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David McAfee
08-05-2005, 02:50 AM
Ok, before I rant, I want to get this out in the open first:

I know I am not the only one, and that this is common, but it's still frustrating!

Ok, having thus admitted that I realize I am neither special nor deserving of pity, I have to flex my fingers in frustrated angst at this practice of agents sending letters of rejection even though they have never read any of the work. On the basis of a brief paragraph or two, I have gotten a great deal of rejections.
Obviously, my query letter must be lacking. Seems to me that sort of thing should be expected. After all, I am not a salesman; if I were, I wouldn't need an agent, would I? Granted, I know as much about the publishing business as I do about rocket science, but it seems to me that, in order to determine if you can sell a book, you really ought to READ it first.

Ok, I am done, and with little in the way of casualties other than my dignity and a small portion of my sense of idealism. Now I am off to curl up with my copy of Writer's Market and prepare for the next round of submissions.

Cheers!

SLake
08-05-2005, 03:29 AM
You certainly aren't the only one ever rejected as you say. All the rejection does is put you in the same league as the writer of "Gone with the Wind" who I think had 14 years of rejections.

There's a good many others too including myself.

As my daughter used to say from the song 'don't worry, be 'appy...'

Jamesaritchie
08-05-2005, 05:18 AM
You certainly aren't the only one ever rejected as you say. All the rejection does is put you in the same league as the writer of "Gone with the Wind" who I think had 14 years of rejections.

There's a good many others too including myself.

As my daughter used to say from the song 'don't worry, be 'appy...'

You know, I've heard this story several times now, but it isn't. Not long ago, I hit a website that stated Gone With the Wind had been rejected twenty times. Another, a publishing website, stated that Gone With teh Wind was rejected between 300 and 400 times. Not hardly. The manuscript of Gone With the Wind was in horrible shape, the paper yellowed with age, tattered around the edges, in a mix of envelopes and out of order, but the very first editor who saw it loved it and bought it, even in that frightful shape.

This story may have started simply because it took Mitchel ten years to write the novel, and another four years to work up enough courage to show it to anyone.

The true story, verefied by Margaret Mitchellherself is:

"In 1935, Margaret met Harold Latham, an editor for MacMillan, while he was in Atlanta on a scouting trip for new literary talent. Latham had heard about Margaret from another editor at MacMillan, Lois Cole, who was a friend of Margaret's. Margaret was in charge of showing Latham around town and introducing him to new writers. But when he asked to see Margaret's manuscript she replied that she had nothing to show. Margaret was so full of self-doubt about her novel she was afraid to let anyone see it, not to mention the messy condition it was in. On the last evening of Latham's visit to Atlanta an acquaintance of Margaret's, who had heard about Latham asking to see her novel, casually remarked that someone like Margaret could not write a successful book because she was not the type. That comment made Margaret so angry she hastily retrieved her manuscript from its many resting places and rushed to Latham's hotel in time to hand it over. He had to buy a cheap cardboard suitcase just to carry the whole thing back to New York with him. As Latham read the novel on the trip home he knew it was "something of tremendous importance."

Sometimes good novels do receive rejections for one reason or another, but as often as not the tales you hear about them are made up for reasons completely unknown. Always take tales of huge rejections numbers with a box of salt until the check out the facts.

Jamesaritchie
08-05-2005, 05:34 AM
Ok, before I rant, I want to get this out in the open first:

I know I am not the only one, and that this is common, but it's still frustrating!

Ok, having thus admitted that I realize I am neither special nor deserving of pity, I have to flex my fingers in frustrated angst at this practice of agents sending letters of rejection even though they have never read any of the work. On the basis of a brief paragraph or two, I have gotten a great deal of rejections.
Obviously, my query letter must be lacking. Seems to me that sort of thing should be expected. After all, I am not a salesman; if I were, I wouldn't need an agent, would I? Granted, I know as much about the publishing business as I do about rocket science, but it seems to me that, in order to determine if you can sell a book, you really ought to READ it first.

Ok, I am done, and with little in the way of casualties other than my dignity and a small portion of my sense of idealism. Now I am off to curl up with my copy of Writer's Market and prepare for the next round of submissions.

Cheers!

Not a salesman, but you are a writer, aren't you? You dont sell a query letter, you write one, and while not every good writer can write a good query letter, bad query letters usually result in bad novels. It's experience. When an agent or editor receives a poorly written query letter, experience tells tham that at least nine times out of ten, the novel will also be poorly written.

And at least seventy percent of the time, you can tell a novel is not salable by reading the first paragraph or two. Sometimes by reading the first sentence.

But I will say this. I believe a good query letter is not one that tries to sell the novel, but one that sells the writer. Of course you have to write a literate and professional letter, free of all errors, but it's about doing your homework. If the query letter you write is one that could go to any number of agents just by changing the name, it's a bad query letter.

David McAfee
08-05-2005, 06:07 AM
Not a salesman, but you are a writer, aren't you? You dont sell a query letter, you write one, and while not every good writer can write a good query letter, bad query letters usually result in bad novels. It's experience. When an agent or editor receives a poorly written query letter, experience tells tham that at least nine times out of ten, the novel will also be poorly written.

And at least seventy percent of the time, you can tell a novel is not salable by reading the first paragraph or two. Sometimes by reading the first sentence.

But I will say this. I believe a good query letter is not one that tries to sell the novel, but one that sells the writer. Of course you have to write a literate and professional letter, free of all errors, but it's about doing your homework. If the query letter you write is one that could go to any number of agents just by changing the name, it's a bad query letter.

Thanks for the tip. You are correct about writing skills translating over to both the novel and the query letter. I willingly admitted it was a rant. Frustration speaks where wise men think silently. I do believe my query could benefit from a little agent targeting.
That said, you did miss the mark on one count. I was ranting about agents basing rejections soley on a one or two paragraph query letter without reading "The first paragraph" or even "the first sentence". I would be able to face the rejection with a tad better grace had they acually been sent even a page of the story to peruse, but the agents in question have passed without even reading the first word. This, then, is the source of my frustration.

Again, I know I am not singled out, nor do a suffer from the "Why do they do this to me?" type of persecution complex, it just miffs me that they would not even consider reading it.

Ok, and I though I couldn't sound more petulant than I already did. Ah, well...

Jamesaritchie
08-05-2005, 06:31 AM
Thanks for the tip. You are correct about writing skills translating over to both the novel and the query letter. I willingly admitted it was a rant. Frustration speaks where wise men think silently. I do beleive my query could benefit from a little agent targeting.
That said, you did miss the mark on one count. I was ranting about agents basing rejections soley on a one or two paragraph query letter without reading "The first paragraph" or even "the first sentence". I would be able to face the rejection with a tad better grace had they acually been sent even a page of the story to peruse, but the agents in question have passed without even reading the first word. This, then, is the source of my frustration.

Again, I know I am not singled out, nor do a suffer from the "Why do they do this to me?" type of persecution complex, it just miffs me that they would not even consider reading it.

Ok, and I though I couldn't sound more petulant than I already did. Ah, well...

I understood what you meant, but you have to sell yourself with a query letter. THis means showing the agent you know what novels she has sold, that you have read a couple of them, and that your style is along these same lines. Good query letters are as much about the writer as they are about the novel.

And, if you ask, a fairly large number of agents will read sample chapters instead of a query letter. Getting the writing itself in front of an agent is mandatory, in my opinion.

I guess you could say that what an agent really looks for in a query letter is a writer who can stand out from the pack. Researching the agent carefully is one of the best ways to do this. Asking if you can send sample chapter instead of a query letter is another way.

David McAfee
08-06-2005, 06:23 AM
I understood what you meant, but you have to sell yourself with a query letter. THis means showing the agent you know what novels she has sold, that you have read a couple of them, and that your style is along these same lines. Good query letters are as much about the writer as they are about the novel.

And, if you ask, a fairly large number of agents will read sample chapters instead of a query letter. Getting the writing itself in front of an agent is mandatory, in my opinion.

I guess you could say that what an agent really looks for in a query letter is a writer who can stand out from the pack. Researching the agent carefully is one of the best ways to do this. Asking if you can send sample chapter instead of a query letter is another way.

So... it is ok to send a letter or an email simply asking if they would read a few chapters? I understand that getting the work in from of them is mandatory, but is it really acceptible to send a letter saying "Instead of a query, would you mind if I sent you the first three chapters of my book?"

Vomaxx
08-06-2005, 06:46 AM
So... it is ok to send a letter or an email simply asking if they would read a few chapters? I understand that getting the work in from of them is mandatory, but is it really acceptible to send a letter saying "Instead of a query, would you mind if I sent you the first three chapters of my book?"

(a) Many agents want the first 3 chapters with the query. That's what they ask
for on their websites or in guidebooks.

(b) A query by itself, is a request to send them more material. If you send a letter saying "Instead of a query" etc., that is a query whether you like it or not. Surely, having written a whole novel, you can write a 1-page letter that will entice maybe 12% of agents into asking to see more? (That, I believe, is the percentage that most people get with a good query letter.)

David McAfee
08-06-2005, 06:54 AM
(a) Many agents want the first 3 chapters with the query. That's what they ask
for on their websites or in guidebooks.

(b) A query by itself, is a request to send them more material. If you send a letter saying "Instead of a query" etc., that is a query whether you like it or not. Surely, having written a whole novel, you can write a 1-page letter that will entice maybe 12% of agents into asking to see more? (That, I believe, is the percentage that most people get with a good query letter.)

You'd think so, wouldn't you? It sounds reasonable and yes, I should be able to do it. Here is where I get lost; the book is 130,000 words, and I am trying to condense that into one paragraph. To make it more difficult, it is the first book in a three book series, and I am trying to fit points of the plot from the other two works, and it just comes out sounding overly wordy, at least to me. Perhaps i should simply query the first book and leave the other two out of it altogether?

Jamesaritchie
08-06-2005, 07:55 AM
(a) Many agents want the first 3 chapters with the query. That's what they ask
for on their websites or in guidebooks.

(b) A query by itself, is a request to send them more material. If you send a letter saying "Instead of a query" etc., that is a query whether you like it or not. Surely, having written a whole novel, you can write a 1-page letter that will entice maybe 12% of agents into asking to see more? (That, I believe, is the percentage that most people get with a good query letter.)

If you send a letter asking if you can send sample chapters, the agent is going to think you're dense. There are better ways of finding out whether or not an agent will look at sample chapters.

I've seen that 12% before, and I think it's ridiculous. Proper, well-written query letters when you've done your research should result in at least an 80% request rate. I'd say that 12% is what people get with standard, average query letters that are shotgunned.

Vomaxx
08-07-2005, 03:58 AM
I've seen that 12% before, and I think it's ridiculous. Proper, well-written query letters when you've done your research should result in at least an 80% request rate. .I'd say that 12% is what people get with standard, average query letters that are shotgunned

This might be worth a separate thread. 80% (for fiction)? That is the highest figure I've ever seen. What do others say?

Jamesaritchie
08-07-2005, 04:52 AM
This might be worth a separate thread. 80% (for fiction)? That is the highest figure I've ever seen. What do others say?

Look at tit this way. If you've done your research, you only send queries to agents who are actually takling on new clients. And you only send queries to agent who have sold books that are similar to your own. And then you write a professional query letter on good paper with a good envelope. Why wouldn't that agent ask to see the novel?

You can't just go through listing and say, "Aha, this agent handles mystry novels, and I wrote a mystery novel, so I'm sending her a query." Do this, and a 12% response rate is going to be high, and most agents who do say yes are not going to be top of the line agents.

If yuo give an agent any reason at all to say no, any good agent will say no. Generic queries are almost always a reason to say no.

If you give an agent only reasons to say yes, then you get yesses, and the only time you won't is if something else is going on.

From my experience, any writer who is sending queries to more than a dozen agents a year is sending queries that aren't researched nearly well enough. It takes time to research an agent properly, and it takes time to write a really good query letter that is targeted at that one, specific agent. A really good query letter will never work for more than one agent.

smallthunder
08-07-2005, 07:24 AM
From my experience, any writer who is sending queries to more than a dozen agents a year is sending queries that aren't researched nearly well enough. It takes time to research an agent properly, and it takes time to write a really good query letter that is targeted at that one, specific agent. A really good query letter will never work for more than one agent.

I tremble before daring to contradict an Absolute Sage ... but ...

Well, let me first state that I do agree that carefully researching/targeting agents prior to querying them is the best/most effective way of going about this endeavor. It's like writing a cover letter when you apply for a job -- if the Human Resource Officer has a stack of letters attached to resumes, and only one vacancy to fill, the letters that speak knowledgably about the company and how the applicant's past job experiences qualify him/her for the vacant position are the ones that immediately go into the "for further review" pile.

This does not mean, however, that a well-written cover letter that omits the info about the company but contains the applicant's relevant past job experiences won't get put into the "for further review" pile.

(ahem) ... "Never say NEVER" ...

Where I disagree with the Sage -- based on my own experience, mind you -- I'm not trying to play Devil's Advocate here -- is the comment that "a really good query letter will never work for more than one agent."

Agents aren't that unique in what they're looking for, are they, when you get right down to it (after taking genre considerations into account)? They all want to deal with a somewhat professional writer (i.e. someone who sounds reasonably well-grounded and knowledgable) and represent a well-written book that takes on a topic from an interesting/new/unique angle.

So, if you write a professional query letter (grammatically correct, typo-free, no ranting about how your next-door neighbor's dog, Sam, made you write the book) with a well-written pitch for an interesting work ... I don't see why this query letter cannot be used for multiple agents.

OK, you may argue that my own experience was a fluke -- my research on agents did not extend past the 2005 Guide to Literary Agents, and even then, I chose most genre-appropriate agents to contact based primarily on their acceptance of e-mail queries. I used the same query letter, and had a 50+ percent hit rate. Nonetheless, I still believe that logic supports my belief.

A good query letter -- the best query letter (from this writer's point of view, at least) -- can attract the interest of more than one prospective agent. It has "universal" appeal. Just as, one would hope, your manuscript does ...

[Ok, I've said my piece, James. Please don't hurt me!] :scared:

Jamesaritchie
08-07-2005, 08:20 AM
is the comment that "a really good query letter will never work for more than one agent."

Agents aren't that unique in what they're looking for, are they, when you get right down to it

The synopsis part of a query letter might well have universal apeal, but it's rare for this part of a query to make an agent ask for a manuscript. That's the common fallacy too many writers believe. In truth, even a well-written synopsis sounds like two hundred other synopses an agent will get in an average month.

I've read many of them, and after awhile, a very short while, they all start to sound the same. Pretty soon your eyes glaze over and you could be reading a synopsis for Moby Dick and think it was a synopsis for a fishing guide.

WEriting a good synopsis is important, but this is not the part of a query letter that attracts most agents.

Yes, agents really are this unique, at least in some respects. No two agents have sold the same novels, for one thing. They may sell the same genre of novel, but not the same ones. Agents are just like anyone else in that we each have our own reading preferences. Just because I like mysteries does not mean I like every mystery writer, or even a majority of them. Out of the thousand or so mystery writers I could be buying, there somewhere around twelve that really stand out to me. The same is true of agents. You need tow rite novels not only in the genre she likes, but the kind of novel within the genre that she likes. If your query letter shows this to be the case, it's a query unique to that agent.

It's also a query that shows the agent you're done some serious homework, and did not just pick her because a listing for her said the handles mysteries.

Generic queries just do not go over well with most agents, and a query letter that can be sent to more than one agent is a generic query letter. Forget the synopsis part. It may have universal appeal, but the rest of the query needs to be agent specific, else you're just playing the lottery.

It's true enough that an agent may have only one slot to fill, but in order to fill that slot an agent may request a hundred manuscripts. There's nothing that can be done about this, except to write the one novel in a hundred that she loves most.

But this is not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about getting the agent to read your manuscript. Once an agent agrees to read it, the novel must stand on its own. But getting an agent to at least read it is the hurdle many writers can't get over.

If you select agents carefully, after having read a number of the novels they have already sold to mainstream publishers, and if you can then compare your novel to a couple of those, and if you then mention this in a query letter, that letter cannot be sent to another agent.

If you've done further homework and know the agent you're querying is actively looking for new writers, you won't be rejected because there's no room at the inn.

Writers who consistently receive no request for manuscripts either are not researching the agent well enough, and are not putting that researchinto the query letter, and they're writing bad query letters. If an agent has no reason to say no, that agent will say yes everytime, and it's entirely in the writer's hands whether or not she has a reason to say no.

Good queries do not attempt to sell the agent on the novel, they attempt to sell the agent on the writer.

This is one reason why the section where you list writing credits, writing credentials, and expertise is so important. The agent wants to take on a writer, not a manuscript.

And any agent like sto think she's special. She wants to think you want her as an agent because you've done a lot of homework, and that homework has told you she's the best one for the job.

And in truth, there are seldom forty really good agents out there for a given writer. Not if you're talking top of the line agents.

Dawno
08-07-2005, 08:34 AM
David, go read http://misssnark.blogspot.com/ You'll have to scroll down a bit to get there but she talks about queries and dissects some. I've been loving this blog for several weeks now.

Even if you don't learn much (but I think you might glean something helpful) you'll get a laugh out of it. Don't forget to read the comments!

David McAfee
08-07-2005, 10:45 AM
This is one reason why the section where you list writing credits, writing credentials, and expertise is so important. The agent wants to take on a writer, not a manuscript.



Actually, this portion of the query is very easy for me. Zip. Working on fleshing it out some, tho... ;)

Thank you, Dawno. I did check it out, and it was helpful (yep, funny, too...)

Jamesaritchie
08-08-2005, 12:41 AM
Actually, this portion of the query is very easy for me. Zip. Working on fleshing it out some, tho... ;)

Thank you, Dawno. I did check it out, and it was helpful (yep, funny, too...)
Yes, but the slow part is finding out which agent sold the novels you've found that have style and content similar to your own, reading several of these novels, and then working this into the query in a way that makes sense.

I don't know any fast way of finding and reading several novels, connecting them to a certain agent, and then working this into the query.

Euan H.
08-10-2005, 10:46 AM
This might be worth a separate thread. 80% (for fiction)? That is the highest figure I've ever seen. What do others say?

Mine was about 25%. And yes, I personalized each of the queries I sent out. 80% seems kinds high to me. And I'm also not sure that a rejection automatically means a badly-written query or insufficient research on the part of the writer. What if the agent simply doesn't think the book will sell enough compared to their current client list? What if the agent has just that very week taken on another Roman-era political thriller writer?

Just my 2c.

SLake
08-13-2005, 08:46 AM
Always take tales of huge rejections numbers with a box of salt until the check out the facts.

Sorry, I'm not perfect. But even your story is just another one. You're upbeat JameA, and your approach is useful, to the point and inspiring. I like that (no, I'm not being sarcastic!).

Check out http://everyonewhosanyone.com It's the website of Gerard Jones, with an individualistic attitude and some stories of rejection.