letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 182
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 1
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: fantasy

Dear Authors:

Agent Rachelle and Agent Nathan both mentioned the higher numbers of queries they are receiving of late. I’ve been noticing the same. At this point last year, I had read about 200 queries less than I’ve read so far this year. If it keeps up at the same rate, it will mean 2000+ more queries this year than last year. Why do you think so many more people are submitting now?

And bringing you this week’s quote from the Official Sidekick: “SAE is a frat. A SASE is an envelope with a stamp on it.”

This week I got a query that was only five lines long. No pages. No synopsis. Nathan also mentioned this new trend of brief letters that tell you next to nothing. I get several every week. It’s as if these people think the very fact they’ve written the book is enough to get it read (in a perfect world perhaps that would be true). Maybe they aren’t aware of how many authors are out there? I wonder if someone is giving advice about brevity? Or do these people just choose not to follow guidelines….

…..which reminds me of when I was watching the latest episode of “Chopped” and there was a chef on there that was clearly quite good. He had good ideas and imagination and execution, but chose to leave out one of the 4 ingredients and was disqualified. His reason was because when he cooked the ingredient, it didn’t come out well enough for him to feel comfortable serving it. In a restaurant situation, that would no doubt have been the right decision. But in the competition, it didn’t matter that his dish was better than some of the others. Because he didn’t give the judges what they needed to make a decision, he had to go. It’s sad because he definitely had talent. Which just goes to show that talent isn’t everything. Particularly when it comes up against outside influences. Which explains why getting published can be just as hard, if not moreso, than writing the book in the first place.

27 responses to “letters from the query wars

  1. More people out of work have more time to write and submit?

  2. Perhaps SAE is a Britishism?
    (I’ve seen it before, from an Irish correspondent, but I hesitate to declare it a national standard.)

  3. Pubishers aren’t taking unsolicited mss?

  4. My guess is, as already mentioned, the current economic climate. People loosing jobs with more time on their hands, people worried about loosing their jobs, people worried about making ends meet – they may feel that writing a book could be the way out, not realising that it requires hard work and only a very, very lucky few get to be a success with their first manuscript.

  5. From the examples given, it’s obvious those were newbie writers. I’d say they don’t have any idea how many writers there are seeking publication. I know I certainly don’t want to think about that.

  6. People mixing up short story cover letter advice (be brief — title, wordcount, relevent bio/publishing credits if any — and no talking about the story) with query letter advice?

  7. I’m going to go with “New Year’s Resolution”. We’re not *that* far into the New Year, and so people are still making good on (some!) of their resolutions. If one was to “finish the book and query an agent” or just “this year I will query an agent”, they’re still in that 6-8 week Resolution Window.
    Or so I think.
    Edited for spelling. Gah.

  8. I think part is people being out of work, and part the people who are still working doing something that is A) escapism and b) inexpensive to keep themselves busy.
    And yes i’ve noted the trend.

  9. I’ve noticed another trend: people sending queries on behalf of someone else. Has that been something you’ve seen coming across your desk as well?

  10. I think the consensus is right, a big part of it is probably “Aw, laid off, hey, this gives me time to write that novel!”

  11. “It’s as if these people think the very fact they’ve written the book is enough to get it read”
    The first query letter I wrote was like this. I thought the letter was just a formality.
    The second query letter I wrote was a full-on synopsis – too much information, presented in an uninteresting manner. I thought agents just wanted to know what the book was about to decide if they should read it.
    That latter bit is true, but what I didn’t realize is that the query letter also has to sell the book. It took me a lot of research before I figured this out.

  12. I agree that more people are querying agents because they’ve been laid off. I find that fascinating.
    I heard a statistic once that said 80 percent of working Americans hate their jobs. So, maybe it took being forced out of their jobs for these people to realize what their true passion was?
    I wonder if the same thing is happening in other industries? Do more people want to become actors, singers or go back to school to get an advanced degree as well?

  13. queries…
    what with world economies tanking, seems some folk want to make big bucks, just cuz they figure they’re the next stephen king or andre norton?

  14. Having more than talent…
    Not an exact match to your blogpost, but I thought of this quote by actress Sophia Loren as I was reading:
    “Getting ahead in a difficult profession requires avid faith in yourself. That is why some people with mediocre talent, but with great inner drive, go much further than people with vastly superior talent.”
    Sophia Loren
    The writing profession is the same. It’s not one single attribute (e.g.talent) that gets one agented or published, but rather, to continue your chef analogy, a recipe of mixed ingredients.

  15. NaNoWriMo, maybe. Hopefully done editing and beta. Well, at least a spell check…

  16. Queries
    I think many people are desperate in this new economy and believe selling a manuscript could save them. A critique partner of mine calculated the time spent on his book versus the money he made – forty-two cents an hour. I don’t want to appear negative, but I write because I love it and pray someday it’ll pay the mortgage.
    Cami Checketts

  17. NaNo & No Jobs…
    I live in Michigan, car country, and there are tons of people losing their jobs. I did NaNoWriMo to encourage a friend, and since I’m home full time I got to go to more than the night-only events. About half the people I met were trying it because they had lost their jobs. So 50K words in November, a few thousand more in December, maybe (please, at least this) some light copy editing…yeah, right now would be right for submissions, yeah?
    It’s a theory.

  18. reply…
    anon, you’re right
    but it still amazes me to see so many folk consider themselves ‘writers’, yet can’t string words together to make a coherent sentence… much less a book 😦

  19. Anyone can write to an agent. There’s no audition–the agent is the audition, unfortunately. It’s as if everyone who ever played violin in a high school band is trying out for the New York Philharmonic. There could well be a world-class fiddle player in there, but you have to listen to all of them, at least for a few seconds. Is there another art form that works like this? Where beginners have access to the top?
    Publishers now depend on agents to winnow the slushpile; many agents depend on their assistants. You all have my sympathy.

  20. Part of it is probably the job situation. Part goes back to the NaNo phenomenon.
    Unfortunately, writing isn’t a get rich quick scheme and I liken it to someone expecting to win the lottery to pay the rent this month.
    On the plus side, those who take the time to hone a good query letter and submit exactly what the agent is looking for are probably head and shoulders above the crowd.

  21. I’m no inclined to blame NaNoWriMo
    Perhaps it has something to do with more writers finding your blogs and deciding to submit to an agent they “know” rather than or in addition to choosing randomly from a directory.
    In response to all the comments about the economy, I recently attended an author talk by a new British novelist who talked about writing his first thriller in the year after “being the beneficiary of a redundancy program.” (I love the way he phrased that, which encourages me to go find his book.) Anyway, he stretched his severance package to tide him over for a whole year . . . during which he wrote and sold a book.

  22. I’m not inclined to blame NaNoWriMo
    And that last anonymous (oops) was meant to be from Sarahlynn. Apparently, I wasn’t signed in.

  23. Brevity advice
    It is possible that people are being advised to be brief. When I was writing my first queries, I showed one of my attempts to a trusted friend and asked what she thought of it. (It was about three paragraphs long.) To my surprise, she declared it much too long and told me that it ought to say something like,
    “Dear Agent:
    I am seeking representation for my 104,000 word novel, [name of book]. I am wondering if you might be interested.
    Furthermore, she said that what I was using as my pitch (a single paragraph) was what I ought to be using as my synopsis! I was taken aback. Fortunately, I did not take her advice; a little researching assured me that she was mistaken.

    To God be the glory,
    A SF writer

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