6.15.2006

"Where did I go wrong"

Dear Miss Snark:

So this published author friend of a friend offers to refer me and my completed novel to her bigtime agent who says he's intrigued and asks me to send three chapters--almost half of the book--to him. Within a week his secretary sends me a letter requesting that the rest of the ms be sent as soon as possible. My heart is racing and my hopes are rising. (ya, well, you'll learn not to do that again)

Two weeks later
(Snarkly emphasis inserted) I get a form rejection letter. So I send him an email asking how the book failed him. He responds, saying it is competent and sorry he couldn't be more specific. Meanwhile, I get to the full-read stage with three publishers who praise the work, saying it's well-written and funny and might even make a great film but they're going to pass on it because they have no idea how we'd market a book like this. My nails are bitten down to the quick and the brandy is all gone. I am mystified. Was it something I did or didn't do?

Have a nice day and thanks.


You are the client from hell in training. You got an intro to an agent, who read the FULL book in two weeks, and your response is "tell me why you didn't like it"?? The only thing you get to say at this point is: THANK YOU, and then you query on.



Do not email an agent and ask why they didn't take something. That is as close to a blacklist as I have, but I remember those people (I have your name and address on the data base if I read your novel) and I never ever want to work with them.




People who DO get a second shot are the ones who say "thanks for taking the time to read this, I'm sorry it wasn't a good fit for you. Between the time you requested it and rejected it I had someone else read it and she suggested several major changes. I've made those changes and it's a better book. If that makes it more appealing, you know I'd jump at the chance to be one of your authors". Yes, base flattery works, but there are two things here: you made significant changes and you didn't ask me to give you advice.

Here's why I hate being asked "what didn't work for you": I didn't read your novel with the idea of critiquing it. I read it with the idea "can I sell it". If I can't it may not mean the novel sux (and if I'm reading the full novel, we're pretty much past the sucky query stage) it may be just what those three publishers said...we don't know how to market this book. That doesn't mean someone else won't be able to.

You've only had four reads. Keep querying. No one has said your writing sux or the equivalent thereof.

And if you just neglected to tell me that you included "thank you for reading my manuscript at the speed of light" in that email, well, ignore the rant and know someone else needs the advice even if you don't.

63 comments:

Maya Sapphira said...

I got a rejection letter yesterday (my first personal one) and was seriously JUST about to email and ask her why. Bless you, Miss Snark, for making it clear why this is bad. I was going to word it nicely, but it was still a bad idea. (The agent received my query letter, requested 3 chapters, and replied all within two weeks. I shall write and thank her for that and that'll be it.)

ryan said...

Thre chapters are almost half? Is this a short book, or do you use long chapters? Or a, I just missing something?

Inez said...

This is where Carolyn See's advice on charming notes is a perfect fit.
Read Making a Literary Life!

Anonymous said...

I'm always amazed at the lack of sensitivy shown here to writers. Is it oversimplifying to suggest that literary agents are simply unsuccessful writers who've sold out? I think not. It is that agents who should be thankful. Thankful for a writer's willingness to allow them the opportunity of extorting 15%. I've read this entire blog and have yet to clearly see what it is an agent does, other than put a writer in touch with a business contact they already have in place.

Wow, I sound bitter. Still: bunch of fuckers!

-c- said...

I guess it's sort of like the line: "But would you just tell me why you won't go out with me? You know, so I have a better shot with the next girl?"

Dwight The Troubled Teen said...

We are a commodity, 'Nony, and not a particularly scarce one.

There are paths around the gatekeepers (POD, Creative Commons distribution, download e-publishing, podcasting your novel) but they are hard rows to hoe, and they rarely lead to fame and fortune.

You can rail against the gatekeepers, but you do have other ways to distribute your intellectual property. But if you want to go mainstream, it's their party. All you can do is shut up and wear the silly hat just like everybody else.

Miss Snark said...

Dear Anonymous Fucker,
oh wait,
you meant agents were the fuckers didn't you?

If you don't see the value of agents, why are you reading this blog? As self involved, and ego maniacal as I am, I sincerely doubt it's soley for the calibre of the writing or the rapier wit.

Get out of the grape vat honey. That whine is going sour.

Anonymous said...

You know what, Snarkster? IT IS ON! How dare you remark on the sourness of my grapes? Why you gotta make it personal, yo?

As it so happens, I read because I am as helpless as all the others against the mysteriously addictive power of this blog. I imagine it's the same gene responsible for sadomasochistic activity.

With any luck, there's an ambitious graduate student investigating the writerly propensity for agent-induced punishment right now.

Also, mind the language. This is a family site.

Anonymous said...

I honestly don’t understand your (or any agent’s) aversion to being asked for more feedback other than “it’s not right for me.” If every agent who reads a full manuscript never says any more than “not right for me” how will a writer ever know if the problem was with the writing, the story or that it wasn’t something the agent thought they could sell. Beta readers can only tell you so much, it is the professional opinion that lets the writer know what’s not working. If after numerous full reads one can’t find an agent who offers representation, obviously the writer needs to move on to another project, but what do they take away from the experience. What do they learn for the next project? At least if someone says “I don’t know how to sell this”, you know it’s a marketing problem. If they say the story didn’t hold my interest or the voice wasn’t strong enough, that’s clear. But I cannot understand an agent taking the time to read a whole manuscript and not giving a few lines of feedback on their impressions. Yes, it would take a few minutes to jot them down and yes we know they're subjective, but those comments would prove invaluable to the writer. After a writer looks at the different feedback from several agents they'd have a clear idea how their story/writing was viewed by publishing professionals and have a chance to revise accordingly or realize the story is flawed and its time to move on. You’re probably going to say, tough sh*t, not my problem, if I’m not going to take the project on it’s not in my interest to spend time giving feedback, but man, why not a little compassion for writer’s who are trying to up their game and improve their craft.

Miss Snark said...

I'm averse to them because authors as a rule are unable to take the information for what it's worth and leave me alone. It tends to invite conversation ....and worse.

You've failed to grasp a key element of the submission process. It's absolutely a dead loss monetarily.

To put it as crassly as possible: helping you is not of any value to me. There are enough people out there who write well enough to fill my list without giving you my time one on one. I do my "compassion" stint by doing this blog and going to writers conferences. Just exactly how much of my time do you want for free anyway?


I'm not your friend.
I'm not your beta reader.
I'm not your souding board.
Im sure as hell not your writing coach.

Anonymous said...

dwight the troubled teen said: But if you want to go mainstream, it's their party. All you can do is shut up and wear the silly hat just like everybody else.

Yes, but the elastic band is chafing my chin! And I got red punch on my party dress. And the icing is giving me a tummy ache. Whine!

Loved your comments, Dwight! Too funny. Now I just need to get an invitation to the party (although I'm getting pretty used to crashing).

Dana Y. T. Lin said...

"I'm not your friend.
I'm not your beta reader.
I'm not your souding board.
Im sure as hell not your writing coach."

*stands and applauds*

Brenda Bradshaw said...

Wow. Between the original post and the comments, for once in my life, I'm speechless.

I'll just sit back here and watch Miss S do her thing. Hopefully, blood will be involved. In the meantime, I'll point and laugh at the clueless because I'm bitchy that way.

mistri said...

Anonymous, you compelled me to respond. An agent (or editor for that matter) owes you *nothing*.

For a start, with thousands of submissions a year to read, there simply isn't time to critique each MS that comes through.

If you had an agent, you would want their attention focused firmly on their selling clients. While it's always worth finding new talents, it's not worth looking for it to the detriment of the confirmed talent already on board.

Agents and editors are not paid to train would-be authors, most of who will *never* make it (and I say that as a would-be author).

Also, you don't seem to realise that sometimes there simply aren't *lots* of *specific* reasons to reject something. Usually it's just because there was no spark. Consequently, 'it's not right for me' is generally pretty accurate.

I've read slush and most of it (after weeding out the reallllly bad stuff) was competent but boring. Yet saying that often incurs a writer's wrath. Much better to give them a form reject. After all the next novel might be fantastic.

I can also confirm that if you tell a writer 'X and Y was wrong, but I advise you to start something new rather than revise this manuscript' you will still receive the manuscript yet again about 50 per cent of the time. Agents/editors usually want to see new work from writers, not the same MS that's been rejected and reworked over and over for decades.

This is getting too long, but there is so much I could say. One final thing then:

Often (and I'm guilty of this myself) writers wonder what's happened to their recent submission. They imagine it sitting on the editor's/agent's desk and think 'why aren't they reading it now?!'

The editor/agent however, is thinking 'well I'd love to read that slush, new writers are the lifeblood of the industry but I have to fit in the rest of my day job first'.

When I was an editorial assistant a typical day might include line-editing a manuscript, going to meetings, choosing cover artwork, writing back cover copy, proofing covers, and managing my own set of authors. Reading slush had to come *after* deadlines were met. I wrote personal letters to everyone I thought was promising, but there just wasn't time to do the same for everyone.

*enters the rage and departs blogger* :)

Anonymous said...

Y'know, it wouldn't be enough anyway. It never is. Like M.S. says, comments invite conversation. If she said my story didn't hold her attention, I'd want to know which page she lost it on. And if she told me which page, I'd want to know which paragraph.

Foogle Bottom said...

Amen, Miss S! That's what critique groups are for.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark:
Because the submission process is of no monetary value to you, should those of us who do actually receive feedback in rejection letters do the Happy Dance of Joy, because the agent thinks eventually we might be lucrative clients?

I also noted that you said the writer would "not do that again" about getting his hopes up. I've reached that stage, and I have to say, it stinks. I receive a message from an editor that sounds incredibly hopeful, things in it like "I will do everything in my power to purchase your manuscript," and I file it in my "that's nice" file and slog on with the next assignment, figuring the time to rejoice is when the check clears the bank but not before. Being numb cuts down on the crushing pain afterward, but it also removes the joy of the daydream. And I can't help but wonder if, someday, numbness will also blank out the joy of success.

Anonymous said...

We sip gin anxiously awaiting the bell for the next round. Literary UFC! I love it!

Nobody said...

You're surprised agents don't try to help you improve? Really? How nice were you to the last cold caller who bugged you while you were trying to get stuff done?

You've got a product. You're hawking it to people who didn't ask to see it. You're bugging them just as much as the cable guy who calls you while you're eating dinner to get you add HBO to your service, which of course you would never ever do because those bastards canceled Carnivale, not that you tell the telemarketer that, right? No. You just hang up.

"But they *did* ask to see it! Writer's Market says they take submissions!" Yes, as part of doing business they look at new stuff. New stuff doesn't necessarily mean your stuff. Making that connection is your job, not theirs.

Cold calling has like a 1% success rate. Everyone else is going to brush you off as fast as they possibly can. That's how sales works.

Wesley Smith said...

I'm sure the person who originally e-mailed you will get picked up eventually, maybe soon. Said person has an friend who's already been published and who recommended an agent. In just the two weeks the agent was reading the full manuscript, the author gets THREE other agents to read the MS.

If I got that many requests for full reads, I'd be doing backflips.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the only thing that will prevent said author from getting an agent will be his or her own interpersonal skills or lack thereof.

kathryn magendie said...

I'm reading this with interest. For a part of me thinks, "just because some hapless ill-informed writer asks a simple question, she is now blacklisted? sent to the fire-breathing hell of oblivion? never again to be considered, and maybe her name bandied about as 'don't touch this!'?"

The other side of me thinks of the requests I get of "would you read my stuff and tell me what you think?" at parties or from strangers -some e-mailing me their telephone number with a note all in caps beggging me to call and "help them with their writing" - all because on my blog, I admit I am a writer, and I'm not even "known." So, in that way, I sympathize with the "it will always be the next thing."

The "serious writers" who want to publish and try to understand and learn about the business, and who are not some crazy ashhole looking to latch on like a sucker fish, get lost among those who "don't have a clue, and couldn't care less about the clue or any clue-like thing."

But, I understand this is a Business, and our writing is Our Product, and with a saturated market, agents can pick and choose and turn away-supply demand applies just as with any business. It has to be this way.

I'd get snarky if I were in the agent/editor part of the business, but at the same time, I do hope that I'd recognize when a writer is only ill-informed, vs the writer who mimics the leech-sucking its host dry.

I've received good feedback from my queries, which is frustrating in itself. The words "confident and professional writing," "lyrical" "well developed characters," etc, would make me want to ask "Why why then, to you reject me!?" But, alas, I know it is all about "what will sell," and to take a risk on an unknown is daunting to agents.

On the occassion when I did my own "oops" with asking an agent a question, before I did more research into the "do's and don'ts" of writers and agents, when I misinterpreted our earlier contact, I was shot down quicker than a duck hunted by a former governor in a louisiana bayou, my face flamed, my heart beat pitter patter, and I thought, "now I've done it! My name is going to be bandied around as one of those leechy sucker fish types!" *sigh* When really, I'm just trying to muck through it just like everyone else.

This comment should not even be published, as it proves the whole point of writers! We don't know when to shut the farkity up! I'm embarrassed by my own self. Sheesh. I suck. I'm the muck under Snark's shoe! I prove my own point!

dammit! *hanging head in shame*

Maria said...

Anon--

Check out this link where an editor explains how slush piles don't get read. That's just the start of what an agent might do for you. I was just talking to a published writer yesterday--she talked about what agents do with foreign rights, sub rights, etc. If you're reading this blog and not figuring out what a good agent can do--then you must just not want to hear the message.

http://jasonpinter.blogspot.com/2006/06/truth-about-literary-agents-if-youre.html

Justine Musk said...

If and when Anony does land an agent, who is then thoughtfully critiquing Anony's writing, working on the revisions with Anony, putting a marketing plan together, pitching the work enthusiastically to select editors, following up with said editors, negotiating for a better contract, etc., etc...will Anony then want his/her agent to take precious time (already on the short side, already divided among other clients and responsibilities) away from all that in order to dialogue with each of the many, many writers he/she turned down that week about why their work is not a good fit for that agent? (Especially when that information is better gotten from a smart critique group, or a good writing instructor, or just a hard cold re-evaluation of the ms. by the writer him/herself, or even the recognition that, hey, getting an agent who loves your ms. is a numbers game as much as anything else?)

Somehow I doubt it.

mitzibel said...

Nobody--that cold-calling analogy is freaking priceless. They should print it in 24 pt bold font inside the front cover of every Writer's Market.

Stacy said...

I work in educational publishing, and I used to be an English teacher; I can't help suggesting improvements. Also, my company doesn't take submissions as a rule; usually, we commission authors, and unless they suck beyond the telling of it, we are therefore committed to making the material work. If I told you how much REwriting I do on a daily basis, you would wonder why we keep using the authors we do, but in educational publishing, you want certain names on your books, so you ask them to write, and hope they can do the job.

I mention this because I don't think some of the writers who left their comments realize how time-consuming and gut-wrenching it is to look at another person't writing and say - this doesn't work, take out this section, put chapter two after chapter 9, convert this whole section to a table. It takes time, and keep in mind that in my 9-to-5, we supply the idea and have to wait for a workable manuscript. My workday is structured for that, but I can't imagine that an agent or an editor who takes submissions has that sort of time.

Anonymous said...

"Said person has an friend who's already been published and who recommended an agent. In just the two weeks the agent was reading the full manuscript, the author gets THREE other agents to read the MS."

Sounds about right to me. But this guy also sounds like he might be the client from hell, and drive his agent crazy. Just because he has published writer friends doesn't make him necessarily a good writer, or more importantly, a good client.

I have a critique partner who was invited by an agent to submit her full manuscript after the agent read a partial. She did so. The idea of the book is brilliant, but the writing needs lots of work. The agent sent it back, with a couple of comments.
The crit group felt the comments were right on point, and the writer should concentrate and rework.
Instead of taking her time, she jammed the revisions in, and resent the ms to the agent! Who was amazingly kind enough to look again! Of course, the writer hadn't done what she'd mentioned, and the agent returned it.

We, her critique partners were in awe. Not only of said agent, but of the chutzpah of our fellow author, who was so obviously blowing a huge opportunity.

Author emailed agent begging for another shot. Said "she got it," about what the agent was asking for. Agent said sorry, no can do.

This is a well-known agent, big clients, who did this for a stranger.

Moral: there are opportunities if you are a good writer, but even if you are a good writer, if you are a moron, you will lose.

magz said...

I'm with anony # whatever waaaay down, literary UFC; priceless! The Write-Fight Club, hehe.

Our Snarkly One is correct, and very generous with free education. It's appriciated and valuable. And Free, ie you're under no obligation whatsoever to accept it, but neither were you invited to vent bitterness. Want 'sensitivity' towards writers? There are many places where you may sensitize to your heart's content with others suffering the same thin skins...

Just be aware that should you continue the foolish pursuit of besmirching Miss Snark's generousity, there are many among us willing to tap your cheekiness with the wake-up glove, and challenge you to the duel.
Cluesticks at Dawn.. Central Park

Lydia said...

>Is it oversimplifying to suggest that literary agents are simply unsuccessful writers who've sold out? I think not. It is that agents who should be thankful. ... I've read this entire blog and have yet to clearly see what it is an agent does, other than put a writer in touch with a business contact they already have in place.

I got not one but TWO offers, which came from two of the five or so largest English-language publishers in the world--Penguin Putnam (two imprints were interested, but they have a noncompete clause, so the first one to offer one month after my submission got it) and HarperCollins. I got these offers all by my little lonesome self. I'd fired my crappy agent, and now I was on my own.

I talked to each editor briefly and realized there was no way in heck that they'd take me seriously. So I called up a really good agent and told her the situation. She was books, so she said she'd represent me on this one book but made no promise for future representation until she read my work. She read it and then decided that she couldn't pass me up, so she took me on as a full client, and she's been worth her weight in gold.

She has:

-gotten me higher advances
-pushed for higher printruns
-gotten my debute novel published in FIVE languages
-looked out for my money
-pushed for higher listing (lead title, second book, third book, etc.)
-made my initial deal a 3-book deal instead of a 2-book deal--I was paranoid about no being able to establish myself as strongly in two books, so I specifically asked for this

Most agents love books but have NO desire to write fiction. None. (And most writers have the business sense of a small, drunk gnat...) A fabulous agent does wonders for your career--EVEN IF you've already gotten past the gatekeeper! Good agents aren't extortionists. They are PARTNERS in your career. And their 15% is worth every penny.

blaironaleash said...

Ya know my colleague got a sales call at work the other week. This genius sales guy responded to her (polite) greeting with 'Christ, you sound like a zombie.'

When this didn't go down terribly well, he accused her (her!) of lacking skills in interpersonal relations. Then when she put the phone down, he called back and complained to me (me!) about how outrageously rude she'd been to him.

Well, at least it gave us our laugh for that afternoon. Remind you of anyone?

Ken Boy said...

Anon, it takes a great deal of time to write a useful critique. It is too much to expect others (e.g., agents) to do it for you for nothing. Time is money, you get what you pay for, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

That's why writers join crit groups, where you earn crits by giving crits.

Let us not be greedy.

Ken Boy said...

Dwight the troubled teen said: "All you can do is shut up and wear the silly hat just like everybody else."

If you can jump high, jump for her too. [Sorry, couldn't help it.]

Lydia said...

Did I write Harper Collins? If I did--*head smack*--I meant Random House!

word verification: rglnido, a regal nest for a multilingual bird...

Tori Scott said...

I honestly don’t understand your (or any agent’s) aversion to being asked for more feedback other than “it’s not right for me.” If every agent who reads a full manuscript never says any more than “not right for me” how will a writer ever know if the problem was with the writing, the story or that it wasn’t something the agent thought they could sell.

It's been my experience that agents often will offer feedback if they see real potential in the writer and want to see more of their work. I rarely ever get a standard form rejection anymore. I get more of a "the writing is solid and I love the characters, but I just didn't fall in love with the story like I need to" and a request to send my next project. So I think it really boils down to how good your writing is, how close your story came to getting them excited, and how you come across as a person. Calling agents "f'er's" isn't going to get anyone anywhere.

Just learn to say thank you and send them the next book. Unless you only wrote one and thought you'd get rich on it. In that case, dream on.

cousin said...

Well, here I am, a day late and a dollar short, as usual. It seems like only yesterday (but perhaps it was Tuesday) when I got an email from an agent who had eagerly read my full manuscript after seeing a partial, only to respond that the novel "tended to drag in the latter half."
Without thinking, certainly without reading this blog, I dashed off a return email wondering if he could be more specific about where in the latter half the novel started dragging for him. (In my defense, I did promise him I wouldn't resubmit).
Now I know that not only am I unlikely to get a response but that now I'm on his black list forever--even though, on his previous email, he had assured me he'd love to see my next book.

Anonymous said...

Anon-

This is a family site????

Ms Snark,

You need to add in graphics & little emoticons & hey, how about a line of little actions figures for the kiddies?

A Ms Snark, pay extra for gin pail and stilettos,
A Killer Yap,
A George (probably have to pay him royalties, but you'd like setting that up),
And maybe an array of hapless author figures (with tiny computers, and little tiny manuscript pages, and SASE's -- all extra of course).

Anonymous said...

Look, with due respect to all, all I (3rd anon) was trying to say was after an agent has requested (we're not talking slush pile, aka cold calls, here) and reads a full (often after reviewing a partial they requested) that they give a concrete reason why it they didn’t find it right for them. I wasn’t suggesting an agent owes anyone a full critique, writing suggestions or friendship, just a concrete reason beyond, “I’m not the right agent for this”, so the writer can have some closure (and maybe some insight). If the writer contacts the agent again after that, then blackball them, don't answer, whatever.

Maybe the whiny "have some compassion" statement elicited the "I'm not your friend,” yadda, yadda, yadda, and I accept that. And I understand you earn nothing reading a manuscript on spec (which most of us, knowing this, express our sincere thanks for the agent’s interest and time investment) and that agents are crazy busy, but we’re talking about adding a few sentences to the rejection letter/email you’re already sending out—not writing a two-page critique.

Thankfully, there are agents out there who give feedback (with class and professionalism) after reading a requested full, it just seems that it would be better for all if more agents did this as writers might stop querying on projects that need to be let go (read, less queries for you), or submit more polished saleable manuscripts based on prior feedback. I know, I know, bottom line: You can fill your list with others, so there’s nothing in it for you. Got it!!!

Anonymous said...

nobody: you've hit it on the head.

mitzi: I am not sure it's an analogy. I think a query is, literally, a cold call; at least literally a cold contact.

1st Anon:

85% of nothing is also nothing. Agents make "inside sales," whose success rates are several hundred percent higher than cold calls. Also, you pay nothing if they do nothing. So what's the beef?

-kd

Justine Musk said...

"...we’re talking about adding a few sentences to the rejection letter/email you’re already sending out—not writing a two-page critique...."


But it's my experience that many agents do do that, at least once you get to the partial/full ms. request stage. The problem then comes down to: the agent has to sum up a fairly complex reaction based on her own tastes and gut instincts as well as years of experience of reading manuscripts, in one or two pithy sentences ("I just didn't fall in love with it", "I wasn't as captivated by the narrative as I'd hoped", "I didn't find the characters engaging enough") that in the long run still don't tell you much, and that the next agent is just as likely to completely disagree with, and the writer is still highly dissatisfied and wants more feedback, etc.

I just think in most such cases the writer wants something, some essential insight or reassurance, that the agent just can't give -- we know it's supposed to be a business relationship, but there's so much heart and soul and hope and sometimes desperation wrapped up in it, it's hard not to react emotionally -- so frustration erupts all around.

Agents should not be used for "feedback"; that's what workshops are for. You get to the polished saleable manuscript through practice, trial and error, and you know you're getting closer when you do start eliciting those personal reactions from agents instead of form rejections. Hell, if agents started giving every submission the personal treatment, then we'd lose out on one of the few actual markers we have that tells us if we as novelists are getting anywhere, making any forward progress as well. :)

Anonymous said...

Well, once I got a rejection letter from this nice man. Later I was told that it was a "glowing rejection." Okay---whatever. Anyway, I knew better than to ask the wizard of oz where I screwed up (most likely many places)but I took a chance and did. I guess I like living dangerously. Back to the story. He answered me, but funny enough it was kind of like the morning after having sex with someone that doesn't love you. I didn't feel any better,I was none the wiser, and perhaps a little more confused. I felt stupid and I never asked why don't you love me, again. I'm probably on some black list. I was in Jr. High too...

Georgia Girl

EHsquared said...

Third and Last anon

You don't get it. You really don't.

Termagant 2 said...

All these comments are the reason why this ("somewhat jaded" - according to a friend in publishing) author is gonna wait 'til she has her DEAL in hand before I go agent hunting again. That way, s/he can take the 15% for the deal I already made, and work FOR ME in the following deal.

At least, this is how I'd like it to work (grin).

T2, who is considering changing her legal name to T2 -- maybe I post on this bloggie too much.

Anonymous said...

There are two sides to every story.

Consider the cost of living and working in NYC. Owning a business, which is what an agent is. A business. Somehow the creative aspect of writing overshadows the business part.

There is no company paying the phone bill, or the postage, or the copy bill. There is no company paying the messenger, or the health insurance. Or the rent.

Figure out how much it takes, in terms of 15% of something (with an average advance being four figures) to run a business.

What would you do on Friday if no one came around with your paycheck? Uh, sorry. You didn't sell anything this week. No paycheck.

Agents are on their own. They pay their way. Authors get miffed over including a SASE? Puhleeze. Not every agent represents John Grisham.

Jeez. I'm starting to feel sorry for agents.

Anonymous said...

Brand new to this blog, I think the author learned something valuable here. You can be a good client or a bad one. And there are good agents and bad ones. The goal isn't simply to GET an agent--it's to find a GOOD match. Kinda like a marriage; it's getting more difficult to start a strong one these days. I am not thin skinned, but I am not a stone either. Why don't you guys help each other out instead of chicken-pecking the sh*t out of everyone who screws up? Have a little mercy. Maybe someone will return the favor to you some day.

Anonymous said...

"There are two sides to every story," some anony said here, up there, at the top of the scroll.

Ya. I've been freelancing for 20 years. I pay for my family's health insurance, my phone bills, software, internet, damn photocopies, postage, double social security of which I'll never see a penny, office rent, office supplies, sick days, holidays, vacation (if any) days, SASE's, etc., etc., etc., ETC.

The health insurance part sucks the most.

See? Your point about expenses and cost is pointless.

Let me know if I offend you, agent. Maybe I can shine your shoes or run to Starbucks for you or kiss your ass so I stand out and win your favor to actually read my query letter because I forgot to research your latest deal and congratulate you for it in my letter before you mailed your 1/4-page slice of an 8.5 x 11-inch (pink!) photocopy (don't waste that Mr. Important Person stationery on moi) that tells me how busy and behind you are after I spent $30 on photocopying and another $5 on postage and a good part of my day to pack up the work YOU asked for. It's 90 degrees out and I still have my storm windows on.

It IS like a really BAD one night stand.

Lydia said...

Funny thing, last anon, I'm going to be making this year more than what I would have made if I'd stuck in engineering (assuming my publisher ever pays me all those royalties and advance segments, of course...), and it will be my second year of having stuff on the shelves. Some the success is certainly that my first book sold much more than anyone expected or I had even *hoped* for--but a lot of that? It's my agent. And having an editor who believes in me and fights for me--having TWO, in fact, since I moved from orphanhood to another editor who believes.

If you keep 15% of nuthin', it's still nuthin'. I'm the first one to admit that some agents suck eggs. I had one for a while. Others, though, can make your career.

I'm one of those weird authors who thinks I shouldn't starve for my art--that I should be able to write books I love AND get paid well for it. Finding an agent who agrees and a publisher who is impressed is a big step along that path.

I'm not kissing butt here. I don't know who Miss Snark is. I don't really care. I HAVE an agent I'm very happy with--who has made me happy despite having been burned by incompetence in the past.

I simply I don't know of any NYT-bestselling authors who don't have an agent.

Anonymous said...

Last anon,
I think that the point you miss is that an agent's JOB is being an agent.
You may freelance at something else which supports your habit of writing and submitting your manuscripts. The agent makes money from selling those manuscripts. If they feel they can't sell your submission, they can't afford to spend time on them, because THAT is their job, the entire source of their income.

Unless, of course, I've got it wrong, and agents do this in their spare time as a hobby, and have another job to support themselves. I know there's a big turnover in agents because several that I've queried in the past year are no longer in the business.

s.m.o'shea said...

Maybe it's just because I'm a writer and not an agent and there are two inherently different mindsets involved, but I think I kind of agree with the writers asking for a bit more feedback. I'll be the first to admit I have no idea what goes into an agent's job and I'm sure it's quite a lot. And I don't need much more feedback--after a query or even a partial, a simple "this isn't right for me," seems adequate enough, but after reading the entire manuscript, it seems like there should be one or two solid reasons why an agent chooses to reject said manuscript. It just seems polite at that stage to tack on a few sentences like, "... your writing was generally solid, but the characters were too flat," or "the plot was predictable." Just two blunt sentences stating why the agent didn't like it, and that's the end of it. After this, the writer should send a brief thank you note for the agent's time and explanation. No conversation, no debate. It's pretty obtuse to reply with "Oh, but what about my characters didn't you like? Can you provide me with examples?" and I would certainly understand blacklisting that.

Like I said, I think there are inherently different mindsets in writers and agents. Agents don't want to waste their minimal time on unmarketable material, but writers are primarily concerned with honing their craft. If a writer is rejected, the first thought in their mind is probably "How can I improve?" but it's hard to do that blindly.

My opinion, anyway. Not that it counts as much of anything, seeing as how I have yet to even submit anything. I'm not nearly good enough.

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

(For the record I love agents and know that every sling and arrow we writers suffer, they suffer ten times more because they suffer them for ALL their clients. We, on the other hand, just suffer for ourselves.)

But to me the main point of this thread is - if you're at the stage where you're querying agents, you shouldn't still be seeking feedback about the quality of your writing. That part should be done, over, finis; when you're looking for an agent or a publisher, shouldn't you be submitting work that has been critiqued and picked apart to death already? At this stage, you're no longer a student of writing. Or at least, you shouldn't be.

-ril said...

At this stage, you're no longer a student of writing. Or at least, you shouldn't be.

You should always be a student of writing. Forever. However good you are, you can always learn something new; you can always bring something fresh to your writing; you can always be better.

Anonymous said...

I will love you Georgia Girl. Don't be sad :-(

Anonymous said...

To all the agent sympathizers out there - aka Snarkanistas - the query/cold call analogy is far from accurate. A query is a business proposition, not an appeal for charity.

Have a little respect for yourself, wouldya? We are writers, not hobos. Wake up and take a good look in the mirror. This woman has you whipped.

Anonymous the first.

punbsi said...

I understand Miss Snark not wanting to invite conversation and emphasizing the "I'm not your friend" part, but that doesn't mean she shouldn't sound friendly. She's not helping agents' reputations. Anonymous #1's comment wasn't particularily diplomatic. However, MS too often sounds like a slightly irrational, school yard bully with knee-jerk reactions. Maybe that's what the business does to agents--it certainly keeps her Web audience captive--but when directed at a specific person, it makes me doubt her judgement.

Anonymous said...

from a snarkinista--

OK, anon the 1st, your mind is not going to be changed. I concede that.

Once, I was in a business meeting, as a business person, in a business context. The meeting was with a potential new channel partner, someone who sold something that could be sold along with our thing. The opportunity was that we could cross-sell each others' stuff.

One of my salespeople tried to befriend the the guy, by making slightly-too-obsequious inquiries about the welfare of the guy's family. My guy then sequeued into a request for a better cross-sell discount. The potential partner's answer:

"Look, I got freinds. This is business."

LSS--we sold some stuff with the the new channel partner, which was good, at the original, standard rate, which was fair. It was money we wouldn't have had otherwise. Just another day at the office, and no one felt "-ista-ed" Many backgrounds make rich perspectives. Snark on.

-kd

Justine Musk said...

Anony the first --

If you want to deal solely with small or independent presses, that's fine. The more power to you. Me, I like being published by the majors and having books in every Barnes & Noble and Borders across the country. I like being translated into foreign languages. I like having a bidding 'war' for my latest book that drove the original offered advance up to more than three times that amount. I like having a prominent film agent in LA taking an interest in my stuff.

My agent did all that. It's cool. (And during the many years I spent trying to become 'saleable and publishable', somehow I survived without extensive feedback from the agents who were rejecting me.)

Kissing ass? Whipped? I don't think so. I think it's called 'reality check' and maybe even 'getting ahead'.

And a query letter? Is nothing so boring or pompous as a business proposition. It's a teaser and a hook.

Luck.

beogon said...

Anon-
Cable company ain't a charity either.
They've got a product to sell.
I might want it, I might not.
If I don't I don't have the time to explain why.
(Nor the time to explain why I don't want siding, or insurance or ...)
But every now ad then they call someone who wants it.
Swell for them both.

Nobody said...

the query/cold call analogy is far from accurate. A query is a business proposition, not an appeal for charity.

A query is a business proposition, which is exactly what makes the cold call analogy work. The guy who calls you at your desk on a busy Wednesday to try to sell you a copier/laptop/training service/widget isn't appealing for charity either. That's a business proposition.

He has a product. He wants you to be interested in it. Maybe you will be and maybe you won't, but the most doubtful outcome of that conversation is that you'll tell him you aren't interested, then take half an hour or so out of your busy day giving him feedback on how he might improve his pitch or his product so you're more likely to be interested next time. You'll just politely decline, get him off the phone as fast as you can, and go get your new copier/laptop/training service/widget from one of the other million billion places you can.

Stacy said...

Writers always claim to want feedback, until they get it from someone with the perceived power to make them change something. When I move all your commas, delete fifteen paragraphs and rewrite your opening, middle and closing bits - and I'm still in chapter one, none of them says "Hey, love the changes you made". Sure, one or two changes, that's fine, but who the hell do I think I am, cutting and chopping and changing as though I think I am the queen of the world? It is THEIR work, dammit, and they won't ALLOW me to do what I please with it. Well, I just did.

My point? Don't be so eager to get a full critique from the agent - the editor or copy editor is still waiting out there to give you all the criticism your heart desires.

Anonymous said...

When I emailed the agent after his rejection, I didn't request a full critique. I thanked him twice in my email for reading my work. It was an on-line FAQ with this very agent where I read him stating that an author deserves a personal response from an agent who requests a full read and then rejects. That's his opinion, and it's also why I emailed him after I received the form rejection. I won't do it again. I'm not from Hell. The fact my book is about a bunch of quirky Catholics in the Midwest and the agent primarily promotes soft porn painfully illuminates the importance of finding the right match over taking any referral you can get. Nitwittery? I'm all stocked up, but gratefully growing wiser with every fumble.

From the emailer to whom Miss Snark originally responded

Anonymous said...

The cold call analogy works to a certain point, and then the comparison is lost.

If you buy a "product" from a company, you get the best deal you can, and then turn around and use the tangible product.

An agent is buying a business opportunity. A possiblity. An intangible, unquantifiable business opportunity. Until you have an agent who will take your work to market, NO ONE has "bought" your writing. Your agent has, because he puts up his money in time, effort, supplies, etc., in the hopes of making some return. Sometimes he wins. Sometimes he loses.

If he's not good at his job, discerning enough to choose those projects he can sell, he ain't going to be in business very long.

Rejection to me means the agent doesn't think he can sell my work. Period. No more, no less. Angsting over every comma, nuance, meaning is fruitless. Being angry at not getting feedback, which was so correctly pointed out is not the object of sending to an agent. SELLING is the point. For you, and the agent.

It's a crass and rude awakening for writers who have put so much of themselves to be told it isn't good enough, but get over it. Move on.

If you can't stand this part, wait until you sell. Then your problems really begin.

Jeb said...

"if you're at the stage where you're querying agents, you shouldn't still be seeking feedback about the quality of your writing. That part should be done, over, finis"

Totally!

I'm frequently flabbergasted to meet an otherwise-sensible writer who persists in sending out to agents & editors a collection of sample pages (or full manuscripts) that NOBODY ELSE has ever seen. (A second flabber-gaster is writers who don't seek critique/beta readers because 'they always want me to change something'.)

Don't let the first person to read your work be the agent/editor; it's a guaranteed rejection.

s.m.o'shea said...

I agree that when a writer submits his or her work to an agent, it should be finished. It should have endured the wrath of a thousand red pens. It isn't smart to submit a freshly printed first draft.

But how can a writer not worry about the quality of their writing? I don't understand that at all. A writer should always want to improve and always want to do the best they can. Even if something I wrote was accepted and published, I would STILL like people to tell me what they think I could have done better. I don't expect my agent to sit down with me and say, "Listen, we published it, and it was good, but here's what you can work on for next time." This would go double for something that was rejected. If the reason an agent can't sell my work is because my work sucks, I'd like to know that and anything to help me improve.

I understand that the writing should, for all intents and purposes, be finished upon submission, but the idea that a writer shouldn't seek feedback on the quality of the writing at ALL seems to me to be taking it a bit too far.

-C- said...

Anon who started this, those two or three lines that you want? They might go like this:

The characters didn't grab me. The writing was flat. It wasn't engaging enough. The plot wasn't original enough. I just didn't love it.

Now seriously, what good would they really do you? "Not right for me," is just as good, isn't it?

I got ten detailed rejection letters from major houses. They all read my book and came close to buying it. They all explained why they didn't, using the language above. I was super flattered by the letters. But the content was contradictory and meaningless. So do you want flattery, or do you want useful info? Because unless they say something extremely specific (and if it is fixable, they will), basically, the agent just didn't like your book.

As for the pink rejection slip--if you are offended by that agent's business practices, you would not be happy to have him or her as your agent anyway. So why bitch? I had an agent for a while who could not spell. Wrote me illiterate emails. I was young and stupid and thought it was excusable because he was sort of a "name." But sheesh. If you don't respect each other, then no deal, right? Pink photocopies wouldn't bug me, maybe garbled text wouldn't bug you.

But I do think writers should get out of the mindset that they need to suck up to agents (unless it's funny, as it is here). Agents really aren't doing us a grand favor to look at our work, isn't that right Miss Snark? It just feels that way to them sometimes because so much of our work is still really really bad.

festusmonroe said...

Anon #3 is asking the wrong question. Rather than asking why an agent won't take a moment to offer some constructive feedback, he/she should ask: Why would I want feedback from someone who has no interest in my work? An agent who doesn't like your manuscript may think the best thing for it is to bury it in your backyard.

Besides, even a couple sentences multiplied by a big-ass stack of submissions equals countless work hours per year. Ask yourself how many hours you'd be willing to work for free this year?

If you submit to an agent, you've decided that your work is already of professional quality. As someone has so eloquently stated already, if you still need feedback then you're not ready to send it out. Beta readers are for improvement. Agents are for selling a work that's already as good as you can make it.

I'm no editor, but if I read a book I don't like, I don't try and think of how it could be better. I think, "Why am I wasting my time reading this when I could read something I enjoy?" I then put the book down and forget about it. An agent is a reader, and readers don't owe authors squat.

We could all sit around and talk about how life isn't fair, but we're much better off getting back to work on our next novel.