letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 171
# of proposals requested: 2
genres of proposals requested: science fiction (1), YA (1)

Dear Authors:

In response to last week’s letter, someone wanted to know–

how long do you take on a query, usually?

Truth is, I’m not sure there is an average amount of time because it really depends on the query. Something that falls into a category I have no interest in (e.g. poetry), takes very little time. But on others, it may depend on how succinct the pitch is, and how smoothly the synopsis flows, or any number of other variables. Often I read them a few at a time as a change of pace between tasks. Occasionally, I read them in the evenings back-to-back, and once I’m in the query-zone, I can get some momentum going. But I have to be careful with that because once one reaches the state of being query-drunk, they have a tendency to blur. So, YMMV.


…do you make a judgment initially on the letter and synopsis and if they aren’t good enough forget about reading the enclosed pages, or do you muddle through it all as best you can, as long as it is relatively interesting and not obviously written by an inexperienced monkey at a typewriter?

Basically, if we don’t necessarily have the skills to make an exciting query letter, but the chapters are great, do you make it to the five pages, or do you toss it based on the summary?

I almost always at least take a look at the five pages (and I read those before the synopsis) — unless, as above, the idea is clearly not a good fit. Sometimes I can tell right away that the writing hasn’t yet reached a publishable level, but sometimes it takes longer to get a strong feeling one way or the other about the voice and the prose style, or how strong the opening hook is. That’s not to say the letter itself doesn’t play a part in the assessment — they can implicitly display other skills that are useful in being a professional author. But I know from my own experience that it can be challenging to condense a 100K narrative into a pitch, so if there’s a doubt, the writing always gets the benefit of it.

Hope that helps.

And now I’m off to Readercon (where I will buy books I don’t have time to read because they sound good and I wants them).

9 responses to “letters from the query wars

  1. Hope that helps
    It does. Tremendously. As someone who writes the sort of books that are not easily condensed I feel that ‘the query is everything’ is slanted somewhat towards a certain type of book. Being rejected on the basis of five pages doesn’t bother me – after all, I reject a lot of books I browse after five pages – but being rejected on the base of a blurb *does*. And I cannot help wondering how many books fall through the cracks in this way.

  2. A part of me thrilled to see you had requested science fiction. Not mine since I haven’t submitted, but it just seems so rare to see SFF when people list their query stats.
    It does help, and it makes me glad to see that you at least glance at the pages. Still, the best chances would come with writing a good query letter.
    Have fun at Readercon! Sounds like the best kind of con there is.

  3. Query Wars
    Egads! 171 queries! That boggles the mind.

  4. It is actually a relief to hear that you read the pages first. Although I’m sure not all agents do, I’m sure several do the same as you do and while I am sure I can write an acceptable query letter, I get the impression it takes quite a bit of practice to write a truly stellar one. I have great faith in my story and writing, but not necessarily my qureies, so that was nice to hear. Thank you so much for answering this topic.
    And you must have been on fire with 171 queries this week! And I also was pleased to see SF requested. You go!

  5. Thank you!
    I echo Green_Knight, but this really is a useful entry. Many agents, even good ones, I hear, take a glance at a query letter and toss it if it doesn’t jump out at them. It’s extremely nice to know how you, as an individual agent, treat your queries, and to hear that you’re nice to them! Thanks for letting me know!
    Oh, and I love the fact that you said “I wants,” by the way. I say that all the time. ^.^ (I hope it wasn’t a typo, though! Sorry if it was!)

  6. I am glad….
    I am glad to see that the writing is the focus. I have never submitted anything before to anyone. The writing should be the focus, especially for an idiot like me who has never written a query letter until the other day. I sent two, one SF, one YA. I hope that was alright. I was very brief in my open, just went straight to the point. I hope you like my stories.
    “I wants them” sounds sinister. What a title for a book! 8)

  7. I’ve always had this vision of literary agents reading down to the bottom of the query letter to see if the president or A-List movie star has sent their latest memoir. Thanks makes me feel IMMENSELY better regarding the whole submission process!
    Thanks for posting this information Jennifer!

  8. Hope you have fun at Readercon!! 🙂

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