Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Information Overload

“Too much of everything is just enough” — I Need A Miracle, John Perry Barlow/Bob Weir

At some point in the latter stages of the last century–and trust me, though we are now a decade into the twenty-first century, I still think of ‘the last century’ as meaning the 1800’s–we entered THE INFORMATION AGE. It is largely great. When I hit the ‘publish’ button at the top of this page, my thoughts and ramblings will be available to anyone with access to a computer and the internet. If I want to find out more about haberdashers in Victorian England, I can do it without having to leave the comforts of home, without getting buried by a pile of books in my local library, or without having to wait weeks for my library to get those books on inter-library loan. I can get real-time information on stocks, watch a solar eclipse as it happens–in Australia! Check my credit score. I can access nearly any newspaper, check out the traffic at Exit 45 on the Long Island Expressway, or see just what business is  on the corner of Chestnut and Main in Sheboygan.

For writers in my particular stage of development, the Information Age is awesome not just because of what it brings to our work, but because of the speed it allows us to query at, and the window it gives us into the process. But sometimes I have to wonder: Is it too much?

The web giveth, and the web giveth some more. In the case of querying agents, the web giveth uth specific information on each agent. “Send a query and five pages,” says Agent X on her agency website. “Submit your query by e-mail along with a synopsis and three chapters embedded in the e-mail,” says another. “Attachments are fine,” says a third. Great information to have, easily found, and we tailor our queries to give each agent what she wants.

But the web giveth more. The web giveth uth (right, I’ll stop that now) pages upon pages on how to write a good query. And the web giveth us sites like Query Shark and The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment (where yours truly is likely to end up some time soon) and Absolute Write’s Query Letter Hell, where your query can be deconstructed like it’s Dickens in a literature class, ripped apart for you to rebuild into the Six Million Dollar Query, able to stop any agent or editor in their tracks. The web gives us contests to post our queries and first two-fifty, all in the name of helping us get better, helping us get published. And you have myriad sites where you can discuss the craft ad infinitum, where you can ask if prologues are bad and how long your chapters should be, and whether you should use ‘that’ or ‘which’. And while I’ve wondered before if all this information makes us lazy, the fact is, it’s a great thing. But again, is it too much?

Earlier in the week I found myself poking around on Query Tracker, looking at the comments posted about Agents I’ve Queried and Agents I Plan on Querying. Generally, querying is a ‘Fire and Forget’ exercise. There are some who are insanely fast (two minutes! My personal record for a rejection was five hours), but by and large, the best thing you can do is send the query, move on to the next one, and when you’re done with this batch, get back to writing something new. I’ve gotten mostly good at doing this, but I’ve also found myself checking agent blogs and Twitter feeds, trying to see where they are (‘status: read all queries through 4/15; if you sent before that and haven’t heard anything, resend’), trying to figure out where my little old query is in the process. No doubt, you’ve seen these kinds of things on boards that deal with this sort of thing: “Oh, no! This person submitted after me and got a request for partial! What does that mean?” Or “SuperAgent’s response time to fulls is X weeks and I’m at X weeks + 1 day–should I nudge?”

By and large, the thing to do is chill out. Write the letter, send the letter, log it in your little spreadsheet or notebook or whatever. Fire and forget.

Yeah, right.

Have a great weekend, all!

5 Responses

  1. I'm never able to fire and forget completely, and I do think in part this is because it's so easy to look up more and more information (query status, query response time averages, etc.) I have thought before that my mental health would be better without these things. But they're addictive 🙂 Good luck!

  2. Hah! I love this post. It's very well-written and pretty funny too. I know it's so hard for us writers to do but it really is a set it and forget it kind of thing. My personal records for a query reject was 4 minutes. But yeah unless the agent has your partial or full, you should not obsess over it. Even if they do have a full or partial, find out what their "nudge" time is and then add 2 weeks to it! Sometimes the internet does feel like too much. But I find it's mostly because I end up surfing the net for hours when I only meant to do 5 minutes of research instead of working on my book. In terms of the conflicting information out there, eventually you have to draw your own conclusions.

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