New Writers! Pay Attention to SFWA's Writer Beware, Etc.!

(Warning: This will be something of a rant.)

Yesterday I went through a handful of query letters submitted to Baen, several of which were from literary agents or people posing as agents. One of the agents is on the “Writer Beware” list maintained by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) — the “Thumbs Down Agency List” — and two of the others are probably vying for their own spots on the list.

Why don’t writers research these agencies before they submit to them? In addition to Writer Beware, the Absolute Write Water Cooler forum has lengthy threads warning of substandard agents, including all of the agents in question, and Preditors & Editors has very clear and succinct evaluations, and lists all three agencies as “not recommended.” (Okay, it actually lists one of them as “highly not recommended.”)

Why didn’t you pay attention, new writer?

  • Did you think the agency’s efficiency would impress us, if they sent three different queries in the same envelope? Especially if the query for your story told us next to nothing about the story?
  • Did you think the agency’s attention to detail would inspire us, if they didn’t proofread their letter?
  • Did you think the agency’s approach would intrigue us, if they didn’t include YOUR OWN NAME in the letter?

That last one is not a joke: one of the agencies used the first line of the query letter to plug themselves (really) and went on to include the title of the book, a brief description of the book, and an offer to send the manuscript, all WITHOUT MENTIONING THE AUTHOR’S NAME. (I’ll admit, that was one way to get the query letter read more than once: I had to make sure I wasn’t just missing it somewhere.)

So, bottom line: if you’re reading this blog post on a computer, rather than a friend having printed it out for you, then you have access to all of the sites I mentioned above. Use them. Take their recommendations to heart.

Oh, and you might want to check out potential publishers’ sites, too. They have these things called “guidelines” that you might want to read.

For instance, the Baen guidelines clearly state that we want to see a full manuscript and a synopsis, not just a query letter. Yes, I look at your query letters, but when I do I ask myself: did this person not read our guidelines, or did they read and ignore our guidelines?

As for me, I will wait until something I’ve written is attractive enough that a good agent wants to represent me, because after three years of reading submissions I’m convinced that a bad agent is far worse than no agent at all.

Do you have any related stories to tell? I’d love to hear them.

(And if you’re reading this post on Facebook, think about popping over to the actual blog to leave a comment.)

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Latest Results: Courting Literary Agents

After four months of trying to find literary representation, my scorecard looks like this:

  • 53 agents queried
  • 5 requested partials or additional information
  • 2 full manuscripts sent
  • 35 rejections

Of the 18 agents who still have my query, I expect I will never hear from many of them: some are very clear in their guidelines that they only contact people whose work they want to see. So that “rejection” number is low, but I have no way to know how low.

I never knew there were so many agents, and of course I’m only contacting those who represent science fiction and fantasy — a very small subset of the whole literary field. I still have a long list of agents I haven’t queried yet, but I admit that I’m starting to get discouraged. But I keep hoping that one day an agent will like my near-future science fiction story of survival and sacrifice on the moon, even though science fiction is lagging behind fantasy these days, and like it enough to take into those publishers who don’t accept unagented manuscripts.

And until then … we keep knocking on the metaphorical door.

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Elusive Success, and Believing In Our Work

A literary agent whom I hoped to query with my novel posted this message on Twitter yesterday:

Straight SF is very very hard to sell right now.

I wrote back that I hope I’m first in line when that trend changes.

I believe I’ve written a good book: it’s certainly the best book I could write at this time, and several early readers gave me very tough critiques that made it even better. I’ve got a great cover quote from a bestselling author, and have done everything I know how to do to increase its chances of success. Yet it is very possible that the current market will not accept a near-future, realistic, essentially hopeful SF story about colonists struggling to survive on the moon.

The uncertainty of succeeding with this novel makes me wonder . . .

In the grand if not the grandest scheme of things, does it matter, the success of a single person in any field of endeavor? What inventor or artist or thinker, if disease or injury or other calamity had prevented their accomplishments, would not have been replaced eventually? If not by a similar or even identical art (more likely in the realm of science than in any other), then by one that would be equally admired, equally revered?

So runs the train of thought headlong to disaster.

No — we must believe that our works have value for the moment and more than the moment. We must labor as if what we produce will make a difference on some scale — if not the universal, on the global scale; if not global, continental; if not continental, local; if not local, personal, even if limited to ourselves.

And so, onward.

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First Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Images: Near the SEA OF CLOUDS

How cool is this? From NASA’s LRO web site:

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has transmitted its first images since reaching the moon on June 23. The spacecraft’s two cameras, collectively known as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, or LROC, were activated June 30. The cameras are working well and have returned images of a region in the lunar highlands south of Mare Nubium (Sea of Clouds).

(L: An LRO image of the highlands south of Mare Nubium [the Sea of Clouds]. R: A Clementine image of the moon, showing the location of Mare Nubium. NASA images. Click to enlarge.)

Since I’m currently trying to interest publishers and agents in WALKING ON THE SEA OF CLOUDS — a novel of survival and sacrifice at the first commercial lunar colony, located on the southwestern edge of Mare Nubium — the fact that the LRO’s first images are of that area is exceedingly cool to me. That made my day!

So … if you know of anyone interested in publishing such a novel … or even if you’re interested in reading such a novel … let me know. That would make my day, too.


P.S. Here’s the NASA LRO page with the images on it, and here’s the LRO main page.

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Late Update

The fifth week of the agent hunt is history, and even though the tally looks worse —

  • 34 queries submitted (no change)
  • 12 rejections (3 more)

— we can actually report a little bit of progress. One of those rejections was from an agent to whom we had sent a partial manuscript and synopsis — in other words, someone who had expressed some interest 🙁 — but this week we had another agent ask for a partial :D. Now, to get it printed and mailed ….

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A Few More Queries, And With Them, Rejection

I forgot to post this yesterday, but the fourth week of the agent hunt consisted of sending out several more queries and receiving one very nice rejection. Here’s the tally of the really important statistics:

  • 34 queries submitted
  • 9 rejections

And so it goes.

On the advice of a couple people in the business — whose names I will not use, but whose identities might be guessed by people familiar with my experience in the very small SF&F world — I also submitted a partial (3 chapters and synopsis) to one of the major SF publishers. We’ll see if anything comes of that.

Hopefully someone out there will be interested in publishing a near-future science fiction story about colonizing the moon — the risks people will take, the hardships they’ll endure, and the sacrifices they’ll make to achieve a difficult goal. Here’s hoping!

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All Quiet on the Agent Front

The third week of the agent hunt has come and gone, with no breakthroughs. Here’s the tally:

  • 26 queries submitted
  • 8 “thanks, but this isn’t right for us” rejections … some of them quite nice
  • 3 “interesting, tell us more” responses (no change)
  • 2 manuscripts submitted (no change)
  • 1 “partial” submitted — 50 pages & synopsis (no change)

In other news … well, there isn’t any other news. I’ve still got a long list of potential agents to investigate (to see if they’re looking for new clients, if they represent science fiction, etc.), with a few at the top for whom I hope to prepare queries this weekend.

And so it goes!

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Shhh, be vewwy quiet … I'm agent hunting

My hunt for a literary agent to represent WALKING ON THE SEA OF CLOUDS — and such other work as I hope to produce in the next ever-how-many years — continues. Slowly. I do have a day job, after all. And a night job.

So, after two weeks pursuing elusive agents, tracking them by their Internet presences and deciphering the glyphs they’ve carved in electronic “guidelines,” I’ve racked up the following record:

  • 20 queries submitted
  • 4 “thanks, but this isn’t right for us” rejections
  • 3 “interesting, tell us more” responses
  • 2 manuscripts submitted
  • 1 “partial” submitted — 50 pages & synopsis

If you want to play “hunt the agent” with me, see if you can spot one of the wild agents who might be interested in a near-future, realistic science fiction novel about survival and sacrifice in the early days of a lunar colony. If you see some, don’t scare them away! Try to chase them in my direction. And let me know, so I can get the right query ready! 😉

Image by Gaetan Lee, from Flickr, under Creative Commons license.

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Goddard, ENTERPRISE, and the Agent Scorecard

Fifty years ago today — May 1, 1959 — The “Beltsville Center” was renamed the Goddard Space Flight Center in honor of the first person to launch a liquid-propellant rocket, Dr. Robert Goddard.

Thirty years ago today marked the first time the Space Shuttle pathfinder configuration — using the Shuttle Enterprise — was assembled in the Vehicle Assembly Building and transported to Launch Complex 39A.

(Shuttle Enterprise at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air & Space Museum. Click to enlarge.)
(Image from Wikipedia by Ad Meskens, licensed under Creative Commons.)

Finally, after the first week here’s the tally on my hunt for a literary agent:

  • Agents queried: 9
  • Rejections received: 4

No expressions of interest or offers of representation yet. I’m still researching other agents to query. Wish me luck!

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