Monday, June 20, 2011

Agent Story #2

I’m going to nerd right the frack out here and open with an analogy about Schroedinger’s Cat. I realize how tragic this is. Were it a sport, I could nerd for my country. And I would melt face. But given the original draft of my “How I got my agent” post started with a joke about Royhypnol, I think nerdiness is the safer path to walk down.

“No response doesn’t mean no.”

See, some literary agents have established a policy by which “no reply” to your query means “no thanks, not interested”. You send off your query, wait X weeks, and if you’ve heard nothing, it’s a pass. Like it or don’t (the policy is as awesome as a straight shot to the baby-maker, imho), it’s a reality of the process. But, it gives rise to a problem, kinda like the Schroedinger’s Cat of literary circles. In a nutshell:
If you send in a query to a “No Response Means No” agent, and get no response, two possibilities exist simultaneously in space/time:
1) The agent read your query and gouged their own eyes out with a pencil declined to offer representation
2) The agent didn’t read your query at all

Shit happens on the interwebs. Firewalls, filters, wormholes that suck unwary emails to their dooms. Agents spill coffee on their hard drives, or hurl them out unsuspecting plate-glass windows after receiving queries in which the word “query” is misspelled. Point is, there’s maaaaaany ways your query might not ever arrive.
My agent was one of my “dream picks”. He was one of the first agents I queried, and I received no response. Right there, I could have written it off as a rejection, even though the Bialertron 9000 wasn’t specific about being a “NRMN” agent. But, being the stubborn, egotistical bastard that I am (“He can’t have rejected me, my book has chainsaw katanas in it ffs…”) I decided to give it one more shot. Two months after the initial query, I sent him another query via snailmail.

Two weeks later I received a full request from Matt’s 100% awesome assistant. Five days after that, I had an offer of representation. So here be the lesson, and if you learn nothing else from my spittle-soaked rantings (aside from how not to conduct yourself on the internet), please learn this:

“No response doesn’t always mean no.”

Now, to the letter itself. Writing this thing was one of the most gut-wrenching parts of the whole Agent process. It pales beside the agony of waiting to hear back on fulls, but on the Awful Spectrum I’d still place writing it somewhere between enduring Vogon poetry and a back to back screening of every Michael Bay film ever made. It is a thing crafted of tears and hatred and hour upon profanity-filled hour. But hey, it got the job done.

Without further foreplay, here it is:
Dear Mr Bialer,

Griffins were supposed to be extinct. Maybe that’s why she couldn’t let one die.
Yukiko’s hunt for a legendary beast has gone horribly wrong and now she’s stranded; a sixteen year old girl in the country’s last wilderness, with only a furious griffin with broken wings for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is that he’d rather see her dead than help her. But trapped together in the wilderness, Yukiko and the griffin find a friendship that neither expected.

Her homeland, Shima, is on the brink of environmental collapse, flora and fauna decimated by mechanization and the toxic, Guild-controlled fuel called chi. Upon her return to civilization, Yukiko’s father is imprisoned by the Shōgun. She becomes entangled in deadly court intrigue and a blossoming romance with a young samurai. Enlisting the aid of a rebellious guildsman and an anarchist cabal, she pits herself against the authorities, facing jealousy, betrayal and murder in the hope of seeing her father freed, her homeland saved and the griffin fly again.

STORMDANCER is an 80,000 word steampunk fantasy novel. It’s ‘Free Willy’ meets ‘How to train your dragon’ in dystopian feudal Japan with a Rage Against the Machine soundtrack.

My first 50 pages are enclosed. Unfortunately I was unable to include a SASE – I live in Australia and our postal system is run by muppets. I apologize for the inconvenience this will surely cause. Hopefully one day my great sun burnt country will enjoy a postal system not reliant on horse and carriage or koala bears. I hear rumor that we’re getting running water installed next year, which I’m quite looking forward to.

If you could respond to me by email, I’d be very grateful. Thanks for your time.

Jay Kristoff
blah blah


  1. Thanks for sharing your story. I know that feeling of the did they/didn't they/should I requery/am I insane? very well.

    Over 50% of my queries received no response, and this was including agents who do respond with no-thanks-es.

    So...yeah. Sadly, the internet is sometimes a little bit of a black hole. It's cool to hear your story had a YAY ending.

  2. Were I an agent, you would have had me at incompetent postmaster koalas. Congratulations!

  3. You had me at Schrodinger. Ah, who am I kidding? You had me at nerd the frack out.

    And then you went and said chainsaw katanas. I like the cut of your jib, sir, and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

  4. Yay for persistence and, um, being egotistical. Well done!

  5. For the record, although "no reply doesn't always mean no," it also doesn't mean "keep sending us the same goddamn query once a month like clockwork for the past ten months." (Some people do this.) (And this just tells me that it's been ten months and none of the other agents you've queried are interested either.) A good rule of thumb: if an agent hasn't established a NRMN policy, feel free to email or (gasp!) call with a nudge AFTER THE APPROPRIATE AMOUNT OF TIME HAS ELAPSED. Even a phone call won't get you the Death Glare From The Assistant, so long as it's "I just wanted to make sure my query arrived safely," and not "Why haven't you signed me yet, you tards?"

  6. This is such an AWESOME post and query letter!!! Your humor shines through and I'm getting more and more stoked to devour Stormdancer when it hits shelves!!!!!!!!

  7. Yes, please note, I'm not advocating continuously sending the same query every month. But asking one more time probably won't get you blacklisted.

    Just do it through a different channel imo. Snail mail, or from a different ISP. That way, you can be pretty sure any radio silence you receive is legit.

  8. Great post. STORMDANCER sounds soooo good, and the last paragraph of your query is 100% awesome.

  9. Schroedinger’s Cat. It's moments like these when I want to ask you to be my internet BFF. :p

  10. I devour successful query letters like romance novels. *fans self* Well done, Jay! ;)

  11. "this policy is as awesome as a straight shot to the babymaker, imho"

    You sir, are funny. Me likes.