Miss Snark considers the ice floe for herself

Dear Miss Snark,

Thanks for running the blog and for your occasional crapometers. They are very educational for us. Hopefully the quality of queries you receive has improved some since you started this.

After reading 1000? of your crits of hooks, queries, synopses, and first pages, I think I'm clear on what generates an automatic form: bad writing, no organization, not following directions, querying a genre/topic you just don't represent. But lately I've known a lot of people who've been getting forms on requested fulls. Since the agent has already seen the writing and a synopsis, what does a form mean on this level? I'm not saying that an agent should sign all fulls s/he requests. I just don't understand what the form response means.

Let's start the New Year right by reminding everyone what my job is: selling. I only make money when I sell something. SELL. Every minute I spend writing non-form letters to you on a query, partial, or a full is one minute I'm not doing what generates income.

My job is NOT to edit, coach, be nice, or be helpful.

Form letters mean No.

That's it.

One of the things I learned from running the HHCom this time around was I am very much ok with saying "you get a form letter from me". We did 650+ hooks here. I read EVERY ONE and thought about what to say. I could do 50 in a day, and at the end of it my brain was fried. I get 100 query letters a week; I read 5 partials a week, and 5 fulls a month. Do the math. That would be an EXTRORDINARY amount of time spent on feed back...NONE of which earns me any money at all.

A form letter means no. It doesn't mean you stink, your writing sux, or should fling yourself on an ice floe and give up writing.

It just means, for whatever reason, I am not taking this project.

Move on.
Don't obsess.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I think the writer's point here was that perhaps a full ms is deserving of at least a sentence stating the reason an agent declines it. It would seem that if an agent likes the writing enough to read a full ms, then there may be some potential in the work or the individual, thus the time spent composing that single sentence may pay off in the future for the agent.

Don said...

The problem is that a sentence may lead the author to ask more questions and suck up a lot of time. It's a tough balance to reach.

Anonymous said...

It would just be nice if there WAS a way to say "Your writing sucks" so we know if we're getting it. Almost none of us have access to beta readers any more professional than ourselves.

Blogless Troll said...

Okay, form letter means no.

But what, specifically, are you implying with "no?"

Anonymous said...

As long as you're getting form letter rejections, that's fine. It's when you get form letter requests that you should wonder if something might be fishy.

Scam agents use form letters to request more material or to request you to sign on with their agency all the time.

Anonymous said...

Snarkest, if TO SEll is your life blood, why did you accept several YA and Middle Grade Crap-o's when, by your own admission, you have no clue about the genre?

Haste yee back ;-)

Maya Reynolds said...

Don's exactly right. The writer's hopes have already been raised by the request for the full. He has to be feeling he came "that close." Anything other than "no" is an invitation for the writer to try to start a dialogue with the agent.

It's cold. It's hard. It's a business. And it helps to toughen your skin for all the other assaults to your sensibilities you will encounter.

Quit obsessing is GREAT advice.

Remember Kristin Nelson's 12/14 blog: In 2006, she read 20,800 queries, asked for 54 full manuscripts and signed eight (that's right; EIGHT) clients. As disappointed as you are that an agent didn't sign you, think how disappointed she must be. 99.99% of her efforts in reading all those queries and fulls goes unrewarded.

Anonymous said...

"suck up a lot of time"? What's a few sentences, perhaps an email, to develop a relationship with writer with potential? Seems it would pay off in the long run, because again, we're only talking about those writers who have reached the full ms stage, not every query-er or even a partial. I don't understand, honestly, because otherwise it seems agents are primadonnas only interested in the next slam dunk.

Anonymous said...

Time is just as precious to the author as it is to the agent. Having a full MS out to an agent for several months means that the author is probably not making substantial revisions during that time (because if a full is out, the author probably believes the MS is pretty good as is, right?). A form rejection back after a few months amounts to time wasted by the author, too. They end up with zero input as to what needs to be "fixed" with the MS. Something possibly isn't "right," but the author has no idea what to change, how to change it, or if the MS is so bad that it no agent will pick it up. Authors spend a year or more writing a novel; it isn't the end of the world to ask for one sentence of feedback. Time is money for us, too.

Anonymous said...

What does "move on" mean?

Diana Peterfreund said...

I would be hard pressed to tell whether requests were "forms" or not. Most of the requests I got for my manuscript looked something like this:

"Looks fun. Please send partial/full."

You can tell a scam agent by the following 1) they ask you for money, and 2) they can't give you a list of books they've sold, not by what their letters look like.

Anonymous asking about the YAs -- the COM entries had nothing to do with her selling. She's Miss Snark here, not a real agent. She's evaluating hooks on her blog, not looking for new clients.

I don't understand, honestly, because otherwise it seems agents are primadonnas only interested in the next slam dunk.

I don't think that makes them primadonnas. I think that makes them savvy businesspeople. Do you want to work with an agent who may, over time and with lots of coaching, develop into an agent who might be able to sell something? No, of course not. Personally, I preferred form rejections. Agents who had no interest in working with me giving me often conflicting advice about what I should do with my book? talk about too many cooks in the kitchen.

Writers should get past the idea that agents and editors are responsible for teaching them how to write. That's like saying a hospital is responsible with teaching a doctor how to be a doctor. GET beta readers who are professional. Join writer's groups, go to classes, do what it takes.

Think about those 20,000 queries that a small boutique agency got. If an agent spends just four minutes reading, evaluating, and responding to each, that's more than half of her work week gone. When you get an agent, do you want that agent to spend more than half of her time on YOU, who are making her money, or more than half of her time on people she's not even working with?

Anonymous said...

Diana's such a cutie!

Errr, back to the issue at hand. Here's the reality kids that snarkface won't tell you:

The truth is IF she or any agent does really like the work, but finds it lacking in some regard, they WILL offer a brief explanation. BUT, the reason Her Snarkishness will NOT advertise this fact is that she and other agents don't want it to become an expectation among the nitwits massed at the publishing drawbridge.


Anonymous said...

anonymous said: "Time is just as precious to the author as it is to the agent."

True. While waiting for a response from an agent use that time to work on another novel. Remember you're building a career. One novel isn't it.


Anonymous said...

Er, as the writer of the original question, I see now that there are two issues here:

Why on earth did you send me a form, you nitwit agent??!!
(MS's probable answer: If you are asking this, you are a nitwit!)


Once you like the writing and premise of a book, what issues at that point become deciding factors in a) engaging in further discussion with the writer (leading to signing them) or b) writing them off with a form?

While I feel for everyone asking the first question, I guess I was actually trying to get at the second one. The educational point here is, What should I focus on at this point to move me out of the form stage and onto the further discussion platform?

Anonymous said...

So if in 2006 Kristin Nelson (for example) read 54 fulls and made offers on 8, that's 46 fulls declined. If she (or any agent) spent 2 minutes to make a personalized comment ("the pace wasn't as snappy as I'd hoped" or "the dialogue seems contrived" or whatever), that would mean 92 minutes spent giving input. Over the course of an entire year, I hardly think that amount of time spent on giving feedback would lead to oodles of lost sales for an agent.

Anonymous said...

The comment trail here actually illustrates nicely the point of not routinely commenting on rejections.

For example:

"if an agent likes the writing enough to read a full ms, then there may be some potential in the work or the individual, thus the time spent composing that single sentence may pay off in the future for the agent."


"what's a few sentences, perhaps an e-mail, to develop a relationship with a writer with potential..."

The request for a "few sentences" tips over into the idea of a future relationship very easily.

Miss Snark, and I assume other agents as well, already have lots of relationships with people.
That's what they do with their spare time.
What they do with queries (and partials, and fulls - oh my) is their work.

They are not out there trolling for buddies among the unpublished.
They are not out there running free improve-your-writing workshops for the journeyman novelist.
They are looking for something they think they will be able to sell.
Not sending a personalised rejection isn't saying FOAD, just no.

How do you get past no to "further discussion leading to signing?"
That is, how to get accepted rather than declined?
I haven't the slightest.
But it isn't something you're going to get at by getting a longer-format no from someone who isn't accepting your work.

There isn't some monolithic Absolute Agent Agenda that one rejecting agent can let you in on -- if you fix what Agent A disliked, you'd probably just screw-up what Agent B would love.

Twill said...

It's like dating. Reading full's the first date. No explanation is required for turning down a second. Just *wanting* the explanation is a sign of being needy.

Not her job to reassure you. Her job is to sell what she buys.