Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Unicorns and False Hope - Part I

In honor of Elana's upcoming Friday mega post (as in mega awesome, not mega long) I'm going to do something special today. *smiles and winks devilishly*

Today I'm going to share my first successful query ever. It is a strange one, as you will see. The query is still pretty bad, but I think it was the high level of personalization that made it work (at first).

This post is going to have to stretch into two parts, because, as you will discover, the correspondence with this agent is long. I will post part one today: the query and her initial request to read more. Tomorrow I will share part two: our continued correspondence, and you'll see how things really got weird.

Before I begin I must point out a couple of things about this agent. She is listed in Predators & Editors. She is not recommended but is not listed as "not recommended" either. She did have confirmed sales to a major publishing house but it is still not clear whether she is a member of the Association of Authors Representatives or AAR. Much of this should have been a warning sign had I known more about this kind of thing at the time. Now it's all just hindshight.

So on to the query:

May 29th, 2009


I am writing to you seeking representation for my young adult fantasy-adventure novel, which has the working title WARRIOR-MONKS and is complete. 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 as well.

Okay obviously this part is still terrible. That much should be clear. No need to break it down any further than that.

My novel is about a school in Northern Idaho where troubled teens are sent but which turns out to be a unique place where the students learn things like calligraphy, Aikido, Kenjutsu and Meditation while discovering a bit of magic and mysticism on the way. The main character is a teenaged boy named Lee who is from a broken family and is sent to this school by his cruel aunt and uncle after his mother dies and his father is incarcerated. Incidentally there just so happens to be a Unicorn in the story too, but she isn't really discovered until almost the very end (I promise I didn't write this part just for you).

Gawd, this is really bad too. Hokey as hell. Her website does mention a love of Unicorns, and there is one in my novel (sort of); but I really didn't write that in just for her and I thought it was an interesting enough coincidence to point out to her. I suppose it worked but looking back at this now it's kind of pathetic. Oh well.

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. I am 32 years old and live north of Atlanta with my girlfriend and our two daughters, Kylie age 13 and Madison age 7. I work for a technology company but my dream is to be a published author. I don't care about getting rich but I feel that I have written a novel that will touch people and I really just want an agent who will help me get it out there to the readers. Making some money along the way wouldn't be bad either and I certainly understand that your agency is a business and I am willing to do whatever it takes to help you help me sell this book.

Wow. This is more uncomfortable than a boil in the ass crack. That paragraph is tough to share with you guys. Embarrassing. I don't normally write drivel like this but her submission guidelines insisted that I share something about myself and why I wanted to get published. I hate it when they do that but in the future I hope I can put something better than this nonsense together.

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:

That's not my real number BTW Giles, but thanks for your warning last week! Good lookin out.

I believe you can call 555-1212 from any area code and get directory assistance. That's why they use it in some movies.


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


Matthew M. Rush

Her strange but somewhat wonderful (at the time) reply:

Dear Matthew,

Unicorns? We're hooked! (Kidding of course) All of that aside...

What we'd like next is the first three chapters in addition to whatever pre-chapter material you may have, such as forewords, intros, prologues, etc. If you have a lexicon and difficult names in the body of the text, feel free to pass that along as well.

Makes sense.

We typically prefer that our clients attach the aforementioned articles to an e-mail as one document, saved with a rich text format (.rtf) file extension. The name of the manuscript/your name should appear in the upper left corner of each page, and the page number should appear on the right upper hand corner of each page. We like one, to one-and-a-half inch margins with double spaced lines and paragraphs indented on the first line. Acceptable fonts are 12 point Times New Roman, Courier and Arial.

This is typical, except for the Arial font allowance, but I loved her for it.

At REDACTED Literary Services we are not interested so much in whether our authors have written the best thing since they invented the wheel, or even that they have the most lucrative writing career in the world. Our company in fact, is set up to help people who have not enjoyed a vast list of publishing accomplishments. What we want is a good solid, salable story and authors who don't mind rolling their sleeves up to work alongside us, and who don't cry when we have to send the work to editing.

This sounded great at the time, but looking back it sort of makes you go hmmm?

We realize that authors, editors and agents don't always agree on what looks best on paper when it comes to the writing aspect of the work, but the authors here who have an open mind, are always more prosperous. We too realize that we can be wrong.

This is cool but seems really unnecessary in this opening correspondence, not sure what her point was at that ... point.

Recently, we had a discussion with an author who had written an entire book in passive voice. When this was brought to his attention, his response was that he wanted the reader a little dislocated from the story because it turns out to be a dream of the "omen nature" at the end. Rather than argue, we re-read the manuscript, had meetings about it, hung this author's picture in the break room and threw darts at it for a few days, then called him back.

Okay, cool story, but TMI. What does this have to do with anything?

We struck up a compromise to add SOME detail, correct SOME of the voice, and we sold his manuscript last month. Was it an easy sale? No. Pulling healthy teeth would have been easier but the important thing is that it sold and he now takes a little constructive criticism well. We learned that sometimes we can be wrong. This guy is going to be offered a speaking platform at the comic con in New York next month! Who knew?

That pretty much hooked me since I am a total nerd. I'm not like obsessed with comics or anything, and haven't owned any since childhood, but man would I love to speak at Comic Con.

So... here we are. If for some reason, you cannot possibly attach the requested material to an e-mail you may feel free to use the United States Postal Service, so long as you follow the general guidelines for submission listed above. Please print on one side only and make sure to write the words "Requested Material" on the envelope somewhere. You may submit in this form to:

The REDACTED Literary Services Agency
ATTN: Senior Editor REDACTED

Senior Editor? I didn't even notice that at the time, but what does that mean? I thought she was an agent.

Thank you so much for your time and for considering REDACTED Literary Services for placement of your manuscript. We look forward to receiving your reply.

Sincerest regards,

Of course I was ecstatic. She wanted to read my novel! Or at least part of it. We'll go into more about that tomorrow.

For now this is what I sent her right away:


Thank you so much for your interest in my project. I am at work and cannot attach the file from here but I will send it to you as soon as I get home. I look forward to working together in the future.

Thanks and have a great weekend,


Confused? Ticked? Rolling your eyes knowingly? I know, something was a little rotten in Denmark, but don't judge her (or me) too harshly. At least not until Part II, tomorrow.

And more importantly, don't forget to come back for Elana!


Vicki Rocho said...

Well congrats on your partial request, even if it didn't pan out quite the way you were hoping. Can't wait to read the rest tomorrow (you're so cruel to break it in half and make me wait)

Stina said...

I can't wait to read the rest. I'm used to getting the "I'm interested to read more. Please sent . . . . " I've never seen the request with a long winded message/sales pitch. And yes,the word editor was definitely a warning sign something wasn't right about this agent.

Candyland said...

Yeah, confused is my first thought. I've had some conversations with agents, but none of this length (and useless info!). Wow. Want to read more. Now. :)

Bridge Marie said...

Yeah, that seems odd, but I still would have been ecstatic, too. I'm interested to see where this goes next!

JE said...

Come on...the suspense is killing me!!!! I mean, her reply was uber weird.

Congrats on the partial request (I've been dying to see one of these from you), but I'm sorry things when south from there.


Karen Jones Gowen said...

Methinks she doth protest too much. ie, too much talking too soon is a huge red flag!! Looking forward to the rest of the story.

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Wow, how many of these to you have, dude? Interesting. Where you leery at sending it to her, I mean because of the red flags? What about after??

Creepy Query Girl said...

Huh- well, it's not your run of the mill agent response but it sounded like the person was intrigued by your story and generous in sharing information with you (as unsolicited as it might have been!) I look forward to hearing how this panned out!

Unknown said...

It sounds like she was setting you up to pay for their 'amazing' editorial services that would allow you to realize your dream of becoming published. On the bright side, it was still a positive response. :)

Jaydee Morgan said...

I'm going to not form an opinion until I read the rest tomorrow. Like Vicki said, it's going to be a tough wait.

Jessica Bell said...

That's a freakishly long response! I want to know what comes next! Ha, maybe you should just keep querying 'bad' agents, and then publish a book of their responses! LOL. That'd sell like hot cakes!!!

Unknown said...

Fascinating read! I tried to put myself in your shoes at the time you first received this response. I know my excitement would squash any sense of doubt frantically waving red flags in my mind. Thanks so much for sharing this experience, and I can't wait to read part two tomorrow (and Elana's query on Friday!) :)

Matthew MacNish said...

Kristi, that's exactly what I would have thought (looking back and had I known more then). The weird thing is that that is not what happened, but it did only get weirder.

You'll just have to come back tomorrow to find out!

And Jessica, that is a great idea! A think it was kind of already done though, Google "Publish This Book".

Shannon said...

You, my friend, are awesomely brave for sharing that. That's what we love about you.

Thanks for sharing Matt. I'll be back tomorrow (my non blog day) to read more.

Lindsay said...

Looking forward to the next part. My interest is piqued. :)

Ted Cross said...

This one sounds a bit off, but I sure would love to find an agent willing to do some work with a first-time writer once they recognize that there is talent there.

Sarah Ahiers said...

oooh i'm really excited to see where this goes next week.

And i guess i wouldn't say anything she wrote was a huge red flag, maybe just a few orange flags.

If i had gotten that response, i would have sent in the materials. I just would have been a bit more alert to what her response would be

Andrew Rosenberg said...

Hi Matt.
I was referred here by Eric T.
I think I would be WTF if I got that kind of response. Doesn't sound very professional.

Esperanto said...

WOW. Hurry up and tell us the REST.

Unknown said...

Wow what an experience to say the least! I would have been elated at the opportunity to share my work so I would have jumped on the bandwagon immediately, and later noticed -much like you have- that it wasn't the best thing ever.

I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of the weirdness tomorrow, and you have no idea how excited I am for Elana's Query!!!!! I bet it's amazing!!! hehe, I'll try and remain patient!

Tahereh said...


but yea that response was UBER weird. only, i can see how someone (even me) at the beginning of the query process could think it was a good sign.

oh my.


Will Burke said...

More painful than a boil on your ass? Awsome! Looking forward to seeing where this is going.

Zoe C. Courtman said...

Yeah, there IS something off with this agency's response - and now you've got me dying to read the rest of it!! Now I just have to know what happens. :D

Tracy said...

Count me among the list of those who can't wait to read part two. This is either an extremely cool agent (editor) or something really fishy is going on!

Seriously though, you had me laughing out loud with the boil comment! Why can't we see these cringe worthy things until well AFTER the fact?

About Me said...

Her response is creepy as hell. I think this is one of those you wouldn't catch the first one or two read-throughs. I can't imagine just how weird it got from there on out.

There are a lot of red flags, but all the useless information was the biggest one.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Matthew, just to let you know, I corrected my post about the Beer Award to include you!!

Matthew MacNish said...

Thanks Alex, you rock dude!

Talli Roland said...

Congrats on the partial... I'm interested to see what Part II brings!

K. M. Walton said...

I'm captivated.

I say kudos to you for bravely sharing this experience and early query. Don't forget, with age comes wisdom - my first query was TWO pages long. TWO! It was absolutely terrible. But it got me a full request from the one, the only, Jodi Reamer. And then I got a form rejection in the mail 16 months later. Can you say ouch?

With age comes wisdom...

dolorah said...

I got sucked in by a subsidiary on my first go at an agent. When I read what I sent, and their reply, I get chills down my spine.

Well, learning experiences are to be welcomed and embraced. Right?

And honestly, the query was unsophisticated, but that story concept rocks. I was thinking: Wow, I bet my 12 year old would actually read this book.

I hope you're still working on the project - or that you found a reputable agent. Can't wait to see what happens tomorrow (uh, today).


Slamdunk said...

Yea the personalized response must have been exciting. Off to read part II now since I am a day late...

MBW aka Olleymae said...

I'm off to read part II

You're killing me with the suspense here!!! WHAT HAPPENS NEXT????????

If this ends up being sad trickery I will be so bummed out for you. I can just see all your hopes and dreams riding on that unicorn :(