- By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 05 2009
I try, I really do. I try to be a good agent and fair to all authors who submit material my way. I respond to every query I get and even give advice or feedback when I can. Sometimes I can give an explanation as to why a query didn’t work for me and other times I can suggest that maybe the author consider writing a stronger query.
What I see all too often are queries that just don’t give enough information. The title might be great, leading to a potentially compelling idea, but the blurb just isn’t there. In other words, there’s nothing that tells me about the story. I’m behind. All agents are behind, so I need that blurb before I can commit to adding even more proposals to my already leaning piles. So why, when advice is given, or more information is requested, do authors need to get so dang snippy?
I’ll admit I use forms and sometimes those forms can give the wrong impression I guess, but again, my goal is to help assist the writer in as many ways as possible. In a recent exchange I asked the writer for a blurb and explained in the letter why one was necessary, that it’s difficult for an agent to really get a feel for the work without a blurb. I also gave some suggestions on how to write a strong query. The author, obviously perturbed, responded that a number of agents had already requested material based on the query. Fine. That’s great. I would like more information and said so in my previous email. Can you send me a blurb? So I responded that I was hoping to hear more about the book and was told that the exchange we had already left a bad taste in the author’s mouth for any potential relationship. Needless to say, nothing was sent my way. Not even a blurb.
Sigh. I’m not upset I missed out because in fact I don’t think I did. If an author can’t take professional advice at this stage I can only imagine how revisions will go. I’m upset that I even bother sometimes. No, that’s not true. I’m upset that so many authors seem so ready to get their panties in a twist over really casual, innocuous advice. Listen, I’m not here to try to squash you. I’m here to try to find really great authors and I need the right information to do that. In the meantime, if I can help eliminate future rejections down the road then I’m happy to do that as well.
Why burn a bridge? Requests don’t equal representation, and don’t you want as many potential agents as possible? If you’re going to get upset over such a small email exchange, how are you going to feel about reviews, editorial comments, cover art or the “kind words” of friends and family? I’m sure we aren’t a good fit, but don’t feel that by getting in my face about how “stupid” my advice is you’re hurting me any. You’re only hurting yourself.
Anyway, sorry, just needed to vent today.
I think it’s because there’s a disconnect between the story inside the writer’s head and how it’s perceived by anyone who reads it once written down.
It reminds me of a story about George Lucus trying to direct the original Star Wars. He got so frustrated because he could ‘see’ the whole thing in his head, but the actors couldn’t understand his script and had a hard time figuring out what he was trying to tell them too. He got someone else to screen write and direct Empire and he probably should have done the same for the rest of his movies too. Or learned to write. And direct.
Moral of the Story: You may be a genius, but if you can’t communicate that effectively with anyone else you’ll never be as good as could be.
Vent away! People like that give newbie writers a bad name. There are a lot of us out here who understand rejection, appreciate the time you take to read our queries, and would be thrilled if you offered any kind of advice in return. I’m sure there are more like me and less like them, but in the end they’re the ones that sting. Sorry!!
There are too many writers out there (like me) wishing they could have a second chance on queries, revisions, etc. And this person can’t even write a blurb? He/she doesn’t deserve a sigh. Not worth it.
People who can’t even understand that *any* time an agent asks for more, even when that more is just a blurb, and *any* time a professional offers help, even in the form of commenting on a query…well, those people give writers a bad name.
I always feel that if you want to write for the sake of writing, and you aren’t going to take any kind of direction, then you’re perfectly suited to self-publishing, where you can micromanage your work. But if you’re not planning to self-pub, you need to learn to let go, to accept that other people will have a different vision, and to understand that you’ll have to make some changes because of it.
And, Jessica, everyone needs to vent sometimes. Yours is very mild, really!
Hmm … Why are so many of us writers moody, egotistical, and — dare I say it? — cracked? Why do we all think we’re SO GOOD that we can’t take helpful critique? This is the second time today reading an agent blog entry that I’ve been struck by what a weird, self-centered bunch we writers are. Maybe it’s too much time alone in bare rooms listening to the voices in our heads telling us how wonderful we are…. 🙂
Hang in there, Jessica.
Maybe some people have reactions like this because you’re the scapegoat. Rather than get upset with themselves for not doing enough, and then correcting their own errors, they turn it onto you. Could be it’s easier for them to take rejection if it’s someone else’s fault.
Sounds like you dodged a bullet on that one.
I would sell my firstborn, secondborn and even the dog to receive constructive, helpful advice at the query stage from an established agent.
But then again, there are times I’d give up all of the above without any incentive whatsoever.
Wow, think of what type of client she will be–very high maintenance. You’re lucky to be rid of her.
Sometimes I think writing/getting an agent/editor comes easy to some people, and they don’t understand how to deal with rejection, or suggestions, in any form. Those of us who persevere, work our asses off, write another book and another, and keep getting into the fray of rejection after rejection tend to prove we’re in for the long haul and want to build a career. Pthooey on those stinkin’ rejections!
Prima Donna vs. a Christie Craig, which one would you rather have?
Yeah, I thought so.
Venting is good.
Here’s the thing. This author is in a world of trouble if that is his/her attitude. Sometimes I think the best thing about the pub industry is the amount of effort you have to expend on the agent hunt and getting read — it teaches you patience and professionalism.
If this author bristles at a measly blurb — for hell sake, a BLURB! — then he/she has no idea what awaits them if he/she gets a book deal . Crippling deadlines. No marketing support from the pub house. A cover they hate. Editorial Letters that don’t make sense…
Too bad, other authors would kill to send a blurb!
Oh, there’s jerks everywhere, try not to take it personally. Sometimes we ALL need to not take it all so personally. He/she would probably have been a jerk regardless of how you handled it.
Don’t give up on the not-jerks, for their sake and for your own. 🙂
Reminds me of when I first joined a critique group. Man, it was hard to get feedback of any kind and not take it personally. Nine plus years later, my skin’s pretty darn alligator thick, but in the beginning, I might have reacted this way to feedback. This writer obviously isn’t ready to be out in the real world yet.
Just let it all out Jessica! Maybe you need to have one day a week focused just on venting (and then maybe disconnect the commenting option…hehehe). You’d probably feel a lot better.
One of the truisms of the writing business, I think, is that you are where you’re at for a reason. Those reasons are probably varied, but I think that if you’re touchy, insecure and unprofessional, there’s a good possibility that you’re where you are in your career because of it (partly).
I gave a two-hour seminar on freelance writing for fun and profit last week and of the 22 people there I had an almost immediate sense of who COULD make it if they wanted to. Simply by having a 2-part exercise where the first one was to write down your interests and experiences and the second to come up with 3-5 story ideas for a publication that revolved around your interest or experience. And talking to these people, it was obvious that some people just GOT it and were ready. And there were others who just weren’t.
Do you find that these reactions are mostly from newer writers? I feel lucky that the writing I’ve done in my career (corp. copywriter) has made me pretty impervious to criticism. It did take a while though!
Also, I think one of the drawbacks of electronic communication is that people can inject any tone they want when reading a response. Someday we’ll be able to simply talk at our devices and send messages in our own voices.
I’m actually amazed, Jessica, you even bothered to tell the author you needed a blurb. Most agents would just send a form rejection . . . and some not even that.
And you’re right. Revisions with this writer would no doubt be a nightmare. Chances are high the manuscript would remain the same regardless of what you say.
I sometimes think that instead of putting up signs that say WRITERS CONFERENCE, the signs could just say NEUROTICS R US. It all leads to a chicken/egg question: is it the super-sensitivity that makes people want to be writers in the first place? Or is it that after years of devising plots, writers forget how to turn off the machine and start seeing malice in everything?
Vent away, Jessica. You are a fabulous agent. And to that author I have just one thing to say: the phrase “your loss” has never been so true.
You can’t help ornery.
But I imagine that author will get educated soon enough with that attitude.
Too much venom seeping around about the publishing industry of late, regardless of the many issues it does have, and this recent flood of writers trying to publish stuff are likely getting poor information and developing poorer attitudes when it comes to trying to sell.
Jim Duncan’s comment sparked a question for me. Many agents have mentioned that their volume of queries has been increasing lately. Has the volume of unprofessional writer behavior increased with it?
If there are more queries because more people are desperate to publish for economic reasons, any sort of criticism could trigger a fear response. Maybe this writer didn’t even know what a blurb was?
Or maybe he’s another self-absorbed writer with a sense of entitlement who makes the rest of us look bad.
I agree with the others, Jessica. You dodged a bullet. My personal belief is that if someone is tempted to respond in a negative way to any agent/editor comments, to wait. Take some deep breaths. Sit on the info for a few days and read it again.
It’s hard to send our work into the world, and we’re in a blameset society. I guess it was easier for them to act that way than to actually provide what you requested (which was a valid request).
Keep blogging and plugging along…you’re doing a great job.
I’m not sure whether to be joyous because that’s one more idiot I don’t have to be concerned with, or pissed because that’s one more idiot that allows people to paint all writers with the same broad brush. I know you don’t, Ms. Faust, but it’s human nature to and eventually all these morons are just going to keep making it worse for the rest of us that DO know how to be professional.
OK, call me stupid. I’m confused. You received a query without a blurb? Is there such a thing? You received an unquery? And then you asked for the actual query and got attitude? Wow, that’s whack.
So why do agents even bother with these novices and ignore the mss. they requested? That’s what assistants are for! Why do agents continue to let requested mss. pile up, knowing they’re circulating with other competitors? I still don’t get it…
I think there are many out there who can relate to your feelings on this issue and have sighed that same exact sigh. So many professions have to deal with similar issues.
I was a classroom teacher for ten years. You think writers are bad when their baby (manuscript) gets feedback? I could fill your comment section with stories of parents’ reactions to feedback for their real babies!
Suffice it to say, there were several times I wish I could have declined to represent their little cherubs and been done with it! 😉
Vent away! We all deserve some venting time now and then. And if that doesn’t do it, take chocolate in liberal doses!
I am sorry the author you dealt with was inconsiderate and so unwilling to work with you. I have noticed a disconnect between the way some writers perceive quires and agents perceive the same. Many agents appear to see the query as their window into the book as well as a taste of the author’s voice. Many writers appear to see the query as apart from the book; it’s the flaming hoop they have to leap through before their writing can speak for itself.
When I read agent blogs, I find many have an overemphasis on the query letter. It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing the query as the writer’s GRE when presented with an agent’s twelve pages of query minutia.
The writer you dealt with might be of that mindset. If their query was good enough for a number of other agents (though it’s possible the writer made those agents up), he or she may find it hard to understand why it wasn’t good enough for you.
Re: the various comments to this blog posting,
I think a number of you are being too harsh. Yes, the writer made a mistake. This does not make them a ‘noob’ or a bad person. It means they made a mistake.
Who of us hasn’t misread another online?, or had a bad day?, or managed to aggravate another?
I have to admit that I hate stories like this. The snippiness and the attitude make agents that much less likely to respond the next time. And there are a lot of writers who would love to know that their query isn’t working for whatever reason.
Sorry you had to deal with that.
I’m a children’s author who’s been writing for over a decade, and I have to concur with you that if a writer at the earliest stages cannot take a bit of (constructive) criticism, he or she will not have what it takes to stay the course of a writing career. This business is not for the faint-hearted.
I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for sharing! I hope other authors you hear from are kinder to you.
All the best,
Honestly, what is wrong with people? Do they act this unprofessionally in all aspects of their lives, or just in regard to their novels? AN AGENT asked a writer to SEND MORE, PLEASE. How could that possibly be a bad thing?
Maria said “I imagine that author will get educated soon enough with that attitude.” Personally, I think that someone with an attitude like that may be impervious to education.
Wow. I would love it if you asked me for a blurb!
Hi, I’m a newbie to queries.
How do you define a blurb?
Like a quick synopsis?
I read so many different opinions on what makes a good query that my head spins.
There are a lot of us out here including yours truly who are professional, serious writers with careers in mind and would not, in the business communication of a query, respond in that manner.
We understand what it takes to build a business relationship, and we look forward to it. You do yourself a service with this blog by telling us this story. Those of us out here who know how to play the game will delight in querying you.
I’m confused too, what’s a blurb?
AMEN! I teach journalism, so I critique (and am critiqued, as I write press releases and other things on a regular basis) students a lot. I mean…I’m just trying to help! And I know those who critique me are just assisting my writing as well.
I find it amazing that any writer would turn down a request for anything from an agent such as yourself. (Bookends has a very good rep.) Isn’t that like cutting off your nose to spite your face?
Who knows where we’ll be a few months/years from now? That person may still be searching and then wish they sent that blurb.
So, do you keep a black list a annoying people? I think if I were an agent I’d be tempted to do so.
Vent on…we’re learning. And please know there are writers out there who think any comments from an agent are like words from God.
Wait, you asked for more information about hte book and they said that left a bad taste in their mouth about working with you?
Yes, I want my agents to sell my books with as LITTLE info as possible about what it is they are selling. That’s the ONLY way to do business. Heaven forfend they get that kind of dangerous information in their deadly little hands.
lapetus and anonymous, a blurb is a short description of the work — maybe a few sentences or a paragraph. think of the descriptions you see on the back cover of a published book. That sort of thing.
Sounds like this writer is an idiot. Plain and simple. Nuff said.
Well, please don’t let the bad banana in the bunch ruin it for the rest of us! I so appreciate your blog and advice, and think its great you take the time to send feedback to writers. Keep doing what you’re doing!
You have my sympathy. I know that there are days when your honest attempts to help and encourage are percieved as slaps in the face. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to prevent that. I doubt anyone does.
However, you are only responsible for the effort, not the outcome. If there is one person out there who will take your suggestions as an insult, I assure you that there is at least one who will take them as a welcomed second chance. You saw something sufficiently promising that you were moved to request more information. You overlooked a shortcoming in a query and gave the author a chance to remedy that shortcoming. I don’t imagine that happens very often, and I like to think that most prospective authors are smart enough to recognize that.
Some of us love the critique, comments and advice. At the Pikes Peak Writers Conference my first page was read out loud and an author, agent, and publisher all agreed it was too descriptive. My first page (and the rest of the book) is now 50 times better because I made amazing improvements thanks to those 3 honest professionals. I am forever grateful because of it. So please don’t stop because of the panty-bunched folks.
Wow. People complain when they get no response, complain when they get a form response AND complain when they get comments??? I don’t understand.
Don’t let it get to you. It’s a GOOD deed to give comments.
I just got home from work to find a rejection in my inbox. I would have been falling all over myself to provide whatever you asked for to get you to take a longer look. Can I have his blurb-space?
That’s unbelievable. Especially for others, like me, who WANT to receive any help by way of constructive criticism from potential agents.
I’d be THRILLED to receive a rejection letter, or any form of communication from a potential agent, if it had any advice on what to do to make it better.
This writer should have taken the negative and made it positive. Even if it didn’t turn out for the writer THAT time, it would have left it on a positive note and who knows what next time would have brought?
(*Hell has frozen over because this publishing cynic is consoling an agent.*)
It’s not you- rather it’s the relationship of the author to the work. You ever seen those overprotective parents who utter the following:
“You see Taylor over there, why yes he’s doing very well at his trilingual immersion program. Where he’s really taking a liking to is Mandarin!” (*God love those chettos commercials…*)
See what I mean? Authors LOVE their work. We’re all evil narcissists, blah blah blah.
(Insert random banter about the nature of intellectual inquire and its relationship to snobbery.)
My personal story- it took over a year to paint, edit and illustrate a story that barrels down to three pages of script.(Spread out into a 15 page book.) I’m defensive about my work just like anyone. Pitch letters are not my strong suit. ( I didn’t major in marketing.*)
So what you’re asking is for better descriptions, which from a practical standpoint is reasonable. Authors do need to describe their work.
However, a small one page example would do wonders for your stress level. (*In my opinion.*) That way the author can’t say, “well gee you didn’t look at my work!” AND you’re not reduced to guessing as to what the hell the book is about. It’s what they call in the marketing world: “Win-Win.” Why one page, because the average reader might glance at one page in the bookstore and THAT’s inevitably where your client is either going to sink or swim.
Color me confused. What is a blurb?
my first editor told me we authors are in love with our own words. That first round of edits, I’ll admit I cried. Then I pulled up my big girl panties and deal with it. I am not my work, but I think many authors can forget that–usually it’s the newer authors. Now, I look forward to professional feedback. It helps me grow as an author.
I’m with one of the Anonymi, I’ll send you anything you want. Spouse too! I can’t believe this person’s attitude. Though I’ve made your reject list, it was a pleasant experience with a positive word that still sets me atwitter! I’m sure most of us would love as much feedback, including constructive criticism, as possible but of course it’s not possible. You’re probably lucky to have “missed out” on this writer if that’s his/her attitude. Thanks for a great blog site.
I lot of people I know think is “blurb” is that single-sentence line of praise you see on the front cover or inside flap of a book, that was written by someone well-known other than the author.
If the writer you were interacting with was thinking the same way, this person might have gone into a panic, thinking it an impossible request. How to get a famous person to read their book and send you a sentence of praise right away?
I’m not saying this did happen, just that it’s one possible way of interpreting this exchange.
Some people are happy and some people just want to be angry – nothing you can do about it. But, I love reading your advice, it’s like a free class I can take on-line, late at night in my pj’s. Now, all I need is a big bowl of popcorn.
Unless I’m mistaken, in this context a blurb in the query letter is like what’s on the back of a paperback describing the story without too much detail. It’s the “hook” in the query letter that interests the agent and “reels them in” so they want to see more.
Ay! Vanity thy name is “humans.”
Whenever I come across stories like this I think of a verbal exchange from Seinfeld:
ELAINE: I will never understand people.
JERRY: [Totally understated tone of voice] They’re the worst.
I agree with Anon 11:56 — perphaps the writer thought you were asking her to send quotes from other authors.
No one uses the word blurb — was her novel not explained in the query?
Hey – I just had a hunk of one of my lawsuits dismissed today. The judge dismissed it for all the wrong reasons. I am now back at square one.
Do I write a snarky note to the judge telling him just ‘doesn’t get it and my husband thought my pleadings were just wonderful.’ Ummm, not if I ever want to set foot in the courthouse again.
No, I have to accept the fact that my written documents were not compelling enough to tell the judge the whole story and encourage him to rule my way.
The ultimate rejection of a partial manuscript (think of it as narrative non-fiction).
I have to write a better lawsuit and file it again . . .
Verify word: ‘laylers’ [bizarrely appropriate for how I see this morning cuz this lawyer just wants to lay down and sulk]