Thursday, March 4, 2010

First the Worst

I am going to start with one of the first query/rejections I experienced. This is not the very first query I ever sent out but close to it. As you will see below my attempt was clumsy, unprofessional, uninformed and just generally terrible. It is a little embarrassing to admit to but hey - we all start somewhere and I did actually end up learning a lot from this particular Q/R.

So here is the email I sent on May 12th, 2009:

I am writing to you seeking representation for my young-adult commercial-fiction/literary-fiction/fantasy crossover novel which has the working title "Warrior-Monks" and which is complete at approximately 475,000 words but can probably be cut by 100,000 words with the help of an experienced editor assuming the market is calling for shorter books. I am querying you and your agency because I read your blog post about your needs list from January of this year, which I certainly hope is still close to current. My novel falls into at least two of these types and fits most of your criteria.

For your Mainstream Fiction needs I would say that my protagonist is a young man from a broken family who learns to grow beyond his shyness and lack of self confidence as he comes to know himself and matures toward adulthood. The novel takes place over one year of his life, with a few flashbacks to his childhood, so it is not simply the passing of time that shows him growing but actual decisions made and actions taken that show the reader that he is growing up.

For Young Adult I would say that Warrior-Monks is intended for young adult readers ages 13-17, who are buying books in droves these days, but I am certain that once you read the manuscript you will find that it is mature enough and compelling enough to enthrall even the most discerning adult reader if they get the inkling to pick it up. The story does mostly take place at a high school, but not in the traditional sense. It is a reform school in the Northern Idaho wilderness that just so happens to have a curriculum unlike any school that has ever existed.

I believe that my story would be loved by readers of all the best selling young adult novels of the last decade such as the Harry Potter series, the Eragon series (the Inheritance Cycle), the Twilight series, the Bartimaeus Trilogy, the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, and many others but it is unique because there are no wizards, witches, werewolves, fairies, or vampires and it only includes a bit of romance to help define and develop some of the characters as well as only incorporating magic and mysticism of an everyday kind that lies somewhere between Kundalini and "The Lace Reader".

I usually apologize for having to submit via email because I am an environmentalist and I don't believe in wasting trees for paper or fuel for shipment that isn't entirely necessary, or at least artistically worthwhile (believe me I do my best to write the finest query letters that I can but I have no delusions as to their artistry) but I see in your blog that you prefer this more efficient format, which I applaud you for.

I am including the first chapter of the book but I have to apologize that it is actually almost thirteen pages in word in the Arial font at 12 points. I hope that you will forgive this because I figure that if you don't enjoy it after the first two paragraphs you will probably stop reading anyway and I don't blame you for not wasting your time. I do believe, however, that you will be intrigued.

I have never been published but I am confident that many authors like Christopher Paolini and Brunonia Barry have proved that you do not have to be a highly experienced or best-selling author to write an incredibly entertaining book.

Please feel free to reply to this email, or to call me on my mobile phone at any time at 206-555-1212, or even to write to me at home at:

Street Address

Thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Matthew M. Rush

So as you can see this is just horrible. I could go on about how ignorant I was of what a good query letter is and looks like but you can probably see that for yourselves. Instead I will just post his response:

Thanks for taking the time to query me and/or send your writing sample. While your project sounds interesting, it’s not what I'm looking for at this time. For specific details on what I'm presently seeking, please visit our blog at HYPERLINK.

Good luck and thank you for your query!


REDACTED, Author Representative
Member AAR

His response was curt but friendly, pretty standard form rejection. However, as a foolish and discouraged writer who was already beginning to hate the query process, I got angry. Emotion is okay. You will get hurt, angry and thousands of other unpleasant feelings during this process. That is normal. What is foolish and usually pointless is to act on those feelings and lash out, especially at a professional who is just doing their job.

That being said, I did. I wrote back to him because I felt like he didn't even read the query - where I clearly stated that I had read his blog - and I was insulted. As you will see what ended up happening was humiliating, humbling and sobering; but I did end up learning a great deal in the long run. My response:

I just have to say that after reading your blog, already, I have a lot of respect for you but that response was just a cop out. If you read the query letter I sent you would see that I clearly read your blog with an extreme attention to detail. Therefore it doesn't make much sense for you to suggest that I read it again. I completely understand that my project may not be appropriate for what you have the ability to represent right now but at least we should be honest with each other. I spent about three and a half hours researching you and your current needs today but this looks to be a form rejection. I fully understand that you are a business man and taking on an unproved client is a huge risk, but what does it take to get an agent to read a manuscript? I assume you have some highly educated and extremely intelligent assistants who have the time to scan some sample chapters (since I can read a YA novel in about two days). I never usually respond to rejections but since I thought that you were a particularly good fit for my project I have to ask did you read the full query and or did you read the sample chapter? If so and it just doesn't fit please give me enough respect to say so and don't pretend that I didn't show you the due respect of reading your blog post.

After reading all that you have written online you seem to be one of the most human agents out there and it is very discouraging to get a response from what seems to be a robot. I know my response sounds very angry but if I can be honest I am just very discouraged after getting a form rejection from an agent whose writing sounded very sincere and real. I know this may all not mean much to you on a personal level but all I ask is that you take a few minutes (when you have time) to read the query, and then hopefully read the entire manuscript. I know now that this will never happen but I felt that I had to speak my mind. I am not a fool and I realize that you will probably never read this entire message but if you do I am sorry that I have wasted so much of your time.

His harsh but brutally honest reply (yes it made me cringe, but he is 100% right):

I am writing to you seeking representation for my young-adult commercial-fiction/literary-fiction/fantasy crossover novel which has the working title "Warrior-Monks" and which is complete at approximately 475,000 words but can probably be cut by 100,000 words with the help of an experienced editor assuming the market is calling for shorter books

Dear Mr. Rush,

Above you will see the what my assistant read, which was more than enough, by the way, to garner a rejection. My assistants and I send very generic rejection letters because we don't like to hurt writer's feelings. However, to learn the truth, let's analyze why you were rejected.

First of all, there is no such thing as a young-adult commercial-fiction/fantasy crossover novel. Young adult novels, by their very nature, cover all genres. All professional authors who thoroughly understand and write in the children's fiction category know this, consequently you struck out in your first sentence. But my assistant went on to find that your YA novel was 475,000 words in length and rejected you at that point.

If you could have cut your novel to 100,000 words, why didn't you? No one will handle a novel of this size, so you should have cut before you queried, not offer to do so afterward. If you want the help of an experienced professional editor, you pay for that help. The help of an experienced editor will cost you around five thousand dollars for a novel of this size. If you wish, I can give you some names.

If you had read our blog, as you insist you have, you would have seen immediately that we would never handle, read or represent a novel of this size, so you wasted your time and ours by even querying us. Your query demonstrated that you are an amateur so you received an amateur's rejection. I'm also assuming that you've been rejected by scores of other agents, most of whom, when they see a query like this one, delete it without going further. At least in our case, you were directed to a place, our blog, where all the answers one needs for being successful is contained, if a person just takes the time to read. For instance, you could have learned enough
during the time it took you to write your angry letter to probably found our good query, bad query letter examples and found your own answer as to why you've been repeatedly rejected. I hope you now have the answers you seek. Good luck with any future writing you attempt.

With sincere regards,


My reply:


Thank you very much for your honesty, it is quite refreshing and I have learned a lot in just the last few moments of reading your reply.


So I won't over analyze this but I will say that he was absolutely right. It was very painful at the time, and he was a little cruel in some of his wording, but the fact that he took the time to reply at all (and basically school me) was actually pretty nice. It's kind of like Simon on American Idol. Yes he can destroy people sometimes but when it comes to something as important as a person's career (even if it is just a dream of possibility) honesty, even brutal honesty, is actually a kind and kingly gift.

Of course I didn't take him up on his offer of editors but I did heed his advice. I have already cut 125,000 words from my novel and am continuing to cut more because it's still too long.

So that is essentially where it all started, painful yes, but like touching a hot stove as child, very educational. I will continue to post old query/rejections and even some query/requests until I feel my novel is ready to begin querying again.


DG said...

Hey Matt,

Great post. I think the fact that you stuck your neck out by posting your query letter and the subsequent rejection, shows you are serious about getting published.

I too am trying to find an agent for my first novel. I have a query into the Query Shark and am waiting to she if she bites.

Don't give up!!

Matthew MacNish said...

Thanks DG, it was definitely hard to stir up the courage to put it out there, considering how embarrassing it is but it's kind like being able to laugh at yourself in that helps thicken the skin. Such is a requirement for us aspiring novelists so I just swallowed my pride and went for it.

I really appreciate your encouragement and wish you luck with the Shark and your novel. If she does critique your query, please feel free to link to it here.

JE said...

Wow, I gotta say you had some balls to write them back. And, I'm surprised you got a repsonse - but glad you did. I'm sure it helped you.

Matthew MacNish said...

Yeah, I was a little tipsy that night and filled the role of the wounded artist well. But I tried to be honest and humble, and I definitely did end up learning something.

FantasticFiction said...

At least they gave you some tips on how not to get rejected the next time! Just a suggestion but if you book really needs to be that long why not write another, query it, get an agent and then talk to your agent about the longer book. It would be much easier to get it published if you are already represented. Like look at Brisngr for example. Its like 700 something pages and its published because of the other books... Luck!

smcc said...

I think it took a lot of courage and good humor for ou to post that, and I respect you for doing so. Good luck with the novel.

smcc said...

I think it took a lot of courage and good humor for you to post that, I respect you for doing so. Good luck with the novel.

Gina Ciocca said...

Oh my goodness Matt - how far you've come! I guess we all make mistakes. Glad it's not just me!