Query vs. Critique

Posted: August 31, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I saw a post recently on Facebook (one of those groups I seem to get automatically subscribed to whether I want to be there or not but decided to check out) where a woman said something like, “My daughter received a rejection saying the agent didn’t connect with the plot.  What the heck does that mean?”  I was so tempted to answer, but that way lies madness.  However, it does make a heck of a blog topic.

Here’s the thing: agents receive hundreds and hundreds of queries a week.  Our job includes reading these to see whether we’d be interested in reading further, to offer a “yes” or a “no” about reviewing additional material.  It’s not to offer critique.  We couldn’t possibly critique, say, 300 queries a week and still agent.  It’s just not possible.  When we do offer a response, it means that we thought your query deserved our going the extra mile.  Does it mean you didn’t deserve the extra mile if we didn’t comment personally?  No, it might mean that we’re busy or that our assistant reviewed it for us and didn’t feel that the query needed our attention, whether because it wasn’t ready yet for prime time, wasn’t in a genre we represent or whathaveyou.  I was surprised at the mother’s what the hell? sort of response to the agent’s comment, since pinpointing the plot as a problem area does say something about the reason that particular query failed for him or her.  It doesn’t mean the next agent won’t connect with the story.  Could it have been more specific—the plot wasn’t terribly original or didn’t have enough suspense or insert reason here?  Sure.  But, critiques are not part of our job description, except for those authors we’re already committed to working with.

When I started out in publishing, I wanted to help everyone.  I was gung ho about giving the most helpful responses I possibly could.  You know what nipped that in the bud?  Most people don’t want to hear it.  The writers who make it want constructive criticism so that they can hone their craft and be all they can be.  However, others just want to hear that they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread.  Anything else, and they’ll argue.  You heard me, argue.  You get more than a few of those and start to decide it’s not worth the grief.  Yes, we get thank-yous as well, and we truly appreciate those.  It’s good to know when we’ve made a difference in someone’s writing or career.  However, once we feel that sense of diminishing returns, well, that gung ho attitude gives way in the face of all the other work we have to get done and which we know is certain to be appreciated.

I’m so tempted to close with “And that’s how Sue sees it” from Glee, but, well, agents already get a bad wrap, and as much as I like Sue Sylvester, I wouldn’t want to be her.  For one thing, I loathe tracksuits.

Comments
  1. It is a good blog topic, and I think most writers recognize this. That being said, the submission process is daunting as what each agent is looking for is often nebulous and subjective in nature.

    And the nature of the beast is that the response means more to the writer than it likely does to the agent, in keeping with the above, so it is disappointing when you receive one (and you are grateful to receive one) but don’t understand it.

    Excellent blog topic. Thanks for penning.

  2. Mishell Baker says:

    The most devastating rejections are often the ones that tell you why. They have stopped authors cold in their tracks before, when the next agent might have loved the material. I think form letters are actually a kindness; they allow the author to assume the best and keep trying. 🙂

  3. Giles Hash says:

    I’ve heard the “I didn’t connect with your story” line many times. I know what it means, I understand what the agent is saying, and as I say in my query letter, I appreciate the time the spent looking at my submission. I also understand that agents are too busy (probably 99.9% of the time) to offer critiques to writers who aren’t their clients, or those who are unlikely to become their clients.

    That phrase can mean many things, too. I’ve read plenty of books, some of them best sellers, that I just don’t get. I don’t see why they sold so well. I just didn’t connect with them. They aren’t bad, they’re simply not for me. And in my experience, that’s what agents mean when they say, “I couldn’t connect with your story.”

    But for someone to ARGUE with an agent when they offer critiques? I’d treasure a critique from an agent as if it was made of pure platinum!

  4. Madison Woods says:

    Thank you. Just making this informative post was going the extra mile and I appreciate the inside glimpse to what agents do. In the mom’s defense though, maybe she just wanted to know what the phrase meant. Seems like the daughter could have explained it to her though…

  5. Great post, Lucienne. I agree with it all–and track suits are especially nasty aren’t they?:)

    I think any comment back from an agent on a query is a good thing. To me it means that they took the writer seriously enought to help him or her out. So if the writer doesn’t get what the agent meant, they should just take away from it the subtext which is: I recognize you as a genuine writer, keep going. Reading into every comment will only drive you mad. The process distilled is pretty simply-keep improving, write the best story you can..then write another and another and another and eventually you will find that agent who is your writing soul mate. One comment can’t derail someone who wants it badly enough.

  6. Awesome blog topic, Lucienne!

    It’s so crazy that people have the nerve to argue and not appreciate any feedback. I’m learning there are a lot of people in this world who really needs to learn the whole meaning of appreciation.

    I can def see why agents try not to give too much of an opinion. It could open the wrong door and there simply isn’t enough time.

    I do have to say YOU’VE made a difference in my writing career. And I want to take the time to thank you again. You really are an amazing person. So glad to have gotten to know you.

  7. Christopher Nelson says:

    Writing is such a subjective business. I feel for agents. It is never easy to say, ‘no,’ and it is even harder to say, ‘reality.’ You guys have a tough job. I recently bought an e-book and and realized after two hours of a giggle fit induced from the book being written one step above Atlanta Nights–NOT ON PURPOSE–that it was self-published. Maybe I am playing devil’s advocate here, but I begrudgingly support the slush pile. It goes a long way towards maintaining quality in literature. To get a snapshot, Day-in-the-Life-of from an agent like this is motivating. Thanks!

  8. […] Diver did a cool post from an agents POV on Query vs Critique. Eye […]

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