Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Digging in to the queries



2022 is off to a good start!

I requested my first full of the year (even though I still have three in the holding pen from last year.)


It crossed my mind that it might be useful to know how I work with incoming queries.


1. All incoming queries get filed in Incoming Queries when they arrive.

That means you can query me on Christmas Day, Sunday, 5am or midnight and it makes no difference. I won't see it till I open the file.



2. Several times a week I give the pending queries a quick skim.

I'm looking to cull the queries that are non-starters. Non-starters are things like outlier word counts, insane authors (no examples provided here to protect the guilty--if you read this blog, you're not one of them) and queries that don't tell me what the book is about.


3. The non-starters get a quick pass.


4. I flag those queries I want to read more closely.


5. I work through the flagged queries when I have odd bits of time where I can read and focus.


What I look for here is good writing and a story that engages my interest.


That means good writing gets a pass if it's not a story I'm interested in; a good story gets a pass if the writing isn't polished.


6. I pass on those queries that don't have both.


About 20% of the queries survive to this point.


7. I read the pages AND I start sniffing around your website and social media.

This is a new wrinkle.  I didn't bother doing this until the pandemic just thrashed my concentration levels. I have to cull out more now cause I can read less.


What this means for you: don't put off getting an author website, or having a presence on social media.

I'm much more likely to be interested in working with someone who has shown they're cognizant of the new promotion reality.  You must be present to win. Yes there are exceptions. Don't bank on being one of them.


I'm much less willing to take on someone who will need ground up coaching on how to get a website and what needs to be on it; how to sign up for Twitter (or whatever) and how to use it.


In other words, entry level is a whole lot higher than it was even two years ago.


8. I request fulls from writers who have shown me good writing, pages that compel me to read on, and a social media presence of some sort.


A word of warning: if your social media is full of political ranting (on either end of the political spectrum), you might consider revising it.  Even if you think I agree with everything you say (I probably don't.)


Once I request a ms it can take a while to read and assess.


While I'm reading I'm also doing a much deeper dive on your social media. I'm not looking for things to fault you on. I'm trying to get a sense of you as a person.  What that means for you: be yourself. Don't just re-tweet things you like, let me see what you're like. Tell me about things you love and things you care about.  Scary I know, but it's easier to start now.






KMK said...

Wonderful insight as usual -- and especially good for how the process has changed because of the pandemic! I had a minimal presence before my lockdown debut -- and had to build the plane in the air. (It's a pretty serviceable little commuter jet now, but getting here was UGLY!) Querying writers, take our Queen's advice and do not be me!

AJ Blythe said...

Hmmm, I have the website and an active blog, but my social media is a little more hit and miss, mostly because I just don't have the energy to deal with it after 2 years of pandemic. Guess I know what I'll be doing once my newsletter is up and running.

Actually, that brings me to a question, my Queen... does a newsletter count as social media these days?

Craig F said...

Though I am still puzzled by your response to my query, it was not a form rejection.

With normal agents, how deep into this kind of list do form rejections still happen.

PAH said...

Still mind-boggling to me that not participating in society's blight (that we actually know for a FACT is destroying people) is a requirement for publishing fiction.

Sure, multiple studies have found a strong link between social media and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, and self-harm... Sure, suicide is sky-rocketing for teens. But we can sell more books!

If my writing isn't good enough. Fine. But if I have to willingly participate in something that we all know is a net negative for the world just to get published ... nah. I guess I won't be an author.

John Davis Frain said...

PAH, I would respectfully disagree. As the old saw goes, you can be part of the problem or part of the solution.

I can't speak for all of social media or even all of Twitter, but I can attest that the writing community on Twitter is pretty much the opposite of what you describe. It affords you the ability to pull people up with you, honestly engage with other writers, and have a little fun. You'll be in a better mood than when you signed on. Of course, it's still up to the user to figure out how to keep social media from being a time suck. <<-- Good luck with that!

Today's post was worth it if you only read this life lesson:
"Yes there are exceptions. Don't bank on being one of them."

Leslie said...

Twitter has not only become way too toxic, but the people running it punish those who dare to disagree.

Just about a year ago, I was suspended for week because I disagreed with someone who insisted that the riots in the summer of 2020 either didn't really happen or were so minor compared with the Jan 6 riot. I appealed my weeklong suspension, pointing out that merely asking someone if what I experienced (nearly murdered two different nights) is so trivial, then they should be fine with it happening to them and their family, is not a threat. The appeal was denied, so I set my page to private and haven't tweeted or commented since.

Meanwhile, as just one example, there's a woman who tweeted fantasies about pushing then-NYC mayoral candidate in front of a subway train at the very same time that was happening to Asian-Americans. I know that many people reported her tweet, but nothing happened to her. It still stands. (https://twitter.com/mxtaliajane/status/1396511621690834946)

As for the writing community on Twitter, yes, most are kind, witty, intelligent people. But there are too many who politicize every damn thing. Like a small group of agents a couple of years ago who went hard after any colleagues deemed less than sufficiently woke

Katja said...

Talking of Twitter, Janet:

My Twitter has unfollowed you for me and I SWEAR to the writer gods that it was NOT me!
Proof is that Twitter also unfollowed Roger Federer for me whom I'd also NEVER unfollow myself (this was the second time already 😥).
Roger was the very first person I ever followed, and you were the second! (I apologise I didn't do "ladies first". 😬)

Federer won't notice that I follow him again, I'm convinced, but YOU and then you think "whoa she hadn't followed me all this time?!"

I will wait a few days until you've read these comments, so then you won't block me when I pop up in your Twitter notifications under "Katja followed you". 😳

PAH and John, I agree with you both!
Twitter can be addictive. Oh yes it can! The competition out there; how many likes did I get (or didn't); others get more...
I feel that I have to engage with people that I actually don't always want to. Just because of my freaking book and its topic out there.
I also have to follow people back because of that, and then I get to see an awful bunch of negatively charged mood tweets down my timeline. I find it daunting, at times.

I've had to mute a lot of folks!

That's with the mental health community. And sadly: the more negative your tweet (as in mood), the more likes you get and the more FOLLOWERS! It's SO annoying.

While I do have a mental illness (OCD), I like to be funny and positive. Doesn't get me the same followers as those accounts who constantly log down their anxieties and suicidal thoughts even!
"Suicidal thoughts here they come" - type that down and press tweet. Boom, you'll get your attention!

Type down you have a book that people might fund interesting because blah blah and come across stable... nope, not the same reaction.


With the writing community, yes, this doesn't quite compare. So if you are able to just navigate there, it's much better. And then take days off Twitter as well. You don't have to tweet every single day!

Colin Smith said...

Hey, y'all! Seems like Mr. Frain was sharing my brain (I'm a poet and I don't even... yeah...). Yes, as Janet said, never assume you're the exception to the rule. There's a 99.99999% chance you're not, and thinking you are only comes off as arrogant, disrespectful, and/or like you're the kind of special snowflake that turns agents off. Don't do it.

On social media... I notice all Janet said about social media (in essence) is be yourself. She didn't say you had to follow certain accounts or be seen to agree with a particular point of view. I used to follow a whole bunch of agents, but I culled that list in a big way because many of them were posting mostly political rants. Might that decrease my chances of signing with them since I'm no longer as in touch with their tastes, etc? Would I want to work with them if that's what they're like on Twitter? (See--it works both ways).

To put it briefly, you can do social media and protect your mental health by only following accounts that are helpful and healthful. That doesn't mean you have to live in a bubble and only follow people who agree with you on everything. As I often say, you can disagree without being disagreeable. But if the only way you can do social media is to be in a bubble, then that's your choice. As far as I know, there's no rule that says you have to follow everyone who follows you. Be yourself, and provide content worth following.

Again, note that Janet didn't say she's looking at your follower count (though I daresay from a marketing perspective, a respectable follower count can help) or who you're following. She's looking to find out what kind of person you are. Whether you're the kind of person she would enjoy working with professionally, or whether it looks like you're going to be a problem child (or an a**hat).

And about that follower count... once you're agented and published, chances are you will attract followers anyway, so just be yourself.

As usual, I'm not an agent, and I'm not Janet, so if I've misrepresented agents or Janet, may I be corrected with the dreaded wet noodle of correction... 😨😱

The Noise In Space said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katja said...

Wow, The Noise In Space. Wow and AMEN!

The Noise In Space said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E.M. Goldsmith said...

I have a very pretty website now but it needs new life. I will get there. I am adding my baking pages to the website because there is a lot of baking going on now days. I can't stand Twitter but recently resigned up to follow my favorite team and see what writers I support are doing. I have Facebook because the podcast I do demanded it and am part of a writer's group formed by people here. Both are private. I keep it as boring as possible - unless we share interests that is. I am Ellie McDowell (the E.M. in E.M. Goldsmith) on Twitter and Facebook for those of you who are still there and want to follow.

Not sure when I will be querying again (it'll be soon but still have book out with beta readers after a pretty intense rewrite) but sounds like it's not getting easier. Glad to see so many of you are still here.

Julie Weathers said...

I despise twitter with the heat of a thousand hells. I have once again started a new account strictly for author Julie and Twitter has once again decided I am not who I am and denied me access.

Aside from that, it's worse than it's ever been. I will work on my website and building a platform, but I can't guarantee any agent I will ever have a strong author presence on twitter.

"Non-starters are things like outlier word counts"

Yes, I seem to have heard that somewhere recently. ;)

I hope everyone is starting out the new year with great things.

AJ Blythe said...

Following the conversation makes me wonder even more about my original question.. Janet, does a newsletter subscriber list a) count as a form of social media and b) work as a replacement for the number of social media followers (especially as you own that list, rather than twitter or facebook)?

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I'm with you Julie - I can not stand twitter. Unbearably toxic IMO. But I love FB. I post about the sanctuary nearly every day, and make references to my books as it feels appropriate to do so. I'm happy with my following and the interaction is (almost always) uplifting and positive.

Anyway - thanks for the good info, Janet, this was interesting. And it's wonderful to see input from the Reef.

french sojourn said...

Just my two cents, but...

After years of being on Facebook. I've learned it's a mirror. An mirror that casts a shallow reflection of one, at best.

Any of you that I'm friends with may have noticed my slow (glacial) awareness maturing. No longer one to post harsh political items, I've gotten to prefer posting self reflective items.

There was this strangely human weakness of being drawn into this belief that my views mattered and would influence others... silly, I know.

The long and short of what I'm spouting off about is, social media is a tool. It can be very instrumental in reaching an audience, but like your writing, you and your talent should be whats reflected.

The last thing you want to do is alienate people.

To echo one of Colin's points, I follow some really incredible people and love their posts... horse sanctuaries, a southern women's author, resting birch face, etc. They really lighten up my page.

Cheers! Good bye 2021

literary_lottie said...

The social media thing is a bummer. I can handle Facebook and Instagram, but I quit Twitter in 2020 when the book communities I follow (YA and SFF) just became unbearably toxic. I personally think a re-evaluation of the role of Twitter in selling books and having an author profile is coming - a lot of well-known authors have written on this point recently, from Chuck Wendig to Kacen Callender, the latter of whom also pointed out how harmful it is to expect minority authors to be on Twitter when there are so few safeguards.

Oh well, I don't expect to be querying anytime soon. Hopefully some deeply necessary conversations about how we treat authors on social media have happened by then.

Android Astronomer said...

Thanks for this insight, Janet.

Regarding the cesspool of social media, I would assert that Twitter, more than any other platform, is what you make of it. I use Twitter as an author, not for discussing politics, not for keeping up with friends (except those with overlapping interests in writing/publishing), not for getting into debates with stupid people. (GK notwithstanding--OOH! Quote Oscar Wilde at him, he won't know what hit him!) I follow only those people who have something to do with writing/publishing, all of whom I consider my friends.

And I don't just promote books or talk only about writing. It's my social circle on Twitter I keep narrowly defined, not the topics I discuss with them, though I do avoid topics that would flag me as a crazy person if an editor ever took a gander at my timeline. But I would do that in any case.

If you're engaging in discussions that you know won't help you as a writer, then don't do that. Block the stupid people. Block topics you don't want to see or discuss in your feed. Curate the people you follow.

When people say, "Oh, jeez, Twitter was SO CRAZY TODAY IMMA NEVER USE TWITTER AGAIN!", I don't understand, because my experience with Twitter is always quite pleasant. Given the tools Twitter provides to navigate and customize your experience, why shouldn't it be?

Timothy Lowe said...

I think the problem people have with Twitter largely stems from those viral Tweets where users attacked somebody. We've all seen them. For some reason, people try to use the platform to exact social justice. Social justice is a good thing. But when it's interpreted through a singular moral framework and then applied as a weapon, it gets a little scary.

That said, there are a lot of morally unbalanced people out there. I never would have believed we'd see something like what happened last January 6th. I -- like most -- live in a relatively safe bubble of (mostly) reasonable people. But selling books remains selling books, which I will maintain are one of the hardest thing in the world to sell. Painters have it hard enough, but they're not asking their audience to invest 6 hours of their time digesting their work. So we have to play the game, whatever it is, no matter how much we don't like it. The alternative is remaining anonymous, which let me tell you ain't so bad these days.

What sells me is the charge I get by writing. After writing 8 books in 6 years, I almost quit last year. But like Al Pacino in that awful Godfather movie, I keep getting pulled back in.

That's not a bad thing. If nothing else, it distracts me from the dumpster fire.

Kae Ridwyn said...

Congratulations on the good start, Janet! I hope it continues as it began :)
Thank you also for this information. My own website has been sadly neglected fir a few years now, and this post has reminded me I should do something about that, even if it’s just a ‘sorry but life is too traumatic for me to deal with blogging regularly at the moment, but watch this space’ type of blogpost.
And as for social media, I’m with Colin on this one. I try to curate what’s helpful, and be positive and helpful to others in return. Just my two cents.
Thanks, Reef!

Brenda said...

Here is a fresh thought on twitter pile-ons.
Those of us on the querying end can learn from twitter research as well. When a Twitter publishing pile-on happens, I keep track of the agents that jump in there quick. There are a few that leap on any bandwagon, quite prepared to berate whoever is on the chopping block in order to increase followers. I unfollow them if I am following, and then either mute or block them.
As part of my research when querying, I do a twitter search of the agent in question. If I've muted or blocked an agent it's a red flag for me.
There are also writers who pile on quite readily as well. I don't buy their books.

Leslie said...

For me, a major problem with Twitter is not just the holier-than-thou pile-ons, but seeing how many people literally do not care about political violence if it aligns with their views. I watched this both in the summer of 2020 and January 6, 2021. And I saw how many were fine with the idea of me and some of my neighbors almost burning to death because of something that happened more than a thousand miles away. So yeah, it is personal for me.

I also have a major issue with Twitter allowing people to post death fantasies about politicians (as I posted earlier) while silencing those who dissent from the "it was only peaceful protests and they didn't harm anyone" party line.

So yeah, I'd rather tear up my contract than ever use Twitter again. For me, going back would be condoning their blatant biases and accepting that it's ok to for people to say that me being burned to death would've been fine. I cannot stick my fingers in my ears and sing "LALALALA, I CAN'T HEAR YOU" while all of this goes on there.

I use Instagram and will try to build more of a presence there, and make a FB page for my book before its release

Barbara Etlin said...

I have connected with many writers on Twitter. That's what I'm there for: to find other people with similar interests.

Most of my other social media platforms are for children's writers. I branch out on Twitter to find other people--writers, other creative people (you never know when you might need an editor, proofreader, or cover designer)--parents, teachers, librarians, people who like poetry or humour. All of those latter categories are people who might be interested in a humorous poetry book or a middle grade novel. And I have found a lot of good reading by people in the writing community.

If I find people's tweets objectionable, I just mute or block them. Problem solved.