Author Topic: Agent Responses  (Read 25569 times)

Offline Swampfox one

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Agent Responses
« on: July 29, 2008, 03:02:18 PM »
I would appreciate some feedback on the experience of others in getting query responses.  On 7/27 at 7 pm, I sent an e-mail query to an agent who was listed in Query Tracker as accepting queries from new, unpublished writers - it was done exactly in accordance with the submission guidelines on the agent's website.  This morning at 10 am, I received a turndown.  My guess is that it as an automatic response and no one at the agency ever saw the material, but it could be that my query was simply not effective.  I have inserted the query and the agent's response below.  I would really appreciate any feedback that would be helpful to me for future queries.  I send out several each week and this is not the first time I have gotten what appeared to be an automated turndown.
Thanks for your help.


Dear Author,
Please forgive this impersonal note. We receive a tremendous number of query letters and are forced to focus our attention on a limited number of projects. We regret that we must decline the offer to review your work. We encourage you to keep writing and we wish you every success.
Sincerely,
[Agent]
________________________________________


[Agency]

Dear Ms. [Agent]:
I located your agency through “Query Tracker.com” and chose to send my query to you after reviewing your website. Your directions for submission are clear, direct and convey an interest in new material.  The successful writers I have read extensively and view as models for my style are Stuart Woods, Nelson Deville and Robert Parker. I hope that you will be engaged by the information I am furnishing and will ask to see more.  My novel, TAKEN, is complete with 83,000 words. It is contemporary fiction, and tells the story of how a father overcame all obstacles to rescue his kidnapped daughter. 
________________________________________
Synopsis
A teenage girl is snatched from her bicycle and pulled into a van by  a man and a woman, obviously kidnappers.  The girl resists, struggling with the man and inflicting some damage to him.  However, she is overcome and finally taken from the peaceful island that is her home.  The story then looks back to acquaint the reader with the key characters and events leading to the kidnapping.
Jack “Hundo” Lane retired from the CIA after the Afghan and Second Gulf War. He and his wife, Samantha, wanted to spend their retirement years in their favorite vacation spot, so they moved their family to St. Simons Island, Georgia. 

Then the tranquil life they had created in their new home is shattered when their daughter, Samantha Lin, vanishes.  She isn’t kidnapped for ransom, but is taken by drug dealers who are also dealers in human cargo—white slavery.  The drug operation is under surveillance by the DEA and an agent witnesses the kidnapping, but chooses not to intervene.  Knowing that the agency is within days of their strike, he isn’t willing to risk an disruption of his plan, rationalizing that they can rescue the girl before she is harmed.
Hundo learns of the DEA’s involvement and that the local police know who took his daughter and where she is. He confronts the police and the DEA, telling them that he will not permit them to risk his daughter’s safety for the sake of their operation.  They continue to stonewall him, and he launches an independent rescue effort with the help of contacts from the CIA and military friends who know how to conduct such activities. The local deputy sheriff becomes a surprising ally in planning and executing the mission.
Hundo quickly tracks his daughter to an island in the Bahamas and mounts a rescue effort that takes his party into a fast-paced operation that is both exhilarating and dangerous.   As the plot unfolds, the kidnappers, Potts and Dee, are seen as  real people with their own compelling story.  Hundo’s face-to-face encounter with Potts reveals a connection from his past which has critical impact on the rescue and on his daughter's safety.  The rescue is a success and Hundo is uncharacteristically merciful to the kidnappers as a gesture of appreciation for their efforts to take care of his daughter during her captivity.
________________________________________
I wrote and published FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE, a stock market newsletter, for several years and have had articles published in trade periodicals. TAKEN is my first work of fiction.  My background in Special Forces and subsequent work with the Central Intelligence Agency enabled me to write authentic details related to the rescue effort that is central to this story. 

I hope this brief description sets a good expectation for the topical premise of this work. The first three chapters are posted on my website, www.jhowellmull.com/mywriting.htm. Thank you for your time and attention. 

Sincerely,

________________________________________
TAKEN
J. Howell Mull
 
PROLOGUE

Every year over a million children vanish in the United States—some for a few days, others for a few months, but some are never seen again.  Some who run away return on their own, while others are returned by the police.  Most of the ones in their teens manage to evade the police and end up on the streets of New York, Houston, Los Angeles or a hundred other big cities across the country.  They drift into crime or prostitution or both— boys as well as girls, but almost all end up on drugs.
Some of these children don’t disappear on their own, but are kidnapped.  The babies are the lucky ones, for they are sold to adoption agencies where no questions are asked, and end up with loving, adoptive parents.  Some are found, but not many.  The young girls in their early teens are the unlucky ones.  They are stolen, kidnapped or taken;  whatever name is used, it is the same.  They are taken against their will and introduced to drugs and sexual acts of the most depraved and obscene variety.  After months of this, they will do anything for drugs and anything they are told.  Many are put on the streets of big cities as teenaged prostitutes.  You could say they, too, are lucky, because others are sold after their “training” to the rich and powerful of the world to do with as they please until they grow bored with them, or the girls just grow too old — usually around nineteen or twenty. Then, they are disposed of …
In July of this year, they took the wrong teenage girl.

« Last Edit: July 29, 2008, 03:25:49 PM by JHMull »

Wolfe

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Re: Agent Responses
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2008, 07:51:34 PM »
Don't read into rejections.  An automated rejection can mean near anything.  However, I can tell you glaring errors in your query letter hurt your chances.  We'll address those later, but first let me ask you these questions:

1.  Did the agent request a synopsis?  Specifically, did the agent request you add the synopsis within the query letter?

2.  Did the agent request a sample?

3.  Have others reviewed your query letter?

Wolfe
« Last Edit: July 29, 2008, 10:19:23 PM by Wolfe »

Offline Swampfox one

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Re: Agent Responses
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2008, 08:03:19 PM »
In answer to your questions, (1) I tried to follow the instructions on the agent website; (2) the agent didn't request a sample (some want the first 3 chapters or 50 pages - this one didn't; and (3) no one else has reviewed the query letter.
Thanks,
JH

Wolfe

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Re: Agent Responses
« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2008, 10:12:28 PM »
It's always an excellent idea to have many eyes look over your work.  This especially includes your query letter—the most important letter in your writing career.

Now, that said, I can tell you your query letter contain three fatal flaws:  Wordiness, telling, and givens.

You want your query to grab attention quickly and get to the point even faster.  You get ten to thirty seconds to impress an agent.  This ‘elevator pitch’ follows a quick and brief three paragraphs:  Plot paragraph, informational, and author biography.  These three paragraphs contain three line sentences per paragraph.

That’s right—three.

So you don’t want to waste a sentence telling the agent where you found them, general schmoozing, or general wasteful space.  Keep it simple.

Let’s take your first paragraph:

I located your agency through “Query Tracker.com” and chose to send my query to you after reviewing your website. (pointless) Your directions for submission are clear, direct and convey an interest in new material.  (don't schmooze) The successful writers I have read extensively and view as models for my style are Stuart Woods, Nelson Deville and Robert Parker. (unless these are the agent's clients, also pointless) I hope that you will be engaged by the information I am furnishing and will ask to see more. (Given) My novel, (as opposed to my novel? Remove it) TAKEN, is complete (it better be complete if you're querying) with 83,000 words. It is contemporary fiction, and tells the story of how a father overcame all obstacles to rescue his kidnapped daughter. (telling)

So, as we see, the only valid information is this:  TAKEN is a 83,000-word contemporary novel.

This is information for your second paragraph.

Now, let's look at your second paragraph which should be your first.

A teenage girl (a name might be good to make it personal) is (passive) snatched from her bicycle and pulled (weak verb choice) into a van by (passive)  (spacing error) a man and a woman, obviously kidnappers (if it's obvious, you certainly don't need to say so here) (Also, because of the comma splicing, you just called the teenaged girl an obvious kidnapper). (this hook didn't work)  The girl (still no name?) resists (telling), struggling with the man and inflicting some (hedging modifer) damage (be specific if you want to show this) to him.  However, she is overcome (Repetition.  If she is kidnapped, one can assume she is overcome) and finally (pointless adverb) taken from the peaceful (doesn't sound peaceful to me) island that is her home (as opposed to her vacation spot?  Revise this)The story then looks back to acquaint the reader with the key characters and events leading to the kidnapping. (Telling)

And your three sentences are up.

So now we have:  A teenaged girl is snatched from her bicycle and pulled into a van by a man and woman.  The girl struggles with the man and inflicts damage to him and is taken from the island that is her home.

The conflict rears its head here.  That's good, but not much else.

Finally, let's look over the biography and credits.

I wrote (telling) and published (this sounds dangerously like self-published) FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE (your other works are not CAPS ALL - they are typed normally.  Material not yours is italics), a stock market newsletter (newletters are not a form of credited publication), for several years and have had (passive) articles published in trade periodicals (which trade periodicals?). TAKEN is my first work of fiction.  (given) My background in Special Forces and subsequent work with the Central Intelligence Agency enabled me (questionable and sounds arrogant) to write authentic details related to the rescue effort that is central to this story (I'd rather you showed me you can write as opposed to telling me)(heavy telling)

You have excellent credits as far as experience in this field.  But it's not writing credits.  You can use this information in the second paragraph, but not here.  Biography involves your writing history.  So given what you presented here, you have no valid, writing credits other than the potential articles which you hint.

This leaves:  I have had articles published in trade periodicals.

Harsh wasn't I?  That's what an agent does to your query letter.  It's cruel, but you're competing with thousands for an agent's attention.  One flaw found and most agents send the generic rejection form.

Your query needs focus and massive polishing.  Remember ... three sentences, three paragraphs, and you're done.

Finally, let me say this because this is an agent's thinking:  An author's writing gets no better than the query letter.  If I see wordiness, fluff, grammar errors, etc. in the query letter, I know I'll see them in the manuscript as well.  If you display errors in mass on a one-page letter, how many errors are agents going to find in a 200 to 300-page novel?

It's vicious, I know.  But this is the business you've decided to compete.  Buckle up, friend.  This ride ain't for the timid.

Wolfe
« Last Edit: July 29, 2008, 10:24:34 PM by Wolfe »

Offline Swampfox one

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Re: Agent Responses
« Reply #4 on: July 30, 2008, 12:14:05 PM »
Wolfe, first let me say thank you for taking the time to read and mark up my query. I used Writer’s Digest Guide to Manuscript Formats and Your Novel Proposal from Creation to Contract as a guide in writing my query letter. I obviously did not use Your Novel’s hook start approach. Allow me a few days to rewrite including your input then I will repost. I do have two questions. What do you mean by ( is (passive)) in the second paragraph and what are your thoughts on including my web site in the query letter?

Thanks for your help.
JH

Wolfe

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Re: Agent Responses
« Reply #5 on: July 30, 2008, 12:35:24 PM »
The word 'is' is a form of 'to be' and demonstrates passive telling as opposed to showing.

A teenage girl is snatched from her bicycle and pulled into a van by  a man and a woman - passive because of 'is' and 'by'.

A man and woman snatch a teenaged girl from her bicycle and pull her into a van - active with action.

See the difference?


As far as the second note, I really do love and hate those query letter books.  Sometimes, they contain outstanding information.  And other times they contain pure shit.  Sorry, but often those books cite examples from years and years ago.  These examples date themselves and no longer follow the standard in today's market.

The old method you used is dated.  The standard method involves getting the agent's attention first with a hook, information, and then biography.  Yes, this can be mixed.

For example, you can start with your biography.  A biography as a hook?  Sure!

Dear Agent,

My book The Kite Runner hit the number one spot on the New York Times Bestseller List as well as other international lists.  It continues to dominate on various lists.  I'm looking for a new agent.

Or

Dear Agent,

My good friend, Danielle Steel, referred me to you.  She's looked over my writing and believes it will interest you.


I strongly recommend downloading Lukeman's article on query letters to give you a better idea of what's expected now.  It's free on Amazon.com and other sites.  (Edit:  Used to be free on Amazon, but below it still is.)

http://www.writeagreatquery.com/

Also, I recommend looking up a blog from a woman called Miss Snark.  She's brutal, but honest and will give huge insight.  Other agent blogs help as well such as Nathan Bransford and his excellent example:  http://nathanbransford.blogspot.com/2006/11/anatomy-of-good-query-letter.html

There are others on his site too.

You'll see that an excellent query letter gets to the point, shows the writer's skill, and closes with the agent wanting to see more.  No fuss, no muss.

As far as adding the web-link, I wouldn't.  But there's a specific reason ... most agents don't want to go elsewhere to see your work.  They want to see your skill in the query letter.  And you're opening yourself to a world of criticism if it's not beautiful and flawless.

Let me know when you have that new query and we'll go from there.  ;)

Wolfe

« Last Edit: July 30, 2008, 12:43:34 PM by Wolfe »

Offline SteveJ

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Re: Agent Responses
« Reply #6 on: July 30, 2008, 12:45:36 PM »
I really do love and hate those query letter books.  Sometimes, they contain outstanding information.  And other times they contain pure shit.

Yep. The same could be said for those 'How To Write Your Novel' books. One I read recently used an example of a character's physical appearance being 'shown' to the reader by her reflection in a mirror - apparently, that was an outstanding way of describing the character's looks. :(
A Writer's Christmas:
http://www.lulu.com/content/4931358



The Horde - Available Now:
http://www.lulu.com/content/4076371


Wolfe

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Re: Agent Responses
« Reply #7 on: July 30, 2008, 12:50:56 PM »
Oh wow.  Yikes...

Wolfe

Offline ma100

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Re: Agent Responses
« Reply #8 on: July 30, 2008, 01:00:12 PM »
JH You are way ahead of me mate. I wouldn't have a clue but I will be watching with interest. 
Ma :)

Offline Paper tiger

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Re: Agent Responses
« Reply #9 on: July 30, 2008, 01:33:31 PM »
Guys

I found this fascinating and tremendous advice from Wolfe once again... but I must be on the wrong side of the world because this is what I got when I tried to download 'How to write a great query letter.'
We are sorry...
We could not process your order because of geographical restrictions on the product which you were attempting to purchase. Please refer to the terms of use for this product to determine the geographical restrictions.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

Any suggestions?
 :-\

Offline mustang6944

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Re: Agent Responses
« Reply #10 on: July 30, 2008, 02:23:43 PM »
Lukeman is a good source of info. If I remember correctly from his book, he is an editor or at least was one.

Offline Swampfox one

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Re: Agent Responses
« Reply #11 on: July 30, 2008, 02:36:53 PM »
Wolfe,
I understand!
(Is (passive))
That sound you hear is the heel of my left hand hitting my forehead.
I agree with your assessment of the books. I have come to understand there is a whole industry out there to ‘help’ would be writers, that is, if they have the money.
I will try to finish my query by tomorrow and take a look at those web sites.
I also agree with you on websites; however I got the idea from an agent’s site. I think it is a can of worms best left capped.

Thanks again
JH

Offline Swampfox one

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Re: Agent Responses
« Reply #12 on: July 31, 2008, 10:45:27 AM »
I wrote this with e-mail submission in mind. what do you think?
JH

 
[Letterhead]


Dear [agent]:


Potts has no idea of the hornet’s nest he kicks when he leans out of the van and snakes his arm under Samantha Lin’s arm, jerking her off her bicycle into the van.  At nine o’clock on a hot summer morning on the coast of Georgia, these two agents of a white slavery, drug dealer ring have taken a path that will change their lives forever.  Jack Lane, a Special Forces veteran and CIA retiree, gives the authorities only one chance to rescue his daughter.  He mounts his own task force—experts who can operate without political or bureaucratic restraint.  On a private island in the Caribbean, he out maneuvers both the criminals and the government, rescues his daughter and repays her kidnappers for saving her life.

TAKEN is an 83,000 word action adventure novel, reminiscent of Arnold Swartznager’s movie, Commando.  It takes place over a two week period last July.  TAKEN is loosely based on my own experience in the intelligence community and was written for every man who has found himself in a situation where he felt helpless.

I am a member of the Georgia Association of Writers.  I have had non-fiction articles published in trade magazines, such as Stocks and Commodities.

Thank you for your time.
 
« Last Edit: July 31, 2008, 10:49:19 AM by JHMull »

Wolfe

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Re: Agent Responses
« Reply #13 on: July 31, 2008, 02:26:13 PM »
I like this better, but it needs some polish.  Let's review.

Potts has (passive) no (negative) idea of (wordy) the hornet’s nest he kicks (cliché) when (passive) he leans out of (wordy - consider from) the van and snakes his arm under (wordy - consider kidnaps) Samantha Lin’s arm Lin, jerking her off her bicycle into the van (repetition word - van)(wordy gerund phrase)(Hook review - You really don't want to open your hook with the antagonist)At nine o’clock on a hot summer morning on the coast of Georgia, these two agents of a white slavery, drug dealer ring have taken a path that will change their lives forever. (all telling and back story - delete it) Jack Lane, a Special Forces veteran and CIA retiree, (telling and better served elsewhere in the query) gives the authorities only (adverb not needed if one chance is given - only is implied) one chance to rescue his daughter.  He mounts his own task force—experts who can operate without political or bureaucratic restraint.  (Not needed and telling) On a private island in the Caribbean, he out maneuvers both the criminals and the government, rescues his daughter and repays her kidnappers for saving her life.  (Do not tell the ending of your novel.  Now there's no point of asking for a partial or full since you gave the ending away to the agent)

TAKEN is an 83,000 (dash needed here: 83,000-word) word action adventure novel (thriller), reminiscent of Arnold Swartznager’s (spelled his name wrong) movie, Commando (compare your book to other books on the market, not a dated movie).  It takes place over a two week period last July (I like this, but be a little more specific.  Here you can tell it takes place in July 1998 and the name of your island if a real place.  Exact specifics create atmosphere).  TAKEN is loosely based on my own experience in the intelligence community and was written for every man who has found himself in a situation where he felt helpless. (This is good and bad because the credits show you are the author for this work.  But it's bad because you passively tell.  Consider this:  I wrote TAKEN based on my experiences in the Central Intellegence Agency.  Believe me when I say, agents will take note now)

I am a member of the Georgia Association of Writers (Good)I have had non-fiction articles published in trade magazines, such as Stocks and Commodities (Revise to active - Consider:  Stocks and Commodities magazine published my nonfiction articles or My nonfiction articles saw publication in Stocks and Commodities magazine).

Thank you for your time. (Good)

Overall, it's closer but needs more polish.  Watch the passive voice and telling.  ;)

Wolfe

« Last Edit: July 31, 2008, 02:32:30 PM by Wolfe »

Offline Swampfox one

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Re: Agent Responses
« Reply #14 on: July 31, 2008, 04:03:32 PM »
Thanks Wolfe I will work on it and repost later today. If you don’t teach, you should for I have learned more from you in the last six weeks than I have in the last six years on my own. If this sound s like arse kissing it is. ;D
JH