Monday, August 09, 2010

Query Recap

One early Sunday morning I sat down with my coffee and attempted to go through as many of the 280+ queries in my inbox as I could before my day started. This time around, unlike in other recaps, I didn’t focus on one day or one set time period. I simply wandered around the inbox opening and reviewing queries at random.

Here’s the count:

Total Number of Queries Read: 33
Total Time Reading Queries: about 30 minutes
Total Number of Queries I Rejected: 30
Total Number of Queries I Requested More Material for: 3
Total Number of Queriers Who Were Previously Published: 3 (note that only one of those previously published authors is in the “requested” category
Total Number Nonfiction Queries: 2
Total Number of Responses I Gave that Offered More Than Just the Standard “No”: 4

We often discuss how a query should give the reader a sense of your voice, and while reading these that flashed into my mind, so I read with a thought to how these queries were written. Overall, I think most writers have done their research and have a sense of how to write a strong query. Most of you are doing a great job of putting your voice (as far as I can tell) into the query. There are definitely some cases where I reject based on the fact that I don’t feel I connect with the voice. And of course many of my requests come because I do like the voice.

Jessica

24 comments:

Nina said...

Just out of curiosity: How many queries to you receive a week?

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

Jessica: Could it be said, then, that there are some days when you just pass on a query based soley on what's hot in the market? How often do you just take a chance on a great story regardless of what is #1? I only ask this because I am beginning to think I might have a long wait ahead of me. The few rejections I have received have all said "intrigued", fascinated, etc, but still the answer was no and ultimately, at the end of the letter came the same words from nearly everyone "I must say, I am mainly looking for "urban fantasy" even though their guidelines stated that they looked at all genres. I, for one, am so ready for this trend to go the way of the dodo. It's just not where my heart is and I think as readers, it may actually be the publishing houses that are trying to pigeon hole for us (much like the fashion industry does). Is it really that hard to sell something else regardless of how great it is?

Anonymous said...

Oh, thank you for saying most of us got it right. I worked so hard on getting my voice right this time. I practiced and practiced for weeks, knowing how important voice is to a query letter.

Anonymous said...

As a journalist, I just try to write a strong biz letter--I don't worry about my voice or try to sound like my character. Aren't we supposed to save that for our novels? Very confusing when agents all want different things!

Jennifer Foushee said...

Of those 30 that you rejected, since you said most of the writers had researched you and clearly demonstrated their voices in their queries, would you say, for the most part, that the writing wasn't strong enough or the idea wasn't intriguing enough? Or both? Where are writers who think, based on their research, that you're the right agent for them falling short?

Thanks, Jessica!

Tex Deductable said...

hey anonymous journalist

I think being able to write a strong biz letter takes you a very long way, but you really got to snag them with a story, a piece of narrative.

but you've got an important advantage over the competition. you just have to take it a step further.

At least that's what I keep telling meself

Anonymous said...

Here's my problem. Many times on this blog and other query-focused sites, I get the idea that agents hate "cutesy" or gimmicky queries. They want something straight forward, just the facts, short, with a pretty standard format. Queries that deviate from a fairly narrow set of parameters are rejected almost immediately. So I'm not sure how a writer is capable of demonstrating his or her voice at all given that they are doing pretty much the equivalent of sending a form letter. What gives you a sense of the author's voice from within the query itself and not an actual sample of his or her work. I just see conflicting advice at work here.

Tara Maya said...

Thanks, these round-ups are always fascinating to me. I realize it takes extra effort to tally them up, and I appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 12:35 said: "As a journalist, I just try to write a strong biz letter--I don't worry about my voice or try to sound like my character. Aren't we supposed to save that for our novels? Very confusing when agents all want different things!"

No, anon. That's just not good enough. Professional and descriptive doesn't work anymore. Now they want voices in queries, too. There's even a seminar for it I hear. You gotta a keep up...lol. And dog knows you have to have a sense of humor when you read things like this.

Glynis said...

It takes stamina to read through that amount of email. I hope your coffee was hot and strong.

Finding the right tone of voice is a task I am working on. When I read through the first query letter I drafted...well even I cringed. :)

Anonymous said...

I find it head-scratchingly arrogant when agents mosy through queries in random order, besides such a practice being disrespectful of a writer's time.

Why should a writer who queried you months ago not have precedence? Why exacerbate what is already a long wait, for most, to hear back? Is that really necessary?

connie said...

Hi Jessica,

I came upon your blog this weekend through an author's blog. I spent several hours Saturday and Sunday reading and re-reading many subjects, but especially the query samples. I had just queried a agent before reading your information. I wished I had found your sight before I had emailed my query.

I love your honesty and how much time you put it educating authors.


Thanks,
Connie

Anonymous said...

Hey Anons--thanks for the advice! Since most agents don't blog, how are we to know an agent's pet peeves and preferences? Hard to keep up when everyone says they want something different. That's why I like including a few pages within my e-mailed query, to give the agent a sense of my voice and style. I hope all agents start requesting the first few pages with their queries--and then actually read them!

Micah Maddox said...

Anon @ 6:00pm said "I find it head-scratchingly arrogant when agents mosy through queries in random order, besides such a practice being disrespectful of a writer's time."

Anon, I think you may have missed the part where Jessica said she was devoting time to queries BEFORE her day began. Many agents, I find, love their jobs and make extraordinary time commitments beyond the rumored-but-yet-to-be-verified 9 to 5. Suzie Townsend, for example, is known to forgo sleep in lieu of reading.

The query process is stressful, but I would encourage you to query many agents. If you get a nibble from one you can notify other agents regardless of their sorting methods. It may help alleviate some of the headache/frustration.

Anonymous said...

Micah: Ditto for writers. At least agents get rewarded for their lack of sleep. Writers get no guarantee and little if any compensation for all our efforts and hard work.

Anonymous said...

Micah: Ditto for writers. At least agents get rewarded for their lack of sleep and extra hours. Writers get no guarantee and little if any compensation for all our efforts and hard work.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:00

Are you the same whiner from two blogs ago, complaining about how long it takes agents to respond to queries?

How are agents rewarded by reading queries of non-clients? They AREN'T--not unless and until they find something they can sell...and how they find that gem is entirely up to them. If the agents want to read the ones with email addresses starting with Q first, that's their prerogative. This is not a first-come, first-served business.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:41

No, I'm not "that whiner", although I am tired of the whining, now that you mention it, (and I'm not talking about Jessica here), about queries and non-clients and the time it takes to read queries.

Agents make money from those non-clients whose ms's end up saleable. Queries are one source of possible revenue for agents. That means reading queries is often part of the job, just as it's a writer's job to put in all those hours writing a ms with no guarantees or immediate compensation for their just-as-valuable time.

If I were to whine about anything, however, it would be about writers deserving respect from query to offer; especially writers who work hard at their craft and their query, follow guidelines and who offer that same respect to agents.

This isn't a game, it's business. Respect goes both ways. I respect and appreciate agents' time, and their unpaid time. I also respect mine, a writer's time.

Sheila Cull said...

Hmmm. I wonder why so many less non fiction?

In my personal library, I have half fiction and half non. And it says you accept non fiction in your guidelines, hmmm.

Erin MacPherson said...

Hi Jessica! I found your blog from Rachelle Gardner's blog and I'm so glad I did... there's so much great info in here! For me, I was new to the industry and naive and wrote a terrible, terrible query letter to my agent Rachelle. Thankfully, she STILL requested a proposal. I'm so grateful! But, looking back, I wish I had known all of this stuff back then so I would've have made a fool of myself by sending so many horrible query requests to agents. Thanks!

BookEnds, LLC said...

Nina: I receive at least 30+ queries a day.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Wendy Tyler Ryan:

Not entirely. That being said, sometimes. If however a query really grabs me it doesn't matter what the market is, I'll request. It only takes one book to change what the market is looking for. Most agents would love to find that one book.

Every book we take on is a risk no matter what the market is looking for. It sounds like the rejections you are getting are probably standard form rejections.

--jhf

BookEnds, LLC said...

Regarding the comments on voice. Read the sample queries I've posted at other times. These are all great examples of voice. The queries are still business queries, but you get a sense of the author through the descriptions they've written.

Don't make it too complicated. Keep it simple, but let "you" shine through.

--jhf

Lisa said...

Hi, I am wondering what you consider "more than just a standard no?"

I have gotten a few "I don't think I'm the right agent for this." Is that considered "more than a no?"