Bad News Is Better Than No News


I declare today my personal  ‘Submissions Follow-Up Day’.

Part 1: Send follow-up emails to agents who requested partials & fulls 2+ months ago. I certainly don’t mind doing this at all. While the pragmatic side of me tells me it’s useless–they would have jumped on it if they were interested–the hopeful side of me keeps the fire alive. Maybe lovely agent just hasn’t gotten to it yet…

Part 2: Decide whether to follow-up with agents who have not responded at all.

I record details for each query I send:
– Submission date
– Anticipated response date (based on agency websites, interviews & Query Tracker reports)
– Outcome
– Agent & Agency name
– Type of materials sent: query, synopsis, number of pages
– Notes: Any contact with agent, likes/dislikes, chances of a good fit, screw-ups/typos I caught in the submission after-the-fact, etc

The Query Tracker reports and User Comments have been great in discerning whether or not I should follow-up.

For instance, I currently have 3 outstanding queries which I should have heard back on prior to 7/25. Thanks to QT, I am chalking them up as ‘Closed/No Response’. The reason? Check out the reply % for each of these three agents.

Really? 78% – 83% non-response rate?

Maybe I’m daft. Perhaps I expect too much. But even a form rejection is better than no response at all. I picture the process as a simple one.

1. Agent reads sucky query & knows immediately it is not right for him/her.
2. Agent moves email into “Send Form Rejection” folder.
3. Once a week, Agent [or intern] replies to all the waiting writers who didn’t make the cut.

I get the whole hundreds-of-submissions-per-week argument. But I also know the meaning of the term “professional courtesy”. Honestly, it’s a pain in the ass to research and tailor a query to a specific agent using the posted guidelines. Each submission is different. Each requires its own set of materials. Surely that time and effort is worth [at least] the professional courtesy of some sort of reply–even if that response is a dry, form rejection.

So, on Submissions Follow-Up Day, I will mark these three queries as “No Response” on both my personal spreadsheet and on Query Tracker. I have 8 more responses due in the next week. Hopefully, these agents are professional and courteous. Hopefully, they understand that:

Bad news is better than no news.

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I’m Just a Bill


I am quite thrilled to say that the agent/publisher response to my third novel, FREEBORN, has been far and away better than for my first two novels. That tells me I am learning more of what it takes to grab and hold their attention through pitching and actual writing craft.

That last statement sounds like agents & publishers are my market, my audience. They are not. The buying public is.

But agents are pivotal in the process of getting my words to that market. Agents are partners and advocates. They’re often called gatekeepers–those who hold the keys to the magic portal through which a manuscript must pass in order to become a book. (I’ve noticed some agents don’t like that term for some reason???)

That thought dredges up a random song from the depths of my lyric-infested head. An old Schoolhouse Rock tune. Sing its catchy educational glory with me.

I’m just a bill.
Yes, I’m only a bill.
And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill.
Well, it’s a long, long journey
To the capital city.
It’s a long, long wait
While I’m sitting in committee,
But I know I’ll be a law someday
At least I hope and pray that I will,
But today I am still just a bill.

In this sense, I suppose agents are a lot like Congress. My manuscript will remain just a bill until an agent decides it is worthy to become a law.

Since I’m having more fun than you can imagine with this analogy…I suppose that would make the head of each agency the Senate. Even if Congresswoman Agent likes my manuscript, she will have to pass it through Senator Agency Head for a second approval. If all is a go, then my lowly manuscript will be on its way to becoming a full-fledged book.

It’s a long, long wait while I’m sitting in committee.

Then there is President Publisher towering over the paperwork with a veto stamp in hand. My poor little bill can get rubber-stamped, kicked back, and remain an unrealized idea. Damn bureaucracy!

Like Bill, I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill.

I know I’ll be an author someday
At least I hope and pray that I will,
But today I am still just a bill.

 

With complete contrition for getting this song stuck in your head for at least a day, here is the YouTube link to help you dig out the earworm.
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7266360872513258185

Be sure to check out all the Grammar Rock subgenre of videos, too. Chalk it up as “an online writing course”.

What is it about Schoolhouse Rock? I just dig it. Yes, part of it is the artwork, but mainly it’s the songs. Let me tell you about one of my favorite musicians. Mike Doughty. He is solo now, but I was initially introduced to him when his old band Soul Coughing opened for Dave Matthews waaaaay back there in the past. My frinds hate him: his voice, anunciation, music–all of it. Too bad. Suck it up. BTW, he has a remake of Schoolhouse Rock’s “Three is a Magic Number”. When I’m feeling capricious, I can put that song on and just watch the shoulders tense as eyes roll with disdain in there sockets. Not that I would ever be capricious…

Agents: How to Cut Your Slush Piles in Half


 
Maybe the title is a tad hyperbolic. Nevertheless, there is a useable nugget of truth here. I promise.
 
Sometimes, a writer has to take a chance on a query letter. I have tried a few things–nothing outlandish–but perhaps a little out of the tried-and-true norm. I know, I know. Gimmicks are almost always an instant turn off. I haven’t used dancing baby videos or written a query as though one of my characters was doing the pitching.  Confession: after a conversation regarding what makes Freeborn unique, I did use this subject line for a few queries:
 
Query – FREEBORN – YA Sci-Fi (With pregnant dudes? What!?)‏
 
Yeah, well, I recovered from that moment of lunacy.
 
Sometimes, writers don’t feel like they’re taking a chance; it just happens. An example of this is querying agents who may/may not rep the genre the writer is submitting. I thoroughly research each agent before querying: agency sites, interviews, twitter, random internet searches, client lists. No matter how in-depth this fact-finding mission, it is often hard to discern exactly what an agent is looking for. Some have a very quiet e-presence, while others throw themselves out there loud and proud.
 
When in doubt, I send the query out.
 
Much love to the agents who spell out their wants/likes/dislikes in crystal clear terms. Unfortunately for the slew of querying writers, there are plenty of agent profiles which merely provide the wide-open, vague “YA/MG” market with no specific genres noted. With these agents, I will take a chance and send a query anyway.
 
***Note to agents with vague ‘What I’m Interested In’ declarations: Want to cut the number of ‘Not Right For Me Queries’? Give us details of what IS right for you.***
 
Both you and your interns will thank me for it.
 
One of my best rejection letters came from an agent who simply listed the “YA/MG” market. This rejection is inserted below. With the Dear John opening address, it starts off sounding like my girl back home is breaking up with me while I’m crawling around in muddy, wartime trenches. After that, there are amazing statements every writer likes to hear. But then it hits–the dreaded asshole-of-a-word–however.
 
Dear John,
 
Thank you for your query. I thought this was a really creepy, interesting concept and that you executed it very well. The writing was super compelling and the pace was great. However, I’m afraid that I don’t do all that much with Sci-Fi, as I’m not a big sci-fi reader and don’t feel I know the market well enough. I wish you all the best and encourage you to submit your query to other agencies. Thank you for thinking of me!
 
Best,
Agent with Vague Profile
 
Let’s recap the key terms and play-by-play reactions:
“really creepy, interesting concept” – [Yay! It’s not a form letter! Perfect compliment. That’s my brand.]
“you executed it very well” – [:: Heart flutter :: We’re off to a great start here.]
“writing was super compelling” – [Wow! This is going really well! This agent ‘gets it’. :: heart rate increases ::]
“the pace was great” – [I agree. And thank you. I worked hard to make sure of it. Where is this email leading…? :: heart skips a beat ::]
– “However” – [F#^k!!! :: heart shrivels and dies ::]
 
After the however, my eyes glazed over. My blood pressure rose. My finger instinctually slid over the mousepad and selected the “Move To: Rejections” icon. Fantastic. Agent read at least part of my sample chapter, liked it, but rejected it.
 
I double-checked the agency website and online info for the agent. Yep. Just as I suspected. Vague market with no genres listed. Don’t get me wrong. I am very appreciative of the customized letter and feedback. I understand that the effort was a gift and took time for the agent to compose. The agent could have simply form-rejected Freeborn since my submission was not in a genre s/he represents. However…
 
 

Two More Publisher Requests


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So many creative possibilities to draw from for a post today. It’s funny though. When a health concern pops up, everything else turns into scatter noise on the radar. Yes, I’m nervous about something. Yes, I am being intentionally vague. This is a public blog, not a private journal.

Now that I have gotten that out of my system…

I have two new full requests for Freeborn to announce!
– Jo Fletcher books upgraded from 3 chapters to a Full
– Entangled Publishing requested a full via Brenda Drake’s ‘Entangle an Editor’ contest

That’s as much excitement as I can muster at the moment. Stay tuned, though. I’ll be back on track soon enough.


I gleaned a ton of blogging folder while disconnected from the virtual world for more than an agonizing week. Upcoming posts will hit on slave boys in leather shorts, haunted hotels and slot machine jackpots.

In the meantime, let me plug an amazing bare-knuckle brawl of words going on over at Cruising Altitude 2.0. The concept is based on the immaculate movie Fight Club and pits anonymous flash fiction pieces of 500 words or less against one another. You can submit at any point over the next 12 weeks. Check it out.

So, I’m taking care of the 1st RULE: You MUST talk about WRiTE CLUB.

Now, to tease you with the thought that I have entered a kick-ass piece, but dangle the bar of soap just out of reach by adhering to the 2nd RULE:
You DO NOT talk about WRiTE CLUB – Once the competition begins you are not allowed to solicit votes.  All of the writing entries are anonymous, and we want it to stay that way.

My pen name for the contest springs from the concept used in the FF piece. That alias echoes the immortal words of Tyler Durden:

Hey, you created me. I didn’t create some loser alter-ego to make myself feel better. Take some responsibility!

I can say no more.

Shirt ripped off, sweat glistening, under-skin anger brewing. Fight!

A Full Request? For THAT one?


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Drive-by post today.

I am currently querying Freeborn with a good number of requests rolling in. Capritare: Discovery had been put to bed back in late winter / early spring. But, yesterday, I received a full request for the little guy. I roused him, helped him get dressed, then sent him off on his unexpected journey.

Hopefully, he’ll send a postcard with good news.