Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

So, tell me what you think about Nathan's mad experiment

Nathan Bransford is running "Agent for a Day" on his blog.
I took one look and ran screaming to the bar (thankfully well stocked!).

If you participated in his endeavor, I'm interested to hear what you thought of it.


Douglas L. Perry said...

I found it very enlightening. I have a new respect for what agents do. As I said in Nathan's blog, I could only make it through about 10 queries at a time before I wanted to pull out my hair.

I really don't see how you guys do it. It definitely shows a strong commitment to the writer community, of which I consider myself one.

Now if you would quit rejecting my queries that would be even better. (kidding)

Livia said...

Everything started to blur together after the 15th query or so. It made me realize how important it is for a query to draw the reader in right away.

Venus Vaughn said...

I gave my feedback on the page, but I'll reproduce it for you here - this time with NUMBERS!

Things I learned:

1. It REALLY is subjective. There's no excuse for not writing a great query, but even a great query doesn't mean the agent will be interested in the idea. They are or they aren't, and if they aren't, be glad they're not representing you. You want an agent that really likes your project, not one that had to talk herself into it.

2. I don't like crushing people's dreams. To that end, for the queries where I was on the fence, I wrote a different type of rejection. A more encouraging one, where I implied that just because my tastes didn't mesh with the project that it doesn't mean their work doesn't have merit.

I was fortunate enough in my reading that I came up with exactly 5 yesses and had 9 maybes.

3. I was surprised to discover that it took so much time to say 'no' or 'thanks but no thanks' to the other 45 queries. So, I understand now the 'no response means no' line that many agents take--however, that doesn't excuse the agent from setting up an auto-response just to say that the query was received.

4. I've heard that managing multiple e-mail accounts is tedious. That may be so, but I've been doing so for well over a decade, and honest to goodness, it's not that tough. Tell an IT pro exactly what you want and they can set it up for you.

Thanks for the exercise.

5. Oh, and another thing. The introductions at the beginning, the TITLE, the agent compliments, all the detritus just got in the way.

All I wanted was the pitch.

6. The extra-convoluted ones got a form rejection. And there was only one maybe that turned into a yes because of included pages--but hey, that made all the difference for that author.

7. I didn't get hung up on misspellings and grammar issues. If the query was intriguing, I wanted more. If it was hard to read, even with perfect grammar, I didn't.

Elizabeth said...

I read all the queries, and had I been an agent, I only would have requested one.

I would have rejected the majority of the rest, not because they were badly written, but simply because the idea didn't appeal to me. That includes one query that was exceptionally well-written.

I also found myself skipping introductory paragraphs (title, genre, word count, etc.) and going directly to the pitch.

And I didn't care about the author information at all.

Lessons learned:

1. Be brief.
2. Be clear.
3. Don't waste the first paragraph.
4. Query widely, because this is ridiculously subjective.

All advice that you've given both here and on Query Shark, of course, but there's no lesson like personal experience. :)

Laura said...

I love it! So much fun. :)

And a real eye-opener.

Nathan Bransford said...

Got any bourbon?

Janet Reid said...

For you Nate Dawg, I got a gallon jug of it.

Angelina C. Hansen said...

I read all 50 last night, but I didn't even think about responding to any of them(too busy working on my own revisions and query letter). What I learned? You agents must love what you do. I commend you with my whole heart. Thank you!

Heather said...

First, it was kind of cool, in that, "Hmmm, maybe I'd want to be a Lit. Agent" kind of way. But then I remembered the whole contract negotiation, leagalese icky part and went back to work on my next novel.

Second, it showed me just how important it is to hook right away. Because after 8 hours of corporate hell work and 20 queries in the hours after work, I was too cranky to give anyone a chance. If I didn't love it right away, it was a no. I also didn't bother reading past a long and involved dissertation on the themes of the book to see if there was plot hidden somewhere in the depths of paragraph two.

Finally, realized that I'd probably make a lousy agent, because even if I thought it sounded like a book that people would like to read, if it wasn't something *I* would read, I said no.

So, I would be poor and lousy as an agent... and bitter about having to wade through contract language. (But if assistants get to read queries and manuscripts all day, I'd be a kick ass assistant. ha!)

In all, mad props to those of you who not only find success as agents, but love what you do enough to give your time to educate the writer types like me.

Dana said...

I'm not all the way through the queries yet, but I definitely agree with what's been said. It's very subjective. I got really distracted by bad writing or poor grammar. There were some ideas that I loved but hated the writing that went with them. So far, halfway through all the queries, I've only been really, really interested in 1 and have only requested 2. Definitely and eye opening process. :) A whole new respect for agents!

Tamara said...

I think Nathan's experiment was brilliant. I'm not sure how he'll be feeling when he has to wade through the thousands of comments though. It's a mad house over there!

It was a great exercise. I loved it so much, I blogged about it myself.


JM Donahue said...

I learned that writers are harsh query critics.

Agents have a tough job, but it must be a real joy to find that one in fifty (or one thousand?) that has real potential.

Good voice really does shine through, and it can make up for an awkward query.

Things I liked or thought was clever didn't always resonate with others.

Lynne Connolly said...

Interesting that when there's a popular genre over-represented, in this case first person urban fantasy style stories, it didn't take long to get that "Oh no not another one of those" feelings. So it would be easy to overlook a good one.
I picked three or four and they were the ones where the voice in the query sounded good.
So my over-formal query letters of the past weren't too brilliant, because they would have merged into the general morass.

Superfast said...

I got really bummed out by the whole thing. I shot out 45 no's to people who really believed in their writing, people who've been working hard for thousands of hours. People who will, statistically, probably never be published. And I was one of those people; I said no to my own query. And really, in a pile of 49 others, it deserved a no.

Rick Daley said...

I had fun, and I am very proud of my form rejection.

Please don't tell my employer that I got through 40 of them before 5pm EST. Nathan, if you do this again, I'm REALLY going to have to sell my book!

I'll see you at the bar.

morphine-moniza said...

It was a very interesting insight, definietly. But the main reason I found it hard was because of all the scrolling involved which gave me a headache. I actually enjoyed reading the queries themselves. But I couldn;t finish the experiment though because I had to go off and do homeowrk, and the queries were taking too long to arrive.

Like others have mentioned, the thing I looked for was the pitch. If I were a real agent I'd probably be more interested in the writer's qualification, but as a fake agent I was merely curious about the books they were writing.

And I realised I am extremely subjective and was only attracted to very specific genres, just like when I choose books to read for fun. I could see that some queries were extremely well-written but just didnlt want to represent them because the genre doesn;t appeal to me.

Also I was quite horrified by how mean people were. Writers need to be nicer to each other. That was eye-opening in a very unpleasant way.

Ok have to go do homework now.

brimfire said...

I LOVED it! I've always thought you guys have a pretty awesome job; now I know it's true (and, yes, I understand you have tons of non-query reading things to do).

I was surprised that most of what I requested was non-fiction, which I almost never read. The ideas just hooked me (the building-a-racecar college guys and the truck driver).

Also, when I was on a fence about a query, it was nice to have sample pages to read. Oddly enough, though, every time there were sample pages on those queries, I didn't like the writing enough to request pages.

I thought the whole expirement was super-fun, though.

PurpleClover said...

I enjoyed it thoroughly but if I had to do it all day everyday, I'd go bonkers. It's exhausting.

Plus I was terrible. I think I wanted to request ten out of fifty. Yikes.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

SO enlightening. It made me cut my own query by almost 200 words. :)
Very interesting to see the various responses from the "agents".

Karen said...

I loved Nathan's challenge. I learned so much from the process. I actually did the whole thing in one day, rather than using the entire week that he gave us, and I think it helped a lot.

Just like what others have said, I understand how vital it is to have a good query. I got a lot of useful information from you and from Nathan and others about how to write a good query. But there is something about putting our own judgment to 'practical' use that made all of that advice really take shape.

But I imagine it will be a long time before Nathan attempts something like this again.

Anne-Marie said...

My head exploded midway through. My reaction is a mix of respect for the agents for slogging through it on a daily basis, and realising how really subjective the business is.


Maricar said...

It has been very informative.
1. I now have a better understanding of what agents have to go through to find the gem in the pile. And I only had 50 queries!

2. Sending off a 'no', and possibly ruining a fellow writer's day, is very hard to do. I wish I could write a nice letter with each rejection. But form letters are the only way to get through the pile quickly and efficiently.

3. The whole process is very subjective. Some really good ones just didn't appeal to me as a reader, and so I had to say no. As a writer, this tells me never to give up but just keep sending queries out there.

4. The hook is VERY important.

David said...

Here's what I learned:

1. I didn't give a crap about anything but the story and the writer's ability to effectively communicate the essence of that story in a few sentences. Awards, MFAs, friends, whatever. Nothing else mattered.

2. The jury remains out on whether I will become a successful writer, but the verdict is in on this: I would be a terrible agent.

Hats off to Janet, Nathan and all the other agents who give us a look into their world.

Hats off to the writers who give up so much to chase this elusive dream down. And then hold it underwater until it stops struggling.

Maria said...

A lot like reading resumes--scanning to find the skills you're looking for and yeah, rejecting most of them because there are just far more than anyone needs.

Of course, when reading actual resumes, it's more of a scanning and setting aside those that might have the right skills for a more detailed look later.

Once you have 5 to 10 resumes in the "detailed" pile, you stop looking at the rest of the pile or scan even faster. Then you start going through the ones saved to the side and out of those call two, maybe 3 for more information or possible interview.

I can see where a lot of agents would get to the point where they don't even read the whole pile. Find a few good ones (and there were a lot of queries that were certainly done well enough to warrant reading pages) start reading the pages and pursue those that made the cut.

Like resumes, I'm guessing there are certain topics that "grab" attention. Maybe urban fantasy is hot, maybe you need a thriller right now to fill a gap...

Carradee said...

I'm participating now (taking a break to write this comment).

I have some experience critiquing newbie writing, both my friends' and strangers (oh, did I have a reputation on!), so it's as bad as I expected.

If I were relying on form rejections, I'd whiz through there often from the first paragraph, but the tutor in me wants to give some personalized feedback. I don't like seeing things and thinking "Oh, if only someone nudges him this way!" Mainly because I've had too many experiences of nudging not happening unless/until I did it.

Still, were I an agent, I'd do form rejections. I'd probably have a few to pull from based on what was "wrong" with a query, though. (I'm working on developing those now as I go through the queries.)

Main killer so far has been a bland style. Now, those bland styles could use grammar tutoring. I expected it.

I'm intriqued to notice that they tend to say that the story "follows X as Y" happens.

J.L. Hart said...

It really shows that there is no substitute for experience. To step into that aspect of an agent's shoes for the day gives new depth and understanding to the countless explanations of what it's like on the other side.

I do wonder... if this experiment had occurred before AgentFail, would there have been as much vitriol?


Sasha said...

I read (read: skimmed) all of the queries. Requested three, but was really excited about only two.

Things that surprised me:

1. Likability: There's no accounting for taste- especially mine :P I could tell pretty quickly whether a manuscript was something I'd like- but that sometimes had absolutely nothing to do with quality. For instance, if the word "abuse" appeared anywhere in the query, I stopped reading. That didn't mean the manuscript/query was bad, just that there was no way I would ever want to read it. (Those were most of my "auto-rejects"). Agents say it's subjective, but I didn't realize before how true that was.

2. Structure: I skipped the intros- SO dull. A vibrant voice could keep me reading through the pitch, but I generally knew in a line or two whether the query was for me. I found the author bios surprisingly compelling- but that might be my own insecurity. Reading all those queries changed how I structure mine, for sure.

3. Random: It was SO difficult not to "critique" each query. Some of the mistakes were obvious to fresh eyes, and/or were so common- I kept wanting to point out (perceived, anyway) flaws like I'd become the writer's passive aggressive mother. Sometimes I was able to hold myself back, though usually not.

I still don't really understand how agents judge sale-ability. (I based my requests on how intriguing the premise was, and how good the writing seemed).

Carradee said...

(Another break from going through "Nathan's mad experiment")

It's been awhile since I hung out on giving critiques, and I'd forgotten some things.

1. I get blunter the longer I'm doing it in one sitting.

2. It gets easier to just wave it on and give a form rejection after you've spent an hour and a half going through 15 queries.

Mystery Robin said...

I did! I thought it would be more fun than it was. Everything started to get blurry by about query 10. I started feeling jaded by query 20.

Soratian said...

I loved Nathan's exercise- did all 50, and it made me realise that everything our favourite blogging agents have been telling us is TRUE :D

Some of things brought home for me are:
1. The need for a cogent pitch
(A tight, cogent, well-crafted pitch tells me this person can write. Even if it's not the most original story, I'm convinced he or she can spin it. A great idea but long-winded and poorly-written pitch tells me the ms probably needs much work, and it depends on whether the author is up to the task of extensive revision.)

2.Telling the story before telling us how it's written (Now I understand, story always comes first. We're not interested in the other things if we're not interested in the story);

3.The over-riding importance of having a strong hook (One of the top reasons for turning down a query);

4.Proper classification of the genre (so many stories that were misfits due to lack of market awareness); The usefulness of a synopsis (if I'm not convinced the set up will work, this helps so I don't have to read the whole book to find out).

5.Oh, and the beauty of form rejections :) Because sometimes it's not that you don't know what to say, but it's better that you don't say it!

It's all suddenly so clear.

Robert A Meacham said...

I enjoyed the exercise and learned some pointers on queries.

Taymalin said...

I used to read slush, so it wasn't really anything new for me. I made up my form letter, and pasted it into the comments section for anything that didn't make me curious.

I was surprised to use all five of my allotted requests. I thought I'd have at least one left over, but there was one story I just couldn't say no to, though I'm not sure how salable it would be.

It made me miss slush reading. :-(

DeadlyAccurate said...

It was fun, and the biggest thing I got out of it was how absolutely vital it is to catch the reader's attention in mere seconds. But it would drive me to drink if I had to do it daily.

Tess said...

Do it once as a fun experiment: cool.

Do it every day in addition to running a business and dealing with an actual list: um, no thanks.

eye opening to say the least.

David said...

I read through all briefly and will go back, but picked out my five provisionally--no, only four that I really liked or thought had promise.

I also liked the comments above, especially Venus Vaughn's, since I also feel compelled to offer reasons for rejection. (And, in my job as an editor for many years, I did--only that consisted of only 50 full manuscripts a YEAR!)

My only recommendation for this enlightening contest, if done again, is that the only thing that really matters is the small corpus of queries that we Agents for a Day really like. I found the rejections basically interesting only when they departed from the norm. Because--once you apply a necessarily short and decent rejection letter, or two or three variations, they don't matter much except for the stats Nathan wants to compile.

It would be much more worthwhile for me to see why we Agents for a Day LIKED a particular query. I'd suggest that for a follow-up.

And, hey, why am I writing this on YOUR blog, and not Nathan's? (uh, maybe 'cause I want a shot of bourbon, too?)

Jenn Johansson said...

I knew agents worked hard, but it can be extremely disheartening looking at that many queries to read... and you guys do many more on a regular basis. I owe you a bottle of vodka(substitute liquor of choice here) and a bottle of bourbon respectively.

Lynne Connolly said...

So after all that, why do you do it? What draws someone to becoming an agent, instead of writing their own masterpiece? What's the hook for you?

Cat said...

I only managed 35 and I don't think I'll continue. It takes too much time that I can spent on other things more important to me (like writing and my kids) and it is too hard to say "No" to the majority.

Steve Ulfelder said...

It was a great mile-in-my-moccasins exercise. Felt like a marathon to me, and I got through only 15 or so before my eyes crossed. I have no idea how y'all do this every day while also performing your other duties, such as drinking heavily and dope-slapping whiny clients.

The queries that frustrated me featured grabby ideas and *almost* good writing - I knew the idea could be developed, but realized that if this ultra-polished 250-word letter was the best the querier could do, the ms would be a wreck.

Also, God bless Mr. Snark for the levity!

Joyce said...

I read all the queries but didn't comment on any. I definitely agree that the pitch is the all-important part of a query. Everything else is secondary.

The other thing I learned is that when agents say, "not for me," they most likely mean exactly that.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

What I enjoyed the most were the comments...the way Agents for a Day delivered their pretend rejections. It fascinated me how many ways people can say No Thank You. I have my share of rejections, and prefer something straight to the point, short, direct and painless - not something that cushions the blow by telling me to "query widely" or "keep on truckin'". I love a personal rejection, but most of these were faux personal (eh hem, form). I know the AFAD were trying to be nice, but for me, reading them over and over again (as I read the comments more than the queries) they seemed silly.

I have a new appreciation for the form rejection.

Michelle H. said...

I read through several although I knew I would not have the time to participate. The dedication it takes just to go through 50 must be daunting. To imagine you can have over 100 a day is mind-boggling.

As a writer, all I can do is smile for any type of response I get for my query and nod my head in understanding over the agents who don't give a response.

Joy said...

I think if more writers tried to do this, there would be a smaller slush pile to go through. Plus, I think there would be less for agents to vent about on their blogs :) Enlightening and educational.

bookshop said...

I absolutely LOVED it. I wish I could do it every day. :D Maybe my calling in life is to be an agent assistant, who knew!

I commented on the finish line post about the considerations that made this experience different from what I think the "normal" agenting day would be like, mainly the fact that this was also a contest. So there was pressure on to pick actual successfully marketed queries.

And, you know, I honestly thought the real queries would just sort of stand out from the crowd like glowing stars, but they really didn't. So I was left using all these weird imaginary criteria to try to pick from my favorites of the bunch, haha.

I tried to leave meaningful feedback for everyone, but by the last 8 queries I was just exhausted and everyone got my auto-responses with nothing else. Feedbacking made the work of responding harder, and I think if I had been doing this as an actual agent I would have felt quite guiltless about just sending auto responses. Then I could take time to respond encouragingly only to the ones I really loved or saw potential in.

I think also if I were an actual agent, I would have pulled my top queries from the bunch, then gone back later to reread them. Then I could request fulls/partials of my favorites and winnow the rest out with encouraging notes. Of course, there's so much query traffic coming in on a regular day that it might not be possible to do that, but in an ideal world I'd like to think that it's possible!

But here's the thing I didn't expect to learn - that *instinctive love* does not automatically equal "successful query."

Of the entire batch, there were only one query that I absolutely *loved,* that made me sit up and go, yes, *this*.

And I wound up rejecting it.

Because the more I considered it, the more underlying problems I could see with the premise of the story and the writing in the query itself. I *liked* all of the stories I requested, but the voice, polish, and marketability of their queries was what sold the deal for me.

I was honestly stunned to realize that I couldn't in good faith request the one query that I felt the most strongly about, and that really brought it home to me that there's so much more to what an agent does than falling in love with a story and plucking it from obscurity into the shining world of book lovers.

So, yeah, lots of work, lots of fun, PLEASE LET'S DO IT AGAIN SOON.

Also, Janet? Coincidentally, two of the queries were previously featured on query shark. They turned out quite presentable. Good job! ;)

fatcaster said...

I participated by sending a query
(#20), appreciate the feedback and made some of the suggested revisions to my letter. So the experiment/contest/game worked for me and I think Nathan got his point across. 8,800 unique visitors + 27,000 page loads yesterday alone. Ergo, a good thing.

jimnduncan said...

For better or worse, I get to take credit for giving Nathan this idea to run with. Hopefully, it didn't inspire too much alcohol consumption. I came up with it after all of this agentfail crap hit the blogosphere, and I saw just how little folks understood just how crazy an agent's job is, and how difficult wading through slush has to be. I wanted people to see that getting form rejections or having agents say, "if I don't respond then it means no," is a perfectly reasonable thing for them to do, because dealing with queries and all of the angst writers bring to the table is really trying and demanding work.

I must say I was pleased with the results. Nathan rocked putting all of this together and taking all of the extra time needed to put this one. Big kudos to you, Nathan. Your lack of sanity when it comes to blog contests is truly appreciated.

Ulysses said...

A simple idea that did more to show unpublished writers why landing an agent seems so difficult than any other fifty-three blog posts could have.

EMC07 said...

Agent-for-a-day was fun, but nothing I would like to do on a regular basis. Kudos to you, Nathan and all the other agents. You're all awesome, and I have no idea how you have any free time, doing this every day...

I'll echo most of the comments on here about subjectivity and the hook being REALLY important.

My eyes were glazing over at about the 15th one. I trudged through them, but I don't think I got to all 50. I put a comment with every one I critiqued. I just couldn't bring myself to write a from rejection, nothing wrong with that, just couldn't do it.

I found also, the writer needs to catch me right away, doesn't matter if it is good, if I don't like the hook, I'm not reading on.

Nice experiment. Interesting results.

Liesl Shurtliff said...

I read 10 queries and said "Blech. I don't ever want to be a literary agent." All my sympathies.

Melanie Avila said...

I read through all the queries. I had a raging headache afterwards and I now understand the need for a form letter. I also understand how agents say they can spot a winner before they even finish the query, and on the flip side, how they know before finishing if it's a dud.

I'm really grateful he did this and I hope it helped others as much as it helped me.

fatcaster said...

Jim --

You're right, the contest was your idea and you deserve a round of applause. Clearly, a lot of people are paying attention. Thank you.

(Signed), #20

Thomas said...

I will add to the above that I was surprised by how few of the queries were for books I would have had any interest in buying off the shelves. So many of the queries, no matter how well-written they may have been, were for lackluster stories with a minimal hook. I doubt many writers have a clear understanding of what the public buys at the bookstore (at least in numbers large enough to justify publishing the book).

On the other hand, there were a handful of queries that were clearly for commercial fiction aimed at the market picking up a book to read for a flight, yet they all sounded stale to me, victims of "been there, done that already."

I only saw two queries that were relatively fresh, one non-fiction and the other a mystery.

Mechelle Avey said...

It was fun. I agree with the poster who mentioned how boring the rejections got after awhile. Still, looking forward to the next one.

RB Ripley said...

It's always a treat to go through an experience that reminds you what already know but perhaps occasional let slip off the radar:

1. My respect for what agents do.
2. It's completely subjective.
3. I love this business.

The reminders that came out of Agent for a Day are the one's you hammer home here on your site, too:

1. Use paragraph 1 wisely.
2. Be clear and concise.
3. It's subjective: Query widely.

Horserider said...

I read them all :) It took me a couple days because of other responsibilities. I actually had fun, but I can see how it would be wearing after the first few hundred. Especially if you see the same mistakes over and over again.

It almost made me want to consider becoming an agent. Almost. :)

I have a whole new appreciation for agents. You guys must have really good patience and self-discipline to read a couple hundred of those in a single day!

Jael said...

I freaking loved it. With many writers it's very, very hard to understand what it's like to be on the other end of things. The interwebs are chock-full of sad writers wailing WHY do we have to write query letters, WHY can't an agent just take a chance on me, WHY didn't I at least get a lovely long rejection detailing all my mistakes so I won't make them next time, WHY don't they understand how hard I worked, WHY WHY WHY.

Now I can just send them the link.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

QueryFail, what ever its intention, was nasty. It was an exercise in abuse. If you think otherwise, gauge it from the heated writer reaction on the AgentFail thread.

Nathan's experiment was a true learning experience.

I can't write a query letter to save my life. Fortunately I found a publisher who could see beyond my sorry query and actually read pages.

I am pitiful as a query writer. I'm an excellent writer otherwise, even if I'm saying it myself. (Hey, I'm willing to put it to the test: Free chapters of Pixie Warrior are on several bookseller sites and a short story is here: I won’t post my sorry query letter. It’s too icky.

Thanks, Nathan.

My one reservation is this: I hate taking private letters (and that's what these are, even if no names are attached to them) and making them public. I hope no one was hurt. I would have been. On that basis, I did not participate.

Vicky said...

I read all 50 in one day & thought I couldn't hack doing this for a living. Mind you, I get 100 emails a day at my marketing job, so that ought to speak loud & clear. Also, since I only requested 3 partials and 1 complete, I guess that makes me Hatchet Agent for a day. In a real-life situation, I'm not sure I would have requested those partials as I had doubts about them. But honestly, what really annoyed me were all the queries that showed the authors had not done their homework. There is no excuse for substandard queries with so much info available on how to write one.

Alicia Walker said...

I seriously debated about joining the experiment. I read the queries, the responses, hovered my finger over the comment button. But, ultimately I didn't want to spend any more time with it.

I got want I needed:

*A sense what others are writing about.
*What not to say in a query.
*Ideas about what to say in a query.
*That everyone (even super author out there) makes typos and grammar mistakes. That's why there are editors.
*That it's hard enough to be a writer. I don't want to be an agent too.
*Agents are just doing their job. They're not out to destroy our souls. That just comes with the territory (jk--a little).

And the best thing...

My own query ROCKS!!!
So thanks for the confidence booster.

Julie Weathers said...

I commented about this last night, but Blogger was down for maintenance so I lost a lovely, well-thought out post.

This one won't be so lovely.

I posted a more complete response at

However, here are some thoughts. Keep in mind I stayed up until just a few hours ago reading Beth Shope's manuscript and I haven't had any coffee yet.

I think it was a fascinating experiment and anyone who plans on querying an agent should do it. Going through fifty queries like that, especially in one setting as an agent might do, makes you quickly pick up on some things. This is a better how to on query letter writing than any advice. You can hear, "Get to the story quickly and hook my attention," every day, but it doesn't really sink in until after you read several queries and you realize how important this is. My eyes started glazing on queries that rambled and were ill-organized. I kept skimming to get to the plot. Can you imagine how much more important this is to agents who are doing this every day?

Don't tell me what your book is about, show me. Bring me into your world and make me care.

Two women walk into a room. One is wearing a sandwich board announcing she is really sexy and her name is Cha Cha Vavoom. The other puts on some slow music and begins to sway rhythmically, her eyes closed, lips slightly parted with the merest hint of a smile. She turns slowly, her hips rolling in an undulating figure-eight. Her arms raise, stretching her back and those tiny dimples below the small of her back rock back and forth like a gently rolling ocean.

Which one is more interesting?

Writing is like a well done belly dance. Tantalize the reader and leave them wanting more.

Writer bios did make a difference to me. If I was on the fence and they had a proven track record in that field it sometimes pushed me over the line.

Some subjects were just ick to me and I didn't want to read them. I

marilynpeake said...

I've tried several times to cut-and-paste a long comment that I posted on Nathan's Blog about what a fantastic experience it was participating in his Be an Agent for a Day contest, but somehow it keeps disappearing into cyberspace every time I try to log in here. I'll try typing a new comment instead. During Be an Agent for a Day, I learned the necessity of sending form rejections after deciding that I would answer all fifty queries in one day. And, after sending rejection letters to some amazingly talented writers, I learned that a rejection letter does not in any way mean that the writing sucked.

marilynpeake said...

I managed to post a shorter comment here, so I'm going to try to cut-and-paste the longer comment I posted over on Nathan's Blog:

I decided to evaluate all 50 queries in one day, so that I could return to writing my novel the next day, and also because that would be closest to an agent’s real time frame. Within minutes of beginning to look at queries, I suddenly realized that I was going to have to send out form letters in order to make my deadline. Hesitant to use only one form letter, I wrote up five different types of form letters to fit different situations. I also cut-and-pasted the author’s individual book title into each letter, taking the time to retype it in all caps if the author hadn’t done that. About seven hours into the contest, I found myself thinking, Make it stop! Make it stop! I started making mistakes. I found myself going in the wrong direction on the Blog (down instead of up) to find the next query and had to waste time scrolling in the opposite direction, I forgot to record some of my decisions on a list I was keeping and had to go back to the Blog to record the type of query letter I had posted, and I started misspelling my own name when I entered it into the Blog. I managed to finish evaluating all 50 queries, making my final decisions and posting responses to all of the queries by 5:30 A.M. the following morning. Granted, I didn’t start until 3:30 P.M. the previous day, I took an hour off for dinner and two hours off to watch Battlestar Gallactica, and I spent a fair amount of time updating a detailed list of my query choices – but an agent has lots of other things to do as well, and it still took me eleven hours of solid work. I realized that, if I were a real agent, I would have to use form letters for most rejections, automate my reply system, and personalize my responses only for projects I thought had amazing potential but weren’t quite right for me.

This contest has had an amazing effect on me as a writer. I feel so much freer. After sending rejection letters to so many people with amazing talent, I feel that receiving rejection letters in the future will have much less power over me. Although they’ll always make me feel sad and frustrated, I’ll probably stop reading between the lines for messages like You suck! Stop writing! I think I wrote some of my best work the day after this contest because of the freedom I felt. I also suddenly see the entire publishing field in a new light. Although literary agents can’t critique every manuscript they read, an author can approach editors for a critique. And, for good books that aren’t mainstream, there are many reputable small publishers who will publish them. It’s nearly impossible to make money as a small press author, but it’s a way to get book reviews, enter contests, and be a part of the writing community. It is what it is.

Wendy said...

1) I was surprised about the "rejection" issue. First I was surprised, as many people were, how many of the "agents" were really cruel and obnoxious. Second, if you do rejection in an appropriate business-like manner it shouldn't be painful. Yes, it's a bummer to be rejected, but as we've all seen... not EVERYONE can be given a green light. Rejection doesn't mean "you suck", it just means "I'm not interested in your writing project right now."

2) I can see how an agent would feel too overwhelmed to respond to each and every query. I do like the idea of some form of acknowledgment so that the writer at least knows that the query arrived like a "we got it and if you don't hear from us in X# of weeks assume we're not interested."

3) I was surprised how difficult it was to find the gems. There were quite a few I thought were possibilities that I was curious about but felt like I didn't have enough information to decide one way or another. There was one that I LOVED the writing in the query, but the story was strange and disturbing, so I didn't put it in the short list. I also noticed that sometimes the query sounded good but the sample pages didn't (or vice versa). It was really bewildering.

All that being said, I don't think I would like being an agent, but I think I *would* like reading slush if I could get better at picking out the good ones. But maybe you either have it or you just don't.


Agent Y said...

I don't read YA or fantasy, so I lost interest pretty fast. The first sign of a magic kingdom, a magic cat, or a fairy (what the hell is a "fae" anyway?), and I run screaming from the screen. I was surprised at how many disclosed that it was their 1st novel.

I'm taking "literary agent" off my list of second career choices.

Lynne Connolly said...

"I don't read YA or fantasy, so I lost interest pretty fast. The first sign of a magic kingdom, a magic cat, or a fairy (what the hell is a "fae" anyway?), and I run screaming from the screen."

Oh amen, baby. Fae? Not for me, I stopped reading blurbs at that word.