Monday, December 01, 2014

Queries: Getting Pickier and Pickier


When I first started out as an agent I was desperate. I'm not going to lie about that. I was sitting in my spare bedroom, turned home office, aka BookEnds headquarters trying to eek out a living by reading query after query (all via snail mail in those days) hoping one or two would be a winner. Needless to say I wasn't very picky. 

It wasn't long before stacks of binder clipped pages lined my walls and filled my one bookshelf. Each shelf had it's own month designating when the materials had arrived. The sad thing was that in about an hour I could get through 5-6 of those proposals. Most of the time I didn't read much beyond the first 10-15 pages. Most of the time I probably knew that from the query letter alone.

As time went on and I started building a client list I got pickier and pickier. I would trust my gut when reading a query and stop requesting things that were outside of my expertise just because they sounded interesting. Still though, there were times when I was asking for things I knew would be clunkers, but I just had to see for myself.

My time is even more precious now. I have a pretty full client list and with email queries I get tons and tons. I barely have time to read the submissions I request and I'm just not adding that many new clients to my list. Therefore I am much stricter with my queries. In fact, I just rejected one. 

In the past I know I would have asked to see more. The idea was really intriguing. But the writing was weak. The query felt unpolished and a little cliche. It didn't grab me in every way. So I passed. 

I'm not alone in this. I would say most agents (except those who are new and building a business) are going to be just as picky as I am. As much as they'd love to read just because it might have potential, they usually don't have the time. Queries are there for a purpose, they are to allow us to weed through what we want to spend our time on and what we don't. They're an introduction not just to the author's plot and characters, but to the author's writing as well and we're going to look at all of that when making our decision.

So write those queries carefully.

--jhf

6 comments:

Emily Shore said...

There is a rumor circulating that you accept self published works. Is this true?

BookEnds, LLC said...

LOL. BookEnds agents will consider self-published works, but like any other agency the numbers have to really wow us for it to make sense.

Emily Shore said...

Unfortunately, I'm not even aware of my numbers. Had one of those sad situations where someone claiming to be a literary agent took advantage of my books, had them published under an e-platform, promised a lot of things, promoted the books very poorly, and the e-platform refuses to grant me any numbers so I haven't seen a cent of profits. I've had very good reviews from bloggers and Facebook.Good Reads audience, but that's as much as I've seen. I also took the time to edit and rewrite the first book and now have the sequel complete.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Emily: It sounds like your problem is more about a bad relationship. Assuming you have a contract with that agent it's important you get statements and reports. If he/she fails to do that it is possible to try to pull the book.

Emily Shore said...

As soon as the contract with the agent came up for renewal, I refused and am no longer working with the person. In the beginning, I even had a lawyer who looked over the contract but said there were no red flags. But even though I no longer had a contract with the agent, I still had a contract with the e-platform, and though I asked to dissolve it and for them to take my books down, they refused (despite their website stating they only work with agents and I no longer had one if you could call the one I worked with one). The e-platform informed me they had no way to get me any statements or reports. I'm just thankful that the contract with the e-platform is now ending.

Greg Cottrell said...

It's one thing to hear these truths on the query, but another to read them and let it sink into the writing brain. This is very helpful to me as I stepped away from the writing world for a while and am jumping back into it. Understanding the business side of writing helps and the query is very important. Thank you for the pearls of wisdom. I will continue to read your other posts on the query.