Close your eyes and imagine something for me. Well, on second thought, you’re reading this in print, so don’t close your eyes… but picture this: You’re attending a writing conference, complete with not only your fellow writers and editors, but those holy grails and golden geese of the unpublished and mid-career alike: literary agents. You sidle up to one and introduce yourself. You’re not a socially inept crazy person, so you don’t grasp their leg and beg them to read your manuscript. Nuh-un. That ain’t you. You play it cool. You try this crazy new strategy you’re sure nobody has heard of – you talk to them like a normal person. You’re probably both readers. Talk about the books you’re both reading. You’re at the same conference. Talk about that.
Somehow – you’re not exactly sure, are you dreaming? – you build a rapport. The agent smiles and opens the door. You can ask them anything – about their life, the business, what they look for in a query, synopsis, or manuscript. What grabs them. What turns them off. What would you want to know? What would you ask?
Through the miracle of the internet, you can not only find answers to the questions that floated through your head just now, you can receive them with a dash of humor in three degrees of sarcasm. In the Have You Heard About series, I try to highlight resources for writers that are perhaps a step off the beaten path or that I have found generally useful. Today, we’re talking about The Rejecter, Miss Snark, and Slushpile Hell.
I want to ease you into the shark-infested waters that compose the world of honest agent tell-alls. Of these three resources, The Rejecter is the most polite. She answered questions from readers about the submission process, ranging from the mundane to the nuanced and situational. She had a very active comment community. It is not uncommon to see a series of 2-3 posts on the same topic when questions in the comments from one post spawn follow-up discussions on others. You could do far worse than the frank, to-the-point discussions on The Rejecter. I recommend starting at the beginning, where The Basics posts outline some querying rules to live by to print out and pin to your bulletin board.
It’s not the thrust of the blog, but I found her journey from insider and first reader – one fairly down on self-publishing – circa 2007 to self-published author around 2016 to be interesting and insightful.
Edit 3/29/21 – I fell into a research hole for tomorrow’s post and found some anecdotal evidence that Miss Snark had a hard time separating the online schtick from her real life business relationships. Whether that’s just being a tough person in a tough business or straight-up bullying seems to depend on who you ask. You decide.
Delivered with biting New York wit, Miss Snark is The Rejecter’s figurative jaded older sister. It is also a question-and-answer blog from the early-to-mid 2010s but with a hilariously sarcastic tone. Let’s be honest, we humans remember things better when they’re entertaining. We invent songs for children to cement the alphabet, state capitals, and a thousand other things in their minds. I can still hear my elementary Spanish teacher’s Days of the Week song in my head, mimed by a purple cow sock puppet named Dora (it predated the show) from 1998. Miss Snark’s insult-comic, celebrity-roast tone burns messages like “FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS, STUPID” into your mind.
If you are the type that has to learn the hard way, check out Miss Snark.
For me, the main take-away from Slushpile Hell is that at least we’re not those people. Maybe your query hasn’t led to as many requests for additional material as you would have hoped, but at least you didn’t swear that your book, which you received directly from the spirit of your dead grandmother, must be published because it will literally change the world. At least you didn’t write it like a movie trailer (“In a world where… If you only read one book this summer…). At least you didn’t ask the agent to first teach you how to write a query letter as your initial pitch.
If you don’t make the agent want to take a long walk off a short pier, you’re doing something right. Or, at least, not wrong.
Words of Warning and Encouragement
Be warned, these three blogs can be incredible time-sucks. Use with caution. I know I didn’t. Also, do I have to tell you that some of the content on Miss Snark and Slushpile Hell is not safe for work due to language? Use with discretion.
If you are interested in more straight-forward query letter guidelines, I recommend checking out industry insider Jane Friedman, NY Book Editors, or The Literary Mercenary (previously profiled here) on Unique Selling Points.
If you had not guessed, this post comes on the coattails of me starting to send my first literary brain-child out intot he world. It was scary, but I know I have made it the best it can be, and I have done my homework on how to identify agents and write a not-terrible query.
I suppose if I get discouraged I can hop over to the Rejection Survival Guide.
What resources did you use for learning how to query? Drop a comment for posterity.
As always, thank you for reading, and happy writing.
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