Monday, January 25, 2010

Hello? Hello? Query as a Phone Call, or-- A One Minute Rejection is Perfectly Plausible

Mary Cole has a great post at the KidLit Blog that I wish every aspiring author could swallow as a pill for instant effect. Good stuff, read it people, especially if you have a critique from me coming your way *slides a look at my darling Natalie* Fair warning, I give honest feedback.

I saw something on Twitter (I should say, I SEE it on Twitter. A lot) and that is, writers bashing agents for their quick responses to queries.

I have this thing about people hating me; basically I don't like it. But I also don't like seeing perfectly nice agents being bashed over doing their job. Actually, doing more than their job requires.

The trouble is, I feel like there's this writers versus agents vibe sometimes. Aspiring authors get a rejection, and the desired response from their writer-buddies is that the agent was a total jerk. And if I don't side with that view-- publicly, in fact!-- I am somehow on the agents' "side." Or worse... I'm a buttkisser.

First of all, I don't imagine any agents are reading MY blog or MY tweets. I barely make a dent in their submissions, first of all, and there are thousands of wannabe writer blogs out there so truly, a-buttkissing I am not. I defend agents, true, agents who read slush at least, because I don't understand the villainization of people who are doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing and, in fact, oftentimes do their best to help!

I have many gripes, but the fast-response-time complainer defies understanding for me. The agent rejected the writer's work five minutes after the writer sent it, and the writer then tweets that information all over the twitterverse or posts it on a dozen forums. Is it better to wait four weeks for the same amount of attention, because I'm no mathematician but according to my calculation I can still imagine it didn't take four weeks for the agent to debate over my query. How long would it take you, to read a single page and decide if you wanted to read more? Imagine if your query were a business phone call, one in which you had about a minute or two to convince an agent to look at your pages. That's all it would really take, right? Either the genre and idea sounds interesting, or it doesn't.

Here let's try:


Agent: "Hello?"

Writer: "Hi, may I speak with Awesome Agent?"

[Even at this point, Agent may hang up --meaning, reject the query-- Why?

  a) Writer got Agent's name wrong. Oops! This was Amazing Agent. Awesome Agent never worked for this agency.
  b) Writer also lists the names of fifty other agents because Writer saves time by mass-conference-calling queries.

The lesson? Get the agent's name right! And don't mass email queries. Now let's assume that neither a) nor b) is the case.]

Agent: Speaking.

Writer: I follow your informative blog and am impressed by your knowledge of the YA market. I admire the passionate, historical novels of your client Quinna Quillfeather, and since you mentioned an interest in historical YA with elements of magic, I thought I would try you with my 80,000 word YA romance, Heartless Heartbeat.

[Agent may hang up/reject the query if

   a) Writer lied about admiring Quillfeather. Her novels star crime-fighting clowns in modern-day Chicago and are NOT passionate historicals.
   b) Writer didn't read Agent's blog thoroughly because Agent said, "I'm NOT interested in historical YA. I hate the genre so much I want to spit after saying the words."

Again, let's say this isn't the case. Also, the lesson: know who you're querying! And don't lie. Now then...]

Agent: I'm listening.

Writer: Philemina's past held dark secrets, including a forced marriage to a powerful duke at the age of fourteen. She has the power to blend into shadows, a fact that helps her escape from dangerous situations. Having fled her husband and native France under an assumed identity, she now works as a scullery maid in the castle of one of England's most powerful baronies. She is determined to find her way to the colonies to start her life anew, and when she overhears Tristan, the youngest son to the castle lord, talking about plans to voyage to the colonies and leave England forever, she knows he is the key to her freedom. Convincing Tristan to help her is easier than she thinks... until his sister finds the jewels she'd carried with her from France, sewn into her petticoat, and accuses Philemina of theft. While she is imprisoned, Philemina's vile husband arrives and her true identity is revealed. She can only imagine that Tristan's trust is shattered, and she would rather die than return to France with her husband, so Philemina does the one thing she does best... disappears. Tristan will be better off without her, or so she thinks. Her impassioned feelings of love don't vanish so easily, but by the time Philemina realizes this, will it be too late???

[Agent may have hung up halfway through, or may have waited until the end to hang up. There are too many reasons to list, everything from

a) cheesy, derivative plot Agent has seen a thousand times before, to
z) there was no spark, as simple as that. It just didn't click and that is nobody's fault at all.

Either way, Agent doesn't want to hurt feelings or waste time, so agent says the same kind of thing anyone would say after being offered something they don't want, "Thank you, but I'm really not interested." I KNOW I'm not some expert published novelist, but I bet this "blurb" paragraph is where most of us lose the agent's interest, and if the hang-up/rejection occurs just remember, Agent didn't reject your query to be a jerk. AND, the response was quick, not because Agent didn't care, but because this is how long it took... long enough to hear what the story was about. Also, a fast response indicates the agent is good at keeping up with queries. It doesn't mean the agent didn't read your query! And it doesn't mean you suck. It could mean anything!

The lesson: stop taking rejections so personally. (Gosh Diana, that's so cold! But it's true!!) Why? Because you have NO WAY of knowing whether it was reason a, b, c or x, y, z. If you hit a few rejections without requests at all, take a look at your blurb and opening pages and revise. And keep trying. If you keep trying and keep getting nowhere, try AGAIN (meaning, try writing a book again. A different book. Because yeah, the problem may be the actual book).

Agents WANT the next fabulous novel, they don't reject them if they can help it. Show them how fabulous the story really is! (Diana, you do know you should take your own advice. Yes, I am trying, Evil Internal Voice... remember? My wip is the one, it really is!).]

Okay, okay, let's assume, however, that something in the idea seemed to work for Agent. So far, this conversation is probably about thirty seconds long...]

Agent: Okay, so who are you?

Writer: I'm a graduate from Unprestigious but Affordable State University and have been a fan of historical romance since sneaking them off my mom's night stand in junior high.

[In most cases there isn't much more to say. If there is, and it matters, lucky you. Just remember not to lie and/or exaggerate. Agent will probably not hang up if they are still listening, unless you say something to make yourself look deranged, needy or otherwise unprofessional. The lesson: avoid appearing deranged. Be professional. But even then, if the idea was still good, I bet Agent would probably peek at the pages-- wouldn't you?]

Agent: Sounds good. Give me a second and I'll look at the pages here...

[At this point, Agent knows from a few paragraphs whether or not the desire to read pages is there. Don't you know that much, when you pick up a book in a bookstore? I'm not an agent, but I know it doesn't take me a week to make a decision on whether or not a book should be added to my TBR or not. It doesn't take more than reading the blurb and maybe a paragraph or two for me to decide that-- EXACTLY WHAT I SEND A PROSPECTIVE AGENT-- a blurb (see above) and the opening pages of my book. The agent will take about another minute to know whether to reject it or whether to keep reading to the end of the sample pages and ask for more. That's it. A minute. Or two. Done deal.]

Look, if I tell you, right now, to read Heartless Heartbeat-- the WHOLE book-- you would know whether to answer me "yes" or "no thanks" or "can I start with the first chapter and see if I like it?" within one minute of reading that blurb, and you would know whether you wanted to keep reading the book after only a few pages. It would NOT take you days and days of deliberation, re-reading the blurb, discussing the blurb, taking a night to sleep on the blurb-- to decide to read this book.

This is why it frustrates me when writers vent about a quick response on forums or in tweets. Agents have a job to do: help their clients succeed. A writer who queries an agent is not their client. I am grateful for quick responses because, in all actuality, the four-week rejection took that agent only a few minutes anyway, and the sooner I know the answer the sooner I know whether it's time to tweak the query and sample pages. But don't hate me!! I'm not on the agents' "side" and I definitely don't think there should be any sides. We all want an agent, so it kinda-sorta makes sense to try and be understanding of their role. Besides, if you stalk them on their blogs and Twitter, you'll see how cool and nice they are.

A one-minute rejection on a full request would, on the other hand, be a heartbreaker. Luckily, I don't hear many of those going around. *Phew!*

What do you think? Do you ever sense a "writer-versus-agent" mentality? Would a rejection within five minutes of querying infuriate you? Do you hate me (WAIT! Don't answer that!! This is a hate-free zone peeps! *Diana runs and hides for a while*).


  1. Excellent post, Diana. Well thought out. Of course, rejection hurts like nobody's business (does anyone know where that stupid saying came But I'd rather know right away if my work was going to be rejected, rather than stewing over the uncertainty for weeks. Loved your query info, too--excellent advice on writing queries in general. You're brilliant, Diana. Quite simply, you just are.

  2. Oh Diana - that was a wonderful post and YES you are right - we shouldn't take them personally, you have no idea what makes that particular agent reject or accept your story. If they reject you, take it and move on to the next one - there are a ton of agents out there!

    No one could ever hate you! You're fabulous :o)

  3. Good post! I would imagine an instant rejection, while heartbreaking, is better than waiting for weeks and weeks only to get a rejection anyway.

    No matter when it comes, a rejection is a rejection. And I agree, if they rejected you so quickly, the problem isn't them - it's you! (Easy for me to say, since I haven't started querying yet!)

  4. Ha, ha! This was hilarious Diana. Thanks for the Monday afternoon fun.

    I think you are 100% right on this one. I think I got a few rejections in less than an hour when I was querying, but honestly I always thought faster was better. WAITING has been the hardest thing for me. I got an agent query rejection just before Christmas from an agent I queried in MAY (luckily I've had an agent since September, so I wasn't pining for his answer!) Fast is WAY better than slow, people!

  5. I'd rather get rejected quickly than wait months and then get rejected. Very good post Diana - I'm not querying yet - no where near it, but I do plan to have a kickbutt query - I hope. Hopefully my writing is good too. And I will be professional in public and rant and cry in private.

  6. Great post. Honestly, I have read other people's work and within a couple of paragraphs you usually know "hey, this is pretty good." or not. Agents, OF ALL PEOPLE, should have this down to a fine art.

    I think I might want you to critique me. Honest and blunt. But kind. I like it.

  7. Excellent post. I'm printing this one so I can re-read it several times. It is full of lots of great info - one of my favorite Diana posts. :-)

  8. Can I get an AMEN! Girl, you are absolutely right. Who wants to sit around, twiddling their fingers waiting to find out if their work is good enough or not? Not me...I'd much rather get a super quick response instead of one three months later. (Can ya tell I'm a little impatient?)

  9. I absolutely agree with all of this. complaining about quick turn-arounds seems totally ridiculous-- especially since those same people are probably going to complain about WAITING FOREVER for a response! I mean, I'd rather just KNOW and move on and not having something hanging around out there in limbo!

    Besides, I don't see why an agent would be open to queries if they weren't going to bother reading them. :)

    AWESOME post!

  10. Crime-fighting clowns in modern-day Chicago! I need to read that book!

    Great post! I'd rather get rejected fast than wait several weeks to see what happens.

  11. I'd rather fast than slow, but five minutes does seem mighty fast to open, read, reply, send. Nonetheless, I wouldn't blog or tweet about it. Agents who read slush are the good guys; they don't deserve to be bashed.

  12. I'm light years from querying, but this post is one I'll have to file away for future reference.

    Another great ride on the coaster, Diana. Nicely done.

  13. Thanks for the comments everyone!! I went to all your blogs and commented *MUAH!!* I know everyone can't agree on everything, but at the very least, publicly attacking someone is an across-the-board thumbs down, right?

    I'm super-duper busy everyone, but I wanted to say you guys are the best!!

  14. I have to say that I have met some people who have this mentality. I've never understood it. Agents are doing their jobs. I've received rejections on queries in under two minutes. I think agents KNOW what they're looking for-- usually within seconds of reading your query. The title tells them things, and that's in the subject line.

    Now that I have an agent, and have "seen" the other side, I definitely know that agents are there for authors. Published, prepublished, all of them. They want good books. They want debut authors. And it's up to us to write the good books and sell ourselves as the kind of author they want.

  15. I don't know. I haven't dared to submit my manuscript or synopsis yet. And after reading this, I don't think I'll ever have the courage to do it!

  16. You're so right. Rejection can be a hard pill to swallow, but when you're sick medicine is vital. So is rejection. None of us have arrived at being the best writer we can be, and when we feel we have our craft is in danger.

  17. I rejected my dream agent. That's right. She's huge. Works for one of the biggest agencies. And after 18 months of her sitting on my full MS and never responding to my nudges, I finally wrote her a letter.

    Dear agent,
    Thanks for considering me. While your agency is great, I don't think you are the agent for me since you show a complete lack of communication ability. Good luck with your career!

    And.......... never heard from her.

  18. BTW, love the new look over here! Terrific!

  19. I used to view agents differently, but since blogging I've come to appreciate them and their information. Sometimes a rejection is the best thing for the story. That's a topic often discussed in Blog-O-World-of-Bloggers.

    ANYWAY, welcome back. We hate it when you leave us like that :P (even though secretly, you do read our blogs and sometimes comment despite threats of death from "Unplug-Week-Monitors.")

  20. Great post! I totally agree. Agents are potential BFFs and should be treated with respect.

  21. That's why I love you girl and that is exactly why you are my critique buddy. YOU GET IT! You've done your research you know what it is going to take. Seriously, "To whom it may concern" or "Attn: All Agents" IS NOT OKAY and why people still keep doing that is baffling to me. I don't get it AT ALL.

    As you know I have not sent out my first query, yet (Maybe later this year with your help Super Hawk Eyes Girl) so I do not know the pain of rejection, yet. I know it's coming and I can't wait. Because rejection means one step closer to publication. And right now I feel so far away from the query stage I'll need a cane by the time I get there.

    Preach on sister!

  22. Excellent post, Diana! I absolutely agree with you on this. I never understood that Us-Against-Them mentality.