How Not to Impress an Agent

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 16 2016

I think I’ve made it pretty obvious over the years that most of my responses to queries are a form. I do have different forms for different reasons and will personalize that form if I’ve actually read material, but for the most part they are forms.

Recently I received a query that told me absolutely nothing about the book. I got a ton of information about the author’s professional credentials, I got a paragraph describing the type of book (a mystery, seemingly historical, setting and intended audience. The writing style was also described. I think it will be funny and there’s good dialogue, but I know absolutely nothing about the book itself.

The final paragraph detailed the author’s plans for future books.

There is no way I can make an informed decision on a query like this, so rather than rejecting I sent a form letter explaining to the author that the query was lacking, preventing me from making an informed decision. I also suggested the author do some research on what would make a strong query.

What I got in response was the following (some information redacted to protect the identity of the author):

I’ve sent out a few query letters in my time, and yours was probably the least helpful while most demoralizing response I’ve received.

The query letter I came up with was the product of advice from an international bestselling author.

Given the number of different opinions on the subject that I have encountered from the five writing groups I belong to, this seems to be a somewhat subjective issue.

It would have been much more helpful to me if you’d mentioned how my query was lacking in YOUR OPINION rather than tell me to go read hundreds of pages of your blog which did not have a link or title in your email.

I will continue to send out query letters and will probably continue to get published although not through you, but then, I have a pretty thick skin. Many people who write are shrinking violets who might have been permanently discouraged from ever venturing into the publishing world again by a letter like yours.

In my defense, there is a link to the blog. I checked it and it works great.

22 responses to “How Not to Impress an Agent”

  1. Avatar Bobbi Romans says:

    GAWDDD… no they didn’t??!!! I opened up the laptop over my first cup of coffee. My eyes were still half-crossed, brain a bit fuzzy and saw your post first thing. (FB) My insides cringed, heart-stopped and I’m thinking, it was me. Had to be me. I’m sure I added something, said something…what on earth did I do.

    I still can’t get over the amount of gall, disrespect and just plain rude behavior, both agents and editors receive. I mean, I’m truly stunned. I can’t fathom that there are folks who A) haven’t researched at LEAST enough to understand a basic query. B) You ALL (pretty-much) know each other. Heck, I find it wonderful that many of you, (agents/acquiring editors,etc) are more than just acquaintances, but have actual friendships. C) Conferences!! Everyone, runs into everyone at some time in conferences. Word can spread of bad behavior.

    Best early advice I think I received about agents and queries… stalk them on social media. Watch for their likes/dislikes/what they’re looking for. Its been moons ago, but I think another tip was for a place called Query Shark. (Might be wrong name) Where queries were posted and dissected and or applauded.

    Well I see I just rambled on your post. Coffee kicked in. 😉

    Have a great week and hopefully your mail will be filled with wonderful queries and the next best selling author.

  2. Avatar Hollie says:

    Now that my ms is almost ready, I’ve been looking at advice about querys. Everywhere I have looked there is slightly differing advice. But they all agree on one thing, you have to sell your book to the agent (or publisher).
    To say that an international best selling author suggested not to do that, tells me someone didn’t understand the advice.
    I would say she didn’t understand your advice either.
    Don’t worry about it Jessica, if she wanted to learn she would have looked at the blog before she emailed you anyway.
    Ps please excuse any mistakes, I’m doing this without glasses.

  3. Avatar Michelle says:

    It’s this type of knee-jerk reaction that makes you say “Yup, glad I didn’t decide to represent this one” =)

  4. None of her FIVE writing groups or personal friends of the Internationally Best Selling Author variety explained that she should probably research the agents/editors she intends to query prior to querying them? Maybe she needs friends with fewer made up credentials and more knowledge of the actual process..

    I actually don’t understand replying this way.

    • Avatar Nathan M says:

      See, and I automatically read this as from a man. I’d be curious to hear what gender others assumed on their reading. 🙂

  5. Avatar WendiW says:

    Not terribly thick-skinned? A personal response from someone (even if it isn’t to your liking) especially given the volume of queries, should be taken with gratitude and humility. Disagree it with, sure. But be grateful. I love getting *anything* from an agent or publisher. Almost any feedback is good.

  6. Avatar Christine James says:

    In your defense, I recently received a form rejection from you. It was well written and nicely stated, leaving no doubt in my mind why you didn’t ask for a full. It wasn’t until the second read through—gasp, clutch heart, she doesn’t love it?— that I even realized it WAS a form.
    This is incredibly bad form on the part of the author. It reeks of a childish personality. Stating that she/he behaved amatuerishly only insults all non-published authors. P.S. Excuse the errors, I’m working with only a half cup of coffee in my system.

  7. Avatar Hope Welsh says:

    There are so many writing groups out there. Many of the members just sugar coat their responses, on fear of hurting feelings, rather than giving honest feedback.

    It’s a shame.

  8. Avatar Mary Feliz says:

    How lucky for you that she revealed herself immediately as “not a good fit.” If you’re in need of a warm fuzzy for the day, Jessica, please know that your rejection letter to me put you firmly in my “contact again with another book” category. Though writers spend waste a lot of time imagining agents as Jabberwockies who eat authors for breakfast, I’ve found you’re more like teddy bears. Knowledgeable, experienced teddy bears ready to do battle for your authors, of course. It would be so much easier for all of us if you could wave your hands over your correspondence and say a few words that would make the “easy to work with, eager to learn, respectful, and destined to make us both money” authors pop out.

  9. Avatar Meghan Walker says:

    This made me physically cringe. Talk about sour grapes! If this author would have spent even two minutes reading the advice on your blog, s/he would know exactly what was done wrong. It’s awful you have to deal with this (and I’m sure it wasn’t the first by a long shot), so it’s good YOU have thick skin.

  10. Gah! I got to this post too late, so now I’m just going to repeat what everybody else said: erm, 4 cups of coffee into the day (only second mug though – it’s a big mug) and I can read the screen pretty well, but Jesus, what an ass. And to second what Mary said, I got a partial request from Jessica a few years ago that really gave me hope that there might be something to all this querying business. I really hate author behavior like this because they close doors for the rest of us. It would be nice to believe that bloggers and agents and reviewers can get e-mails like this and still judge every individual on their merit, but I’ve come across too many guidelines like “No zombie authors: too many zombie authors have been rude to me in the past, so I don’t even talk to them anymore” to think that this sort of behavior doesn’t have a negative impact.

  11. Avatar Elissa says:

    Is it wrong to say, as cringe-worthy as the author’s response is, it kind of makes me feel good? What I mean is, it’s proof that we all make mistakes. It helps ease my stress about the mistakes I probably will make when I begin querying. At least I know I won’t ever respond to a rejection with anything more than, “thank you for your time”, if even that.

    One of the best places I’ve found where aspiring authors can read hundreds of queries with critiques and revisions. You can see actual queries go from so-so to, “send me pages, now!”

  12. Avatar Robin Koontz says:

    I wish I’d read this before I posted my latest blog post about handling rejection, but I’ll link to it. I will never understand why people will burn their bridges this way. Here’s my post, for what it’s worth. Hey at least he didn’t toss a plate of food on you. That’s also happened. 🙂

    Many of us respond to a rejection with a thank you for their time and consideration, especially if they offered words of encouragement and/or suggestions. I can not imagine the amount of time it takes to go through them all and then respond as well. Thanks! — Robin

    • Jessica Faust Jessica Faust says:

      Well there seem to be a rash of them lately so expect a few more blog posts on the subject.

  13. Avatar Tina says:

    I would never presume it’s okay to waste your time with such a response. If you had advice for me, I’d take what I could get and try to learn from the experience. Wow…

  14. Avatar AJ Blythe says:

    It’s all been said all ready, but, gadzooks! You wouldn’t have wanted to work with them anyway, JF. I’m hitting the query trenches later this year and I’ve already started researching to make sure I know exactly what every agent is looking for. I would never rely on a third party to tell me how an agent wants to be queried.

    I wonder if it’s occurred to this person that an internationally bestselling author probably hasn’t had to write a query for many years?

  15. Avatar Valerie says:

    What’s especially odd about it is that, as you said, it wasn’t even a rejection; you just said you couldn’t make an informed decision. If the writer would have focused on reading the letter instead of getting her panties in a bunch, and just tried again with a new query letter, who knows what might have happened!

  16. Avatar J. Manuel says:

    Wow! That was ballsy! I take my rejections in stride. Then again all I’ve ever received was form email rejections. Anyone interested in receiving a query from a U.S. Marine veteran turned lawyer now writer? Let me know. I might just know a guy.

  17. Avatar Gin Price says:

    Ha! That query reminds me of a ransom letter trying to be a magazine. The components are there but all squigged up and looking for something it didn’t earn.

    If the writer truly had thick skin, you wouldn’t have heard a peep.

    Keep the crazies at bay, J-Faust, and have a good day despite them.


  18. […] Addendum: the day after I posted this, Jessica Faust of Bookends posted yet another horror story. You can read “How Not to Impress an Agent” here. […]