Postcards from the Edge

Dear Miss Snark,

What do you think of this idea: In addition to an SASE, (just in case the agent wants to write a personal letter immediately requesting the manuscript because he/she is certain that I'm the greatest writer since Shakespeare and doesn't want to miss the opportunity to represent me) also enclosing a self-addressed stamped postcard that would read something like this:

Thank you for your time in reading my query for my novel xxxx. If you're not interested in seeing more of my manuscript, I'd appreciate your comments about my submission so that I may improve my craft.

1. The writing was fine, but the story didn't appeal to me.
2. The story was fine, but the writing needs to be improved.
3. Both the writing and the story need work. Take some courses and get help.
4. The submission is interesting, but we don't have a place for it in our agency's schedule.

Thank you again for your time. Signed.

Lots of money on stamps, but right now I'd sell my own mother for some specific feedback from someone in the industry. (My mother, yes. My dog, no. But Mom makes a mean lasagne.)
P.S. No pictures on the postcard except maybe George Clooney wearing that coy smile he wears so well hoisting an extra-dry gin martini in a martini glass with a stem in the shape of a stiletto.

Thanks, Miss Snark.

Most beloved of Snarklings,

I hear your screams of frustration and I see this for what it is: you want to be a good writer, you want to be published and you'd like some guidance.

From an agent's perspective, feedback like this is a lose/lose situation.

First, it takes more time than (to use me as an example) I want to spend on things I know I'm not going to take. I like to get the "no's" out the door as fast as possible; form letter stuff.

Second, it invites dialogue and resubmission. I hate those cause I'm almost invariably going to say no again. And I know I'm crushing people's hopes cause if you get feedback, and you fix what you think is wrong, the next logical step is your work will be accepted. That's not how the biz works, sadly.

Third, there are loons in this world who'll show up at your door with a lemon meringue pie and start looking around for your face as a target. You know you don't bake, and I know you don't bake...but trust me...pie hurlers abound in one form or another.

Fourth, agents are afraid of looking like morons. So, if your work gets published, and it wins every award in the book and sells one zillion copies, agents are afraid you'll haul out that postcard and laugh at them on the international broadcast of the Oscars. And if you think I'm kidding, I've seen authors do that. It scares the bejesus out of us. (let alone posting all your rejection letters or your correspondence---people do that. It only makes everyone reluctant to say anything to anyone ever)

Fifth, you left out "this really sux in its entirety" and while I'm sure that's not YOU, trust me, it's a lot of what I get.

So, read as much as you can about query letters. Write as much as you can and understand the first million words are practice, and keep your eyes peeled for the revival of the Crapometer. I'll be hauling it out from under the tarps in the barn once things settle down.

Oh, and to answer your question, feel free to include the cards, but don't expect much authentic feedback. I never use them. I use form letters at all times.


Kitty said...

I'm preparing for The Crapometer Returns. I've been busy writing, paying particular attention to those first 300 words. I do word counts often, deleting a word here and there, wondering just how economical I can be. If you ever write a book about agenting, you should title it The First 300 Words. It's been one of the best writing exercises I've ever done. Dunno if I've improved since the last time, but I'm up for the task.

Bill Peschel said...

Two ideas to share:

1. There are a ton of great books out there dispensing advice. I like the ones by Donald Maass and Al Zuckerman. I'm also dipping into one by Michael Seidman, who was mystery editor at Walker and one whose opinion on the genre I respect.

2. Got a couple hundred bucks to spare? There are plenty of editors out there selling their services online (Seidman, by the way, is one of them). If you're so hungry for direction, you should be able to scrape together the sheikels and buy their advice. It'll be far more comprehensive and useful than asking total strangers for a few sentences on a post card.

Don't have the money? There are writers' organizations for all kinds of genres, and through them you can find critique groups that will slag your prose for free.

Anne Elliott said...

"I never use them." Miss Snark, does this mean you do get such cards? I would never dare.

I'm dying for feedback too. All writers are. That's what workshops and writers' groups are for. We have to assume that the task of making the writing good is our problem. Agents and editors are around to find the audience. Some do more, but they are not obliged to.

In my experience, agents and editors who are moved to give feedback do so quite eloquently, and I would hate to channel their ideas into a multiple choice question.

There is no substitute for the C. Michael Curtis one-line rejection, for example.

Miss Snark said...

I do get them. I write my standard rejection letter wording on them.