Thursday, December 01, 2016

Follow up to yesterday's post

In response to yesterday's post Dena Pawling had some follow up questions:

Janet sent out 12 emails, 6 to writers who are still waiting and 6 to writers who presumably waited a while and then received their response. Eight responded.

1. Of the four who did not respond, were they writers who were still waiting or had they already received their response?
JR: all of the non-responsers were writers who had heard back from me.
2. If the latter, what was the response they received?
JR: All of them were passes
3. Assuming for the sake of this question that the four did not respond because they didn't think you'd like their response, would their response have been the opposite of the ones who actually did respond?
JR: I'm not sure I understand this question.

4. Changing up the question and redirecting it back to Janet - How many ms did you simply not request for the reason that you lacked reading time?

 JR: zero. If I think something has merit I ask to see it. When I get behind on reading, I stop doing other things or put off doing things, but I don't ever just pass because of time.

The ONLY time this is not true is if I've requested the full, and the author writes to me that she has an offer and the time frame to reply is less than a week. It's VERY hard for me to find time to read things at the last minute.
5. If a 2/3 response rate from writers to agents' queries is typical, does that mean writers are more professional or less professional than the significantly-lower percentage response rate of agents responding to writer queries?
JR: More of course!

And as proof of that, here's one the emails I got in reply to my thank you for helping me out email:
 Glad to help. In fact, you could ask me 47 more questions and I don't think we'd be even yet.
Here's one to get you started in case you're stuck for ideas: "Would you like to sign our agency contract?"


Julie Weathers said...

I'm glad to see these follow ups.

Writers really need to learn to settle in for the long haul whether it be the actual work or the publishing process.

I was talking to Will, my youngest and the computer engineer, the other day about people wanting to rush things. He said, "It's like the theory if they estimate a job is going to take six engineers six months to complete. Hiring twelve engineers seldom means you're going to get the job done in half the time. Some things just take time. It's like being pregnant. One woman doing it for nine months is probably going to turn out great. Nine women doing it for one month, not so much."

I love the final response.

DLM said...

Baaahahahahaha! I adore that last message.

"The ONLY time this is not true is if I've requested the full, and the author writes to me that she has an offer and the time frame to reply is less than a week. It's VERY hard for me to find time to read things at the last minute."

This intrigues me. Of course, the encouragement to take a week and reach out to other agents with your material, if you get an offer, is pretty much unanimous. But this is illuminating. What if Janet's the best fit and the other agent is dubious? That would be painful.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I like that final response. Now if I could just write something that strikes a shark's fancy, perhaps I might ask the same question :)

Donnaeve said...

I think we can all agree that Dena is very good at her job. And I thought I had an analytical mind!

The follow up answers were great...and with that in mind, I'll take a stab at what Dena might have meant for #3.

I think she's speculating that the four who didn't respond didn't b/c you rejected their mss, and perhaps they're thinking you wouldn't like their response. Maybe they would have said something like "well, if you'd said you liked my work enough to sign me, then I'd have waited till the cows come home, but, no, you rejected me - after months of waiting, and I'd rather you have just read my stuff faster if it was going to be a rejection so I wouldn't have been left hanging so long with HOPE."

In other words...there's the possibility THESE writers would likely have answered differently and said they'd wished you'd been a Speedo Shark.

I'll be honest...if I'd been one of those writers who was rejected, and got an email from you I'd have had a moment of heart lock thinking you'd changed your mind. Although, I'm sure you put something in the subject line to swiftly squash any of that rekindled hope...?

Colin Smith said...

I'm with Diane, my intrigue piqued at your response to that question, Janet. If you just requested the ms, and the author sends it to you with the caveat that they've had an offer of rep and you only have a week to make a decision, you would pass? If you've requested the full, clearly you're interested. If I let the woodland creature wheels run, I might conclude that if I should get an offer of rep for my Shark Western before I have a chance to query you, I shouldn't bother, which I know isn't what you're saying. But you can see how one might draw that conclusion. How do you respond? Especially if I'm hoping to get a offer from you, but Agent Speedy just happened to be caught up and was able to read my ms immediately.

Colin Smith said...

Oh and Happy December everyone! Here we are for that final pull on the butt-end of 2016. A year many will want to forget, but history won't let them. :)

DLM said...

Colin, history is run by humans, and humans love nothing better than to forget. Oh, we'll keep wearing the lapel pins and so forth, and some will be unable to let go. But mostly, we forget. Or history wouldn't repeat itself.

Donna, I hadn't thought of that, but oww. However, I can say, I've gotten email from Janet and hope does not spring eternal. She's a charming correspondent. (Helps that I have a Gossamer to send to purr at her and be all bonky-headed.)

Colin Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colin Smith said...

Diane: Eventually, yes, I agree with you. But it usually takes a generation or two for historical amnesia to set in.

Dena Pawling said...

Donna is basically correct. #3 was a rhetorical question, meant to curtail any thought that since all 8 responses were the same, “take all the time you need”, that doesn't necessarily mean that's the answer everyone would have given. The 4 non-responders may have responded with “be quick about it” but decided to be non-responders so they didn't burn any bridges, because they thought you wouldn't like their responses.

Interesting that all of the folks still waiting for your response answered, but only 2 of the folks who had already heard from you answered. I can speculate until the cows come home on possible meanings [isn't that what writers do, ad nauseum?], but it is interesting to wonder whether the “burn your bridges” mentality affected the responses as well as the response rate.

>>I am STILL waiting for Janet to read my requested full. Janet is SUCH a slacker. What does she do all day long anyway???? Oh look! Here's an email from Janet! Sit down. Deep breaths. Ignore rest of the world. Opens email. What?????????? She's asking me a question that's NOT about my ms? No wonder she hasn't read it yet. Okay, well, let's see. Hmmmmmmm. She wants to know [for blog/research purposes only, so she says......] if, because she's SUCH a slacker, I'd rather that she just reject my ms?????????? “There's no downside to brutal honesty here. I'm genuinely curious.” Ummmmmm. Maybe this is a trick question? To see if I'm a good fit for her? Just in case, I'm sure NOT gonna say that her being SUCH a slacker is a bad thing. Ah, she gives me another option. Type response - “I'd prefer you take the time you need to give my ms a fair shot.” That was the correct answer, right? Right?????? I sure hope so. Hits send. Bites nails. But wait! Does this mean it will take ANOTHER 9 months for her to get back to me???? I could have baked TWO new humans in that time!! Does Janet make her clients wait this long for responses? Do I really want Janet as my agent???? Slaps face. Get a grip on yourself. Opens new window. Starts new manuscript.

Thanks for answering my questions!

Colin Smith said...

Dena: Regarding the dilemma of the disaffected respondent ("Janet just rejected me, do I answer honestly and potentially burn a bridge, or give the answer I think she wants to hear for the sake of keeping in her good books?")... these people are writers. Aren't writers supposed to be good with words? I'm sure I would bring all my writerly powers to bear to come up with a good way to be honest and tactful if I felt my answer is not what I think Janet expects. Just a thought... :)

french sojourn said...

DLM and Colin;

Sadly, however History is always written by the victors. I think it was Milan Kundera that wrote...and this is not even remotely verbatim...Prisons are the true theater of History. (Merde, I wish I could recall the quote.)

But none the less another great blog post to learn from.

DLM said...

I can see the self-tying knots Dena is talking about, but it seems like most folks who are even just a bit acquainted with The Shark would be able to see that she means it when she says she can take (indeed, prefers) honesty. This is not the daintiest buttercup in the meadow, ya know?

DLM said...

Hah - Hank, you might like a recent post I did on the damnatio memoriae. I have been quite steeped in revisionist and obliterationist history not only with my WIP, but in life, for a long time now ...

Okay, that's four, time for me to shut up shuttin' up. Ciao, all!

Donnaeve said...

To Dena's follow up, the inner dialogue part:

Hamster meet Wheel.



Colin Smith said...

Hank & Diane: I know this is straying from the topic, but I have to comment on "Sadly, however History is always written by the victors"--I've never been comfortable with this sentiment. It implies a suppression of information that, frankly, rarely ever happens. Maybe there's a nuance to the statement I've been missing, but from my own studies, it seems the historical record is full of narratives from all sides of most conflicts, whether physical, ideological, or theological. The "winning" side may be dominant, but it's the lazy historian who simply accepts that narrative uncritically, ignoring the detracting views that are available.

OK... got that off my chest. Thanks. Moving on... :)

french sojourn said...

Colin, well said, I guess I simplify that sentiment as you say. I think that if someone researches any point of history, you can find data. With what is available today, interwebs and such, it is indeed easy to root out all sides of History.

I think of a simple example like Thanksgiving. What we were taught growing up, is not even remotely the same as it was in reality. My most basic point is that it was what we were fed growing up. (pun intended) But most common people like myself were comfortable with the line of co-existent Pilgrims and Native Americans, were that only true.


Bethany Elizabeth said...

These are useful clarifications! And I personally still don't understand why a reader would say, "I'd rather you just told me no quickly rather than wait 6 (or 8 or 14) months." Waiting doesn't hurt you and it doesn't prevent you from writing other novels or seeking representation elsewhere. I just... I just don't get it.

Side note - Colin, perhaps it would be more fair to see history is taught by the victors. Certainly the information may be there, but most people (especially school kids) don't go searching out the original sources. Sometimes it's in a different language or we don't even know where to look. Or maybe the source text IS right there, but we trust our teachers too much to double-check.

For instance, when I was in Sunday school I was taught the story of a scared prophet who hopped a ride in a boat because he was afraid the people God was sending him to would kill him. Then he was swallowed by a big fish and learned to trust that God would take care of him, so he obeyed. But that isn't really the story of Jonah. The first time I read it on my own I was absolutely shocked.

I guess my point is history is taught by the victors and it's often taught by teachers who don't trust the intelligence of their kids. If a story has moral grey areas, we simplify to the point of fantasy.

Colin Smith said...

Hank/Bethany: Indeed... and even still we need to be very careful. When we hear phrases like, "But it didn't really happen that way..." or "Many scholars now dispute the popular view..." we are inclined to accept the new orthodoxy and not examine WHY there has been a change of heart. Is it the result of a fresh, critical examination of the evidence? Or is it simply a change of heart based on the prevailing cultural winds? Are there dissenting opinions? "Many scholars" can be wrong. One of the side effects of an abundance of evidence is to become critically complacent and just go with the flow. More than ever we need to resist that urge.

Again, sorry... this is way off-topic, but an interesting discussion (I think)... :)

french sojourn said...

Colin: Exactly as you pointed out, a lot of the time the data is there for the Historians researching. All the horrific details of how the Native Americans were treated has always been available.

It just wasn't part of the dialog that we as a country( See: victors) wanted waving in the wind. It is now being circulated by social media, and i have to be honest, I was horrified.

I don't think this falls into "many scholars, it didn't happen this way, etc. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I still believe that victors can set the dialog a lot easier then voiceless victims can cry out.

Thanks for chatting with me, but this is my third comment. I'll leave you the stage. I appreciate your insight.

Sorry QOTKU...I've got my vanity case and am headed to Carkoon.

Julie Weathers said...


I'm going to have to disagree. Especially in ancient times, it most certainly was written by the winners. Sometimes so completely that the losers were wiped from memory. Egyptian kings, queens, and other notables who fell out of favor not only were largely sent to the dust heap of history, but their names and faces were eradicated from all monuments. Their tombs were lost or destroyed so that even their souls would be doomed to nothingness.

The problem is, even if the knowledge is available, if people don't avail themselves of it, what good does it do? I was talking to a friend from California in the wee hours this morning because I couldn't sleep. He went off on a rant because his nephew was doing a workbook that said The Texas Revolution was a border dispute.

Marcus was livid and he was born in California. "I guess I'm going to have to go to that school and explain a border dispute is someone's tree being on the wrong side of a property line. Goliad and the Alamo are part of what is called a war."

The revolution had nothing to do with borders. I have no idea why any history book would label it as such. Sadly, I doubt very many people will even understand the difference or care.

If you watch some of these shows where a reporter goes out to a college campus to ask students historical questions and students think Independence Day celebrates our freedom from Germany, Russia, China, France, Canada and so on, it shows how completely our education system has failed and how little people care.

I'm not going to link it as I don't want to unduly promote things here, but for anyone interested, Bob Mayer's first book in the Duty, Honor, Country series is free today on Amazon.

BJ Muntain said...

How can you tell Dena's a lawyer? :)

Sorry I've been away for awhile - internet problems (don't ask, or I may be tempted to give the entire frustrating lowdown, getting myself upset all over again. Three weeks without internet is NOT helpful for one's sanity, no matter what some may say.)

But I'm BACK!

As for impatient writers, I see them all the time in Facebook groups. There is a LOT of encouragement (pressure?) for science fiction writers to 'join the fold' and self-publish.

DLM and Rodentia Colinii: As I understand it, you can generally ask for two weeks to ask other agents to look at your work. Two weeks is probably easier for an agent than less than a week. Contact all the agents immediately, and you'll be fine.

(Yes, I did just delete and repost my entire response, because I mispelled someone's name. Sorry.)

Colin Smith said...

Julie: Granted, there are some examples where the victors did attempt to eradicate their vanquished adversaries from the historical record (such as it was for them). And that may work for a time. But the spade has demonstrated how tenacious history can be, and those fallen foes tend to come to light again eventually--especially when it comes to significant conflicts. I suppose if you're talking about minor internal struggles in the ancient world, it's possible we may never know the full picture. But those situations are usually only of local interest (e.g., a Pharaoh's falling out with his food taster), and don't bear on major events. I fully endorse your latter point, and that's really my main concern. There's so much historical information available to us--an overwhelming amount, in fact--that there's really no excuse for getting facts wrong, or being lazy with data. There's so much more I could say, but I'll save it for my own blog. :)

Julie Weathers said...


"Certainly the information may be there, but most people (especially school kids) don't go searching out the original sources."

Original sources are good, but there are plenty of good books also. Shelby Foote said he didn't need to research primary documents for his work because so many other people had already done a superior job of it. That doesn't mean he didn't research carefully.

In our home, I've always had shelves of history books on various subjects plus the set of encyclopedias. The boys grew up reading these. Will just came back from Texas recently and mentioned a conversation with his older brother in which Brandon said something about a little known event in Colonial history. I said, "I'm surprised you two knew about that."

"Why would you be? We took history in high school."

"Yes, but I know that wasn't taught."

Then he told me his junior year history teacher asked him to stop raising his hand to answer questions because if he answered them all the time it didn't push the other students to learn. He asked her what she wanted him to do then. "Play Uno, I don't care."

When he brought Uno to school, she said she wasn't serious. She just wanted the other students to learn.

"You said play Uno so, I'll be quiet and play Uno."

He spent the rest of the year in the back of the class playing Uno and she spent the rest of the year trying to drag answers out of people.

It's depressing to me that citizens aren't more interested in the history of their own country, let alone the world.

A popular theory about Gettysburg is that Jeb Stuart was out glory hounding and was absent when he should have been scouting for Lee. If he had been available, the battle might well have gone the other way. It's portrayed this way in many otherwise carefully researched books. Yes, Stuart had recon information for Lee that would have turned the battle. However, Stuart was doing what Lee ordered him to do. Mosby despised Stuart's detractors for spreading the narrative that Stuart was gallavanting around. He spent many years trying to prove the truth and finally found Lee's battle order in a university archive. He cited it in his memoirs, but the historians and novelists chose to stick with the popular theory about what happened even after Mosby proved Stuart was acting on orders.

It's one reason I'm being such a stickler on documenting things in Rain Crow. Most people won't notice or care about much of this stuff, but inaccuracies bother me enough I don't want to be that author.

Lennon Faris said...

A writer can peek on QueryTracker (it's mostly free) and get a general idea of when (/if) agents get back to the writers. If they don't like what they see, they prob. wouldn't be a good fit for that agent anyway.

I followed the history discussion with interest. I've always heard the adage 'history's written by the victors,' but I do like Bethany's adaptation, 'history is taught by the victors.' Very true.

Dena - your internal writer's dialogue cracked me up.

Julie Weathers said...


Even if the information is available, do people want to hear it?

No. A leader who signs off on a plan to kill every man, woman, child, and dog of an opposing faction would normally be deemed a monster. It just depends on what side of history he's on.

Anyway, we're off topic and I will not further hijack Miss Janet's blog.

The point goes back do authors want to wait?


I'm sure agents don't like to wait on editors and publishers either, so they don't make authors wait for some perverse pleasure.

I'm not crazy about the idea that it's nigh impossible to find sweet tea in the north. I'm also not crazy about a waitress helpfully advising me I can add sugar to my tea, but that's the way of things.

And, no, I'm not from Scotland. Really? Scotland?

And because we need to get figure out north from south.

Colin Smith said...

Let's bring these subjects together, shall we? History we forget, and waiting for agent responses:

It was not so long ago that agents universally received queries and submissions by SNAIL MAIL. To get an agent response within a week would be remarkable, regardless of their reading speed or length of TBR list. Email has spoilt us. That's not a bad thing, and it doesn't mean we shouldn't do our best to meet deadlines and reply to people as soon as we can. But let's not forget--writers have had it much worse than us. :)

Craig F said...

The real bottom line is this:

If an agent says they respond in 90 days they should. If they know that it will take them 180 days to critically read someone's work they should say so. Then it would not be a problem. You get what you pay for.

It is not the waiting that is the problem it is the waiting for the train that is three months late. Consideration is a simple thing. Do what you said you would do or explain that you are running late.

Unknown said...

I've found the best way to alleviate the Waiting and Wondering Blues is to keep querying querying querying and writing writing writing. And as our host said on this blog once, have faith in your book and the system.

Janet Reid said...

Craig F said "you get what you pay for"

Let me just remind y'all that you're not paying a damn dime for me to consider your work. Or look at your revisions, or talk to you about what didn't work.

And if I'm passing on your work, I'll NEVER see a dime from it.

And if any of you know with certainty what the next 90 days has in store for you, be my guest to promise something with that degree of certainty.

One thing I know about my job, which I've been doing a pretty damn long time is that nothing NOTHING is certain.

oh wait...I believe that was a rant.

*end of rant*

Craig F said...

My Queen, sorry to put you in rant mode at this time of day and this close to the weekend. Especially the first weekend of the year that the big tree is lit.

If an agent said that it would take 180 days to critically read ( I know that takes much longer than just reading) someone's work and the writer agrees they are accepting those six months and marking them paid. That was my meaning.

Since I am self employed I know a lot about timelines and promises. If someone comes to me wanting something custom made I will occasionally agree. I have to put a part of my soul into drawing up what they want.

I do not get paid for that part. When they say build it I tell them it will take a year. Most times they bitch and I tell them to find someone else. Some do, some don't and a very few come back and say to go ahead.

If I get it to them in less than that year they are very happy about it. If it ends up being late they raise hell. They don't give a damn about hoe busy I am with my own things.

I would just like to see the process being a bit more considerate. To both sides of the equation.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Julie - my brother was one of those kids who already knew 'too much' about history by the time he got to school (one of his first books was actually Don't Know Much About History - he was a tad precocious). He didn't even bother taking the AP US History course. It turned out to be a mistake, because the teacher loved to be argued with by kids who knew what they were talking about and he LOVED to delve into obscure history. A lot of it just depends on the teacher!

And Craig, I get that it might seem like a broken promise when an agent takes twice as long as he said he would to get back to you. It's also part of life. And unless we, the writers, are on tight deadlines (we're not) and we have an actual legal/social claim on the agent's time (we don't), we really shouldn't complain.

That said, if you couldn't work with an agent who takes 180 days to get back to you when he promised 90, then you absolutely don't have to. You can pull your submission after the appointed time. Agents aren't god-gatekeepers to be begged, they're hopefully-oh-gosh-it'd-be-awesome-to-be-partners-in-crime. If you don't get along, either of you can choose to pass. That seems pretty equal to me, if not downright tipped in the author's favor.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Just jumped on. Haven't read all comments yet.
Janet Reid in my inbox means two things: it's a mistake and it's a mistake.

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

Historical amnesia. Love it.

At first i read it as anaesthetic, but that's only because I'm going in on Monday for surgery.

Steve Stubbs said...

Don’t kow if this wil be helpful to anyone, but here goes anyway. If you look at these things people post, you will notice that every other word is “I”, “me”, or “my”. People talk that way, too. Listen to “Dr.” Phil sometime and you will notice that every time he says his favorite word, which is “I”, he stutters it, thus: “I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I.” That way he can say it ten tkmes more often. He’s not the only one. Most people do that. The ancient Latin word translated “I” was “ego,” which raises the question how the ancient Romans managed to stutter “ego” whenever they used that word. By replacing it with a single syllable English managed a huge improvement.

From a markeing perspective, this self-obsession is the exact opposite of what works. Success guru T. Harv Eker says in marketing, “It’s always about them [meaning the customers]. It’s never about you.” That is a real drag, but T. Harv is right. Nobody cares how self-absorbed a writer is. Readers care only about themselves. A super ugly fact about human nature, but inescapable if you want to market anything successfully. You have to stop obsessing about Number One and think about the other guy instead. Shocking, really.

That said, I (there goes that word) cannot help thinking that the key to not being so damn sensitive about an opinion from a friendly professional that one’s work is not ready yet is to get over oneself. To paraphrase T. Harv, it’s never about the writer/ It’s always about the reader. Books are commercial products. They are not ego trips.

Now pardon me while I go and cry my little eyes out.

John Davis Frain said...

John Frain had a clever rebuttal to your comment, Steve, but after he typed it out he decided it wasn't as clever as first thought. His best friend after a month of nano: the Delete key.

french sojourn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AJ Blythe said...

I'm back on deck after surgery down time and have just had a wonderful morning reading 3 weeks worth of posts!

Dear Queen, you said:
The ONLY time this is not true is if I've requested the full, and the author writes to me that she has an offer and the time frame to reply is less than a week. It's VERY hard for me to find time to read things at the last minute.

How do you respond to that author? Do you reject or do you say something along the lines of "Congratulations. I can't make the timeframe so best of luck"?

Steve Stubbs said...

Hi John Frain,

If you have any insights to share, please do. The subject is an important one.

I may have stated the case badly, so here’s a retry. In short, it is not necessary for anyone to feel anxious about anything ever. Here is why:

The Cognitive-Behavioral model maintains that feelings do not occur in a mental vacuum. Feelings follow thoughts, so that if you think happy thoughts, you will feel happy. If you think angry thoughts, you will feel angry. And if you think anxious thoughts you will feel anxious.

Turn that bass ackwards and you get that if you feel anxious, you must have thought anxious thoughts before the feeling emerged. The thought always comes first the feeling afterward. You can see how this could matter to suffering writers everywhere. BTW, the credit for this insight is due to others. Serious intellectuals such as Aaron Beck discovered it. It is true, though, and it is simple.

The beauty of that is, you are in total control of how you feel from moment to moment. How cool is that? How empowering is that?

So if a writer is extremely anxious about whether her book, HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION OR WOULD HAVE EXCEPT THAT I DID NOT HAVE ONE (BUT DON’T TELL ANYBODY) gets picked up or not, there is something in the way that writer is thinking that is responsible for the anxiety. If she adjusts her thinking correctly, the anxiety goes away.

The anxiety-proof way to think about it is probably, do the very best you possibly can, and then WTF?

A hobby should be a joyous thing, not a source of anxiety. I think you would agree if you collected stamps or butterflies or classical booties for worn out barbie dolls or rusted out beer cans half full of stale beer with someone else’s lipstick still on them, and could not sleep at night because of all the anxiety, something would be wrong.

There was a hilarious incident on the Johnny Carson show in which Carson had a woman as a guest who collected potato chips. They did not explain why potato chips instead of Fritos or Doritos/ They invited her on the show not because her hobby interested anybody but so they could play a little prank on her. Someone on the set distracted her attention for a moment, and Carson pulled a bowel of potato chips out from under his desk and bit down on it. She thought he had bit into a potato chip from her collection and was mortified.

Something about the way writers think is responsible for them chewing their fingernails all the way down to the elbow. It is very enjoyable to work at producing something a complete stranger might enjoy reading. But if there is any financial reward at all, it is likely to be so miniscule that having a stroke worrying about it makes no sense. You don’t have to wait on a royalty check to blow all your earnings on a Big Mac and a load of fries,

Anyway, the solution is in there somewhere. Maybe that will help somebody.