Miss Snark, spawn of Satan

To Her Most Tyrannically Inebriated Gin Drenched Snarkiness,
Keeper Of the Most Bichonesque KY,
Expounder Of The Hidden Secrets of the Hook,
Wielder Of The Mighty and Most Feared Cluegun,
Guardian of the Passage to Nitwitville,

I was thinking of adding a short questionnaire to my query letter. Something along the lines of:

"Please tick any and all that apply for rejection
(I will not take any feedback as an invitation to correspond with you further, unless explicitly indicated.):
_ I don't handle this genre.
_ This has subject matter I don't deal with.
_ No plot indicated.
_ This is poorly written and needs to go through several re-writes.
_ I like it, but I can't sell it.
_The market does not buy manuscripts like this."

Would that be completely inappropriate? I mean, it would take a bit more time than a form letter, but hopefull not that much more.

Should I do this? Or should I ready my passport for a certified stamp from the sovereign city-state of Nitwitville?

No. You and I both know you'll honor the "I promise never to follow up on this" but the agents don't. Trust me on this: we've all been on the wrong end of 'please give me some feedback' also known as "there's a reason we print up form rejection letters and it's not cause we can't type".

I never answer these things. I use form rejection language unless I want to say something nicer than "no".

I understand your thirst for assistance but that is why Dog invented Crapometers, critique groups and the Evil Editor. Miss Snark was spawned by Satan, as were all of her ilk.


Anonymous said...

I like feedback as much as the next aspiring but why would you want to give the impression that you fully expect to have your work rejected? I wouldn't even read the thing if I got as much mail/week as most agents indicate.

Personally I'd rather do the guess work myself and not put the negative assumptions into my first impression. But of course I'm forgetting this was all in jest... wasn't it?

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Miss Snark was NOT spawned by satan, no matter how many times she tries to convince you of that!

She is wonderful, and has the patience of Job to wade through 700+ hooks!

So there!

LadyBronco said...

I think a letter like that included with a query is asking for an auto-no.

Besides, it's kind of rude to tell an agent that their response just isn't good enough, "so please fill this out so I can translate what it is you're trying to say."

That's what I would view a request like that as, anyway.

Kit Whitfield said...

I fear your questionnaire would be interpreted as cheek.

For one thing, several of your questions would require reading the whole book to answer properly, and most books don't need to be read all the way through, as they're clearly incompetent. Your book may be great, but the agent will be reading the letter before they've read the book, and will be annoyed at the implied demand.

For another, there are always more reasons to reject a book than can be fitted on a questionnaire. You've left out 'I just don't want it,' for example, and also 'I have specific objections to this book but don't want to mention them in case you turn out to be a stalker.' There are odd people out there, and form letters are an agent's way of protecting herself behind a safe wall of neutrality.

Most cheekily, you're trying to manoevre the agent into doing something they wouldn't ordinarily do. And agents hate to be manoevred. Remember, you're the one asking them for something, and that means they get to set the terms, including having the freedom to reply to you in the way that seems best to them. A lot of people try to manipulate agents one way or another - hard-sell, emotional blackmail, lies - and agents quickly get tired of it. Your letter isn't particularly manipulative, but it's still trading on an assumption that they'll have to answer questions if they're asked directly, which is leaning on them a bit. What your questionnaire will do is generate hostility: you're treating them like a market survey rather than potential colleagues.

I've worked at publishers and encountered questionnaires like yours. How they're received depends on an agent or editor's mood, but very often, they go straight in the recycling and the writer gets a form letter, sealed and stamped with a mutter of 'You can have the standard letter just like everyone else, pal.'

I don't say all this to get at you, but as friendly advice. Lots of people contact agents, and lots of them are rude one way or another. As a result, agents are highly sensitive to anything that might be construed as rudeness. You don't want to do anything that'll get your manuscript read with an unfriendly eye.

If you want to be taken seriously, look professional. That means sending a letter in the standard professional format. Believe me, it generates good will when someone does that. It may not get you feedback, but if it doesn't, then that's because the agent didn't feel like giving you any, and a questionnaire won't change that. It might even offend them enough to withhold feedback they might otherwise have given.

No way round it, I'm afraid: you just have to use the standard and hope for the best. Good luck.

Richard Lewis said...

Miss Snark, I'm uncomfortable with "Satan." If the Other Guy is Dog, can't Satan be Lice Fur?

December Quinn said...

You shouldn't be querying an agent who doesn't handle your genre.

It seems like every time someone suggests one of these "tick this box" letters over the last couple of years, that's listed as an option. I just don't get it.

Termagant 2 said...

December, great advice. Now what about agents whose websites claim they love romance novels, but not your particular type? There are niche genres within niche genres ad infinitum, and no way to tell whether Power Agent X will accept your subgenre writing or send it back with a "You nitwit, didn't you read the guidelines?"

We'd all love to see the web sites kept better up to date, but Miss S has already addressed that question. So we do the best we can and then move on.


J said...

You shouldn't be querying an agent who doesn't handle your genre.

Well, one could be submitting a query for a cross genre. Say, sci-fi mystery, but the agent only takes hard sci-fi. Or the agent no longer takes that genre, and has not updated their website to reflect that.

Dave said...

Why would you (or anyone) send a query letter with an implicit assumption of rejection?

You, I, we - any writer - sends a query for a book or submits a short story to and editor or agent and in the submission the writer says: "what's wrong with this?"

Would you say:
- I write like a third grader but it's a novel worthy of Shakespeare.
- I have this plotless, self-indulgent foolishness in too many words, will you read it?
- Is this an unmarketable tome on squeamish subjects, like kiddie porn or beastiality?
- I didn't have time to edit this, would you do my work and polish my novel?

That's what your innocent little questionnaire implies.

Please don't send that questionnaire. Accept the rejection and move on.

And stand behind your work. Act proud of it. Present it in a positive light.

Anonymous said...

Or, perhaps, this...

(Check all boxes that apply.)

□ Your parachute is not this color.

□ We thank you for submitting your manuscript for our consideration. We regret that we are unable to accept it for publication. May we suggest one of the following: Obscura Crapola; The Unsung Swan Song; and Nope.

□ Consider Vanity Presses.

□ *&#$%@, No!

□ Other: ____________________________________________________________

Yours insincerely,
No, really, you stink,

Agent X

Cheryl said...

That's like walking into a job interview and starting with, "Okay, if I don't get this job, would you say it's because:
a) I have bad breath.
b) I'm completely incompetent.
or c) while I'm talking to you, I'm staring at your chest."

Your query letter is to sell yourself and your product. Not to list all the reasons why it could be unsaleable.

Anonymous said...

I've received these "checklists" in the slushpile before, and I've never found them to be humourous. Not for a moment have I thought that the submitter seriously expected me to check the appropriate box. In my experience, they want a more specific letter giving them feedback, suggestions for improvement, or a free critique.

I have yet to see an agent's or publisher's submission guidelines that inform writers to "include a wittily-phrased, self-deprecating questionnaire".

Follow the damn directions.

Anonymous said...

Heavens to snarketroid,how I hate, hate, hate these things when they cross my desk. It's one of the reasons I singlehandedly support the multi-billion dollar antacid industry.

Heidi the Hick said...

I've always had an urge to do this but I'm not sarcastic enough. Or brave enough. Or foolish enough.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, with a bit of tweaking, it might be the kind of thing you send with the manuscript to your Beta readers. Especially if they're not writers themselves, just people whose opinion you trust. They might need help articulating their specific thoughts. You'd get more than "I liked it" or "Well, I didn't like that bit."

But an agent? No.

Kit Whitfield said...

Another thought, based on experience: if someone does fill in the questionnaire, the results may be misleading.

Pinning down exactly what's wrong with a book takes more thought and time than deciding you don't want to publish it, substantially more. There's a high risk that if an agent did return the questionnaire with a box ticked, they would have ticked it more or less at random to save time. You'd have no way of being sure which questionnaires were reliable and which weren't.

In that case, you'd be trying to rewrite your book based on false information, which would make it worse.

Anonymous said...

While I fully agree that sending such a form as a writer as an extremely poor idea for all of the very good reasons already mentioned, I am surprised that the idea hasn't been taken more seriously by agents and editors (or an agents'/editors' association).

It's not an agent's job to teach writers how to write, but surely anything that reduces the size or improves the quality of the slush pile would be a good thing?

Now I know that there are plenty of deluded souls who will continue to insist that their autobiographical tale of domestic violence, seen through the eyes of the characters from Lord of the Rings and written in iambic pentameter, is the Next Big Thing, whatever you tell them. But surely there will be others whose writers' group can't see that their book has a weak start? Who don't realise that their market just got saturated? A rare soul who can write well but somehow thought that 15pt comic-sans would be ok?

If there was a standardised one page form, with three sections - Query, Sample/Partial, Manuscript - each with the top 10 or 15 rejection reasons, an agent or editor could tick the first box that applied. If they were feeling generous, drunk or cruel, they could tick all that applied.

Think of a world where, at a cost of literally a few seconds, writers knew exactly how crap they were, and could return to a fulfilling career pumping gas and never again darken an agent's door again; where instead of railing against the unfairness of the world, they could see that all five agents ticked the "Manuscript formatting" or "Cliché/unoriginal plot" boxes and realise that they've got some fixing to do before they bother another five; where for the cost of reading another couple of queries, you could stop 10 or 20 bad ones coming over the transom...

Or am I hopelessly idealistic here?

Kit Whitfield said...

'Literally a few seconds' my eye. It's one of the commonest assumptions made by people who haven't been on the receiving end of the slush pile that it really wouldn't take very long to give more detailed feedback, but that's a mistake born of inexperience.

Deciding exactly what's wrong with a book you've already read can take anything from minutes to hours. Reading a book in enough detail to be able to decide what box to tick, rather than skimming it enough for your gut to tell you that you don't want it, can take anything from hours to days. You'd have to spend all that time for the box-ticking decision to be in any way accurate or useful; mulling over the boxes for only a few seconds would produce advice that was useless at best and misleading at worst. Doing it properly would be vastly more time-consuming than you realise.

You acknowledge that it's not an agent's job to teach people to write, and that's true - but there's no 'but'. That's the end of the story. Agents and publishers aren't an information service for hopeful writers, they're businesses designed to promote accomplished ones. And really, they do know what they're doing.

All of the stuff you mention, such as bad formatting and saturated markets, is stuff that a hopeful writer can find out by researching for themselves. There are plenty of books on the subject. It's a writer's own responsibility to ensure that they're well informed, no one else's.

And as an added point, a lot of nutcases try to get published. A lot of them take well-meant feedback as a personal assault, and start harassing you accordingly. The standard letter is carefully phrased to minimise the chances of this; a tick-box system would multiply the number of angry calls and letters horribly.

Anonymous said...

I used to use checklists like that and both agents and editors sent them back with their sentiments checked. One interesting thing was, rejections came back with "I can't use this idea, but do submit others in future" checked, which is more encouraging than the "this is not anything I would want to work with at this time" that they put on printed rejection cards.

I stopped using them when I read somewhere it is considered amateurish. Oddly, the editors and agents I queried (some of whom checked "send it in") seemed to disagree, but I still do not feel comfortable with it anymore.

If your queries are written like your question, I would expect them all to come back with "WTF" checked and future queries to be returned marked "Refused." Tone down the cute language a wee mite. This is supposed to be a business, even if you're querying MAD magazine.

Incidentally, Miss Snark says at her place 30 days is a typical turnaround for a query, but such is not the case everywhere. I have had responses (both positive and negative) in days - literally. And not thirty days, either. So what is true somewhere is not always true everywhere.