Pub Rants

Sara’s Look at Today’s Queries

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STATUS: It’s Friday! Rockies against the Padres tonight at Coors field. I cannot watch baseball on TV but get me to the field and I’m crazy about the game. I also love Baseball movies. Always have. There’s something about the metaphor of the game. All time favorite: BULL DURHAM (of course). Actually, I love all sports movies. Okay, not all but almost all. It has to be a really bad movie for me to diss it. I have very lax standards where sports films are concerned.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? TWISTIN’ THE NIGHT AWAY by Sam Cooke

I have to admit, I kind of stole this brilliant idea from Rachel Vater so go check out the original master but since Sara was in the office today working on queries…

It was time to for her to weigh in.

So, from Sara:

Here are some queries that got the dreaded, “No Thank You” today:

1)I saw four queries about adults who recently found out they were adopted. This seems to be a hot topic right now, and it is emotionally compelling. Unfortunately, it is also very common. Typically, the protagonist goes looking for his/her birth mother, and the plot revolves around this search. The successful query in this genre will have to be masterfully written to break out from the “too generic” brand.

2)There were many queries from writers who had not researched the genres that we represent (this is typical, but still sad – many were even good). I sent “nos” to multiple writers of children’s picture books, anthologies of poems, thrillers, medical mysteries, etc. *sigh*

3)Science Fiction and Fantasy writers were busy today – many good queries came through. There is one recurring theme that I keep seeing in this genre which is a bit of a turn off (and often results in the big “No”). I see many queries in which the hero or heroine has just come to realize that they are the secret savior either of this world or for a world they never knew existed. In these queries, the character doesn’t know about their hidden talent/power/prophecy until they find out it is their job to save the world. There is no reason this story couldn’t work, but I certainly see it a lot, and it takes exceptional writing to overcome my bias of it as a generic story.

4)Depressed 40 year old women whose fat husbands are having affairs have also been plaguing me today. This topic for a query never wins any points with me. Three of these “heroines” came through the in box, and then quickly went out again. I didn’t see the possibility of an original take on the storyline. I just saw “Sally needs to re-find herself and her vitality and her 14 year old sarcastic teenager is no help.”

5)Finally, again on the SF writers (like I said, they were busy beavers today) – I noted many queries that were listed over 200,000 words (including one stunning 315,000 word behemoth). This wasn’t the ultimate breaking point for any of the queries, but I thought I would mention it. 150,000 words is about my upper limit, and after that there is a mental, “eeek” of warning.

But, here are some wonderful potentials that I sent on to Kristin to review:

1) A YA novel with a 17 year old heroine who works in a museum as an exhibition assistant. She has just gotten the go-ahead to research her favorite pirate from history (or should I saw pirate-LASS – yippeeeee, a woman pirate, just like in SIREN). Adventure on the high seas is supposed to follow – sounds exciting!!!

2) A comedy about three senile, aging psychics and the havoc they cause as their talents vie with their failing mental capacities. Ha ha! How great – crazy old psychics!!!!

3) A SF about a perfectly engineered future that is threatened by a being, posing as human, who has been elected as president. The celestial protectors of the world create a new race of beings to help fight this threat. These are the heroes/heroines of the story, and they band together to learn about their powers and to save the world. Yes, it’s a “save the world” theme, but the writing in the query was very strong, and the hook with the six super-heroes, was intriguing.

104 Responses

  1. Reel Fanatic said:

    I too love baseball movies, and since I’m a fan of the dreadful Baltimore Orioles, the movies are a lot more fun to watch this time of year than the action of my team on the field .. If I amy recommend one you may or may not have seen, check out the doco “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” ..its a loving but very enteraining portrait of hammerin hank made by his daughter

  2. Anonymous said:

    Eek. I’m not sure how comfortable I would be querying an agent if there was a possiblity that my blurb–or a facsimilie–would end up on their blog. I realize that queries aren’t privileged information. But still…

    And, yes, I’m posting anonymously because in every other way I respect this blog and this agency, but I felt I should say something about this.

  3. Anonymous said:

    Not to be a wet blanket, but as someone who’s dealing with a parent with dementia, I see nothing funny about senile old people, psychic or otherwise…

  4. Kimber An said:

    Yeah, but how is anyone else in the world going to know if any of those queries were yours unless your name is credited? Just my opinion, of course.

    On a lighter note, I just re-read my letter and it’s very clear that #3 is not the plot! Still, when an agent has a bad day and is insanely busy, these things can still happen. They’re only human. Their dogs get ran over. Their kids get sick. If my story does get rejected, I’ll have a good laugh. I belong to the ‘Anti-Chosen One Cult’ over at Critique Circle!

  5. Anonymous said:

    Oy, talk about getting your panties in a twist over nothing! No names are mentioned, so how can you even know she’s talking about your query? Oh, right, because the shoe fits. Stop whining and take this as lessons you would never get from a form rejection: actual reasons why your plot and/or query didn’t quite cut it.

  6. Lexie Ward said:

    I’m with Kimber An. As long as a writer’s name is not mentioned, he or she can live in blessed anonymity (no pun intended to your posted name, I promise, anonymous!) and perhaps still learn something, too. After all, feedback is extremely rare in this business…

  7. Anonymous said:

    A couple of the last queries are pretty good ideas. I wouldn’t be happy seeing that much detail about my plot on someone’s blog.(unless they were my agent!)

  8. Anonymous said:

    Ugh. How many writers get a “no” to their queries and whine and moan about how they didn’t get any feedback so they don’t know why?

    There’s your feedback. And the idea that somebody is going to steal your plot (which nobody mentoned here, but I’ve seen elsewhere I think)…why would someone steal a plot that an agent has already said they don’t like? Or for a book that might very well be sold before they can write half of it?

  9. Anonymous said:

    I think it benefits writers to understand that a well written book also needs an original premise in order to sell. But how can you know if yours is original if you have no idea whether or not lots of other writers are doing the same thing? I think sharing the general pitch for a number of queries from what we receive is a way of granting a free agency internship to writers so they can get a sense of what’s out there the way an agent can.

    For the queries that Sara turned down, I have seen numerous versions of all of those. She kept them completely generic. For the queries she chose to consider–cool. Original. But not to worry, because no one is going to “steal” any of those ideas. For some reason, this seems to be a common paranoia among newer writers–maybe it’s happened in a movie or something once?–but in real life, it doesn’t. Think about it. Even if you were a wicked person, what would be the benefit of stealing an idea? You still have to write the novel. There’s no guarantee someone else’s unpublished idea is the magic ingredient you’ve been missing all along. The writing still has to be wonderful. And you still have to be the one to sit down day after day and write the thing… you might as well use your own, one you’re passionate enough about to keep you in your chair until it’s done.

    Even if you did steal an idea, by the time you finished writing the novel, it probably would have evolved into something else entirely. How many authors have retold stories from mythology or the Bible? How many takes on Romeo & Juliet are out there? And they’re all different, but each has a special hook or emphasis on a theme.

    Maybe it just feels ebarrassing in an anonymous way, like the song by Roberta Flack, KILLING ME SOFTLY WITH HIS SONG: Feels like he’s singing all about her, but it’s just because some people have similar experiences.

    Or choose to write about similar things.

    -Rachel Vater

  10. Sue said:

    I must echo Rachel’s sentiments. I appreciate hearing about queries that don’t work, and why. I also appreciate hearing about plot lines (and openings and titles) that are commonplace. It makes me sit up and evaluate my own work and become more aware of what is out there.

    I don’t think that anything in the post was specific enough to “insult” any one writer. Remember, these were groups of queries with the same story lines, therefore one must assume that there are writers out there who have not yet queried who might need to rethink their work.

  11. Gabriele C. said:

    I don’t get the problem of those 40 year old women. They should be glad to have the slob out of their bed so they can’t drag some hot guy in there. 🙂

    But adoption – ouch, I have one of those. Though maybe it helps that the adopted guy has been raised by the Visigoths but is Roman by birth, and it turns out he has a Roman half brother who is an officer – and the Visigoths have just laid siege to Rome. At least I have fun writing that one, and the adoption is not the only aspect of the plot. 🙂

  12. Elektra said:

    I’m not quite sure why everyone seems to think that either anony #1 or my query was one of the ones mentioned. That’s not the case. The case is a question of business ethics and consideration in a non-anonymous blog.

  13. Thomma Lyn said:

    Guess y’all haven’t made it to my query – I keep clicking on send and receive and have gotten neither a yay nor a nay. 😉 I’d better stop before I wear out my finger, LOL!

    Seriously. I appreciate blog posts like this. As “mind of the agent” and “mind of the agent’s assistant” posts, they’re not only entertaining but they’re informative as heck.

  14. Anonymous said:

    I don’t think the issue is the laundry list of ideas that are overused and thus rejected. These are much appreciated and helpful, I like reading them.

    The full-on blurbs of what was liked make me slightly uncomfortable. I can’t put my finger on exactly why and I can certainly see Rachel V’s point. I wonder, would another agent see that and recognize something on their desk? Would it matter? I have no idea, but I do wonder.

  15. Dave Kuzminski said:

    Uh, gee, I guess I shouldn’t ask if you’d be interested in my 1,200,000-word SF manuscript.

    Admittedly, it’s a turkey, but I learned a lot about writing in the process.

  16. Elektra said:

    Yes, the laundry list is helpful to us, but is it to the querier? Is it right to hold up other queries and say “don’t do this”–without the queriers’ permission? “I’m tired of this plot” isn’t exactly helpful feedback for someone who’s already written the book–the options are a) trash the book or b) keep querying like you were going to do anyway, only now feel even more pessimistic and depressed than you did before.

  17. Anonymous said:

    I guess I’m in the minority when I saw that I find these query postings extremely informative. I’m hooked in Rachel’s blog and I learned a lot about what other people are writing and what not to do myself in the future.

  18. Mrs. Brain Bomb said:

    Baseball movies are great but what’s up with baseball books? And not the steroid genre!

    #3 in Sara’s NO list sounds like a rehashing of The Matrix movies or Equilibrium.

    Out of the potentials #2 sounds great.

  19. Jill James said:

    I liked the psychics going senile plot. Instantly I thought, what if they were superheroes, like Superman. Who would stop them from whatever they wanted to do in their altered state? Which led to the other thought of taking one idea and playing with it until it is your own.

  20. Rachel Dryden said:

    I found this post fascinating, and would love to see more like it.

    Even if I someday saw mine listed in the group, I wouldn’t change my opinion. It’s free feedback from someone who knows whereof they speak. Cool!

    And knowing what’s overdone is also useful. To those who say, but my manuscript is already written so it’s too late, I reply: what about the next manuscript you write? And the next after that?

    I say it’s still valuable no matter what stage you are at. Thanks for posting, and keep up the excellent blog work!

  21. Anonymous said:

    Hi Rachel,

    Thank you for addressing the concerns raised here.

    For the queries she chose to consider–cool. Original. But not to worry, because no one is going to “steal” any of those ideas.

    That’s not my issue with posting these blurbs. It’s more the fact that until the books are sold, or there is a contract (verbal or otherwise) with an agent, the proposal is the intellectual and creative property of the person who wrote it. Therefore posting information about without receiving prior permission just feels wrong.

    Posting the generalities about the stories that are rejected–common themes, plot devices, etc., is a different matter and this information is fascinating and helpful.

  22. Cindy Procter-King said:

    Cripes, at first I read “exhibitionist assistant.” Forgive me. I edited an erotic romance today.

    For the record, I appreciate reading what works in a query for Sara and what doesn’t. Thanks, Sara.

    If only I could stop pondering story ideas about an exhibitionist assistant….


  23. Maprilynne said:

    I personally think that there is alot of good info here. Notice that never did she say, “This query didn’t have lyrical enough language for me.” In most cases mentioned, she rejected storylines. I think good writing is important, of course, but having a marketable storyline is also very important, and IMHO more important sometimes.

    Also, no one who queries Kristin has a contract with her, I believe that sending a query out should be treated as something as public as publishing a an ad in a newspaper. It doesn’t bother me, though I do understand anonymous’s point.

  24. Lynne Simpson said:

    For fantasy and science fiction, one thing I’d worry about would be the use of proper names from the book in the blog. That’d blow the query writer’s anonymity in a heartbeat, which is something I imagine both the blogger and the writer would prefer to avoid.

    In general, I find these analyses useful, and I haven’t had an issue with the tone. If it got to the point of actually making fun of people and trashing them, that’s when I’d feel like tuning out.

  25. Anonymous said:

    If a plot is one Kristin and Sara have seen a zillion times, and they comment on it, how do you know it’s YOUR query, and not someone else’s, they’re referring to?

    I like knowing what’s been done a hundred times too many, and I like seeing it balanced here with the queries that DID catch their attention. (Of course, I’m quite devoted to reading Rachel’s blog, which I also think is handled professionally.)

  26. Nuttyblonde said:

    I love lists like this, please keep them coming! They’re far too generic to identify any specific writer. It’s so hard to get feedback from the pros, and this is our chance to get it. Kristin and Rachel, please don’t stop giving these lists! 🙂

  27. Kendall said:

    Anonymous @ 10:48 PM wrote, the proposal is the intellectual and creative property of the person who wrote it.

    The text of the query & novel are, but the ideas therein . . . that’s debatable. For example, in the U.S. at least, ideas are not copyrightable.

    But I for one don’t find plot details of the ones that “work” are useful anyway. (I have plenty of my own plot/story ideas.) So if it makes people uncomfortable and there’s not much to learn there (what can we learn from the plots anyway?), then fewer plot details for the ones that “worked” is probably best, IMHO.

    (Your [full] comment seems to touch on the myth of idea-stealing, which others have already commented on.)

  28. Kendall said:

    Elektra: Whose permission’s needed to summarize several plots into one “we got/get a bunch like xyz, and it’s overdone”?! With just a generalization of similar plot ideas — and given that ideas aren’t copyrightable anyway — IMHO, it’s a non-issue.

    I find it useful to hear about overdone plots/hooks/etc. I’d rather realize just how common something I thought was unusual is. While it may be worth considering trashing the novel, authors shouldn’t get depressed; they should use option #3 — adjust expectations & get realistic. Realize it’ll be hard to sell an overdone plot. Then, move on to options #4 & #5 — learn from this and write the next novel. That’s what authors are supposed to do anyway when querying the previous novel, methinks.

    Anyway, just my two cents. 🙂 Kristin & Sara, please keep it up, although maybe with fewer details on the plots that worked.

  29. December Quinn said:

    Personally I love Ms. Vater’s blog and I love posts like this. In a few paragraphs we have a much clearer idea of what agents are looking for and what they’re not, what grabs them and what doesn’t.

    Only you knows the plot of your book. We certainly don’t, so why worry? Nobody’s looking at you!

  30. Deadiquette said:

    Hey, getting my query published in a blog is a step in the right direction! Even bad press is good press? Nobody would KNOW its my query, but, how fun to see myself in print in something other than medical journals, inspirational mags, and magazines about autism!

    Of course my forty-year old character’s husband is philandering(with a man, but cheating is cheating, right?). I’m hoping that the fact that she drops dead at the news will save my plot. 🙂

  31. L. Faye Hughes said:

    Ah, controversy. Nothing like it for breakfast. 🙂

    Perspective is everything, really. Speaking as a published author, I wouldn’t worry about someone “stealing” my brilliant ideas for an as yet unpublished manuscript. (I mean, chances are excellent that other writers are already doing something similar anyway. lol.)

    What would bother me, though, is that Kristin’s posting of the details of “this great query I got” might put me in the uncomfortable position of having all of the other agents I’d queried know that Kristin had received the query also. Quite frankly, I’d rather they not know the identities of their compeition. 🙂

    Great blog, btw.


  32. Anonymous said:

    I’m addicted to both Kristin and Rachel’s blogs, and thank them for their efforts.

    To writers: You already know publishing is a rough and tumble business, mostly because we writers invest so much of our emotional selves in our work. We wouldn’t feel it so deeply if we were dealing in widgets.

    Speaking as an editor now, I say you need to buck up. Take the critique, learn from it, and improve.

    For each of you who has an expectation of privacy, well, abide by that old chestnut of Mark Twain’s: writing, talking, nodding, and all that.

  33. Gabriele C. said:

    I’m so with you. I had no idea adoption is overdone and thus took a close look at my NiP. But since there are several aspects that distinguish my epic historical fiction where the adoption is only a plot layer and where a lot other things are going on besides my MC’s search for his father and his own identity as Goth or Roman, from contemporary/mainstream where the adoption is the main plot, I think I’ll be on the safe side. Yet it’s good to know to keep an eye on that part of the book. Thanks for that, Kristin.

  34. Lexie Ward said:

    Back to gabrielec’s comment: “I don’t get the problem of those 40 year old women. They should be glad to have the slob out of their bed so they can’t drag some hot guy in there. :)”

    I agree! Especially since 40 is the new 30, right?

  35. Anonymous said:

    I think this recap of queries is an awful practice. Plus, Sara’s been really specific about some of the plots/characters. It seems unethical. I hope this blog decides not to go that way.

    It’s one thing for Rachel Vater to do it, b/c she’s been doing it for awhile. Querying her means that your query could end up on her blog, but to start this without warning seems unfair.

  36. WitLiz Today said:

    This is an issue on the right to privacy, no more no less. That needs to be respected on this blog. It’s not about sucking it up and taking the punishment. It’s not about helping to teach other’s how to query. It’s about the right to privacy.

    With all due respect, publishing a summation of a query, even in an informative fashion, is a violation of the right to privacy by the person who sent it in, in good faith.

    And if you think plots don’t get stolen, you’re in for a rude awakening. People copy what they like subconsciously or not.I find it interesting that so many plots are identical, that agents tire of them.

    I would hesitate now to send a query to an agent that posts a blog on queries that failed.

    Of course, it’s an entirely different matter if Sara received permission from the querier first. Doesn’t seem like she did.

    In the future, that should be the way to go.

  37. Stacy Jacobs said:

    Hard to reconcile some of these with the absolute glee with folks anticipate Miss Snark’s next crapometer!

    I’m hooked on the blog — moreso after hearing “here’s what didn’t work this week” … bring it on !

  38. Elektra said:

    Stacy–the people who submit to the Crapometer are doing so knowing that their work will be posted. They aren’t querying in a professional capacity.

  39. Stokey said:

    Kristin, I like the idea of reviewing queries on your blog – to me, it’s useful, informative. I
    was going to send you a query letter; but you can read excerpts from my book on my blog page (if you want to).

  40. Anonymous said:

    I’m curious. Why is it that agents and editors seem to cringe at the notion of multi-book stories, be it a trilogy or whatever? Is it merely the fact that future installments may not get written? Are they not very marketable to publishers these days? I happen to really like epic stories that span more than one book. I find characters and stories I really like, I want to return there again and again to continue the adventures. Maybe I’m in a minority of readers in this.

  41. Kimber An said:

    Hey, Anon, my research on the subject made me conclude that it’s because it’s very difficult to pitch a series or trilogy to an editer from an unpublished author. The advice on the subject was to make your first book stand alone and make it the best you can. Then, if it’s a hit, more will be asked for and you’ll have it.

  42. Rebecca said:

    I would love for my query to posted on here. I think it would be cool whether it was good and I was being praised for my glorious intellect or bad and I was being thrown to the sharks, hey I’m used to it as a writer. Either way, it could help other writers positively or negatively. I love it when agents interact like this. It gives us an inside look at what is going on inside the mind and office of agents. Muwhhhhhhhhahahaha!!!!! LOL!!!

  43. Dave Kuzminski said:

    Having previously functioned as the editor of a fiction publication, I can tell you right off the bat that many writers will simutaneously be working and submitting the same ideas. What sets them apart is more often the quality of their writing.

    Rarely is the twist to their idea enough to set them apart. Those just don’t occur that often. Even then the writing has to shine.

    So, as far as mentioning those subs, it’s a non-issue since there’s no way for agent x to know whether the story mentioned in agent y’s blog is the same one that agent x received or not. Remember, we’re not talking about only one or two stories with the same plot angle. Quite often there are dozens floating about at the same time.

  44. Anonymous said:

    The issue isn’t whether someone would “steal” your idea.

    The issue is whether Kristin had the right to post the plots to novels pitched to her in a query on her blog without the permission of the authors.

    She doesn’t.

  45. farrout said:

    Whoa there, anon and others. I’ll just bet that those queries were paraphrased. There’s is nothing illicit about that, nor does it constitute and invasion of privacy. If that were so, each of us would have broken the law by posting our opinions, most of which are paraphrased from what we’ve intellectually ingested.

    If my query were being discussed, either negatively OR positively, i would be appreciative. . .as another poster stated. As far as i’m concerned, it’s all a part of a lifelong learning process.

  46. Anonymous said:

    Though some of the information may have been helpful and entertaining for some, in the end, it’s still making a mockery of some writer’s hard work. Left a bad taste in my mouth. You went a little too far on this one, Kristen.

    And, no, my query wasn’t mentioned on the blog.

  47. Ryan Field said:

    I don’t think I’d mind having a query posted on this blog. And, Kristin did point out that most were good queries; just not her point of interest. It’s a personal thing, yes, but it’s handled so well here it become educational.

    I hope the novel about the the psychics is a good read. Sounds like a fun book to read.

    And, this post is the abdolute perfect example of how subjective publishing can be.

  48. Anonymous said:

    I agree. I found this classless, disrespectful, and tasteless. I queried you one of novels that I labored over two years, and to have you post it in your blog for the world to laugh shows me that your success may be going to your head. Will never return to the blog.

  49. Ryan Field said:

    To anaon @ 12:11— I don’t think anyone reading this blog will laugh at any of the queries posted as example. It clearly isn’t the context of the blog, and you shouldn’t take it so personally.

    I’m so surprised that people are taking all this seriously. It was the last thing I’d expected to see on the comment page.

    I actually thought this was all handled very well by Kristin.

  50. Anonymous said:

    Ryan, it wasn’t even Kristin. Apparently she doesn’t see most of the queries anyway. And the point for me isn’t the rejects- those did seem to be kept very general- but the original ones were way too specific to share without permission. Even Rachel keeps the ones she likes general enough so that ideas aren’t being compromised.

  51. Amme said:

    Wow. I find all the comments against this interesting. Frankly…for as much as the internet seems like one big interconnected family– the fact is we don’t know what your stories are. Other than you — no one else reading this is going to point and laugh and say “oh, there’s soandso’s query”.

    I also find it interesting that no one is giving either Sara or Kristen the benefit of the doubt as to whether or not they asked the authors of the queries first before posting them here. Everyone is just assuming they didn’t and that seems like a very big assumption to make.

    These are paraphrases of queries and we’ve all heard about stories lines that are always popping up around the same thing. Who’s to say the one you *think* is yours really is?

    Personally, I found this blog very interesting and if one of mine ever popped up on any agent’s blog I’d take it as a compliment. ‘Cause at least I stuck out enough to be considered for something! 😉

  52. Diana Peterfreund said:

    “Posted to laugh at?” Come on. If someone says they got fifty queries for “secret savior of the world” fantasy novels, that’s not saying anything about your book.

    I wouldn’t have posted the specifics about queries I liked, though. I’d keep it as vague as the ones I didn’t. I’d say something like “A contemporary YA novel with a really unusual historical hook.” there’s no need to publicize the details of a novel that the author is presumably trying to market. This is the internet, after all.

  53. Elvira Pepperdine said:

    I think the rejections were handled with discretion, and in a very useful manner. I do think the good ones were too specific, however, and not because of any fear of stealing ideas, but because of what someone else mentioned: other agents or publishing professionals seeing it.

    I have always thought it indiscreet to tell an agent which other agents are considering the work. If they want to know how many partials and fulls are under consideration, obviously I will tell them, but should I really tell them who has it? Can’t that make a difference in how an agent responds to the work? What if they say, “Oh, Kristin has it? Well, she’s so aggressive, she’s sure to snatch it up. Requesting it will be a waste of my time.” Or conversely: “Oh, Kristin has it? She’s my arch nemesis, and I must demand an exclusive so she can’t read it!”

    Okay, that latter example is a bit over the top (Kristin seems so sweet I can’t imagine her being anyone’s arch-nemesis), but my point is, the author is no longer in control of a possibly useful piece of information, namely, who’s got the button. And as an author that would annoy me.

  54. 2readornot said:

    I love seeing how agents think…my query has been discussed on Rachel’s blog, and I didn’t mind at all. My writing can only improve by seeing their comments, good or bad, imo. As for the plot summaries, they were a little specific, but still…they were queries! It’s not like Sara posted a synopsis — and I like it, because it shows me what others out there are doing — and helps me see if I’m original enough, or not (creativity-wise).

    Anyway, I like the practice or reviewing queries, and I offer another vote of ‘yes, please continue’ to all agents who blog.

  55. Anonymous said:

    Hmmm… I have to agree with anon 12:43. Rachel’s blog isn’t as specific. If I were the writer of that YA, I’d be a little upset right now. I hope Sara tones it down in the future. Just my opinion.

  56. Anonymous said:

    Wow, I can’t believe the number of comments this posting created. I am a fan of this blog and try to learn as much as I can from it.

    I can tell you that I gained a lot by reading the queries that worked because I reworked mine, sent it off and got 3 requests in 2 days.

    I only have Ms. Nelson’s blog to thank for that! Now just hoping they like me, they really like me!

    As for those that got posted showing what doesn’t work, whether you think it’s yours or feel somehow someone was taken advantage of, all I can say is take what you can and LEARN FROM IT. Stop wasting time wondering if its legal or if someone will steal the idea, sshessh these agents have been at this a long time (not to imply you’re old) – let it go.

    Lighten up and toughen up folks. Take advice good or bad and if something doesn’t work, no matter where the advice comes from, start over and try again, and again, and again. Stop worrying about stuff that isn’t going to help you sell.

  57. Termagant 2 said:

    Firstly: SF authors CANNOT write short. It isn’t in their genes. I know lots of SF authors, and not one of them can write much under 300K words, far less the 150K at which Kristin’s and/or Sara’s eyes go crossed.

    The other thing is, they can’t just write ONE BOOK, either–they’re always working on part II of a seventeen part trilogy. And I’m not just talking about Robert Jordan here–I’m talking about the pubbed and the unpubbed, the able and the (ahem) others.

    Secondly, you heard it here first: I, not those characters, am the true and previously unsuspected savior of the world(s).


  58. Kendall said:

    Anonymous @ 2:48 PM: You think it’s okay for RV to do it, but not KN?! Do you honestly think every writer sub’ing to RV reads her blog & knows she does this (and that she WILL do it), but since it’s new to KN’s blog, different rules apply??? Um, no; either it’s okay or it isn’t. (If you have trouble with that, then think back to when RV started doing this. 😉

    People Afraid of Laughter: Huh?! Some are learning from the comments; some are reacting; I’m sure many people don’t read comment threads & don’t realize there’s a tempest in a teapot here ;-); but I see no laughter on anyone’s part.

    Anonymous @ 4:28 PM: Mean? Are we reading the same blogs?! Maybe you’re just used to RV’s blog. At first, I found her query comments a bit snarky, e.g. tallying up the magical objects of the day. 😉 Since reading her replies to comments, esp. people saying “on no, I used a magical object,” I’ve realized she’s not being mean. One has to read a person’s blog for a while to know how to take the blogger. * Because I’ve been reading KN’s blog longer, I know how to take KM’s & Sara’s comments…and I can’t see how to take them as “mean”!

    * I’m not saying you haven’t read KM’s blog for eons; I have no idea.

  59. pacatrue said:

    I think this is a really tough issue myself and I have gone back and forth. For a long time, meaning all today, I disagreed very much with lots of the rhetoric in these comments, but I did think that Kristin/Sara made the wrong decision with respect to posting summaries of the good queries that Sara passed on. This is because the query letter is not just a letter between two people. It is a professional artifact used to present certain materials by one professional, the author, to another professional, the agent.

    As such, the agent should expect certain behaviors from the author as a professional querier. The agent should be able to trust that if the query letter offers an 80,000 word novel that there should in fact be an 80,000 word novel. The agent should be able to trust that the author is the true writer of the work being offered. Things like that. On the other hand, the author expects that his or her query letter will be treated as a device of the profession as well. The agent may use this letter to decide whether or not she wishes to ask for more of the offered work. Anything that it takes for an agent to make such a decision should be considered reasonable. The agent may show it to an assistant, a reader, other people in her agency, etc, because this helps her perform her professional role.

    But, posting the basics of a query, even with the names removed, to one of the most popular blogs in the industry doesn’t really have anything to do with the agent’s role as an agent. That has to do with the other service that Kristin kindly provides to all of us – this blog. But since the author has no way of knowing this (unless asked or informed, which certainly could have been done) and the action of posting has nothing to do with the professional relationship between agent and author, that means posting it was the wrong decision. It is not a question of how an author should or should not feel at all. It is a matter of what the restrictions are in conducting the agent/author relationship with regard to query letters.

    That’s where I was about two hours ago, but while bathing my three year old, I came up with another thought.

    I think the agent can make other uses of query letters she receives, and these uses are both legitimate and to be expected. For instance, let’s say Kristin was conducting a seminar called “From query to partial” at the RWA conference. There might be 100 people in the room. (Maybe?) If Kristin said as part of her lecture, “I once got a query for a YA novel about a 17 year old heroine working as an exhibitionist assistant in a museum,” gave the basic query letter contents as we saw on the blog post from Sara, and then explained some problems that arose with moving from the query to a successful partial, I don’t think anyone would bat an eye. That seems a completely reasonable sort of use of the query letters that she receives. A blog post is not quite the same as a conference seminar, but it isn’t all that far away.

    So I end all of this unsure.

    But please, people, even if posting such query letter summaries is indeed inappropriate, relax a little bit. It’s not like there is a guide on proper blogging etiquette for agents that makes everything clear all the time. We all have to make this up as we go, mistakes, successes, and all.

  60. Deadiquette said:

    Maybe a good future post for Kristen and her peers would be the *what not to do* if you want to be a particular agent’s client.

    Could be fun.

    Maybe several agents could participate at once. Think of the insight to be gained!

    Personally, I’d send my synopsis in for Kristin to publish on this blog because 1) It sucks as it stands and 2)The day I begin to think I’m above critique is the day I’d best just pack up my paper and pen and go back to writing ad copy.

    In fact, I’m going to redesign one of my blogs around revisions of one of my (in need of help) books and hang it out there for the entire world to laugh at. 🙂 Go ahead, grill me!

  61. Termagant 2 said:

    Dave K, of course I knew! Breathes there a soul who doesn’t know?

    T2 who writes “short”

    Come to think of it, I AM short.

  62. Anonymous said:

    Anon 12:11 p.m. said…

    I found this classless, disrespectful, and tasteless. I queried you one of novels that I labored over two years, and to have you post it in your blog for the world to laugh shows me that your success may be going to your head. Will never return to the blog.

    First of all, you’re missing some words here in your post. If your writing mirrors what you’ve written here, it’s no wonder you may have received a rejection. Secondly, “for the world to laugh [at]?” Are you serious? I’m laughing at YOU now, not your query.

    The Anon editor said it best. This is a harsh business. Toughen up. Don’t be so sensitive. Don’t think everyone’s out to get you, jealous of you or wanting to be you. Or steal your ideas. Just read the blog and enjoy it. If not, move along.

    Thanks for keeping your blog fresh, useful and topical, Kristin.

  63. Anonymous said:

    I don’t think there’s any need to poke fun at someone who is obviously upset, Anon @ 8:27. I know when I’m upset, I skip words and misspell. It’s okay to be passionate about your work and upset when it’s rejected. Don’t kick someone while they’re down.

    Anon @ 12:11 — I hope you get right back on the horse. Go get some good ice cream, wallow for a day, and then get back to the writing you have so much passion for.

    To the point about getting permission to post the information on the good queries. I don’t know that it would be all that much better. Think about it. You’ve worked for two years on a manuscript. You query an amazing agent with an excellent rep. She asks if she can post specific details from your query letter on her blog. Even if you’re uncomfortable with it, are you going to say no and risk looking like a difficult writer?

  64. Anonymous said:

    anon 8:40- those were my thoughts as well. If one of the three originals were yours and you weren’t happy about your tagline being revealed, what could you do? Here’s an agent’s assistant who is interested but the agent has yet to review. You complain? I think not. However, maybe with all the fuss, those three will get closer looks.

  65. srchamberlain said:

    The entire point of this post was “we’re seeing too many queries about X.” By definition, then, these are not original stories. And just by reading them, you could determine that for certain. I’m not even sure how the petulant little writer who stormed off at 12:11pm could tell that his/her novel was one of the ones mentioned, so generic was the discussion. I doubt anyone with half a sense of how to write a book could come to this website and find him/herself surprised that Yet Another Adoption Story will fail to find representation this year.

    Keep this up, Sara and Kristin! In its own way, it’s just as helpful as last week’s tour through successful queries.

  66. Anonymous said:

    I think it’s a double oops for Kristin and Sara.

    First, it revealed that Kristin doesn’t see half the stuff that comes in. It has to get past Sara first.

    Second, I agree that revealing the premise behind the good queries showed a certain amount of disrespect.

    When Miss Snark comments on first pages or queries, those have at least been submitted to her with that understanding.

    I hope Kristin takes this to heart.

  67. 2readornot said:

    FYI, Kristin makes no secret of the fact that Sara reads all the queries…I believe she blogged on it a while back. She did a great job, imo, of showing how she trained Sara to read the queries with Kristin’s tastes in mind. So this is no ‘oops’ whatsoever.

  68. Anonymous said:

    *Gasp*! You mean Kristin uses…an assistant who screens her subs? Just like almost every other agent in the world??

    Say it isn’t so!

    Grow up, people. If this is too much for you to handle, writing is not the career for you.

  69. December Quinn said:

    Kristin has indeed blogged several times about Sara and her role in the agency.

    Why are you subbing to her if you haven’t even researched her enough to know that?

  70. Anonymous said:

    I for one think what Kristin is doing out here is awesome! I mean I think it’s great that an agent is willing to give us some free pointers! Query letters are definitely coming easier–perhaps some synopsis suggestions (grin)–not that I’m saying I don’t like writing a synopsis! Okay who am I kidding I go running, screaming, and crying everytime I finish a story knowing that I’ll have to write the blasted thing! You all know what I mean (chuckle).


  71. Kim said:

    I’m in agreement – I’d rather see my query here and know what’s wrong (or maybe right) with it than waste paper, ink, and valuable time trying to re-work a tired plot that has no chance. At least seeing a reason for a no might get the creative juices flowing and lead to an outside-of-the-box approach that revives that tired old idea.

    Just an aside – also love baseball movies – I’ll watch ‘Field of Dreams’ every time it’s on if possible. And I’m going to duck now because my team is the NY Yankees…

  72. Diana Peterfreund said:

    Anon at 8:40, you bet I would say no to an agent who did not represent me wanting to post my query on her website. And I would be shocked if she took that into account when trying to decide if she would rep me. When she reps me, we can talk (like how Kristin has been posting her client’s queries — I think that’s great).

    Using a query as an example at a workshop is SOOOO different than making it googleable. And also, an agent wouldn’t have to, because if she were doing that workshop, the attendees would be lining up with their queries.

    ALSO, no one is teaching anyone how to make their queries better written by posting the story ideas. They are just posting the story ideas. Which isn’t necessary, IMO.

  73. Kendall said:

    Diana: It’s just a matter of degree, which for this feels like no difference to me. And since an increasing number of people blog about panels, a query’s use in a panel might well wind up on a web page and thus be (gasp!) “googleable” anyway. But to find it, you’d have to already know what you were looking for — or run across it by accident (looking for something else), which is just like happening to be at that panel. So, to me, there’s no difference — to reiterate, if it’s okay somewhere, it’s okay anywhere.

    I hope to see more posts like this from Kristin & Sara. (Apologies for my previous typo, KM when I meant KN.)

  74. sex scenes at starbucks said:

    I think the rejections are safe enough to post about, especially in this generic tone, but not the stuff that was passed on to Kristin for further review. Give them a chance to get accepted and then ask them if they want to be written about. That’s what Rachel does.

    As for ideas being stolen, I’m skeptical that it happens much. I mean, Harry Potter is a great story, but how many of us have the passion to write a story about a twelve year old who goes to a magician’s school? Not many, cuz it’s not OUR story.

    Speaking of Harry Potter, that particular hero didn’t know he was “The One,” and it worked pretty well. This is standard fare in published fantasy, and yeah you’ve got to pull it off with excellent writing. But there are no new stories, so it’s said, so EVERY old storyline must be pulled off with good writing, character development, and subplots.

  75. Anonymous said:

    1. No plot is completely brand new anymore. No one will be able to successfully steal a book idea from these super short query letter posts. Can anyone imagine two ppl being able to write the exact same novel based off a 2-sentence query summary? I cannot.

    2. I read Rachel’s blog and have learned that I am not the writer for her. From her blog I’ve learned that my genre and style is not what she’s looking for — which is a good thing! Now I, and hopefully others, will no longer clog up her in-box with queries that are not right for her. I wish more agents posted specific examples of what they’d consider.

  76. Anonymous said:

    I am a diehard fan of Rachel Vater’s blog, and if you continue to post notes on queries, you can bet that I’ll be coming back to this one more. I can’t believe the sensitivity of some people. And I thought I was too sensitive! The fact that a very busy agent is taking time to help authors know how to hook them and get published is so much in the spirit of kindness that I think anyone who would get snippy about them is a real jerk. Hello? I didn’t know we were in junior high here! Anyone who’d get this upset about someone trying to help them will never have the strength to bear the dozens of rejections they’ll have to endure to make it in this business.

  77. Virginia Miss said:

    I want to thank Sara and KN for the wonderful blog. Giving us a peek into the minds of lit agents is a huge service for aspiring authors.

    For the queries that piqued Sara’s interest, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she had the authors’ permission to post information about them.

    If I’m wrong about that, I would suggest that in future she either get their permission, or be less specific in her description, out of respect for the author’s confidentiality. (We all know that lit agents read the other agents’ blogs. I for one would hate for an agent to recognize my query on a blog and thereby find out who else I had submitted to.)

    Bottom line: we certainly don’t want Sara and Kristin to stop doing such helpful posts!

  78. Anonymous said:

    I’m torn between the two sides. I DO like reading the blogs and what the agents like and don’t like. BUT, I was, at first, horrified when I saw my book and idea posted in a blog. And the agent was saying she liked it! I just didn’t like seeing my idea out there for the world when I haven’t found an agent yet and haven’t sold my book.

  79. Anonymous said:

    I really enjoyed this post, and found it extremely helpful. I think y’all should do this again in the future!

  80. Southern Writer said:

    I must be the only writer in the country who hasn’t yet weighed in on this issue.

    First, I’d like to say that both Rachel and Kristin have rejected my ms, and I still adore them. I have learned more from them in the past few months than I could ever have learned without them. I also respect them for going about their business in a respectful and dignified manner. Miss Snark is an original, and I don’t care much for imitations. Evil Editor can get away with being snarky because he provides a totally different kind of service. We’re all fortunate to live in an electronic age where their wisdom and advice is made available to us on a daily basis.

    Then, unfortunately, I’d like to say that I think a few too many details were given away in the “good” queries. I’m curious how many of us have read Sandra Brown’s Envy? Ideas do get stolen. There was a line in my short synopsis that read, “Every woman wants to sleep with him, and every guy wants to be his best friend.” It’s been on my website for quite some time. Imagine my surprise as I was reading submissions in another agent’s blog recently to see, “Every woman wants to sleep with him, and every guy wants to be him.” Maybe it’s an incredible coincidence that those two lines happen to be so much alike, but now I wonder, if that person writes that line into a novel and it’s published before mine, who becomes the plagiarist? No, it’s not exactly the same, and no, you can’t copyright an idea, but I’m not thrilled by the little indiscretion, either. Don’t fool yourself for a second that it doesn’t happen.

    In addition, I side with those writers who don’t want identifiable details of their queries or synopsis made public. We all query widely. We all know that other agents read Miss Snark, Evil Editor, Rachel, and Kristin. I made the mistake once. I won’t do it again.

    As much as I adore Ms. Snark, I will not be submitting my query to the Crapometer for her to shred to bits while I have other queries and partials out there. What if an agent were considering my ms, but saw Ms. Snark tear it to pieces, and decided to drop it into the nearest trash can, instead? Wouldn’t that agent think herself a fool to rep something that was publicly ridiculed?

    How many times has a writer submitted a query / synopsis / first page to one of these four and had a different agent contact them to say they wanted to see more? I’m betting you can count the number of times on one hand.

    I would hope that in the future if that much detail is publicly revealed, the agent is planning to rep the writer, and not throw him or her back into slush pool.

  81. Anonymous said:

    But there’s a difference between knowingly putting your work out there, and sending a query to an agent . . . There’s a big difference.

  82. Karen Duvall said:

    I wrote one of those “adoptee searching for a birthparent” novels about 15 years ago, and I think it was considered pretty generic even then, lol! Though I like to think mine was special because of the ticking clock aspect; the main character searching for her birthmother was pregnant and her unborn child was in trouble if the birthmother couldn’t be found before it was born. Nevertheless, that old story has been relegated to the cyber basement of my hard drive.

  83. Chumplet said:

    My query was already rejected by Kristin, so I’m running it through the Crapometer because the first pages are included. As much as I love Kristin, there are other agents out there, and not all of them read these blogs.

    It’s hard to create a killer query, and I use whatever help I can get. Maybe, just maybe if I use what I’ve learned from MS and EE, my NEXT query will attract Kristin’s interest.

  84. Chumplet said:

    I’ve had my queries laughed at on those blogs, and I think I laughed harder than anyone else! I don’t think it’s detrimental to have your efforts shown up in public – it might hurt a bit, but it makes you learn. If you’re too embarrassed, give it up. Whining will only make it worse. Nobody wants to work with a whiner.

    If an agent revealed in a blog that she was interested in MY query, I’d be thrilled to bits, not paranoid that another agent would see the comment. At least it would mean that I did something right for a change…

  85. Anonymous said:

    Ideas do get stolen. There was a line in my short synopsis that read, “Every woman wants to sleep with him, and every guy wants to be his best friend.” It’s been on my website for quite some time. Imagine my surprise as I was reading submissions in another agent’s blog recently to see, “Every woman wants to sleep with him, and every guy wants to be him.”

    The second one has been the standard definition of The Hero (whether in film or books) for a very, very, very long time. I’ve seen and heard it in at least seven or eight different contexts.

    Believe me, the submitter didn’t come up with it, but neither did he steal it from you.

    This is a perfect example of how different people can, independently, come up with similar stuff. It’s possible that the submitter really thought he was being original.

  86. Southern Writer said:

    “Every woman wants to sleep with him, and every guy wants to be him.”

    The second one has been the standard definition of The Hero (whether in film or books) for a very, very, very long time. I’ve seen and heard it in at least seven or eight different contexts.

    Really? Then I guess I wasn’t very original, either. I read a lot, and I’d never heard it before. Can you point out some examples of where it appears? Thanks! I’ll check back here.

  87. bookshop said:

    Hi, Kristin!

    I realize there’s little point to replying to a post that is years old, but as I still feel angry and indignant on yours and Sara’s behalf, I just wanted to comment and say that I appreciate this query post just as much as I’ve appreciated all your posts thus far. (Which is to say, a lot.)

    I feel a little disheartened reading the comments on your blog, because it seems like so many people vying to get into the market just don’t get it.

    They don’t get that if they can’t take even light criticism of their query from an aagent, they’ll be in no shape to take serious criticism from an editor later on should they ever get their manuscript published.

    They don’t get that no story is so original someone somewhere hasn’t written a variation of it. They don’t get that no theme is so original it can’t be over-generalized to sound horrendous. They don’t get that the idea isn’t everything – that perhaps writing requires the famed ‘triple threat’ of theatre – dancing (strong plot with lots of movement), acting (endearing characterization), and singing (engaging voice and tone).

    For anyone who comes after me who reads this posting and the comments herein, I hope you’ll all consider that the unfortunate “no”-queries now have an even better shot, if their writers will view the rejection positively, of turning into outstanding ‘yes’-queries. Take a look at the no-pile and ask yourself how you’d improve the plots based on Sara’s feedback, how you might twist certain details to give it an original spark – or even better yet, how you might focus on writing an outstanding query that would make even the blandest plot seem fresh.

    Don’t think you can do it? Try it anyway. It’d be a good exercise in writing, as well as a good exercise in positive thinking.

    And it sounds like that’s something a lot of writers trying to break into the business can use more of. 🙂