopsis, of course, turned out nothing like the finished book, but it was interesting.

The agent read it and said sure, I'm interested. The rest as they say, is history.

Fast forward some years, and one of my partners has a BAN (Big Ass Novel) that isn't done, but it's getting toward the end. She mentions on B&W she might start looking for an agent soon. She's posted a few excerpts of her book on the forum, so people know the level of writing and they know her expertise as she's an active member. Best-selling author says, I'll contact my agent.

Agent loves BAN even though it isn't finished yet and partner doesn't really know how it will end. They talk a few times and he says he'll take it if she'll do this and this. In the end she decides she doesn't want to do that and they part amiably.

Second well-known agent says yes, he likes it as it is. Just finish it and let's get this done. Here's my contract. Obviously, this doesn't happen very often.

Enter Julie. I queried for a while and partner had offered to introduce me to her agent. I reluctantly submitted as some agents intimidate me. I wish I'd submitted to him first. He declined, but sent a detailed list of what worked and what was wrong. He loved the writing, but the story had flaws he couldn't get past.

I'll keep him in mind for the next one and someday go back and rewrite Far Rider using his advice. I wish I had put him at the top of the list instead of the bottom before I burned through all the other agents.

Some well-known historical authors have read parts of Rain Crow and like it. I'll probably approach them when the time comes and ask if they'll read the finished product and introduce me to their agent.

Maybe. I hate asking anyone for anything. Anyway, if you have a genuine contact, it certainly doesn't hurt to make use of them without "using" them.

And I haven't had coffee yet, so I most likely have missed the whole point of the post. If so, just pretend I'm the crazy aunt who's always talking about the time the elephants came to town and ate her pearls.

Donnaeve said...

"If so, just pretend I'm the crazy aunt who's always talking about the time the elephants came to town and ate her pearls."

Sneeyort! Julie Weathers. You are one piece of work. I don't remember that story, but even w/out your morning coffee, you've managed to tell us a story that fits the post. Damn. What can you do after coffee???

I'll sit here and wait, hoping for another Julie story.

Unknown said...

Reading all these posts is like watching a not-paid-for-view Special Event on Everything Books.

They offer some extra courage and wisdom for deciding when a story is ready to shove off and in which direction it should sail.

Tough enough when a writer is prone to seasickness.

Brigid said...

Congrats, Donna! The End is a lovely place to reach.

Claire said...

This is OT, but I forgot to post it on the relevant day... Janet, I know you have more than enough on your plate as it is, but I wonder if some day it would be possible to do a post on how you go about judging the flash fiction contests? I'd be fascinated to know what process you go through as you whittle them down to the final one or two.

Unknown said...

Hey guys, so going forward you're all going to have to pay me to read this blog for you and condense the info into a single sentence which I will email to you. Send PayPal money to CarkoonMiddleMenAssociation@CoL.comma

Today's post? Janet says middle men are the best and you should hire them for stuff you might otherwise do yourself.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Captain BS a middleman? Hahahaha. You ain't no middleman, you is up front with rest of us Yahoo's. WHERE's my check?

Colin Smith said...

Hey, I can summarize comments in a single line for you, if you like. For example:

Brian Schwarz: Janet--please send me to Carkoon so I can take over the running of FuzzyPrint!!!


John Frain said...

Some days 'tis a blessing just to hang around this neighborhood. Nice post, JR. Thank you.

nightsmusic said...

And now, for something completely different:

ThrillerFest's PitchFest is Thursday, July 7th at the Grand Hyatt in NYC.

Just sayin'...

Sherry Howard said...

A tiny bit off topic, but not completely. Does anybody suffer from query hesitation-that fear of actually sending the query you think is ready? I'm asking for a friend.

Janet Reid said...

Oh look! Claire wants to go to Carkoon!!

Kregger said...

I'm going to count myself as a Reider of many years, so yes I personally know better.

I'm not including all of the naive woodland critters looking for a leg up and who don't know better.

But, consider those people whose hearts race at delay and dread the day when, dare I say it, their fifth form rejection hits their in-box. This global apocalypse accompanies the concomitant stop and inertial consequences of the world stopping it's spin. What will happen when they get their sixth rejection?

Can anyone imagine these near-do-wells trying a backdoor approach to an HTA (Heart Throb Agent)by essentially querying authors on the HTA's client list? Or worse yet, blindly sending them a manuscript?

I can hear the grinding gears now. All I have to do, they think, is to get the attention of an author and they will pander my MS to my HTA.

Most likely these would be those same desperadoes willing to pay for a third party query without the addition of a single malt or those who foolishly claim "the Call" in a leveraged play for representation.

As the wife says when watching a movie or TV promo, "Aren't they giving people ideas?"

Hopefully no one giving anyone ideas. At least not without the inclusion of rare or expensive spirits.

True confession: Since other Reiders have confessed, I almost did this when younger, like when I was in my forties, but without the nefarious reasons. Robert Jordan is as big a writer-hero as it gets for me. When he died, I wanted to share with his widow what he meant to me-my MS that he inspired me to write. I wish I had...I'm glad I didn't...dodged that bullet.


E.M. Goldsmith said...

Sherry, oh yeah. Doing a rewrite now after a total melt down, but I had a ready query for two months. Did not send one. Which is probably good since I am putting book through another rewrite.

It's frightening to put your project out there because a lot of times you have one shot with each agent with each project. I will have to go ahead and hit the query train again or I will remain an undiscovered debut author. But I get it.

Colin Smith said...

Claire: Probably the best Carkoon-free way to get insight into Janet's process is to visit the contest result articles from, say, the past year. That's about when Janet started commenting on the finalists, indicating why she picked them.

You can find all the contests linked in the contest spreadsheet which you will find in the Treasure Chest.

BJ Muntain said...

2. Is the person telling you to do something that sounds iffy? Jason Magnason's comment on Thursday about a lady offering help on queries who said "ignore the guidelines, they're just for show" is a good example.

It's really sad when it's well-published authors giving advice like this - authors that others look up to. At my very first conference, such an author gave a workshop on getting published. "Ignore guidelines", he said. "Don't waste your time personalizing query letters. Just send the same thing to every agent on your list - a query letter and five pages. Basically ignore all the advice you see online, because I know what I'm talking about."

By that time, I'd read a lot on querying and the publishing industry. What he said grated on my soul. Maybe I'm just not one to so casually throw out the rule book. I lost a lot of respect for that author that day. I've heard other writers say how great a teacher he is, but I just can't trust him enough to give him any more of my money.

Captain BS: You must really like dino porn if you want to work for FuzzyPrint.

Sherry: That fear is normal. The thing is, if you let fear rule your life, you'll never do anything. Think of it this way: There are hundreds of agents out there. If you send your query to 10 agents at a time, there are still hundreds left to query. You are not burning bridges by sending a good query. Yes, you will receive rejections. Accept them as proof of your bravery, and keep querying.

Julie Weathers said...


I've related the incident at Surrey with Diana Gabaldon and I visiting about my son and the guy who decided his fascinating question about the state of publishing was worth interrupting the conversation.

I wasn't going to bother her as she had been surrounded by a pack of adoring fans, but she saw me and broke away to come visit.

I've seen in person people fawn their way into an author's circle, hoping to gain some advantage. Such was this fellow's ham-handed attempt throughout the conference.

Shelby Foote describes meeting William Faulkner here and his relationship. Shelby totally set up the meeting, but they later became friends. They were friends because he didn't want anything from Faulkner. Therein lies the secret, I think. Authors, agents, publishers all have people currying favor for what they can get. How many people just treat them like people?

There's a difference, in my addled opinion, in expressing genuine admiration to an author. Nothing wrong with that at all. Years ago I contacted an author and just told her how much I enjoyed her books. To my surprise, she emailed me back and we developed an odd kind of relationship that lasted a long time. Sometimes she would just email out of the blue to see how I was doing.

Julie Weathers said...


Every single time. Even when I truly do feel I've done all I can do to make everything the best it can be.

You just have to do your best and hit send.

Colin Smith said...

Stephen King's advice in ON WRITING concerning how you get an agent is so outdated. If you want to know how to get an agent, ask an agent. That's why you're here, isn't it? Certainly don't ask writers... what do we know?? ;)

Scott G said...

There really is no substitute for hard work. Work hard writing your novel and work hard querying your novel. If you're thinking about taking a shortcut on the road to accomplishing either of those tasks, then you will no doubt be disappointed.

Claire said...

Well, it's been raining a lot here. I hear Carkoon is lovely this time of year... :)

Thanks, Colin - I've been lurking here for a good while and love reading the contest entries and results. I was fascinated by the comment someone posted last week on the process of selecting short stories for an anthology (the 'dog named Fred' post) and would love to find out Janet's approach. But I'm happy to continue to live in un-exiled ignorance!

Unknown said...

At the risk of sounding bat shite crazy, what the heck does Stephen King know about getting an agent? For that matter, what does any writer know about it? Thinking of Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail, if you chose wisely - you only chose once. And if you didn't? Well I'm not sure if want that advice.

Getting an agent is sort of like finding that special someone. Maybe you were friends first. Maybe you weren't. Maybe you met at a bar. But however it happened, giving someone else advice on how to match exactly what you did won't likely have a positive result.

The circumstances under which any author got any agent are purely individual to that author. Ask Hugh Howey or EL James and they'll tell you to self publish first. Veronica Roth would say go to a conference and interrupt an agent after they just got done speaking to pitch them (if I remember her story right).

Agents are certainly the de facto resource for this info. And you still need timing and maybe a bit of luck or destiny. Any other source is sort of like asking Ross from friends for marital advice.

Colin Smith said...

You're welcome, Claire. If you read between the lines, Janet does give away quite a bit about her reading and filtering process in those comments.

And for Carkoon to seem lovely any time of year, you have to be living in Hell. Literally. I hear Carkoon Towers, the nicest resort spot, is usually visited by a Mr. B. L. Z. Bubb ("Bubba" to the staff) every July. ;)

Panda in Chief said...

At my recent Mentor program weekend (you know, the one where I totally ignored the query guidelines and popped the question to my mentor, now my agent) one of the other mentors gave a talk on writing and submitting queries. (Heather Petty, I'm talking about you) Much of what Heather told us came from this very blog, and several times in the handout, read the words FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES ( which she made us read out loud)

The only reason my agent said yes, is that we had been working together for six months and apparently liked both what I am doing as well as my reliability and work ethic, and thinks he may be able to sell it, or he wouldn't have said yes. The other thing he did was offer to read queries from anyone else in the program, and if he was not the right agent for that author, personally put the query in front someone else at the agency, even if they were officially not open to submissions at this time.

Not all conferences and learning opportunities are created equal, but with a little bit of research, you can find one that is right for you, that may both help you improve your writing and maybe open some doors for you. For any kid lit writers out there, I totally endorse the Nevada SCBWI mentor program, and would even if I hadn't ended up with an agent. I learned a truck load (I was going to say a shit load, but thought better of it) and met some wonderful writing peeps in the bargain. Plus the barbecue in Virginia City is amazing.

Julie and Colin, I would read your grocery lists if there wasn't anything else available to read by you all. Waiting waiting waiting and not at all patiently for Donna's book to arrive.

Unknown said...

Sherry, I hate that F-ing send button. Always I have big regrets two weeks later, when I figure out how to say something 'better.' But at some level the writing will out. Least that's my theory, and I'm sticking to it.

On topic, today Writer's Digest's spam generator spit out an advertisement for Authors Discovery (with no apostrophe) whatever that is. Feels suspect. Think I'm going to stick to working on my wip.

Julie Weathers said...


King hasn't had to worry about getting an agent for years. However, there are authors who do have good insight into how to get an agent because they've been through it.

At Surrey last year, and many conferences, there will be authors who talk about their journey to getting published. The value of this is the experience from the other side of the coin. Agents know how they look at queries. Authors know the trials of getting those novels and queries to the agents to look at.

It's a matter of perspective. Ask one women what she wants in a man and she might answer, "A romantic." The next woman might respond, "A bullet."

Julie Weathers said...


Oddly enough, genuine Chinese snake oil actually is effective on arthritis and inflammation. Cowboy Clark Stanley's snake oil, while he put on an impressive show, didn't actually have any snake oil in it. But it works! Yup, because his magic medicine show patent medicine had red pepper in it.

Complements of JW, repository of useless information.

John Frain said...

You better slow down or Janet's gonna start charging admission into the comments section. Whatever's the opposite of Carkoon, that's what this place has been today. Start to finish.

Well, assuming my comment doesn't finish it.

nightsmusic said...

Julie, I'll stick to Sloan's. Tried and true all of my life. Snake oil or no, it worked on the horses and it works on me! :)

Colin Smith said...

Sorry, John--unless Janet deletes this comment, it doesn't. :)

Julie: I was being a little melodramatic with my "what do we know?" But honestly, what writers share about querying is a) our personal experience, which is not necessarily going to be YOUR experience, and b) our research. We don't read people's queries as part of our job, nor do we craft submission guidelines, nor do we make any life-changing decisions based on queries people have sent us. The best we can do is offer aid and comfort to our cohorts in the trenches. Or the tank. Pick your metaphor. :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Colin, Carkoon Towers ?

Is there a casino ?

Is the owner of the casino a (so called) republican ?

I thought so.

Unknown said...

I’m tempted to recant my former statements after reading Julie’s brilliant thoughts on the subject, but being the Captain of BS, I’ll just tack those on as a caveat that strengthens my cause.

She’s right, of course. I guess my point is simply there is no set of magic steps that leads to the land of Agented Writers. There are many paths that authors take, all wrought with struggles usually independent and usually quite different from one another. And although I can give you relationship advice that you’ll likely empathize with (mostly the bits about my faults and foils), it probably will do little to help you find a wife/husband, other than to inspire a great deal of confidence, because at least it couldn’t be that bad. ;)

Much can be said about other writers stories. Perhaps it’s the straw that breaks the camels back and ushers you into action. Perhaps it has some lasting impact later on. For me, I read them because I enjoy knowing that there isn’t a perfect way. It’s more fun in my mind to think if the wind wasn’t blowing east and Amazing Author hadn’t been caught up in the latest Buttonwheezer saga, she wouldn’t have bumped into a shark, causing a flurry of papers, and her fantastic manuscript wouldn’t have ended up in sharky waters.

But again, Julie’s right. I surrender, especially at the risk of that bullet. :)

Amy Schaefer said...

Many years ago, a family friend -a young man just starting out on his own - worked in a bank. It wasn't where he wanted to be. It was indoors, for one thing, and he had always longed to be a farmer. But in post-war Europe, you a) took what you could get and b) did what your father told you to. So the young man worked in the bank. But the young man soon discovered that if he bought ice cream for his fellow clerks, those hard-working young women were quite happy to do his work for him while he gazed out the window and dreamed of winter wheat. This worked beautifully until, inevitably, the boss discovered the ice cream-for-work scheme, and our young man was given a brisk handshake and an escort to the door.

This third-party query debate reminds me of that story. A writer's job is to write, clearly and effectively. Yes, we would all rather focus on our Real Stories than a query, but you need to be able to explain and entice in a short format, too. YOU need to do that, not someone you hire. Writing a query is useful in the way the 100-word contests are useful - it forces you to pare your work to the bone. Pull out the essentials. Tell the reader (and yourself) what you are really talking about. I hate queries as much as the next girl, but I see their purpose and there is no way on Earth I'm going to hand someone an ice cream to write it for me. Take a genuine referral from a knowledgable party - yes. Give the entire process over to someone else because Idon'wanna - no way. This is my job and I love it. I'll do the writing.

Julie Weathers said...


The main ingredient in Sloan's is *drumroll* capsaicin...chili pepper. The original Clark Stanley's snake oil ingredient.

: )

Colin and Captain,

I'm not arguing with you at all. I'm just pointing out sometimes we need to hear from writers angels did not descend from on high to personally escort their masterpiece to the perfect dream agent. Well, I heard one agent relate a story like that and many times how brilliant he was and is and how the rest of us will have to struggle and fail, but that didn't happen in his case because he was such a genius.

Even with him that spurred me on. I did extensive research later due to his inspiring speech. I have some slightly used voodoo books if anyone is interested. Ignore the highlighted parts and notes.

Most authors, though, will not only give you good advice, but give you words to hang on to when you feel like your falling into the abyss of despair. We all need to realize writing is hard work even for best-selling authors. The giants walked the same path we're walking.

Anyway, I'm out before the Queen banishes me permanently.

Donnaeve said...

Snake Oil aside, anyone heard of Blue Emu? I swear by it. For sore muscles. It won't get you an agent.

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

(Dunno about Blue Emu, but His Grace is fond of Goanna Oil.)

Sherry asked about the Pre-Send Query Stagefright: "Does anybody suffer from query hesitation-that fear of actually sending the query you think is ready?"

Sure. We all fear that, because we are a visionary people. We draft this letter that, potentially, could change the direction of our lives. For a few moments, we look ahead and ponder on what it means should this letter succeed. We hestitate because we realise we haven't thoroughly analysed what we might do should the query letter do its job.

And fair enough.

BUT... One thing we must realise is that if this letter does bring about change, it won't be an immediate change without time to think. It will come slowly and with enough time for reflection and consideration.

AND... It's not like dropping our firstborn off the top of the Sears Tower. Once we are on our merry way, there are plenty of opportunities for us to chicken out if we so wish. So, knowing you have a safety net, go ahead and let the baby go.

THEN... there is the fear that our hopes and dreams are awaiting for us just around that query corner. Unless our query letter isn't ready enough to do its job.

Welcome to the vale of the Woodland Creature.

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

That said, when it comes to the query letter, it is best to send it off when you think it's the best it can be.

1. If it's the best you can make it, you can't make it any better (even if it needs to be better).
2. If you send it, your chances of getting picked up are slim. If you don't send it, your chances of getting picked up are none.
3. The only way of determining a query letter is effective is to send it. Send it to ten agents and see if any of them bite.

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

As for getting an agent by a non-traditional route, i.e.: friend-of-a-friend or other random chance, many of my successes (so far) in the publishing world came about by serendipitous chance. Right now, it seems to be the best method for success. The bad news is, you can't manufacture those kinds of chances. You can only recognise them when they come along and take advantage of them when they do.

nightsmusic said...

Julie, yes, I did. I still have a bottle from 1875. Earl's father came up with the formula during the civil war and Earl started peddling it in the last third of the 1800's. Foul smelling, but still more effective than anything else I've tried.

And that's my three and I'm outta here! :)

AJ Blythe said...

If you follow Writers Digests' "How I Got My Agent" column you'll soon realise there are many paths to landing an agent. I started reading it to learn more about the process; I now read it to keep reminding myself to grab every opportunity that presents itself because you just never know!

I've read stories that are traditional (submitted query), but there are just as many that come from recommendations, conference/workshop meetings, pitches, contests... the list is quite long.

Write hard, write well and be ready for anything!

Anonymous said...

Amy Schaefer, you shameful braggart. You get people to do your dirty-work for ice cream cones? You must be joking. Please tell me you didn't buy your maps for an ice cream cone. I like jousting with schmarmy but I don't want you to die. You didn't, right? You're not out in the middle of nowhere where oxygen is stored on a skiff, right. Waves not too big? If not, you have been drinking. I swear to god I mean no offense. Yikes. Shape-up or Ship-out, Amy.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, Amy. That wasn't nice. If you have been kid-napped by pirates just type three dots...

CynthiaMc said...

This reminds me of acting (yes, I know, everything does) but it's still true.

In the beginning you have to audition by the book (what works for most people and is accepted as the standard). If you are successful and start to become known, you begin to learn differences between companies, between directors, what they like and what they don't. You give them what you now know they like and hopefully they hire you. Then you keep giving them what they like and keep working. You don't sing "Tomorrow" to a director with a loaded gun if you want to live to see it. You don't say "I'll give her what she wants this time to get in the door and then do what I want."

And then there's that beautiful happenstance where a director you admire comes to a show you have the lead in and offers you a role that's on your dream list. Everyone talks about luck and lightning but it's really about honing your craft, being professional, being prepared.

Now I'm off to dream about Lee Child liking one of my books...or better yet writing me in one...and me playing me-not-me in the movie. Now that would be a good time! Unless I get killed. Never mind.

JEN Garrett said...

I've sometimes recommended agents or editors for books I critique - but I always make it clear that these are suggestions, I don't know them personally, and don't bother mentioning my name because they wouldn't know me from Jane Yolen (well, maybe they would, but only because they know Jane not me).

Sometimes I follow up with the author to see if they came to success. No one has yet, so I must not know as much as I think I do about the agents' and editors' tastes.