Friday, July 17, 2009

Query tally

A while back, somewhere in the comment trail, someone asked how many queries were essentially DOA.

I figured I'd tally my queries one of these nights and see what the number was; tonight I did:

I started at 10:52pm with 52 queries.
I had 32 left at 11:19
I was finished responding at 11:48.

So, roughly an hour to read 52 queries. Truthfully, that's a bit slow, in part because I was thinking of why I was saying no, and partly because I had to write up the tally sheet and record the decisions. I think I'd normally have finished in about half the time.

Herewith the results:

Here's the category you'll never be in since you read this blog:

Not from author/deleted with no response: 2

Here are the reasons for the other rejections:

Bad, bad writing: 2
Interesting idea, tepid opening, tepid writing: 1
can't sell this kind of book to save my sorry ass: 1 (non form rejection)

pages sent as attachment, not enough in query to interest me to have writer resend: 1
writers with VERY odd ideas of what makes a good kid's book: 1

authors trying so hard to be clever they are incomprehensible: 2
too busy describing the novel to tell me about the story: 2

great concept, wanted to love it, writing didn't hold up: 3
misused words: 3

not enough about the book in the query to interest me; first page not compelling: 4
unbelievable premise: 4

what the hell is this author thinking: 5
a complete and utter cluelessness about category s/he proposes to write in: 5

I have no interest in reading a book like this whatsoever: 6

And the most common reason I said no:

Boring, derivative idea: 9

The good news is:

fulls requested: 2


Anthony said...

Interesting! I always find these posts fascinating.

I have a lot of sympathy for agents. It seems to me there is a love-hate relationship with queries and that would drive me batty.

On one hand, look at the gems you occasionally find.

On the other hand... ick. Just, ick.

Andrew said...

YAY!...that was me!...actually it probably wasn't - I might have been the straw that broke the Camel's back though...hehe

That's uber info....I think agents should be legal bound to produce this as a report everyday. Or at least have a 'free' intern to catalogue this data instead to free up time. Judging by the numbers 22/52, that's 42%, do something dumb (and that's not including unbelievable premise). I remember Rachel Vatar used to list a load of samples before her workload bit back. Really interesting to see what's being touted about and why it's being pinged back. *sigh* shame the space time continuum can't be manipulated in such away to give agents the time to keep stats of all this.

Still...on the plus side if you don't do anything really, really stupid you've instantly double your chances!!

RKCharron said...

Hi :)
I found your post via @BubbleCow on Twitter (Gary Smailes).
It is like panning for gold isn't it?
50 pebbles, 2 nuggets.
Thank you very much for sharing.
This was very interesting.

Mary Brebner said...

Really appreciate you taking the time to write why queries are rejected--gives me an idea of what NOT to do.

And, just like Anthony said, always fascinating, like a window into your agenting world. Sounds like being an agent is a combination of fun and frustration.

Good luck with those two fulls!

Jannette Johnson said...

It looks as though the overall reason you rejected these queries, was based more on the mechanical aspect of writing, than you not being interested in the story itself.

Maybe if these hopefuls had slowed down, taken the time to learn the correct way of doing things, the odds could have been better?

I've noticed (from participating is several social sites) too many people thinking they can sit down, write out a story and assume it will be published.

Ben said...

I was surprised to see there wasn't a "I'll keep this for now and think about it for a bit" or "On the fence." Or is that uncommon?

Jason Crawford said...

Yeah, believe it or not (being the optimist I am), I actually see that as encouraging.

I'd be much more disheartened if there had been a lot of queries plopped in a category, something like; good in every way, but don't think I can sell in this market

keli scrapchansky said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this. There is hope!

Liana Brooks said...

One of these days I really do want to sit down with the slush pile and see what agents get. I know the authors would be horrified if the slush went live, but there's this morbid curiosity to see all the weird queries.

Marie Devers said...

Like Anthony, I also find posts like this fascinating, and you'll never believe it, but motivating.

These are valid reasons for passing, and things I am trying not to do. Hearing that this is what is in the slush makes me feel like getting an agent isn't impossible; it just requires more work than most people are willing to do.

Laurel said...

This is interesting. Thanks for taking the time!

Anonymous said...

Your blog always leaves me with the impression that you're truly NewYorkish. Those of us who live in small towns out West are always shocked by city folks' seemingly caustic sarcasm. However the odds quoted here make me feel less squashed under your NewYorkliness.

Perhaps I shall query again with high hopes.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I love reading these! Interesting to see the stats. And also great that there are a few hidden gems.

I really admire what agents have to do every day, especially with the queries.

Elisa said...

I find these kinds posts helpful and insightful. It reinforces the craft of the query letter (not to mention emphasizing the importance of the *story* about which one is querying, as well as quality of the writing), and raises the bar for writers everywhere, myself included.

Thanks so much!

Rebecca Knight said...

This was really fascinating to see how an average night for queries breaks down. Thank you for the insight! :)

Carlene Rae Dater said...

Thanks, Janet, this post was really interesting! I'm going to share it with my students in my writing workshop.


BJ said...

Hmm. Looks like these problems could be fixed with:

1. honing craft
2. following guidelines
3. research (markets, categories, query-writing)

Even the idea problems could be fixed with some research into what is out there and what will sell.

Just my opinions, of course.

Eric said...

Thanks for this Janet. I'm sure it was more work tallying everything up, but it's an interesting view into how you categorize things, how many you accept, and how long it takes you to go through queries. I don't envy your job one bit, so I'll stick to banging out some decent writing.

David R. Slayton said...

I agree with everyone saying how useful this is. It might cause more trouble than it would be worth, but I think it would be great if the agents could respond with a standardized number on an agreed upon key to let writers know which one it was. Probably a bit brutal, but it would be great to know what caused the rejections in a manner that would cost the agents minimal time (just putting a number on the rejection letter).

Cat Moleski said...

Boring and derivative, boy are those two scary words to an author. It takes so much time and effort to write a draft (let alone polish) that the story line had better be worth it. Last year I spent months writing the first five chapters of a book, then sat down and played with the plot, only to discover that no matter what I did, it all seemed done before. So I abandoned that project and went back to polishing two books that I had completed. However, with that in mind, next time I start a book, I will definitely spend more time on the over-all story to be sure I’m not derivative and boring.

Vacuum Queen said...

VERY cool. I'd actually like the query reading job.

David Edgerley Gates said...

Speaking of the slush pile: I was asked by an editor at [unnamed] to be a judge this year in a mystery competition. I was able to recommend one of the four titles I was sent, and one out of four ain't bad. What was wrong with the other three? Derivative, or overcrowded with totally needless back story, or, sorry to say, just plain crap.