Thought for the Day
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Aug 12 2011
The problem with querying every book at once (either in the same query or three or four queries in a row) is that after reading and rejecting one I tend to feel I’m not the right agent for your work and automatically reject the others. If you query different books over time I will assume your writing has evolved and you’ve moved on from the books I’ve previously rejected.
Jessica, while that is a very human thing to do–reject out of hand–it's also, in my opinion, the wrong thing to do. Each story is unique in-and-of-itself, and to whole-cloth deny a person because one query might have been "lame" is the height of both arrogance and folly. Not to insult or sound rude, but that's how I feel. I would much rather you know how I think on these things than to remain silent. It is, in short, very wrong to do this, and I can only admonish you in the strongest possible tone. I hope this does not color any future relationship we might have.
Phil Hall…human nature will almost always influence outcome. Downing and enjoying a second glass of milk is difficult when the first was sour and turned your stomach.
I have two finished novels.
My memoir,(very literary), a collection of twenty-five short stories, (complete), and a non-fiction series of thirty previously published essays, (presented with a twist), are all works in progress and near completion. In no way would I even attempt to query more than one of them at a time, or in a group, to the same agent. It is risky enough pitching one, ‘over easy’; let alone the rest of the half-dozen, soft-boiled, hard-boiled, poached, scrambled or McMuffined. We may like eggs but not all prepared the same way; somedays cereal surfeits.
Today is like national analogy day for me.
Phil Hall – your arrogance and folly are that you think it is okay to share how you feel in the rudest way possible. How you feel is irrelevant, Jessica writes this blog to help hopeful writers along in their careers. When you're an agent and you have a blog, then please share with us your infinite wisdom and please learn a little humility before you do.
Jessica – thank you for the advice, I read and cherish every word.
You know, I wonder if there isn't something else going on here, too. Most writers–especially those ready to be published–have a distinctive voice no matter what story we tell. I think my voice would change somewhat if I switched genres, but I suspect there would still be some common thread that probably has something to do with the way I look at the world. So I can totally see an agent deciding based on one book that she's not the agent for me.
Before I begin, allow me to apologize for the length this post will undoubedly take. Additionally, let me re-iterate that I am not trying to piss anyone off, rather than to lay it out in truth.
Candie Leigh — if you think I was being rude, you clearly don't know me. I could have been far worse. Far, far worse. I can be quite abrasive when I choose–or forget to reign in myself.
You say how I feel is irrelevant, but what about the potentially thousands of hopefuls whose dreams she just managed to dash to pieces because she is unwilling to put in the time and effort to actually do what she's supposed to do (read queries before jumping to a conclusion)? Because that's what it sounds like to me.
I'm un-entitled to my opinion, apparently. That's wrong. It's always better to speak the truth, than to simply bow in acceptance of something "just because." Humility? I am humble, and each and every agent who has had the courtesy to talk to me or help in any way is someone whom I hold dear. I thank them in all correspondence–multiple times. I am grateful for all their advice, but I can't just sit idly by when someone who is in a position to know better says something that shoots not only themselves in the foot, but prematurely closes the door to countless wannabes for no other reason than they took the words written as the final gospel. Their job should be to keep the doors open, to entice more to take up the pen and write–so to save us all from the traditional, shlock, and trite that dominates the shelves. You cannot bring something new into the room when the entryway is barred.
Am I rude? Perhaps a small bit, but in order to affect a change, or even to inform, we can't all just sit here and say "Gee, thanks for the great advice" when deep down each and every (old and new) author will see it as nothing more than another barrier to entry; or at least they ought to see it that way, and if they don't they clearly do not remember what it was when they were struggling with their first manuscripts–and that is the sign of an author who has let the spirit pass them by. It is this "gatekeeper" mentality that is causing e-publication to soar and traditional B&M books to flatten. We need more voices, more agents, more agencies, and more books; and to curtail any of those in any way is wrong, shortsighted, and in every way imaginable anathema to what it is and what it means to be a writer.
I know people who are querying are going to disagree with me, but I think this makes perfect sense.
Thinking as a reader, from a positive POV, if I read four Debbie Macomber books in row and I start looking for a fifth, it's because I love the way she writes and I know what to expect from her. Even though each book is different, I know the odds are I'm going to love them all.
Phil… I'm just not sure how what she says is discouraging. She's giving advice: if you want a better shot with an agent, and your first query didn't work, take the time to edit your other queries/projects before sending them along. How is "take your time and improve" a bad thing? You should be sending your strongest project first– which implies your subsequent projects are weaker. (also I highly recommend you do not mention the "traditional, schlock, and trite on the shelves")
Sam Wood — I don't disagree with what you said there, as a matter of fact I agree: put your best foot forward. However what I have issues with is the wholesale disregarding of work for no justifiable reason. That's what I'm getting at (or trying to.) I also believe that sending multiple queries at once is a mistake–a very silly thing to do–but just because one query sucks it doesn't mean they all do. It's more than disheartening, to say the least. To pass a generalization like that…ugh.
I'm more surprised by the idea of multiple projects in and of itself. Doesn't it take a year or two or more to write a (debut) novel? Haven't you been sending it out while you wrote your second (possibly debut) novel? Once you've written the second novel, shouldn't you have gotten all the rejection/acceptance you can handle on the first project, for now?
Don't hoard your projects. Send your *best* work… which is whatever work you just finished.
I faced just this dilemma myself: I thought I'd found a home for Novel A and so busied myself with Novel B. Then, surprise, I had 2 novels with no homes. I decided to query the newer one while I write Novel C, but writing is WAY more fun than querying, so you can guess what's happening. 🙂
I wonder, on behalf of "a friend", if Jessica could post a time period that would be an appropriate break between queries. Six months? 🙂
I agree completely with this advice. The agency that currently represents me turned me down nine years earlier when I queried and then sent a requested partial of, another novel. I know I've developed as a writer, and I appreciate the fact that my dream agency recognized it as well.
Looks like we've got a mansplainer in this thread!
I don't think what Jessica shares in this post is rude or arrogant in the slightest. A person who submits several queries one after the other, or queries several projects in one go, is not giving each query the due time it needs, and it's only rational to deduce it's going to be the same with the manuscript itself.
We should all know by now that there are as many differnt kinds of queries as there are stories, or for that matter, humans. I could never understand why anyone would enjoy the story about the sex slave hatching out of the egg, but apparently lots of people are enjoying it. I don't think we should criticze something just because it's not the way you might want to do it. To me, it is as personal as, say, your hairdo. And I think anyone who doesn't have two long never cut braids of totally natural hair is wrong. Makes perfect sense, no? No.
If your own particular query works for you, you will know soon enough.
Excellent post- I think you've given an extremely reasonable response.
I'm not sure how anyone was bothered by this post. She clearly stated that after reading and rejecting one query, she feels she's not the right agent for any other work by the same author. How is this any different than the way we all shop for books? There are several authors whose work I've read and didn't enjoy. Not only do I not buy any more of their books, in the future I don't even pick them up to read the jackets. Why? Well, like this agent, I figure if I didn't like book A, I'm probably not going to like book B. It doesn't mean that I feel the author's writing is schlock or trite, it just means I'm not a fan. It usually takes a verbal recommendation from someone I know to get me to consider reading their work again.
Also, I've learned that if you have to premise your statements with the hope that your admonishment won't color future relationships, well, chances are it just did.