Thursday, June 13, 2019

Just another day at the Query Parade

Query letter arrives in inbox. I happen to be working on my queries, so I see it very quickly.

I skim, category is an absolute non-starter for me; writing doesn't persuade me to consider making an exception; a LOT of other problems including word count.

Elapsed time: 60 seconds.

Me (to query writer): Thank you for your query.  I'm not very strong in (category).I don't read enough of it  to be an effective advocate for you.

Very best wish as you query onward.


Email inbox catches on fire; klaxons sound; IT rushes in with fire extinguishers.

Query Writer (to me): I can't believe you passed on this so quickly. Clearly you didn't read it. You're just looking for a way to reject me.  (further vitriol)

Me (to query writer): I'm sorry you interpreted a pass based on category as a rejection of your work.  Fortunately, most agents now are no response means no, so I'm sure you won't be insulted this way again.


Pericula Ludus said...

Ouch! That made me cringe with second-hand embarrassment. A quick rejection is so much better than spending months living in hope to then be crushed.

However, I sympathise with the initial response of "the stupid such and such hasn't even read it!!". I'm the same. That's why I send all my email with a delay. I get to furiously type my vitriol, smash that send button and growl at the screen. Then, I get a cup of tea, take a deep breath, go into my "to be sent" folder and edit it all down to the level of the rational functioning adult I pretend to be.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I cringe with Pericula Ludus. I always prefer a quick response. It allows me to move on to the next and stop worrying. It is a kindness, really. However, my expectations are well-tempered. I realize that not all agents will read my pages (some do not even want pages in the initial query). I do not even expect some of them will respond. However, that comes from swimming around the reef for all this time.

I sort of feel sorry for this writer because they have just cut their nose of to spite their face or something like that.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Jeez Louise why are some writers such asshats?

As my dear departed Uncle Dutch used to say,
"Never step on the toes attached to the ass you might have to kiss someday."

K. White said...

First, I would have appreciated the fact that I received an actual rejection versus eternal silence.

Second, I would have taken the wording in the rejection to mean I hadn't done my research well enough to know the category isn't top on your list.

(Speaking of that, I often rank agents based on the order in which they list their preferences. For example, an agent's bio might say "I rep YA, MG, Romance, Etc., Etc., Etc, (several Etc's later) science fiction and fantasy". In those cases, I assume because SFF wasn't near the beginning the agent is only mildly interested in the genres. I rank those agents low on my list. Is that a valid way to think?)

Finally, your second response to the submitter is both witty and cutting. Good job.

Leslie said...

No good deed goes unpunished.

I suppose the asshat writer would rather wait forever for responses that will never come because of the increasingly standard "no means no" than to have a prompt resolution and move on

Steve Forti said...

Carolynn, I love that line. Gonna remember that one.

french sojourn said...

"Oh schadenfreude, oh schadenfreude...."

Timothy Lowe said...

Anyone ever referenced a specific in my query letter or pages, like category, I was over the moon. You're looking to work with someone, not get past some stubborn goalie.

Aphra Pell said...


As it happens, I submitted a short story this morning and got it rejected this afternoon (also a category thing I suspect).

My reaction is to eat a second tunnocks caramel wafer* and plan the edit for a different magazine I had my eye on.

Chocolate biscuits are always better than spite.

I think being forged in the hell-fires of academic funding rounds is an advantage here. Gives you a hide like a concrete elephant.

*If you live in a country without access to Tunnock's caramel wafers, you have my condolences.

Steve Forti said...

@Timothy - let's not talk about stubborn goalies today. Some of us are still reeling from last night :(

Janet Reid said...

Tunnock's caramel wafers
are available on Amazon.

Irene Troy said...

I belonged to a local writers group. I left when it deteriorated into a kvetch group. The primary topic of debate at the last gathering was how agents conspire to reject 99.9% of writers. After twenty minutes of listening to this diatribe, I made an excuse and left and have not returned. Having read similar stories of agent-wanna-be-published writer interactions I just cannot grasp why someone would sabotage her proposed writing career in such a manner. This is a tough business, why make it harder? Rejection is depressing, but we all experience it and must learn to keep pushing onward regardless of hurt feelings. Good manners do count.

MA Hudson said...

Wow, looks like you dodged another bullet there, Janet.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Steve Forti...
Uncle Dutch, in humility, would have been honored to have someone such as yourself mention his quip.

Cate Simon said...

I'm fascinated by this phenomenon -- I'm a college professor and almost every semester one or two students email me to insist that I should raise their grade because they worked so hard. This sounds like much the same.

Amy Johnson said...

Fascinating how people can interpret the same thing different ways. I saw Janet's response to the query writer and thought, What a kindly worded response, specifically saying a reason for the pass, and sent so promptly, when so many busy agents don't respond at all. Man, I want to capture in a novel the stuff of differing interpretations, assumptions, presumptions! I love that stuff! I tried, but no takers. So far.

Also, thanks to Janet, I now know what a klaxon is. And, thanks to Hank, I now know what schadenfreude is. And thanks to 2Ns, I got a hearty laugh. I'm tempted to think, Schadenfreude, indeed! The Reef is a wonderful place.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

"Klaxons sound..." Ugh. That made me shudder. I earned my living as a firefighter/medic. 25 years of being woken from a dead sleep by that obnoxious blaring horn is extremely stressful.

I would imagine just about any job has some level of stress. I'm certain being an agent is no different. Beyond the deadlines, paperwork, public appearances and so on, it can't be fun to dash someone's dreams. And when they react in an ungracious or even unkind way - well, that's gotta stink.

John Levins said...

What I most admire about this story, Janet, is that you take the time to send a response. It means a great deal to us query writers, and I sincerely believe the vast majority really appreciate it.

It's a shame the clueless writers out there, like the one in this story, are encouraging the "no response means no" approach!

Claire Bobrow said...

Sadly, that author blew it.
Sadly, they insulted our Janet.
Sadly, I have no Tunnock's caramel wafers to go with my tea this morning (even if I don't know what they are).

Happily, our oldest will be graduating from college this Saturday - which explains why I'm sitting in a hotel room in Minnesota, where it was 46 degrees outside this June morning. Someone did not pack appropriately.

Back to the topic at hand, I'd rather get an instant "No" than never hear at all. It really is a kindness, as E.M. Goldsmith said.

roadkills-r-us said...

Clearly this person has rejection (and/or entitlement, etc.) issues. Querying (also marketing, selling, reading reviews, etc.) is only going to exacerbate their problems. They need to put querying on hold until they get some help.

Live Uncle Dutch’s maxim. And yes, yes, yes to any response!

Megan V said...

I've never understood the urge to respond with 'how dare you' as if we woodland creatures are entitled to the answer we want.

We're not. Not even if we work very hard for it.

Sometimes I'll respond with a thank you for the kind pass. Most times I don't respond at all simply because I don't want to clog up an inbox that's teeming with queries.

Anyways, I just don't get it and I wouldn't be surprised if there was an isolation box for those queriers in future.

2NNs I like the sound of your Uncle Dutch!

And all this talk of schadenfreude has gotten the Avenue Q song stuck in my head...not good.

Craig F said...

Wow, just last week I got a rejection on a query sent seven months ago. Standard form letter, whatever that means. Maybe it almost got there, or maybe it didn't even get enough attention to get the big, red reject button pushed until semi-annual cleanup. Probably never know. I think I would prefer a quick turn-around.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

An editor friend was talking about a series of emails she got from someone submitting a story to the magazine.

After she mucked through all the emails DEMANDING an update on her submission, she got the final one that said something like:

"You are obviously rude and cannot even take a moment to give me an update on my submission. This indicates bad management at your organization. Please remove my story from consideration."

Total elapsed time . . . . 8 days.

Don't be this person. Or Janet's person.

My last anthology submission response took 8 months. It was a YES.


Jennifer R. Donohue said...

One person's quick form "no thanks" may or may not be another person's full request followed by The Call (wrong category aside). It's a thing, it happens, don't you read? Do you read every book you pick up to completion, even after you realize it might not be for you? I'm so confused by this.

Conversely, I've received personal rejections on short stories that made me wonder what story, exactly, the person was talking about. In those cases, I'd have preferred a form.

D.H. said...

I'm recalling a time I went to a casino with my father. 18-year-olds could be there with wrist bands indicating they can't have liquor; otherwise it was all fair game. Dad and I putzed around playing penny slots for a bit, then I went to grab some food.

Got approached by a guy visibly older than my father. He started hitting on me. I wasn't interested and told him so. Cue rage that I judge based on appearance and I'm shallow and vain.

I was 18 and uninterested in a dude at the youngest in his 50's. In fact, I had a rule not to date anyone more than 5 years older than me because I didn't feel comfortable with the life experience differences.

Sometimes a quick rejection is because you just don't meet the basic standard.

Emma said...

Well, I once sent a query at around midnight and got a rejection at 12:01 am. What can one do but laugh? Clearly every single word in my subject line screamed "reject me immediately" since I don't believe anybody can read a query, much less ten pages that quickly, but that's okay. In a weird way, that rejection improved my mood because it was so obviously about the oversaturated category, and in the end it forced me away from that category and into a much better one (for me).

Everybody's reaction to your work is a learning experience.

Janet, you're a champ for personalizing your rejections.

John Davis Frain said...

@Timothy and @Steve, Talk all you like of stubborn goalies. Some of us are still celebrating last night. Alas, I finally know which way to bow when Forti submits his flash entry. I'm bowing for other reasons right now tho. The pain hurts so good.


But even in my condition, the only response I would have sent the Queen is a Thank You for being human note.

Karen McCoy said...

Love the comments from everyone. And must try Tunnock's caramel wafers.

Like Megan V I err on the complete opposite side of this spectrum, where I probably don't respond enough, even to personalized rejections that are positive, for fear of the agent seeing their inbox and thinking, "Sigh, I already rejected this person; what do they want now?"

This also comes from working in academia like Aphra Pell, where I have developed the appropriate elephant hide. I won't respond at all with emails, even to say "thank you" because of institutions that have frowned upon inbox clogging.

Then again, if an agent has sent a glowing personal, and gets no answer, I often wonder if the silence is interpreted as resentment. Because it very much isn't. Like Megan V said, most of us understand that rejection is an inevitable part of this business.

Which brings me to my final question: In what situations is it appropriate to respond? A personalized rejection that is positive at least deserves a "Thank you for your feedback on my work; this is very helpful" or some such, yes?


Adele said...

Tunnock's Caramel Wafers sound like the sort of thing I should not know about. I already weigh enough.

One tiny little comment on behalf of the querent - sometimes when you send an email message and you get an *immediate* answer, especially a negative, it seems like an automatic reply. Usually the reply says "Sally is away until Tuesday" or some such; in this instance it would be understandable if the querent thought Janet had just set her email program to automatically say no to everything and not only hadn't read the query, but wasn't even aware of it. I can see that could be very frustrating for the querent.

None of that excuses her reaction, of course. Definitely dodged a bullet there.

Konnie Enos said...

My very first thought was, "You have got to be kidding me!"
You clearly stated you weren't the best agent to sell that genre. If I got an email like that I'd kick myself for not researching the agent better before I queried and move on.

Konnie Enos
Smile. Make the day a brighter day.
Instragram @ konnieenos

D.H. said...

Karen McCoy, I only respond to full/partial rejections (though if they use QueryManager it's pretty much impossible), mostly to thank them for their time and express that I hope they'll consider future work from me (if they didn't already invite me to submit again).

R&Rs are about the only time I get gutsy and ask clarifying questions on the suggestions given, but it seems more harmful to me to not ask those questions. Haven't yet encountered an agent who refused to extrapolate.

Replying to query rejections... I'm always worried I'll annoy them by clogging their feed, but I also see agents on Twitter express gratitude because it's a bright light among bitter, "You'll be sorry, you don't know what you're passing up," replies.

I feel it's better to err on the side of caution and simply not respond if it's a query rejection. But that's just me.

Selerial said...

Goodness. My knee-jerk response is to wonder who does that, but then I realize I know exactly who does that, and feel sorry for all the agents dealing with it on the daily. That said...what a perfectly sharky response. :D

Morgan Hazelwood said...

The *facepalm* is strong with this one.

Hopefully they learn quickly. And start actually looking to see what categories an agent represents before flouncing like that again.

luciakaku said...

Seems to me that saved them the agony of having to wait for the no, but maybe I'm strange in that the wait is worse than the answer.

Karen McCoy said...

Thanks, D.H.! That sounds like a good strategy.

KDJames said...


This is why we can't have nice things.

Panda in Chief said...

Oy vey.
Looking forward to reading all the scathing comments!

theblondepi said...

Why don’t writers understand this is a business? Be professional. Stop whining. And stop making the rest of us look bad!

I got a fairly brusque NO from an MG agent after a full request, but the agent gave me feedback as to why. Feedback! Precious gems!! I responded, thanking her for the time she took to read and to give me feedback--and you’d think I'd sent her a $100 gift card. She replied (immediately, btw, in less than two minutes): “Thank you so much for your gracious response.“ Can you imagine what these agents normally hear all day long? This is a business people. Put on your big boy and big girl pants and run your business.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here, because the Reiders are all professionals!

And Janet, I hope you were able to shake it off and it didn't ruin your day. I hate that you do so much for writers and yet you still have to get excreted upon.

Leslie said...

I agree with theblondepi -- agents must see such awful behavior too often.

When I got an obviously personalized rejection, I usually sent a quick thank you for their time and for letting me know.

When I got rejections from agents I'd met at a conference (usually WDC pitching), I sent back something thanking them for their time, etc., and suggesting that I'd like to send future queries their way -- and they've always really liked that. They thanked me profusely for being so gracious and then said they'd love to see future projects.

AJ Blythe said...

Wowzers. Not much to say that hasn't been said.

From the comments you made, Janet, I would say new writer. And the fact you explained why (genre) and they still bit back screams very green new writer.

2Ns, that is a brilliant quote. Love it!

Will MacPhail said...

It still blows my mind when I hear these stories. I was happy when Janet put me out of my misery quickly. I'd rather not sit and wait for weeks on end clinging on to a hope. I suspected my project wasn't for her, but out of sheer respect, I had to try.

RachelErin said...

Amy Johnson,

I recommend Middlemarch as the best book of conflicting interpretations I've ever read. It's almost depressing because almost no one ever communicates what they want, need or think! But brilliant.

It also contains lines like: "there are conditions under which the most majestic person is obliged to sneeze,"