Wednesday, April 25, 2018

why you don't want feedback from me at the query stage

By feedback, I don't mean a critique of your query (like the work done over at QueryShark) rather it I mean feedback on why I didn't ask for a full. (I'm using myself here, but it applies to all agents.)

Here's why you don't want that:
I pass on 98% of the work for which I'm queried.  I generally use a form letter.

Sometimes a writer will respond (politely!) with a well-concealed howl of frustration: "but why??"

Because I am one of the dwindling number of agents who actually replies to all queries, any response from me would take on more importance than it should have. I'm merely one of several (dozen I hope!) agents you've queried. You heard back from me, so you replied to me.

But all those other agents passed too, and maybe for different reasons.

And while it's entirely true I'm brilliant and perceptive and have the best taste EVER, I also have passed on things that have gone on to do quite well.

In other words, I don't have a lock on what's going to sell.

Thus, your query may very well resonate with an agent other than me, and if you start tinkering with it to match my tastes you may very well end up trying to make cookies out of cake dough. I like cookies, and if your manuscript is cake, it's going to be delicious to the agent who wants cake.

(Oh who am I kidding, I like cake too!)

Getting feedback on formatting, and how to get your plot on the page, and what kinds of comps are effective: that's objective feedback.

What's subjective is I often pass on darn good queries when it's a book in a category I don't know well (romance, women's fiction, fantasy all qualify here.) I tell people to query me on anything, but that's because people often get their categories wrong, and something you're calling dino porn may in fact be a top notch thriller. I rep top notch thrillers but not dino porn.

Any feedback from me on those categories isn't valuable, and it's potentially very harmful. 

And I don't like all thrillers either. Or all crime novels. Or all of any category. If I'm not the right agent for your book, I'm probably not the right agent for telling you what to fix about the story.

Any questions?


E.M. Goldsmith said...

Here is a question that has been tormenting me. I am about to jump into the query trenches without a parachute. I will have a completed manuscript, a query, and a synopsis when required, but no parachute.

I want to query my beloved queen (Janet, that is you) even though it seems this is a rejection waiting to happen. I am certain that my category is fantasy. My books are full of magic and dragons, sorcerers and creatures strange and mystical as well as various angels and demons. It is fantasy. No way around it.

Would I be out of line, be subject to being drawn and quartered, thrown into the bottomless pit of Carkoon, if instead of querying my amazing queen, I queried Suzie Townsend at New Leaf who does represent fantasy? Would my gracious queen want to have first bite at my book or simply relieved I spared her the rending of flesh? What do I do?

Mister Furkles said...

E. M.: First thing I'd do is try Query Shark. Janet can say, fantasy is not for me and here is how to improve your query...

And in addition to QS, try Evil Editor too.

Unknown said...

I am imagining hundreds of sets of eyes, just waiting to see what Janet will answer...

Megan V said...

EM My two cents (which are not as worthy as the QOTKU's input on this) are that you should query Suzie if she appears to be the better fit. NORMANs or not, all of the agents at New Leaf are top notch.

Wishing you the best of luck when you take the leap!

E.M. Goldsmith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KariV said...

Remember, there's no query police. Query widely. In general, stick to agents who rep your genre, but if there are agents you actively follow and who say "query me first" (like our queen), shoot them a query. The worst they can say is no.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yes, I did think of hitting up Query Shark, but then my paranoid mind thought “If my query really sucks, that will prejudice the entire New Leaf staff against my precious book”. However, getting feedback ahead of my plunge is a good idea so I will be doing some kind of workshop, professional agent-type feedback in early May for my query. I am probably still 3 months off actually sending as I still have some beta-reading feedback to receive and digest.

I sent my last beta read chapters out last week. I sent first 8 chapters to see if these unseasoned, non-writerly types would keep reading. I got a 100% resounding yes within 4 days, send us more so that was feel good feedback. Probably not useful but I have been in need of a boost lately.

A tad off-topic but I have a must share story. A bit of a miracle happened this weekend. I ran into Brandon Sanderson (yes, that Brandon Sanderson, the best-selling fantasy author of series like MistBorn and the Stormlight Archives), and we get to talking beta readers. He tells me of his wonderful team of beta readers and so I stole (borrowed) them.

I told him about my book (yes, I pitched my book to Brandon Sanderson, poor incredibly patient man) and my experience so far with beta-readers. He gushed over his, told me the kind of feedback they give that helps make his work stronger. So, naturally, I asked if I could have them. He laughed. (or maybe he called for security- I am uncertain).

Then as I am getting ready to move along (this was at JordonCon), a young woman stops me and hands me three cards, the names of his beta-readers (yes, Brandon travels with his beta-reader team or they follow him about). She says the three of them would love to read for me as they think the premise sounds fascinating (I do pitch well. This does not enhance my query skills at all.) They ask for nothing in return, and offer honest feedback from people who adore fantasy, who really know the genre. Yes, this could backfire and send me back into that abyss of eternal despair. I will take my chances.

Sorry, I had to share. It was surreal, and came at a time I was battling writer’s despair, a huge pick-me up.

Julie Weathers said...


Honestly, I would query someone at New Leaf who reps fantasy. Janet does not. Trust me, I know.

Wow, what a great opportunity for you. Good beta readers are a Godsend. I'm sure you must be thrilled.

Jill Warner said...

E.M. I took a class from Brandon and that man is a saint. I'm so glad you were able to get a bit of a confidence boost from him and his team.

QOTKU It's interesting that you say comps are objective--I would have thought they were subjective. But that could just be me on the hamster wheel as I'm trying to figure out which comps work best for my WIP.

The Sleepy One said...

For what it's worth, when I queried Suzie, she responded. It was personal and she took the time to tell me why she'd been on the fence about requesting pages (which was amazing). The agent I eventually signed with gave me the same feedback in an R&R.

So Suzie isn't always a NORMAN.

Good luck EM!

Ashes said...

I had a query revelation.

My problem with No Response Means No isn't that I'm not going to get the perceived courtesy of a form rejection. It's that I will drive myself crazy on my writer rodent wheel wondering if the agent received my query or if something went awry. (I sent it to an agent no longer agenting, the spam gremlins ate it, it disappeared into The Upside Down).

A few agents will send receipts after I send a query. They will arrive lightning fast and say something to the effect of "Got it, thanks! I'll let you know if I'm interested."

That is perfect, to me. Maybe even better than a form rejection, because there's no rejection. I don't have to wonder if it was received or not, and after a few months I quietly close it out on my spreadsheet. I wish this practice was more widespread!

Gypmar said...


That Brandon Sanderson story is absolutely amazing! First, just to meet him; and then that he loved your pitch, and then that he followed up, and then that his beta readers are on board! I couldn't be happier for you. This is a great gift that you are in a position to benefit from thanks to all the hard work you've put in.

Brenda said...

I may be exposing my lazy underbelly here but I fail to see the benefit of mastering the art of the query. As a writer who drafts singularly pitiful queries (according to critiques, one by an agent) I find it hard work to enthuse over yet another query rewrite when I'd much rather be learning how to improve dialogue, or tension, or characterization, or darn near any other writing at all.
I'm doing my best to set bait for the big fish but please tell me there is a higher purpose here. Perhaps something zen-ish like character development or fortitude.

Gigi said...

@Ashes - Check out Streak for gmail. It tracks email opens (not 100% accurate, but should give you a good idea). After three months, if I haven't had a response and a query appears unopened, I send a polite follow-up just in case the original ended up in spam. This has resulted in a request (from someone who didn't see my original), and it definitely makes me feel better to know something was opened/got through. Good luck!

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Thanks for that tip Gigi and congrats on the request :)

Colin Smith said...

Elise: My 2c... query Janet. The worse you'll get is a form rejection. I suspect, however, because it's your awesome self, you'll get something more personal. Heck, she might want to read it, even if fantasy's not her thing! If it's a no from Janet, then query Suzie.

Brenda: If you want to be traditionally published, learning how to query well is a must. No agent is going to read your work unless you can entice them to do so. That's the job of the query. If you can succinctly sum up your novel in a way that makes an agent want to read your book, then you're a successful query writer. But that's not all. As I understand it, those query skills never become useless. Even if you get an agent, you'll need to come up with cover blurbs and help with pitches for future novels. Guess where you learn to do that? :)

Another thing to bear in mind with querying: if you're having a hard time boiling your novel down to "who's it about?" "what's at stake?" "what stands in their way?" then it's possible your novel isn't ready for prime time. This is why some people write their queries before they write their novels. The query helps them to stay focused and not lose sight of the novel's essence.

KariV said...

I write my query to distract from editing my novel. Oh wait, did I just say that out loud? Surely I'm not the only one ...

The Sleepy One said...

One valuable part of learning how to write a servicable query: let's say you sell a book. If you want to sell a seocnd one, you're going to need to know how to talk about it to your agent and editor. These are the same skills you'll learn writing a query: how to summarize the set-up and stakes of the novel in a compelling way.

Ashes, I agree it's wonderful when agents have an auto-responder, at least, so writers know their query made it versus getting somewhere in cyberspace.

Timothy Lowe said...

I may be a lunatic, but I actually kind of enjoy writing queries. Sending them isn't even so bad. The results? Well, those are a bit tougher to take, except for the rare request. Now synopses...might as well gouge my eyes out with a spork (props to The Sleepy One's blogger profile for that reference).

And deep revisions? Brrr...give me a query any day of the week.

The Sleepy One said...

Confession: I have a deep fondness for sporks. I have even have two titanium sporks for backpacking, because you never know when you're going to need a second spork.

Brenda said...

Thanks all. I'll go back to this with renewed vigor.

Theresa said...

Elise is my new idol.