Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Nine things that drive me crazy

I've been burrowing into my incoming queries, hoping to get most of them answered before the holiday shutdown.

Several recurring problems:

1. Not sending pages. 

I've heard tell there are agents that don't want pages.
I'm not one of them.
Show me you can write. Most of you can't write queries for shit. Give yourself a fighting chance with something you CAN write: pages from your novel.

2. Not telling me the start of the story/the precipitating event/anything about the plot

At some point you need a plot on the page.
The query is a good place to start.

3. Effusive compliments/ANY compliments really.
I don't want someone who talks like I walk on water.
I don't.
I do want someone who wants to be on my team, not revere me.
It's brutally uncomfortable to read balderdash like "you're one of the greats." My new favorite though is "your agency has a world-wide reputation" which is hilarious cause JetReid Literary is about five minutes old.

4. Repeatedly sending what you think is a query (and isn't)
in the misguided assumption that I haven't already read it and discarded it because you didn't fucking tell me about the book.

5. Telling me you're a previously published author as though that's a big plus.

Unless you've sold one million copies, it isn't.
Compounding this is when you don't include any info about the new book, leading me to think that you expect me to want you, not your book. #NopeNopeNope

6. Responding to a pass with "well, what about this"
as though I am browsing in the Casablanca souk. Even if I just responded to your first one, queries go in the incoming query pile. I don't read it right that minute. And if you're just responding quickly, by the time I read it, I won't have any context.

7. Telling me you're referred by a "a friend".
Querying isn't espionage. Also, my friends know better. 

8. Leading off with the college you went to.
If you want to come off as an asshat right away, that's a good strategy. 


9. Making up a category for your book. 

This generally means you haven't done enough (or any) research on where your book would belong in a bookstore.  When you have a category I've never encountered, I don't assume you made it up, but I do dig around. If I can't find it, you're off to a bad start.  Contemporary fiction works. A novel also works. I don't care if you have the wrong category (other agents DO) because I only really care about the story. 


Amy Johnson said...

Ooh, I do like the posts with the lists! (And the ones without lists.) Thanks, Janet. Happy to see you're back. I, too, checked Twitter and was glad to see our queen was okay.

There's been a busy couple-a days here on the reef. I'm late with a few things.
Jennifer Rand: Congratulations on your win! Any time now, you'll be receiving -- through contactless delivery -- a congratulatory balloon bouqet. Contactless, indeed, as it's imaginary. But the best wishes for continuted writing success are real. The balloons are blue and green, though a couple of your characters won't be able to distinguish.
Timothy Lowe: Thanks for your kind words.
Unknown person who stole John Frain's login credentials: You cracked me up, but I fear next week you'll get nothing but coal. On Carkoon!

Android Astronomer said...

You're right about that thing we can't write queries for. That goes DOUBLE for synopses. So I'm always grateful for agents who ask for pages to see if we can write stories for that thing we can't write queries for.

The Carpetguy said...

Hi Janet, New to the blog. Love the use of asshat, it's certainly underutilized in this day and age.
I appreciate the wealth of information here, I am reading as fast as I can.

miriam said...

This is all helpful to know. I'm curious though- it's not a plus that we're published authors unless we're bestsellers? I was hoping that having books published would let an agent know that I'm not a beginner, but maybe the only thing that matters is whether you have a book they think they can sell?

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...


Welcome to the Reef, cocktails are to your left. Whatever you do, don't get the green one.

I agree that asshat as a word is underutilized :)

Janet Reid said...

MiriamGreat question, and a good one for blog fodder. Hopefully posted soonishly--but that's a fluid definition these days!

Leslie said...

I write nonfiction, and I always prioritized agents who request the proposal along with the query -- for pretty much the same reasons.

Welcome. The Carpetguy! You'll learn a lot and laugh a lot.

Yes, asshat is a wonderful word that is woefully underused. Especially these days.

Leslie said...

And mazel tov on the new agency, Janet!

I apologize for the lateness if this venture is old news, but I broke my wrist at the end of October (and this being 2020, it was displaced and needed urgent surgery) and haven't been typing online much since.

But this is exciting news, and I'll be sure to share with writer friends who are getting ready to query!

John Davis Frain said...

A Covid vaccine delivered on Monday.

The shark returns (as the shark!) on Tuesday.

Normal is penetrating my body like a good lotion.

It's time for my protagonist to get in some trouble.

Flexin' my fingers and tippin' the hourglass...

(I have updated my login credentials, so no one can overtake my account again. At least until next week or so.)

Craig F said...

Did you really hang a shingle of your own on the door? JetReid Literary? Cool.

I don't think I trampled any of these, but I guess I drove you crazy anyway. I know that, historically, my queries suck, but friends and I worked really hard on that one and I still like it, though it is looking like a fail for now.

Best of luck with your new agency, and the New Year, hopefully it will be glorious by this time next year.

RKeelan said...

I also noticed the bit about the (new to me) agency.

I'm not sure if congratulations or well-wishes are most in order, so I offer both!

nightsmusic said...

Your post sadly reminds me that if one can't read the instructions, how can one write well?

Glad to see a post though! :)

The CarpetGuy, Welcome!

Colin Smith said...

I read this list and think, whaat? People still do these things?? But then I remember:

1) I've been reading this blog for over 9 years now, so I have no excuse, and if I should ever foist one of these abominations upon Janet she should have me hung up by my toenails and beaten mercilessly with al dente vermicelli.

2) There are always n00bs (I bet no-one uses that term anymore) and plenty of bad information on the interwebz (and I bet no-one says that anymore).

3) Despite the petitioning, Janet has not yet been officially declared Queen of the Known Universe, so people will continue to do things incorrectly.

By the way, if I sound like I'm feeling my age, FirstBorn turned 27 today. :)

P.S.: I have to say, I am tempted by "making up a category for your book." That sounds like fun. How about "a Dystopian Steampunk Western"? :)

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and welcome TheCarpetguy! I didn't notice you there. It's like you've become part of the furniture already... (see what I did there? Carpetguy... furniture...?)

Anyway, if there's anything you don't understand, join the club. We're all clueless here. But there are some links on the top right of the blog that might be helpful. I hope you hang out longer. The kale sucks but the company's to die for. ;)

C. Dan Castro said...

Colin, for a category, recommend you combine a temporal adjective and a hideously obscure word. Yours could be the first novel in the niche genre of Contemporary Flivver or Modern Lagniappe.

Colin Smith said...

C. Dan: Like an Antediluvian Hiraeth? :)

Janet Reid said...

There's a launch headed for Carkoon.
Guess which blog readers are ON IT!!!

KMK said...

Always the best advice! (And no, that's not over the top praise -- please don't exile me to the Kale Fields!) So glad to see this.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I missed this yesterday but I love it. And Colin, my only born turned 28 on Saturday. Ugh, I feel old. So old.

Love the lists of do. nots. Hope everyone is doing ok with the Matrix being all broken and all. Code rot. It happens.

Colin Smith said...

Ahhh... Christmas on Carkoon. I remember it well. Victims roasting on an open fire. Jakkfrozt (the mailman) kicking in your door. Yooltide Carol being strung to a tire (a strange, seasonal tradition I never understood--neither did Carol, to be honest), and jokes you wouldn't tell your foes...


C. Dan Castro said...

Antediluvian Hiraeth? I'll read it! (Um, as soon as I look up hiraeth...)

The Carpetguy said...

Thank you all for the very warm welcome, I connected immediately with the way Janet writes this Blog and knew I had found something special and incredibly informative.

Dreaming of Paris said...

Should an American author (of an upmarket historical novel set in the French Revolution) only query American agents and not British agents? Is there a difference between having an American agent and a British one?

Steve Forti said...

^^^also wants to know the answer to Dreaming of Paris's question

Colin Smith said...

Here are my thoughts on Dreaming of Paris's question, offered in the hope that if I'm wrong, I will provoke those who know better to provide a better answer. Caveat: I'm not an agent; this is based on what I've learned over the years.

1) Most English-speaking literary agents are based in the US, and
2) The headaches involved with figuring out royalties, taxes, etc. when dealing with clients in another country,

If you are in the US, focus your attention on US-based agents. If you want to query agents in another country, there's nothing to stop you. But you might want to be selective and offer a good reason as to why you want to work with that non-US agent as opposed to a US agent. In other words, why would that agent want the hassle of dealing with a foreign writer, and why would you want to spend your time adding u's to your manuscript and explaining the difference between American "football" and real football? ;)

My 2c... :D

JEN Garrett said...

There are times like this I really wish you rep'd Picture Books. It seems you ask two questions: "Is this an author I could work with?" and "Is this a book I could sell?"

I know there are other agents like you; I'm just hoping I find the right one for me!

Laura Stegman said...

Janet, at the risk of being sent to Carkoon again (not sure if I was ever permitted to leave), are you sending to Carkoon those who hadn't already noticed you'd started your own agency some time ago? Not sure how long, but it's been at least a few months.

Janet Reid said...

Hi Laura
No one is being sent to Carkoon for not noticing that.
It was not ballyhooed about. It wasn't secret or anything, I just
didn't make a big deal about it.

Carkoon is the destination for those who invent more work for me.
I hear** it's nice this time of year.'

**from Colin

Laura Stegman said...

Thanks Janet, got it. I am all about noticing peoples' email addresses and checking out their web sites, which is why I knew about that some time ago. Happy holidays to you, and thanks for all the helpful posts and info.

Lennon Faris said...

I really hope "a friend" is actually put in quotes in the query like that. The mystery!

Also, is anyone else hearing Colin's song in Nat King Cole's voice in their head?

Joseph S. said...

I'm on the "Most of you can't write queries for shit" list.