Saturday, July 18, 2009

a more informative query tally

Last night I posted a tally of results from general over-the-transom queries. Most of you aren't going to make the mistakes that got those contenders knocked out in what is essentially Round One.

There's a category I didn't mention last night because no one qualified for it. It's the "open queries" category. That's where I put the queries that pass muster in round one but haven't the time (or mindset!) to read just then.

I had 47 of those pending tonight. I started at 10:32 pm (see a pattern emerging here?)

I finished (but did not empty the file) at 12:47pm. I can only read for a couple hours before EVERYTHING looks like schlock and I want to reject everything for the most trivial of reasons. That's a sign to put down the mouse, and pick up the shot glass.

Here are the results:

Not right for me, but good, and probably right for another agent: 1
(rejected with referral)

Derivative premise: 1
(rejected with form letter)

Good concept; execution needs more help than I want to offer: 1
(rejected with personal note)

Novel fits best into a category I don't fare well with: 3
(rejections with explanation that it truly is me, not the book)

Not right for me: nothing compelling in early pages: 3
(not quite form rejection)

Now here's the good news:

Fulls requested: 3
One is marginal-the premise is good, the writing seems ok, and there weren't enough pages in the query to really know for sure if it will work, so I erred on the side of requesting instead of rejecting;

One seems like the start of a good commercial thriller;

and, one is so beautiful and so elegant that I'm almost afraid to read it because if it splats on page 50 it's going to break my heart.

Start to finish: 12 queries in about two hours (there were some brief interruptions during that time frame)

You can see from this that ANY kind of personal reply is a huge time debit. The other part of the process that adds a significant number of minutes is cutting and pasting the pages into Word so I can double space them, reformat them into TNR 12 and actually read them.

Single spaced text with no breaks between paragraphs is absolutely un-readable on a screen. There are nights when I see these in initial queries and I just don't have it in me to say anything other than no. There's a reason I yap a lot and loudly about formatting; that's one of them.

My reward for working hard? I get to settle in for a nice couple hours and read one of my client's manuscripts. Yes I have to think about editing notes on it, but it really will be a nice way to close the day.


H.C. Zuerner said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to post your tallies.

I recently saw The Proposal and thought of you. I promise I was not comparing you to the ultra bitchy, super scary Sandra Bullock character.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

Honestly, I think you do way more than most agents do when giving queries consideration.

Plenty of wiggle space for writers who've done their homework, and no excuses for the ones who haven't.

Complainers be damned.

Joyce Lansky said...

This was interesting. Thanks for the behind the scenes look. How much do you usually read before you decide a story's not for you? I love the cartoon about the editor that rejects manuscripts that start with "The."

Janet Reid said...

the obvious, but not helpful, answer is: I read until I know it's not right for me. Sometimes that takes one sentence (yes, sad but true)

Sometimes it takes the entire novel (rare)

Mostly though, it's about a page.

Aimee K. Maher said...

What the heck am I doing up this late?? I'm outa here!

(Nice tally)

Kourtnie McKenzie said...

Thank you so much for letting us know about this! Both informative and hopeful. I laughed when I read, "That's a sign to put down the mouse, and pick up the shot glass." It baffles me when authors can send nasty responses to agents that put so much time and effort into the endless pile of queries.

literaticat said...

You are so much kinder and more patient than I.

Anonymous said...

Janet - terrific post.

I just wanted to tell you that statements like...

"one is so beautiful and so elegant that I'm almost afraid to read it because if it splats on page 50 it's going to break my heart."

...make me all verklempt because of course I hope to someday be that manuscript, but also because it shows us all how much you care. Most importantly, though, I love it because it shows how much hope you have for manuscripts like this one...and that makes you just like us.


fred limberg said...

So that's 5 fulls requested in two nights. You realize of course that might qualfy you for sainthood among the vast unpubbed masses!

DebraLSchubert said...

Janet, Two hours to read through 12 queries? Wow. I don't know how you do it. Thanks for explaining "open queries" btw. It's nice you were able to treat yourself to starting your client's ms, but I hope you squeezed in a good night's sleep!

laughingwolf said...

good stuff, hope you get SOME sleep tween read/reply/read times?

Jessica said...

Thanks for sharing your tallies!

I'm curious now, though. With two fulls requested the other day and three more requested last night, about how many requested manuscripts do you tend to have piled up at any given time?

Angie Ledbetter said...

Do agents purchase eyeball insurance?

Hope you take off some weekend Me time.

Deb Salisbury said...

Thank you for this very helpful post. Now I understand why agents need 30+ days to respond - you have an appalling amount of work. Thank you for taking each query seriously!

Mira said...

Janet - you're wonderful. And, I hope, sleeping. I appreciate all the personalizing that you're doing. I didn't realize that.

But now, I'm worried about the other side. Agents shouldn't kill themselves with work. Is there a way to create form letters that are fast but give reasons for give reasons for rejections? That might be cool.

But please, take care of yourself. Go back to bed!

jessjordan said...

Best of luck with the beautiful, elegant one!

Josin L. McQuein said...

I have to say your method of replying is one of the best. Quick rejections if it's nor right, and just as quick "maybe" if you need more time. (I've gotten both.) As someone currently riding the query-go-round, it's great to have that confirmation that the email isn't lodged in a clogged spam filter somewhere.

And for those couple of weeks when you're reading through the "maybes" I had that moment of hope that I'd get a request. Even when I didn't, it was still nice to get an actual letter saying so rather than the usual "no response = no".

Of course it's horrible to get turned down, but at least it's a definite answer and doesn't leave me wondering if I need to resubmit after a few weeks just in case the first one didn't go through. When that happens, there's always an even chance that it went through the first time and the 2nd query is just going to annoy the agent.

Ricky Bush said...

Whew! What a day in the life. Did start wading through the 416 other e-mails at 12:48 a.m.? Anyway--

Jordan (MamaBlogga) said...

Question: so if we're querying you or another agent who requests pages pasted into an email, should we reformat into block paragraphs?

Anthony said...

"The other part of the process that adds a significant number of minutes is cutting and pasting the pages into Word so I can double space them, reformat them into TNR 12 and actually read them."

There are technological solutions to this time-suck that would cut the time of your manual action to the length of time it would take to select the text you want to transform and press three keys.

I've helped someone do this over the phone in 1998. There are several other solutions based on modern software, which would require no interaction: the script would just go into your mailbox and extract the text based on the message flag.

Of course, a tech solution will require upfront investment such as time to describe your requirements. Cost is minimal. Implementation knowledge is just a geek away.

(Aside note: I just created this macro in two minutes. The rule of thumb is, anything you do over-and-over again, we can automate).

Rick Daley said...

Thanks for the info. May your shot glass always be replenished, you earn it.

Marie Devers said...


I am enjoying your query totals, your thoughts of Catholicism, and your Bukowski quotes. Seriously, you've been all over the topic map lately. I love it.

I wonder if we could get a partial/full tally in the future. For instance, in a month, how many partials and fulls do you read? Why do you turn them down?