Feb 18, 2011

Humor Helps

by Tanya Parker Mills

I thought I'd share a recent querying experience to show how vital it is to keep your sense of humor handy when trying to get an agent. I've been shopping my next manuscript around since last summer and have had some good responses, but no takers (as in "offers of representation") as yet.

I'd queried Jessica Sinsheimer of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, as well as some 30 other agents, and received a request to see the full manuscript back on July 6, 2010. So I sent it off and waited...and waited...and waited some more. Finally, by November 9th, I figured it was time to check in to see where she was on my manuscript (particularly since, by then, another agent had also requested the full and 4-5 others had partials). She never responded to my quick emailed check in.

(Note: Another thing to keep in mind when querying is that details matter! In my checkin, the only detail I provided was the title of my manuscript...not the date of my original query, not even the genre.)

So, I waited some more and then began to read comments by others on QueryTracker.com who had queried Jessica that they had gotten her agency's auto-response once they submitted their material. HELLO! I realized I never got that. Finally, I attempted a second check-in (this time detailed):

Date: Sun, Feb 6, 2011 at 12:38 PM

Subject: Checking on Requested Full of "Laps"

To: Jessica Sinsheimer

Dear Jessica,

I've learned lately that you generally send out an auto-response when a

requested full submission has been received. Since I never received an

auto-response when I first sent my full submission of "Laps" to you last

summer, and then never heard back when I tried to check in before the

holidays, I'm not sure you ever received my full manuscript as you requested

on July 6, 2010.

Could you let me know if you already have it? I only want to be assured that

it reached you.

All best,

Tanya Parker Mills

She responded the very next day, confirming that she'd never received it and asking me to re-send to a specific address (which happened to be off by one letter from the email address that had been listed last summer when I first sent). So, heart in hand, I hurried to get everything together (secretly glad that I'd made some revisions in the manuscript since then based on comments of fellow writers) and emailed it off the next day.

Not only did I get the desired auto-response from the agency, but I received a personal short reply from Jessica:

Thank you, Tanya. This has arrived safely.

You might think everything was fine, right? Well, I happened to glance below to the copy of the query I'd sent and about had heart failure then and there. This is the beginning of the query I'd sent Jessica:

Jennifer de la Fuente

Fountain Literary

1106 Second Street #346

Encinitas, CA 92024

Dear Ms. de la Fuente,

What was I to do? Had she really not noticed? No way. She must have sent that short response to rub it in. I'd ruined any chance with her. I thought for a minute and then replied with this:

Okay Jessica,

I'm sick to my stomach because now you'll no doubt feature me on your blog under the heading "How Not To Resubmit a Requested Full When The First Try Failed." I guess I was so excited that I accidentally copied from the email right below yours in my file. I'm slowly slinking away now. It'll either be chocolate or ...who am I kidding? It'll have to be chocolate.

So sorry,


Less than 15 minutes later (after going to the kitchen and eating 4 Hershey's Miniatures in quick, sorrowful succession), I saw two emails from her. I opened the first:

Not at all! You haven't done anything wrong. It's perfectly acceptable

to copy a query in the body of the email; in fact, it helps.

Please don't worry. All is well.

All best,


Then I opened the second:

Oh! I see what you mean. No biggie.

All best wishes,


Big sigh of relief!!! My response:

Thanks for being understanding. I was about to eat my 5th Hershey's Miniature. You're the best!


A week later, I received her kind rejection:

Dear Tanya,

Thank you for sharing your work with me--and for your patience in

waiting to hear back. You've been a delightful correspondent (and I

certainly wouldn't blame you for the Hershey's miniatures; they're by

far my favorite when it comes to the "things one might get while

trick-or-treating" category!).

I pushed this to the top of my pile because, of course, you've been

waiting so long already. That, and this is a really great query, which

certainly piqued my interest.

You write well, and I enjoyed reading this—but I'm afraid I just

didn't fall in love with this in the way that I'd hoped.

Still, I do hope you will continue writing and sending out your work.

If you haven't done so already, you may wish to look at The Jeff

Herman Guide to Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents - there, you

should be able to find someone who's a better fit for your work.

Again, Tanya, thank you for sharing this with me, and for being so

pleasant throughout this process.

Very best of luck to you, with this and future projects--and do let me

know how everything goes.

All best wishes,

Jessica Sinsheimer

Associate Agent

Because I've read her blog a good bit, as well as the blogs of other agents, I knew I couldn't leave it there. After all, agents send out a lot of rejections, and it's not always easy for them. So I sent one last email:

Dear Jessica,

Thanks for your encouragement. You're a wonderful agent and I would have loved for this to click with you, but I realize the story has to grab hold of you in a way in order to be passionate about finding a home for it. So, thanks for your honesty.

I'll keep pressing on (with or without Hershey's miniatures), and I'll let you know when it does find a home. In the meantime, I'll still enjoy your blog.

All best wishes,

Tanya Parker Mills

Needless to say, she appreciated it. So, along with a good use of humor and details in the querying process, never forget to be thoughtful and kind. This is not the kind of business where you can afford to burn bridges. On the contrary, we need to be building bridges as writers.


  1. Thanks for sharing this story, Tanya!

  2. Good Tanya. It's so important to remember that agents are humans and that they are trying to do their best. Good luck in the future!

  3. Oh, I did that once, but rather than send a humorous note with apologies to try to patch it up, I just slunk away, my face burning in shame. LOL That was when I was still very new to the querying process. I love her responses. You mean agents are human too?!

  4. Such a great story. And you made a connection, which is definitely better than nothing.

  5. That is a great story and a guide for how to build professional bridges dispite goofs. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Thanks for sharing. I thought you handled the situation perfectly. When (not if) that happens to me, I'll remember the great way you responded.

  7. Oh, that's great, that you both appreciated it anyway. At least she requested the whole thing!

  8. I actually had an agent make the mistake of sending me another person's rejection letter. I definitley used humor when writing back to discuss the error. The agent and I had a good laugh. Afterall, it's not every day you get rejected for something you didn't even write!! LOL!

  9. Thanks for all the comments, everyone. It's easy to make these kinds of mistakes in this fast-paced age where you're only a click away from disaster.

  10. As the editorial manager for our trade publication, this happens a lot. I usually just chuckle and get down to business. For us, the material matters the most not the host vehicle. Hope you get your manuscript accepted soon.

  11. I loved reading about your experience. You handled it so well! good for you! Thank you for setting such a great example. hugs~

  12. What a great story!!! So encouraging to any writer. Hope you find your agent soon.


Thank you for visiting. Feel free to comment on our blogger's posts.*

*We do not allow commercial links, however. If that's not clear, we mean "don't spam us with a link to your totally unrelated-to-writing site." We delete those comments.