letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week : 105
# of partials requested : 2
genres of partials requested : romance (2)

I didn’t get any people who queried me because of my physical appearance (see Nathan’s stats. But I did have someone mention that they admired my musical taste, apparently the day I listed a Sarah Slean song from my playlist as “current music.”

***

Dear Authors that I am Seeking to Represent:

Around the internets, I’ve seen comments mentioning that agents discussing the number of queries they receive is somehow unprofessional, particularly when said agent seems to be in a somewhat disheartened mood concerning same. After all, don’t agents request to be approached via queries? Well, yes. But, it can be a bit daunting at times. It’s no reflection on the individual writers. But, now that many of them come by email, it can seem an overwhelming task as you read 10 but in the course of queuing up replies several more arrive. I don’t even put it on my task list anymore because I know I will never cross it off. Does that mean I don’t want queries? Heck, no. I’m actively seeking new projects. But can it mean that once in a while I wish my desk was clear for just a few minutes? Well, yeah. Have to admit it.

The other thing that can get you down is the percentage of queries that are from people who have clearly made no effort to ascertain whether the agent is appropriate for their work. Are they just lazy? Perhaps. I find this particularly perplexing when the person is emailing me at maassagency.com but obviously hasn’t bothered to go to the website they are using right in the email address. I’d rather get queries that are tailored to me and my interests and I think I do my best to make those available. I have an entry on agentquery.com. My bio is on our agency website. I have maintained this blog for years and talk about what I represent. And, yet, there are a large number of queries per week that are for types of books I clearly do not handle (non-fiction of the self-help variety, children’s picture book, poetry — among others, just this week). So, that can get you a little down, no matter how excited you know you will be when you find the next book for you.

Still, even if our current system may be an imperfect one, it evolved to attempt to save everyone time, money, and effort in making a match, so authors must continue to query, and agents must continue to read queries. In a world where everyone got what they wanted, each query an agent received would be exactly what they were looking for and all queries sent out would result in multiple offers of representation for authors. And if wishes were horses….

Signed,
An Agent In Search of their Next Client

23 responses to “letters from the query wars

  1. About two minutes after I posted this, I got a query sent to my maassagency.com address pitching a screenplay.
    While I do handle movie/tv rights on the novels I represent, I do not directly handle screenplay writers.

  2. What would you say is the percentage of inappropriate queries you receive, overall? I’m just curious.

    • I’ve only been agenting for about two months now, but from what I’ve seen coming through my inbox via email, I’d guesstimate about 40% of the queries I see are for things neither I nor any of my colleagues at the agency handle. The vast majority of he offenders are screenplays and children’s books (those for kids below middle grade).

    • I’m not sure I’d place the percentage quite as high as but probably at least 25-30% of my queries fall into categories that are completely inappropriate for my list (mostly these are certain types of nonfiction, poetry, picture-books, screenplays). But, to be considered polite, I still have to take the time to send replies (I usually include a link to our submission guidelines). Otherwise, I’m the unprofessional one.

      • I’d also say 25-30%, although sometimes higher (like on Tuesday). These include way-off categories, people who didn’t put time into their letter, and/or queries that don’t quite make a lot of sense.
        And I think your letter is great! Agents get daunted too sometimes.

        • …receiving queries because of your physical appearance. I mean, heh, that’s gotta be somewhat of an ego-booster even on a daunting and frustrating day.
          …it wasn’t from one of the “Life in Prison” survival guide queries was it?!

      • 25-30%. I knew agents got ‘a lot’ of those, but I hadn’t considered an actual number. One out of every four queries, at least, isn’t remotely appropriate for your lists. I’m utterly shocked by that, and even more impressed now with how rarely agents DO vent about what they receive.
        You guys must be saints. Or heavily into the illicit substances. (Don’t be so narrow-minded, Heather, it could easily be AND not OR. 🙂
        Seriously, that’s a stunning statistic. I can’t imagine plowing through thousands of queries knowing how few will be worth the effort.
        Heather

  3. Around the internets, I’ve seen comments mentioning that agents discussing the number of queries they receive is somehow unprofessional, particularly when said agent seems to be in a somewhat disheartened mood concerning same.
    Right. Well I think pre-published authors who post query stats are unprofessional, particularly when said author seems to be in a somehwat disheartened mood concerning the same.
    …and blogging?! Who authorized blogging for published authors, agents and editors today?
    What is this world coming to?!
    I like the numbers. I’m a stat-loving-monkey at heart…and when I see that you receive a significant number of innapropriate market queries it gives me hope: if I follow the basic guidelines and don’t try to be cute… the query will at least be read.
    Agents. Actively seeking new clients. Just follow the basics. Oh, and write good fiction.
    Simple stuff.

  4. After all, don’t agents request to be approached via queries? Well, yes. But, it can be a bit daunting at times. It’s no reflection on the individual writers. But, now that many of them come by email, it can seem an overwhelming task as you read 10 but in the course of queuing up replies several more arrive. I don’t even put it on my task list anymore because I know I will never cross it off. Does that mean I don’t want queries? Heck, no. I’m actively seeking new projects. But can it mean that once in a while I wish my desk was clear for just a few minutes? Well, yeah. Have to admit it.

    I feel he exact same way about grading. Yes, I assign work knowing that it has to be graded. Yes, I love teaching and grading is an integral part of teaching. But sheesh, no sooner do I get one thing graded than there’s at least one other thing to grade… And if I don’t grade something as promptly as a student wants, I hear about it in almost the ame terms as agents hear from authors.:-)

  5. I love your stats, and am so glad you post them.
    While some people may think they’re “unprofessional”, I think quite the opposite. Instead of being some nebulous, mysterious entity with a power that I, in my ignorance, may lead me to toy with and thus fall to failure, you let us know the way things stand.
    You provide us with legitimate info I can use in my research to pitch properly.
    Sure, the info on the agency web page will tell me basic stuff, but your blog gives me the odds. I know what I’m up against and therefore have few illusions.

  6. I’m just surprised the percentage of “wtf?!” submissions is not higher.
    I’m just a writer, not an agent, but I get a lot of email from aspiring writers. It would appear that quite a few of them assume that various rules and restrictions don’t apply to them, which is, imo, a bad way to start out. I just put together my first editorial project–an anthology of Lilith tales–and some of the submissions had nothing to do with the topic or completely ignored the guidelines. More than a few people included cover letters admitting they KNEW they weren’t following guidelines, but they figured a) their story was good enough to transcend any such considerations or b) they figured they (or I) could fix it after it was accepted.

    • If we include people who don’t follow guidelines or state that they are flouting the guidelines (which somehow should not apply to them), then, yes, the percentage then rises probably to more like 50%.
      For the 25-30%, I was only talking about types of books that aren’t what our agency represents. And I only think it’s lower these days than it used to be because we’ve all been out campaigning to make our interests known at conferences and on the web.

  7. The stats are far from discouraging, and really are professional in nature – as they do remind me that this is not a game, but a business, and a seriously competitive one at that.
    Thank you so much for all that you do, Ms. Jackson. It is very much appreciated.

  8. I’ve seen such comments, too–most recently on Nathan Bransford’s blog. It seems a bit hypocritical to me. Writers love to write, but do we sometimes complain about how much work it is? You bet we do! So why aren’t agents allowed to complain as well?

  9. Okay, now I have to comment…Vienna Teng has a new album out??? I don’t recognize the tune…but I *love* her. Must go hunt down news of latest release….
    Kristin G.

  10. bad queries
    Hey, as an aspiring novelist and irrepressible query writer, I am always kind of happy to see the statistics about “bad” queries…
    I figure that means that my query that actually follows the rules looks that much better in comparison. (Besides, that makes my days of juggling 50 artists in a cooperative look like a piece of cake.) Keep ’em coming!

  11. Curious, but how do you handle queries that are obviously wrong for you? Do you send a “not for me” reply, or do you just quickly close it and move on to the next query the second you see “Non-fiction” “Poetry Collection” or “Children’s book”?

    • If it’s an electronic query, then I send a reply indicating that I don’t handle that kind of material, along with a link to our submission guidelines in case they want to check them out. If it’s a snailmail query, they get a reply in their SASE if they included one.
      I try to reply to everything, though occasionally I get bounced by a spam-filter.

  12. I love that letter. I still cannot believe that people still send out inappropriate queries to agents that don’t represent what they write.
    ~Tyhitia
    http://obfuscationofreality.blogspot.com/

  13. When the mail comes…
    After giving up my passion of writing for fifteen years, I returned to it and in the last four years, I’ve written 23 books, and rewritten them all many times over. I have 51 readers (and a waiting list for books more than double that), and yet, I can’t get an agent or publisher to give me the time of day. My readers say that my books are addicting and keep them up all hours reading – so I sink every cent I have into getting the ‘best’ one professionally edited and still, most submissions come back unopened and some never even respond to me at all. I used to run to the mailbox looking for a ray of hope, but every time, I’m severely disappointed. So disappointed, in fact, I’ve tried to ‘give it up’, but I can’t. So I keep trying and I keep getting rejected, and my list of books and readers continue to grow. I’m so tempted to address my return envelope to “Looser….and then my address…”, thus saving the agent or publisher the trouble of even slipping a piece of paper inside. Let’s face it: if you’re getting an envelope in the mail – than it’s not an ‘acceptance letter’, but instead, the ‘Sorry, you suck letter’ that most of the agents print in bulk. I’ve sunk everything I have into my books and I’m no furhter ahead than I was when I started. People tell me that I have a special ‘gift’, but to me it feels like a curse, especially when the mail comes…..

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