Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Finesse, Lying, and Just Plain Ignorance



A query letter is a pitch to an agent to read your book.

It's not a deposition, or even a frank conversation with your dear mum.


In other words, you don't have to tell the whole complete, every last detail of truth.

You don't need to say it took you six years to write this frigging novel.


You really don't want to say that you never want to look at it again.


You can gloss over previous publishing efforts if they don't have a public face.


You should leave out that you think agents are blood-sucking leeches and clearly have limited taste since your book hasn't been snatched up with glee yet.


That's finesse.


Lying is telling me you've never published anything if you have.

Lying is telling me you've never had an agent if you have.

Lying is telling me you have an offer when you don't. (I've opined on that before)



Lying is never a good idea.


And then there's just plain ignorance, and that's the one that can really trip you up.


Ignorance is telling me you won an award that doesn't exist.

Ignorance is telling me you trademarked your book (when you mean copyright, and don't do that before querying anyway.)


Ignorance is telling me an agent liked your work but was too busy to take it on (you didn't recognize a form rejection.)


Lying is an automatic pass, but so is ignorance.

I'm very reluctant to take on people who don't know what they don't know.


It's one of the reasons I'm very glad to answer questions (if I can) here on the blog.


Got any?




E.M. Goldsmith said...

Actually...maybe. Sort of. I have made a careful list of agents that I wish to query. A particular agent is of interest to me but only takes on new clients by professional recommendation. How does an unpublished author get such a recommendation? Why would any one aside from an unpublished author need a recommendation for this super agent? If they are already established, they already have an agent. Is this something that fate has to intervene because I would not want to ask for such a thing? That seems ...I don't know..to contradict every social anxiety I have and put it into overdrive.

I am guessing a querying author would not ask another agent who rejected them for such a recommendation. My feeling is that this coveted recommendation happens when one of the agent's existing clients recommends you, but I don't know any of this agent's clients. One of them is one of my all-time favorite authors but I don't know her. Is this just one of those agents I throw away and forget about? Because they'd probably say no anyway.

There are not so many agents as there were pre-pandemic. Or is that my imagination? And so many are closed to queries or are only taking on new clients by this mysterious professional recommendation right now. And my book is done. Now. The query trenches are horrifying.

Craig F said...

I wish I could find room to throw extraneous stuff into my queries; I barely find room to get a decent story arc to fly.

Back to battening down the hatches, something wicked this way comes.

LynnRodz said...

E.M., probably another way is through writers conferences. When you mingle with agents who perhaps don't represent your genre, but find your work interesting enough to suggest another agent. Or authors you may meet and may refer you to their agent. (At least, that's what I think, I've never been to a conference.)

Luralee said...

Wow, this is timely!
I did have an agent back when I was a senior in college. I was young and ignorant and had no idea how unusual that was. He tried to sell a picture book for me for a year or two, and then left the business. I'd actually forgotten about it until last week when I started researching agents and found the check box on the query form for have you had an agent previously. I will check yes, but I'm not sure how to handle the questions that will probably follow.

It was nearly thirty years ago. I no longer have the hand-typed correspondence. I don't remember the agent's name, or what agency he was with if he was even with an agency.
How big of a problem is this?

Barbara Etlin said...

E.M., it's probably best to forget about this agent who only wants a referral. There are lots of great agents out there who are willing to read queries. Maybe you could go to a conference to pitch to this agent, but it's not really worth all that time and money unless you really wanted to go to that conference anyway.

Leslie said...

E.M., professional recommendations can also mean that they take referrals from current author clients.

Some people reach a certain point in getting published without an agent. As an example, someone I used to know had become an expert in certain academic fields and got to know the head of a small publishing firm. So when he wanted to write a (nonfiction) book, he just had to put together a quick letter and a few paragraphs about what he wanted to write. He wound up getting two books published with that small firm before getting noticed by a larger independent publisher (independent, as is not one of the big houses, not in terms of him paying to get published) where he wrote a couple more. He did all of this without an agent.

If he'd wanted to go further and try to get published by the big houses, he would've needed an agent. Between his reputation (as someone who had four books published) and his contacts, he could've easily gotten referrals to agents who require that

Leslie said...

Sorry to add another comment, but I just have to say (as if we didn't already know) how wonderful Janet is!

I've seen so many people on social media who desperately want to get an agent and be published but have zero clue as to how to do it.

They have no concept of the etiquette of querying nor what agents actually do. Just reading the posts (and comments) here puts every Reef dweller at a huge advantage

Timothy Lowe said...

Luralee in my limited(?) experience querying post agent, that check box doesn't preclude them from requesting pages. Nor does it entice them. I finally added a line at the end of the query about having an agent until we parted amicably (all true -- real glad I don't have to bend the truth on that one, although it helps that I was looking at it from a business, not a personal POV). About the same amount of requests as earlier, pre-agent projects (somewhere between 5 and 10% once the query was ironed out).

In your circumstance, I would add one sentence that you once worked with an agent on a children's book until said agent left the business. No need to elaborate, unless the book sold. If that is the case, you should probably just give those details. It doesn't sound like your ancient history is particularly relevant to your current stuff from your comment.

Now I will try to imagine myself with a lit agent in college. Fortunately, nobody was buying existential horseshit about the deep and hidden motives of E.E. Cummings at the time.

Kae Ridwyn said...

No questions. Just: interrobang - LOVE IT!

Cheryl said...

Oof. My previous publication and award that ceased to exist are intimately tied. Regional library award led to publication which was bungled so badly that even people who wanted a copy couldn't get one. I never know how to talk about it.

smoketree said...

I think it's a similar principle to job applications. You shouldn't lie, but it's okay not to mention the job that you were fired from after 2 hours. In a marketing document, you can dress up the truth, but it's a risk to go any further than that.

S.D.King said...

I must have missed something. Has Janet stopped the blog? Sept 27 is the latest entry I see.

NLiu said...

S.D.King Janet's still posting on Twitter so she is definitely alive. I suspect she's either being digested by Wordle or is finding it REALLY hard to decide who won the last flash competition.

LynnRodz said...

I heard through the grapevine, Janet went to Carkoon to check on some uprising happening with the locals (they know who they are) and has been stuck there ever since. I'm not sure if she's been taken hostage or if she's on some sort of kale cleansing treatment. Either way, it's a mystery.