Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Please reject me"

by Jofie Ferrari-Adler

This very lengthy Publishers Weekly article is an interview with young New York agents Julie Barer, Jeff Kleinman, Renee Zuckerbrot, and Daniel Lazar. You can read the whole thing online, but here's my favorite little section.

Tell me ten things in the query process that can make you want to reject something immediately.

ZUCKERBROT: When I get an e-mail that says, "Dear Agent..." and I can see that I'm one of seventy agents who got it.
KLEINMAN: Bad punctuation, bad spelling, and passive voice.
BARER: Is it wrong of me to say that handwritten letters make me uncomfortable? Does that make me ageist?
LAZAR: Writers who will have a lawyer send you something "on their behalf." It's ridiculous, and you also can't get a sense of the author's voice, which is what the letter's all about.
ZUCKERBROT: When people talk about whom they would cast in the movie version of the book. I received three of those this week!
BARER: Anything that says something like, "This is going to be an enormous best-seller, and Oprah's going to love it, and it will make you millions of dollars."
KLEINMAN: Desperation is always good. "I've been living in a garage for the past sixty years. Nobody will publish my book. You have to help me."
BARER: I love it when they tell me why nobody else has taken it on—when they tell me why it's been so unsuccessful.
ZUCKERBROT: Or they've come close and they will include an explanation of who else has rejected it and why. "Julie Barer and Jeff Kleinman said..."
LAZAR: If they're writing a children's book, they'll often say, "My children love this book."
BARER: Right! I don't care if your children, your mother, or your spouse love it. All of that means nothing to me.
KLEINMAN: When it's totally the wrong genre. When they send me a mystery or a western or poetry or a screenplay.


Kimber Li said...

You know what would be nice? To read a blog article by an agent or editor in which they describe what they love about being an agent or editor and how wonderful it is to work with authors and encourage aspiring authors, how the economy stinks but we're going to make it because everyone loves and needs good stories.

Honestly, every time I read an article like this one I wonder why the people are even in the business if they hate it so much. Might as well take up chicken farming.

Lisette Kristensen said...
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Lisette Kristensen said...
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Lisette Kristensen said...

Kimber An,

I don't think the editors hate what they do. Other than being overworked and underpaid. I believe it gets down to common sense on the behalf of the aspiring author.

We have to do our homework. What sense does it make to send anything to an agent or editor that sounds desperate, looks sloppy, and does not fit there need. It's not there job to police our work, it is to find the diamonds in the rough and make them saleable.

The bottom line this is a business not an art colony. An accomplished author told me once, write ...write ... write and learn the craft. Submit ... submit ...submit and get better. If you are focused and learn the craft it will happen.

That's our job not the editors. As most agents and editors will tell you they reject 94-95% of all submissions, so we know the odds and it's our choice to make it.


ECPI Editors said...

Yep, I have to agree with Lisette. I certainly didn't get the sense that these agents dislike their job or authors. Every agent and editor I know loves books--they are in their job for love of books, certainly not for love of money.

Agents and editors love wonderful submissions, love enthusiastic and skilled writers. But too much of their time is taken up weeding through bad submissions, wrong submissions, submissions from writers who clearly did not bother to learn the industry and how it works.

Being an author is a profession and has a whole business aspect, it's a lot more than just writing a book. If the aspiring author won't learn about the business of submissions, contracts, editing, production, marketing, etc, etc - then they are writing as a hobby, not as a professional seriously seeking publication. There is absolutely nothing wrong with writing as a hobby for yourself (for example, that's what fanfic is), but the writer should not be pretending otherwise.

Raelene Gorlinsky

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kimber An. Articles like this make some authors think that these editors really hate their profession. Why don't editors talk about how great their job is? All I ever hear is don't do this, don't do that. That's all good and great but damnit why not make a list on how catch the attention of an editor or an article describing how excited they get when the find "the one" in the slush pile. How about one about when they find a partial that makes them want the rest right then, instead of articles on how to get swept off their desk or how much they hate going through the slush pile. Because this *crap is really depressing.

*don't get offended I use crap to describe everything.

Selena Blake said...

>> BARER: Anything that says something like, "This is going to be an enormous best-seller, and Oprah's going to love it, and it will make you millions of dollars."

Nothing like being uber confident. ;-)

Anonymous said...

It does not surprise me to see more than one deleted comment. The attitude displayed by this bunch disgusts me.

It's esentially "Haha look how stupid everyone is! I feel so good about myself putting those people down! Jeaves! Is my baby blood bath ready? I'd like intestines in it this time!"

Delete away...

Barbara Elsborg said...

People who don't follow submission guidelines, people who don't read 'how to submit' before they send their baby off into the world make life more difficult for those who do follow the rules. The agents are already annoyed and in a mood to say no before they get to your carefully prepared query.

I've read the list of no-nos so many times on blogs and websites - don't tell me your kids or your mother loved it, don't tell me it's the best thing I'll ever read etc - I KNOW not to do those things so how come people are still doing it??
Everyone can write - true - but those who do the research and find out how to approach in the correct way have the best chance of success.
I don't think they sound as though they hate what they do, they're being realistic about many of the queries they get. No wonder they need to keep saying it, if they keep getting the same sort of query. Improve your chance of hearing 'yes! I love it ' by listening.

Lisette Kristensen said...

Just a quick follow up to Anonymous. Those two deletions were mine. Stupid typist tricks, on my part.

I agree with Flick. To emphasis again, this is a business. You think editors and agents are cruel? Go for a screen test!

You'll find out what true humiliation is all about.

Anonymous said...

The title of the article is "Please reject me," not 'how to satisfy every agent and editor with a single manuscript.' When a good part of one's work day is spent shoveling slush in hopes of finding a diamond, is it any wonder that an agent or editor might sound less than enthused about the 95% they must reject?

Talked with a woman at RT a couple of years ago, who told me of the (no lie) vampire / paranormal /sci-fi / historical / erotic romance (might have been even more sub-genres)she was writing. Wasn't quite finished, but was presently 600 pages... She asked me for advice but walked away in a huff when I suggested she chop it up into no more than two genres at a hundred or so pages each.

Someone once told me, as I was about to begin teaching Creative Writng to adults: "Be careful, you will have these peoples' dreams in your hands..."

Problem is, sometimes dreams are neither realistic nor saleable, and there is not a thing in the Universe worth more than what someone is willing to pay for it. So if you want to sell, make sure it's something folks will want to buy.

Sounds simple, really.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you make me feel so much better about this business!

Did I say business, I'm sorry- THIS INSANITY! The truth is, agents and editors don't know what they're looking for or want! You can follow all the rules of submission/cover letter/query, self-edit FOR YEARS, and follow the trend (YA and memoirs are hot now I hear) and still end up with nothing.

Then you waltz into a bookstore and see GARBAGE like Twilight and just want to do some destruction of public property. I'm a writer, not an accountant. It's one thing to know the ins and outs of contract negotiations, but marketing and production? Isn't that the job of the publisher? And I'm not falling for the "love of books" line. It's about money- pure and simple. I mean with the unintelligent drivel that Stephenie Meyer got out made everybody millions- including editors (providing she HAD one with that mess).

Delete away, but you won't shut me up.