Monday, October 12, 2009

Querying: I Heart Agents Who Read Slush

Has everyone read agent and writing guru Nathan Bransford's Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer? I can't pick a favorite because they all seem that important, and re-reading them from time to time is a great way to re-focus. Okay, that's just something I've been meaning to blog about and never found the chance. On with today's topic!

Querying, glorious querying. Many of you know about my infamous Book Number One. Rather than have you gather 'round the fire for a recap, just know that it was a typical first book, and I queried it with my whole heart. The rejections were painful and I couldn't help but take it all personal. Now I'm a lot better at seeing the writing-part as where my heart belongs, and the querying-part as nothing more than what it is: a business letter offering my services. Almost like a job application (yes, I know we would technically be "hiring" the agent, but stay with me), it is what we are offering in a prospective business partnership. No matter how bad I wanted to work at a particular company, I can't see myself trashing the interviewer all over forums if they didn't give me the job. (Even after a form rejection, Diana? Yes, even after a form. Agents have jobs to do, and replying to queries is only one tiny part of that huge job. Once you have an agent, you may not want him or her spending most of her time replying personally to every single query when the same general, kindly-worded R would give the right idea.). 

But we are the writers! We are the ones with product for the machine, we have the ever-essential raw material and I get that. However. Agents spend their free time reading slush, if they read it at all. It's probably good to keep a level head and remember that agents who hit reply when they could hit delete do not have to. (But Diana, they need us and they act all high and mighty! My response: I don't know what high-and-mighty agents those are, because every agent I've met or read an interview about seems like a hard-working person trying to do a Herculean job. Agent Jennifer Jackson states she has read over 7,000 queries so far this year. 7,000! But if I did notice a high-and-mighty agent in my agent-research, that problem would be easily solved-- don't query those agents! A form R does not mean the agent is high-and-mighty in my book. It means, No, thank you. Which is fine.).

As an aside, I think if I were averaging a hundred and seventy five queries a week, maybe the people who checked my guidelines instead of following what they heard about what agents "really" want would be a welcome relief. In other words, if a particular agent wants X-Y-Z, why do some writers insist on sending them J-Q-Asterisk-P? Janet Reid has a rhetorical quiz on her blog about this. 

How do you feel about the querying process? Am I way off base? Are agents who send form R's just the worst ever? Are queries oh-so-much-more than business letters? Whadya think?


  1. I just plain heart Nathan Bransford. I can't figure out how he has time to do all that he does. I've decided he must never sleep OR he's actually a slew of clones.

    You know... this whole process of querying is discouraging, BUT I also think it's probably discouraging on both ends... having read Jennifer Jackson's blog. I don't blame agents for sending out form rejections. I sometimes think it's odd that their form rejections aren't better, but that's just my opinion. Actually, I've found the more painful rejections AREN'T form rejections.

    I do think that collectively writers don't command the respect we deserve, BUT I also recognize that the majority of the population, whether talented or not, is capable of writing a query letter. Reading the Rejectionist really puts that in perspective. If you're up against thousands upon thousands of people who think they're writers, you can't be too upset if you're not recognized in a short query.

    I guess, in the end, I'm discouraged with the plight of the writer, but it's nothing I can directly blame... well, the loads of crappy writers out there, but honestly... let me channel a little Sixth Sense:

    I see bad writers... querying around like normal people. They don't see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're bad... they're everywhere.

    So, really... I have no one but myself to blame for choosing a "profession" with a high level of frustration.

    Also, I do appreciate those who read slush piles.

  2. Hear, hear, Diana! I, too, admire someone like Nathan Bradsford (and the many others) who are willing to wade through piles of slush in their quest for a few jewels. I haven't yet received my first rejection because, alas, I've not net completed my first WIP, but I am determined to be grateful to those who actually take the time to reply, even if it's not the reply I desire.

  3. Great post!

    I don't think form rejections are bad. It's simple and quick and I have to admire them for responding at all!

  4. I'm a member of the I Heart Nathan club too. (Or a "Brans-Flake" as someone suggested we call ourselves.) Did you know he's got a first paragraph contest on his blog today? I'm sure there will be 1000s of entries. And he'll read every damned one. But only a couple will get the prizes. That's what querying is like. We're in a contest with thousands--every day, and there can only be a handful of winners--sometimes in a whole year. We have to get used to it and see the endless querying as part of the process. Hard on them; hard on us. It's a tough business. But hey, we get to meet all these other writers online who enrich our lives. That's worth something. At least to me.

  5. I have my I Heart Nathan membership card too, people. He rocks!

    Wendy- I laughed at your Sixth Sense reference!! And I think you're right, there are thousands of queries out there so the best we can do is not take it personal. Oh I just remembered your hilarious post on agent-query letter guidelines (or something to that effect). Find it, people, you will enjoy it :)

    Sesquip- The whole querying process is like childbirth or boot camp. Everyone has their horror stories but you can't understand what it feels like until you've gone through it yourself.

    Natalie- Nicely said :) I think agents who reply to every query they get (minus spam and people who cc the entire industry) are part of the Agent Hero Elite.

    Anne- Brans-flakes, yay! I like your outlook and I agree, it's great meeting other writers online. I think the writing process in general has a lot more positives than some writers see.

  6. Great post and oh-so-true. I think the best point of all is not to trash agents. They work just as hard as we do.

  7. Hi BJ, thanks for stopping in :) Yup, trashing agents, or anyone in the publishing industry, is a big thumbs down in my book.

  8. Diana, it's time to come out and play. Where is your Tuesday post?

  9. Aww, I feel the love Wendy! I've actually been going over the first paragraph to my wip for the ever-amazing Nathan. I just entered the contest so now I shall post.