Queriers’ Quirks.

chloe jasmine by damien lovegrove

There are all kinds of writers, from snooty intellectual types to quirky artsy-smartsy sorts, and everything in between. But among writers, or at least, those sitting on completed projects ready for submission, just how many different types of queriers are there?

You might be the hopeful type with a phone always handy, certain the A-List literary agent’s call is coming any minute, just like model Chloe Jasmine in the Damien Lovegrove photo above. But then, look closer at that pic and take note of the automatic beside her typewriter. Jasmine may not take rejection very well.

Fantasy writer Morgan Hazelwood’s site (morganhazelwood.com) recently took a peek at the different ways writers query in her post “The 10 Types Of Queriers” (link below). “Self-published authors get to skip the query trenches,” she writes, “but, for the rest of us, we all take different approaches to querying agents. What type of querier are you?”

Morgan Hazelwood Dot Com

Hazelwood provides a pretty accurate but still whimsical list of ten typical approaches, and any writer actively engaged in the querying process will smile (or wince) once they recognize their own tactics. Sure, Hazelwood’s poking some lighthearted fun at fellow writers, but anyone being honest will concede there’s a little of each of her types in us.

There’s the “I-Know-A-Guy” type who earnestly attends genre cons and writer events in order to hook-up with industry professionals, determined to query only agents met in person. Or “The Perfectionist”, a wannabe submitter who’ll finally get that query written after the manuscript’s next revision…which has been going on for years. Or, “The Eager NaNoWriMite” who banged out a first novel during NaNoWriMo and is already querying that same first draft, cocksure that a huge book deal awaits. “Oooh, Squirrel!” may be the best querier moniker, that writer managing an initial batch of queries, but quickly distracted by some new project before following up with more.

Since Morgan Hazelwood’s last ‘type’ is labeled “The Morgan”, she’ll understand if we assume that’s where she fits on the list (and for what it’s worth, “The Morgan” isn’t a bad type to be).

I’m not sure I could spot myself among her ten types, or at least, not precisely, more likely sharing both good and bad habits of various queriers. And the fact is, right now, C.J. Thomas is no type of querier, having decided to put the entire process on hold till things get back to normal. Well…normal-ish. My last batch of three queries went out in mid-February with one straggler sent in mid-March, just days before the ‘sheltering-in’ commenced ‘round here. None of those received a reply. In fact, the only recent response received came the first of May in reply to a January 2020 query (not a form letter, but still a no).

Any naïve notions I may have had that agents stuck at home (particularly in beleaguered Manhattan) might have time to catch up on query responses was precisely that: Woefully naïve.

I couldn’t come up with cute titles like Morgan Hazelwood did, and could only label myself as A) Patient and B) Focused on who’s selling books, not merely open to looking at my type of material. Naturally, I refer to the usual online and print resources and directories, but my ‘Bible’ has been the mystery/crime fiction reviews in Publishers Weekly, which usually list the books’ agents. Yes, I like to know which agents are open to queries. But I also want to know which agents actually sell their clients’ projects and how often. PW comes in handy when you want to see who closed deals, even in so-called genre fiction. After all, that is what this query/submission process is all about.

Things will begin to get back to normal soon enough, even if only in cautious baby steps at first. Then I’ll be querying again, perhaps sometime this Summer. I’ll reassess how I fit into Morgan Hazelwood’s list of ten types of queriers once I restart. For now, if you’re a writer, take a peek at her site and this particular post to see how you fit in. It’s a fun read.

https://morganhazelwood.com/2020/04/16/the-10-types-of-queriers/

https://morganhazelwood.com/

Get Your Uniform On.

fred mcdarrah

While most folks are sheltering-in, and many are (hopefully) working their day jobs from home in pajamas (tossing on a blazer for a Zoom staff meeting, if needed), writers already accustomed to working alone probably don’t give much thought to what they’re wearing at the keyboard.

Or, so you’d think.

Blonde Write More Dot Com

Lucy Mitchell’s Blonde Write More site took a look at this in a 4.12.20 post, “How To Dress Like A Writer – 5 Key Writer Looks” (link below), lightheartedly teasing those who “dreamed about becoming a writer and want to master that writer look”. She lists five basics like the ‘Tweed Writer Look’, the ‘Geeky Writer Look’ and so on. Check it out.

Natalia Vodianova Elle Denmark

My own reignited writing endeavors have been solo and safely hidden in my writing lair with little need to worry about ‘writerly’ attire. But, when I was still a socially engaged writer taking community college night classes, attending a monthly writer’s group open mike live reading session (held in a bar to stoke shy writers’ courage so someone would actually read their works-in-progress), trekking to regional or national genre events, or even dialing way back to college days and immediately after, I’d have concurred with Ms. Mitchell that there definitely are ‘writer looks’ (or more specifically, a writer look, as in singular) adopted by the legit scribes, the wannabes and the poseurs alike.

Taylor Lashae

I never actually spotted the tweed jacket or professorial corduroy blazer/sweater vest types, cliché that they may be. I saw a stray Boho or two looking more like refugees from Green Party rallies or Grateful Dead cassette swap meets. But mostly the writers, soon-to-be’s and just-acting-the-part folks uniformly wore head-to-toe black. Intended or not, the 50’s/60’s Beat Scene revival (or what we imagined it to be) was channeled through a Millennial monotony of black Levi’s, black leggings, black tights, black sweaters, black hoodies, black flats, black work boots, black Converse, black scarves, black t-shirts, black knit dresses, black leathers, black ripped sheers, black gloves (big on the fingerless ones) and – surprisingly – black hats aplenty: Porkpies, newsboys, tams, trilbies and the old reliable, black berets. Well, you get the picture, dark as it is. And shame on me for showing up in regular Levi blue jeans with non-black work boots (from Kmart, no less), black pullover notwithstanding (a lesson learned and never repeated after enduring all the derisive glances).

Esther Canadas Peter Lindbergh Vogue Italia 3

Say what you want about monotony, but black-on-black-on-black simplifies things when rolling out of bed still bleary-eyed, whether for class or breakfast with your fellow keyboard dancers.

I’m sure there are romance novelists in billowy Laura Ashley prints, YA vampire epic masterminds in 90’s Goth gear, and committed hard-boiled crime writers in fedoras with filterless Luckies dangling from their lips (surely looking down their nose at the rest of our laptops as they muscle the keys on their manual typewriters). But I’ve only seen those at costume parties,

Esther Canadas Peter Lindbergh Vogue Italia 2

Lucy Mitchell’s Blonde Write More post was well-timed. Y’know, this sheltering-in isn’t going to last forever. Whether it’s in June or not till the Fall, we’ll all be creeping back into the bars, coffeehouses, in-person classes and all-night bitch sessions at friends’ apartments. Soon enough, it’ll be time to stow the PJ’s, yoga pants and torn t-shirts salvaged from the rag bin. I’m just kidding about all of this. (Well, sort of.) Maybe the real point is: Lets not get too used to the new reality. This too will end, even if still socially distanced, and we’ll all have to get our uniforms out of mothballs.

Esther Canadas Peter Lindbergh Vogue Italia

Photos: Fred McDarrah, Natalia Vodianova for Elle Denmark, Taylor Lashae, Esther Canadas by Peter Lindbergh

How to Dress Like a Writer – 5 Key Writer Looks. #WritersLife

At Crime Reads: MWA Nominees On The State Of Crime Writing.

The State Of Crime Writing

Like nearly all writing and publishing events, this year’s Edgar Awards ceremony will occur online, the winners announced by the time you’re seeing this via Twitter on April 30th.

In “The State of Crime Writing In 2020: Part 1 – A Roundtable Discussion With The Nominees For The Mystery Writers Of America’s 2020 Edgar Awards”, Crime Reads gathered two dozen Edgar nominees including Karen Abbott, Maureen Callahan, John McMahon, Mo Moulton, Lara Prescott, Hank Phillippi Ryan and others for a timely roundtable. The discussion runs in two parts, the first appearing today (link below), which included a wide range of topics, such as, “Is there a kind of crime novel overdue for revival or reinvention?” and “What’s the most encouraging recent trend in crime fiction?”

The participants’ replies to “Is there a crime fiction trope you wish would be retired?” were no surprise (answers: Serial killers and the ‘Dead Girl’ trope). On the other hand, I was intrigued by some responses to “What’s the most pressing (non-pandemic) issue facing the crime fiction community today?” Some reinforced the marketplace’s need to foster diverse voices, while others pointed to more pragmatic issues, like money, the growing online piracy problem, and then a real thought-provoking remark about the over-abundance of “bad and self-published fiction”. That one alone could warrant its own roundtable discussion!

Room And Dame Howell Dodd

But don’t settle for my few comments here — follow the link below to Crime Reads to read the first half of this wide-ranging conversation with notable newcomers and genre luminaries alike, and watch for the second part in an upcoming Crime Reads edition. And enjoy the masthead’s modified Howell Dodd painting that originally appeared on a vintage ‘sexy digest’ from Quarter Books (Room And Dame by Gerald Foster) and was later re-used on the 1951 Crime Year Book, that one including “I Was Queen Of The Stag Party Strippers”. Yikes! Well, at least they located one of Dodd’s customary bad girlz holding some reading material instead of a cocktail or gun.

Crime Year Book 1951 Howell Dodd

https://crimereads.com/the-state-of-crime-writing-in-2020-part-1/

 

Write. Then, Sit Tight.

claudia schiffer camilla akrans

Blog posts tell the story: Suddenly furloughed, laid-off and otherwise out-of-a-job writers and wannabe’s aren’t wallowing in lonely isolation. They’re pounding the keyboard, even if only to fill all that newfound downtime. David Barnett notes in The Guardian, “If you’re one of those people who always said they would write a novel if only they had the time: This is your moment. As more budding writers self-isolate due to the coronavirus and finally knuckle down on their manuscripts, the publishing industry has already seen a surge in submissions”. Barnett’s 3.26.20 article, “Finally Working On That Novel As You Self-Isolate? You’re Not Alone” cites literary agents who’ve seen incoming queries nearly double and editors’ submissions triple.

Turning shelter-at-home time into productive writing time might be a slightly-silver lining to the dark and ominous clouds looming overhead. But the New York publishing world must be largely shut down and grappling with much bigger things to worry about. Meanwhile, industry expos, conventions, and trade shows have been delayed or cancelled worldwide, and writers’ workshops and events are similarly on hiatus. Bookstores are temporarily shuttered, with many unsure when – or if – they’ll reopen. The world of mid-April already feels different from late March.

So, I’m thinking this is a good time to write. Write and send to your beta readers, write and share with critique partners. In fact, write like the devil. But then, maybe sit tight on all those precious pages till things return to some semblance of normal.

Golden Gloves Typewriter Illustration copy

Is this the right time to query or submit, or is it pointless when so many have bigger things to worry about? Even once we cautiously emerge from the sheltering, logic suggests there’ll still be mounds of business for agents, editors and publishers to catch up on, an enormous book inventory backlog in the pipeline to stock still-full shelves, and stalled or cancelled P.O.’s at printers and binderies waiting to go back into production.

I’ve mentioned literary agent Janet Reid’s excellent blog here before (link below), where a 3.25.20 post noted, “While there has been a lot of talk of working from home, what I’m seeing is people worrying from home”. Reid listed some business priorities that needed to be addressed, but conceded, “Reading queries isn’t on that list”. On the other hand, she sounded more upbeat just a few days later and acknowledged that she was looking at queries, reading partials and fulls and getting on with conducting business from home. After all, what else can one do?

Christina Schmidt’s Armed With Coffee site echoed this unease with submitting as if things were still normal. Her 3.31.20 post (link also below), “Publication & Covid-19 (Continuing to f*ck things up)” acknowledged that she’d be reassessing her Spring submission agenda. Sensible scribes are used to rejection and have even grown accustomed to Normans (No Response Means A No), but right now, no response could actually mean something tragically ominous: Not merely that the agent or editor is disinterested, but much worse: That they’re simply…not…there.

So…write?

You betcha, if time allows, and for many, time is the one thing available right now. But as for queries and subs, that’s your call. Me…I’m holding off for a while. There’ll be time enough to be told no or to hear nothing at all…later.

Photo: Claudia Schiffer by Camilla Akrans

https://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/

https://armedwithcoffee.com/2020/03/31/publication-covid-19-continuing-to-fck-things-up/

Murder For Profit.

The Writer's DIG

George Dyer, writing for Writer’s Digest magazine, compares crafting a mystery tale to a chess game, with the pieces replaced by human characters, the individual moves being the plot (and presumably, its mysterious twists). The writer? The writer’s both a player and a judge, though still operating within various parameters. Dyer points to things like suddenly revealing ‘deux ex machina’ an all-new character in the closing scene to solve ‘the crime’, or implausibly arming a gangster with poison or a refined society girl with a Tommy gun as plainly breaking the rules..

What makes all of this particularly interesting for me is that George Dyer wrote it back in 1931. But we can read it now at the Writer’s Digest magazine website (link below), with a second installment to follow next week.

Writer's Digest

As the venerable writer’s resource celebrates its 100thanniversary, there’s a vast archive of guidance and info (like Dyer’s essay) to tap into. Consider a 1997 interview with David Baldacci, whose 1994 overnight success Absolute Power sold for a then unheard of $5 million advance…that ‘overnight success’ coming after an estimated 10,000 discarded pages from 11 years of writing. That’s in the April 2020 print magazine, which showed up in my mailbox on Wednesday, and just in time to help restock the to-be-read pile on my writing lair’s endtable. Though still working through “The Small Press Issue”, it’s a good one, and I have to say, I’m liking the modest shift in content seen in Writer’s Digest’s recent issues. And I’ll be looking for Part Two of George Dyer’s take on mystery story techniques next week. Kinda want to see if his words of writerly wisdom from 89 years ago still hold up.

I’m betting they will.

https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/vintage-wd-murder-for-profit-mystery-story-techniques-part-1

Lonely No More…

Lonely No More

Most people have quickly grown desperate for some human contact during this sudden sheltering-at-home. But some have entirely different adjustments to make.

One woman diligently plowed through her novel’s revisions a half hour at a time during her daily work commute’s El ride to and from the north edge of the city into the Loop. But now she’s trying to work at home full-time, while maintaining some semblance of normalcy for her second-grade daughter. Another writer had been deep in research for a biography on Martin Luther King Jr.’s life in 1957 Alabama, quite content to scroll through old newspaper archives without interruption. Now? Every knock on the door will probably be one of his two kids needing attention.

Writing for the 3.30.20 Chicago Sun-Times (link below) Stefano Esposito explains “For writers, who depend on isolation, the coronavirus presents a new challenge: Too much noise at home”.  Who’d have thought? Some folks might actually miss all the alone time, and Esposito’s article introduces the reader to several novelists and non-fiction writers adjusting to households suddenly filled with spouses and kids.

A lot of writers are probably eager to return to their preferred coffee house, settle down at their favorite public library desk, or simply wave goodbye to their housemates, heading off to work in the morning. While most folks are going batty without daily interaction with friends and coworkers, those already working at home are now adjusting to husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends — and kids — and all the normal noise and interruptions that comes with company ‘round the house…24/7. If you’ve been accustomed to banging out a chapter or two in your jammies (or not even those) before bothering to brush your teeth, or like to pound the keys till dawn with a fifth of something or other and an overflowing ashtray for companions…well, for many, those days are gone. At least for a while.

Nobody’s complaining about it, least of all the writers profiled in Stefano Esposito’s article, but it’s a topsy-turvy take on the abrupt isolation we’re all learning to grapple with.

https://chicago.suntimes.com/coronavirus/2020/3/30/21199929/writers-work-from-home-coronavirus-new-challenge-noise

The Gun In The Lingerie Drawer.

Edmund OBrien

Still working through my overstuffed folder of unread Crime Reads articles and essays…

Poll some fiction writers and I’ll wager they’ll all agree that sex may be the most challenging thing to write about. Oh, choreographing action and violence is tough, no question. But sex? Many writers’ fingers freeze over the keyboard when their plot demands a sex scene.

We routinely sit through shocking and even grisly TV and movie violence without flinching, even though our boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse, parents, siblings or friends are right beside us. But let the clothes come off and the more-than-smooching commence, and suddenly we’re squirming in our seats. Doubly so here in the U.S., where violence as entertainment has long been tolerated and even encouraged, while sex has been sanitized, compartmentalized, crudely packaged in exclusively male-gaze slide-shows and for decades, hidden altogether.

Crime Reads - Sex-Violence

Novelist Amanda Robson’s June, 2018 essay at Crime Reads, “Why Is Sex So Much Harder To Write Than Violence?” (link below) points out that while most people do have sex, most do not experience violence (at least, not the sort that fills mysteries, crime fiction and thrillers). Sex, while personal and intimate, is something most writers, readers and viewers can relate to on a first-hand basis. Violence, less likely so.

Have I experienced violence? Not really. I’ve been in car accidents. I’ve wrestled, been hit and thrown a punch. Who hasn’t, at least as a kid? I’ve cleaned a fish, so I guess I’ve plunged a knife into a living creature. I’ve shot a firearm, but only at targets, and I’ll be fine with never touching a gun again. But I’ve never even seen someone get stabbed or shot, much less been wounded myself. Whatever I write is entirely made up, cherry-picked from and authenticated by our collective TV/Comics/Movies/Novels archive and its vocabulary.

Helen Diaz Prophoto Nut 2

As for sex? Hmmmm…none of your business. Whether it’s straight/gay/other, vanilla or weirdsville, time to gleefully don the frillies and lay out the sashes and toys, or once-a-week obligatory marital bed dreariness, writers might understandably assume (or fear) that readers will identify the writer with the sex scene. Amanda Robson writes, “Most novelists write from the power of their imagination. However, when a novelist writes about sex, people imagine they are writing from their personal experience.  Or, at least, from their sexual fantasies. Because my debut novel Obsession contained a few raunchy scenes, I have been subjected to a barrage of comments – some funny, some lewd, some insulting – including an increase in men hitting on me at parties.” But she goes on to wonder why, as a crime novelist, no one assumed she had a lethal weapon in her pocket.

I’m as guilty as the next wordsmith. Sure, I’ve revised and rewritten chases, gunplay and fight scenes, struggling to get the action onto the page while still maintaining the proper pace and level of excitement. But sex? Good Lord, I revise and rewrite and prune and tweak till my computer’s ready to melt, and not because the scene’s so sizzling hot, only because I keep changing things. First it seems too pervy, then it sounds too flowery, then too specific, then too vague, then too clinical, and then…well, on and on and on. Compound this with writers’ discomfort when trying to adopt a character’s persona: A woman writing from a man’s POV or vice-versa. Writing gay, lesbian or trans, desperate to make the text ring true, but once done, wondering if readers will start to make assumptions. We shouldn’t care. But we’re uptight, fragile, human and we just do. Yet, I’ve never wasted a second worrying that readers will think I can handle a .45 automatic or know what it feels like when a bullet grazes my shoulder and the blood starts to flow.

ilya rashap

Amanda Robson doesn’t provide solutions for writers so much as analyze the situation. I’ll suggest there are no solutions. We’ll continue to peek at the author’s photo on the rear dustjacket flap and imagine them having the raucous orgies meticulously described in Chapter Six, but won’t for a moment presume they personally pack a pistol, blade or brass knuckles. And writers will continue to agonize over one page of eroticism even while they merrily plow through chapter after chapter of crime scenes, gunshots, explosions and fist-fights.

Mystery/crime fiction writer or reader, follow the link and read for yourself what Amanda Robson had to say about all this.

Photos: Edmond O’Brien, Helen Diaz/ProPhotonut, Ilya Rashap

https://crimereads.com/why-is-sex-so-much-harder-to-write-than-violence/

 

Fame, Success And Money, Money, Money!

jessica chastain by ellen von unwerth

No one loves the I.R.S. (though I could warm up to them considerably if they’d cut loose with a certain someone’s tax returns), but they do provide sensible parameters to the potentially blurry grey zone between a profession and a hobby. If I understand things correctly, current tax regulations require ‘hobby’ income to be taxed like any other income, though for now, the expenses incurred in the course of pursuing that hobby can’t be deducted unless they exceed 2% of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income. Example: If you earn money as a writer or artist, you have to claim that income. But you can’t deduct expenses for supplies, fees, etc. unless those add up to at least 2% of your total income. If your day job paid $75K that year, then you’d need at least $1,500 in expenses. I believe that rule will change in 2026 and expenses (under certain limitations, of course) will be deductible, presuming the income is reported.

Compared to artists, photographers or musicians, writers actually get off pretty easy when it comes to out-of-pocket costs. It’s not as if we didn’t all own computers already. But how much income might writers actually be earning, and from what sources?

Writing at The Guardian, Lynn Steger Strong, author of the novel Strong due out in July references a 2018 Author’s Guild study which noted that the participating published authors’ median income for all writing activity was just over $6,000 in 2017, down from $10,500 only eight years earlier. More sobering: median income for all published authors based solely on book-related activity was a mere $3,100…and an approx. 25% of those participants earned no income at all that year. Steger Strong’s article “A Dirty Secret: You Can Only Be A Writer If You Can Afford It” looked at the reality of pursuing a career as a writer, which for all but a select few individuals must be supplemented not only by teaching, grants and fellowships, but quite possibly by generous relatives or – most likely – an employed spouse/significant other as well.

Only a few days ago, Alison Stine, author of Road Out Of Winter, due out this September, wrote at Literary Hub about the “haves and have-nots at America’s biggest writer’s conference” in “The Problem Of Money And Access At AWP”. The Association Of Writing Programs annual event (AWP) is billed as North America’s largest literary conference, with panels on writing, publishing, academic jobs and more. Registration is $250…plus travel, lodging, meals, etc., of course. Stine rightly assumes that a good portion of the 13,000 attendees were there on their MFA/PhD program’s dime. Bottom line: Unless you coincidentally lived down the street from the hotel or convention center, attending a writing/publishing conference or workshop is likely to cost a grand at least, and that still might involve discount travel, doubling up with a roomie and packing some sandwiches (or at least stuffing your backpack at the free buffet…if there is one).

writers digest march 2020

The current March 2020 Writer’s Digest features “The Frugal Writer’s Guide To Everything” by Elizabeth Simms, author of the Lillian Byrd Crime Series. Byrd lists suggestions for getting writing supplies, memberships, software and more without letting go of too much cash. A cynic might argue that the first place to start would be reading writer’s magazines at the library instead of subscribing, but I, for one, would sorely miss WD in my mailbox.

Writing’s never been a meaningful part of my income. My own writing vocation (which is a nice word for a glorified hobby) is divided into two phases, interrupted a while ago by intrusive real-life issues and only recently reignited. During ‘phase one’ I made some money, but a tally of every nickel earned from multiple sources might only be enough to pay cash for a decent new car. A decent new car…not a fancy fully-loaded supercar. I rely on doing a good job at the day job to keep the heat turned on and groceries in the pantry.

In the small press and ‘micro-press’ arenas, compensation may be anemic advances or royalty-only arrangements, per-word rates that would’ve been turned down by the hard-working pulp fiction scribes seventy and eighty years ago, payment-in-copies or even unpaid online publication. Back in the game, I recognize that publishers will pay what their business model allows, but my interest in publication ‘opportunities’ for little or no money has dissipated. For the undergrads, creative writing MFA’s and exponentially growing legions of writer wannabe’s with fewer options, it’s a genuine puzzler and bound to get more vexing as time goes on. The evolving publishing and bookselling marketplaces point to declining earning levels for the creators and ‘content generators’…i.e. the writers. Financial democratization via self/hybrid publishing remains elusive for most in a shockingly overcrowded arena.

Mind you, there’s no whining or “Woe is me” here, and shame on the creatives who wallow in that sort of self-pity. Griping about the hardships artistic types endure may be a time-honored Boho pastime, but no one forced me – or any other writer – to pursue endeavors offering worse odds than winning Lotto. Hopefully, we do it because we want to (or if feeling heroic, because we’re driven to).

Fame, success and money, money, money? As always, they’re available for a select few, with smaller portions parceled out for still a few more, but little left over for the rest. Sucks? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean that I – and most artists, musicians, actors, dancers…and writers – won’t keep at it anyway.

Photo: Jessica Chastain by Ellen non Unwerth

NORMAN’s

Ilya Rashap

“If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.”

“Silence is golden.”

“No news is good news.”

Oh yeah? Try those on for size if you’re prowling ZipRecruiter, Indeed, Glassdoor or LinkedIn for a job. Cover letters properly personalized, applications filled out, resumes (and in my biz) portfolios/websites attached or linked. Filled with hope, you hit send, and then…

You hear…nothing. Not even a form reply…nothing. Ever.

Thankfully, I haven’t had to prowl those boards for a new job and don’t expect to need to (fingers crossed). But I’ve spent enough time on them, though only on the receiving end. I ALWAYS send “sorry, but no” emails to every applicant, personalizing a pertinent note for some, form replies sent as promptly as possible to the rest. Those typically number three or four hundred per job posting, and once topped out at just over 1,400. Since I don’t trust the popular job boards’ automated features, I do it the old-fashioned way, setting aside time to copy-n-paste emails daily till I’ve worked through the list. Tedious? Sure, but it’s just part of the job. I’ve listened to enough interviewees’ horror stories about how few employers bother to follow up at all on applications, or worse (and unbelievably) actual interviews.

It’s actually a lot like the writer’s querying and submission process: redundantly filling out online query forms or composing carefully worded individual emails, partials pasted in or attached per each agent’s or editor’s individual specs (first 5 pages, first chapter, first 50 pages, first three chapters, synopsis vs. no synopsis, or even query-only with no material, etc.), and trying desperately to come up with catchy ways to personalize each cover letter without sounding silly or sycophantic. All too often the result is just…nothing. Ever. Oh, I’ve been there, and am right now, in fact.

The most maddening part? Never knowing if the query/sub was even received, much less glanced at.

David Dubnitsky

Clearly the writing/agenting/publishing marketplace trend is transitioning to “No Reply Means A No”. I guess I’m the very last writer on earth to realize that this is a ‘NORMAN’. I assume that’s: No Reply Means A No.  (I hate being clueless.)

This would’ve have made more sense in prehistory when typed letters, photocopies, pre-printed forms, licking stamps and No. 10 envelopes or at least checking off a box on a pre-stamped BRC were the norm. But now when a grade schooler (to say nothing of an undergrad/grad school intern) needs no more than a few minutes to configure auto-responses or to streamline software, it’s hard to swallow, and just seems kind of…well, bratty.

Janet Reid Blog

I’ve mentioned literary agent Janet Reid’s excellent blog here before (link below) in an August 2019 post titled “Not Sucking Up, I Swear” (link also below). Once again, I’m not sucking up. Reid, formerly an agent at New Leaf Literary and now agenting in her own operation, ran the popular Query Shark site which has since morphed into her own blog with daily posts that range from writing/submission tips, industry insights and some random musings, all relayed with a good dose of sassy, smart-assed wordsmithing. Frankly, it’s just fun to read, even if you’re not currently querying/submitting writing projects.

Last week Reid stuck her neck out. Instead of telling writers what and what not to do, the agent asked her followers for some input, writing “I’ve been asked to contribute to a list: Things That Drive Agents Bonkers. Of course, I have a list. Of one gazillion items. But it dawned on me that y’all might have a list too, and it would be interesting to see what we have in common. So, if you have a spare moment or ten…tell me what drives you crazy during the query process.”

If I was surprised by the responses, it was only that they didn’t flood her blog platform. I mean, a chance for writers to rant about agents and querying? Keyboards should’ve been melting. I tried to add my own two cents, but it never appeared (Let’s assume that I did it wrong). While the remarks touched on a range of topics, one issue came up again and again: NORMAN’s. No Reply Means A No. For the record, that’s what my comment addressed as well.

Writers querying agents about their manuscript or eager job seekers applying for a position…they’re kind of the same thing, when you think about it. If a business (and literary agencies are businesses) solicits ‘applicants’ then it should expect to respond to them, and in a reasonably timely manner. Anything less isn’t merely discourteous. It’s unprofessional. A company’s HR department is inundated with job applicants, huge portions of those unqualified for the position? A literary agency is deluged with submissions, the majority of them unpublishable? Responding – even with generic form replies – is too time consuming or costly? Boo-hoo. It’s part of the job, no different than any other nettlesome workplace task. That’s why we call it work.

Now Reid herself is on top of responses (I got my own form rejection about a week after querying her, so I can attest to that) and endorses confirmation emails to ensure a writer knows that at least their query was received. But, reading between the lines, you have to wonder if that could change at some point in the future. After all, computers have turned everyone into a writer. Online submission eliminated some of the legwork and out-of-pocket expense. Agents and editors are deluged, and everything we read tells us that the overwhelming majority of what comes in over the digital transom is bad. Really, really bad. So, creatives are (or ought to be) ready for rejection. Frequent rejection. Sometimes harsh rejection.  And as I’ve noted before, any writer whining about a curt rejection email should compare notes with an actor, musician or dancer coming off an audition. Enduring those must take nerves of steel.

raica oliviera by fulvio maiani

Rejection is what it is. It’s part of the job, so to speak. But never hearing back at all is just not cool. It’s lazy. It’s amateurish. So it’s no surprise that it’s an issue writers often raise when they’re griping about the querying/submission process. Surely, no one expects personalized responses with critiques in all but the very most select cases. (Well, no one with a brain would.) Just a form email, a brief “thanks but no thanks” so the writer can check that agent or market off and move on to the next.

The writers among you (and I know there’s a bunch at WordPress. BlogLovin’ and Tumblr based on some followers’ names and sites) should pop over to Janet Reid’s blog for a peek. The aggravating issue of NORMAN’s – and the fact that the practice is so prevalent it even earned an acronym/nickname – is a good place to start, but I bet you’ll want to linger and snoop around more…there’s a lot to digest there. Her blog is a valuable reference and as noted above, pretty fun to read.

And if NORMAN’s drive you ballistic, feel free to rant. Do it here if you need to. Just don’t do it in an ill-advised email to an agent after a few glasses of wine in the middle of the night. Promise?

http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/08/07/not-sucking-up-i-swear/

Photos: Ilya Rashap, David Dubnitsky and Fulvio Maiani

 

 

 

 

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