letters from the query wars

From the week of 4/13 – 4/17

# of queries read: 162
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 6
genres of partials/manuscripts requested: fantasy (3), suspense (3)

Dear Authors:

As noted above, these stats are for the week ending on Friday the 17th. This was also the week I left for the aforementioned London Book Fair, so these were all read prior to my departure. While I was MIA and behind enemy lines, I did not have the opportunity to read any queries at all so I have no additional stats to post for this week (and a little over 300 queries in the queue).

Of those requested submissions above:
* One of the fantasy submissions is a revised full manuscript. The author spent approximately 4 1/2 months on revisions before contacting me to see if I would take another look.
* The other two fantasy submissions are partials that I requested based on the query (both of which followed the guidelines and included the first five sample pages). Both are for debut novels.
* The 3 suspense requests are all from the same author, who contacted me based on a referral from another agent. This author is previously published.

Assuming you had nothing else already in the queue from either clients or potential clients (ha!), based on that information alone, which one would you put first in triage? Or, what additional information would you need to make a decision?

18 responses to “letters from the query wars

  1. I’d look at the revised full first, on the grounds that it’s more likely to be instant reject (not revised enough) or probable accept (yay, revisions!). It’s also nice to reward an author for doing all that revision work. (*beth kicks the revisions that she’s wading through*)
    Then, hm, grab one of the suspense books, and alternate those with the fantasy ones so that you are more “fresh” for each genre.

  2. Triage:
    Three novels from the referred and already published author. You can assume they meet certain quality standards, they’ve proven to be more than a one trick pony already and someone out there already thinks they’d be a good fit for you. They already have a lot going for me, so you just have to see if their work is something you’d want to represent.
    The two partial fantasy submissions. Not because they’re higher priority than the revised full, but they can be dealt with relatively quickly. Fifty pages doesn’t take too long to read and you can probably tell quickly whether you want to request more or not.
    Which gives you time to focus on the full manuscript which I assume you wouldn’t have asked for unless the original manuscript had enough promise that you were intrigued but enough problems that you couldn’t be sure. This is the one I’d assume would take the most time and thought from you: are the revisions enough, do you still like the book, do you think the author is someone you could work with… There’s a lot more factors here and although it’s not necessarily the final interaction you’ll have with this author it is likely to be the last time you look at this book.
    That’s how I’d triage it based on the information I had. If I was the agent, however, I’d probably leave the novels/partials I was most interested in till last in order to give me plenty of time to mull.

  3. Okay, I’m wearing my editor hat here, so my reasoning may be slightly different, but…
    I’d look at the partials first, because a) they’re shorter and b) the triage call would be “no” or “request full/reconsider later, with needs-list in mind.” If a, then they’re off my desk. If b, I can tell the author that and buy myself more time to make a decision.
    Then I’d look at the suspense submission because I’d already have the author’s history and sales numbers in-hand (ideally) and would just need to know if the writing made me do the happy reader dance or not.
    Then I’d be able to dig into the revised manuscript to see, not only if I liked it, but if the author had been able to take my suggestions and improve on them, or if only the bare minimum had been done. An author who takes revision suggestions as a springboard, not a plank, is an author who can grow.
    And then I’d pour myself a glass of wine and creep up on the in-box filled with my client e-mail. *grin*

    • This was my recommendation as well, except I’d enjoy the glass of wine while reading the revised full. 😉
      Assuming the suspense are fulls, I’d probably only read one all the way through at this time (picking the most eye-catching blurb) to see if the story was told well throughout. Then I’d read the summaries of the other two to see if, based on the writing, continuing the adventures of the Protagonist was something I’d want to stay with for awhile.
      Fun look at your to do list. 🙂 Thanks. Much more interesting than my to do list…

    • Have to go with you on this one, Suri. Handle the quick stuff first, so you can get it under control, then go with the proven author. With the pub’d writer, you already know they have a track record, you can let their sales talk for them to a certain extent, and you have a better bet on your hands.
      Then, give that hardworking writer who took those four and a half months a solid read, with fewer distractions. He’s already exhibited a measure of dependability, so he is already showing some signs of being a professional. Now, the question becomes more about his work, and less about time. At least, that’s how I would look at it, given what I know, and my preferences.
      I prefer to get the quick stuff done, work the sure thing, then go with the longer project. In this case, the full would be something I would want to give more attention to, simply because the new guy caught enough of Jenn’s interest to warrant a second submission. If that were me, I’d probably enjoy taking my time with the revised work.

  4. I’m trying to think like an agent here, and not like an unpublished writer who’s never even queried.
    I’d probably take a look at the fantasy partials first, because then I could either reject them or request the fulls. Either way, they’d be out of the way for a while.
    Then I’d probably look at the suspense requests, given that the author has already been published and that should be an indicator of quality writing and, hopefully, saleability.
    Then I’d look at the revised fantasy full (which would have been my first pick if looking at it from an unpublished-writer perspective, as a “reward” for them spending so much time revising, as silly at that sounds).

  5. If the suspense author referrel came from an agent you respect and the author were previously pubbed in suspense and it was with a major house and the book had good sell-through, then there’s a good likelihood that author will wind up with multiple offers for representation. I would say look at the suspense submissions first so you won’t be put into a position where the author calls to tell you they have an offer or two from other agents and you have only X number of days to decide if you want to throw your hat in the ring, too. If they even call you (of course, how could you not be ANY writer’s first choice agent!).
    The two fantasy partials would come next, then the full. Unless you were truly excited about the full’s premise the first time you looked at it and have been anxiously awaiting its arrival and cursing every day that’s gone by where it hasn’t arrived in your inbox. Then it would be be next up after the suspense mss. But if you were only lukewarm about it to begin with, then deal with the partials before it.
    But see, we don’t really have enough info to make a truly informed triage decision….

  6. This is fun and so much less time consuming than Agent Nathan’s Agent for a Day.
    I’d probably look at the partials first, figuring they may be quick. (really quick if they’re not good) Then I’d work my way into the full revision–especially if I remembered where the issues were. I’d leave the three SF manuscript for last, as they’d be the most time consuming.

  7. Hmm…
    As a favor to someone that spilled that much sweat and maybe blood (paper cuts at least) to revise over 4 months, I would give them the benefit of a swift verdict. They are agonizing (well they are all probably agonizing) and I personally feel for the one that made revisions per your request.
    Then, I would move onto the suspense because it sounds like it could be a done deal. You didn’t say if it was an exclusive?? That would be my only question. If it is not an exclusive I would say it would be in your best interest to tackle it quickly before another agent swoops in.
    Finally, the debut’s. They are expecting to wait anyhow. But since they have their hopes high with a partial request, they probably are enjoying the daydreams of “what if”…let them dream a little longer. But not too long. 🙂

  8. My first thought, and I’m not necessarily thinking objectively just thinking, is that I’d go to the revisions first. The author apparently thought enough of what was said to try and improve the work, and that, in my book, deserves kudos. Short of pure acceptance, the best kudo would be a prompt response. Also, you thought enough of the story to take a second look, so maybe this is one you want to rep.
    Now, from a time-usage sense, that may not be the best decision, but it’s where I would go.

  9. I would read the revised manuscript, on the assumption that if I didn’t like it I could reject it after a few pages and cut my work load to 5 partials.

  10. I would take the three suspense queries from the previously published author as my number one priority. Even though the other two sound promising, the previously published author that has three submissions that show promise, which seems like a good opportunity for a sale to a publisher. I’m looking at this from a monetary perspective, however. My fellow beginner writers might disagree.

  11. As an agent are you privy to information from publishers such as another author’s sales history or his/her PnL for the previous sales?
    If you are (and I suspect you have the tools/contacts to do that), then I would request the PnL statement as the first step on making a decision behind the author with the 3 suspense novels. And sit on it until you can evaluate the PnL(s).
    Also, said suspense author is also a referral — I’m thinking he/she has some potential for a more ‘immediate’ sale than the two newbies or the revisionist. Referral +1, sales history +1, 3 completed novels +1,+1,+1.
    As suri mentioned above (and I wouldn’t have thought of it until she said it the way she said it, which is why she’s the suri, and I’m not), the partials from the newbie authors next…give that they are the least time consuming.
    I’d save the revisions for last certainly. You probably don’t remember the original submission (or maybe you do, but 4 1/2 months ago is sooo many submissions), but it would be interesting to see how far the author has progressed. It might be helpful in making a determination as far as evaluating author’s growth and potential…as well as to get an idea about how long the author might take to mint something fresh and new given their new revision skills.
    I think that made sense… (?)

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  13. Well, I would probably start with one of the previously pubbed persons manuscripts because they seem like the most likely prospect for you: previously pubbed and recommended by someone else.
    Or, alternately. You could go with the oldest request first and work your way to the newest.

  14. Hmmm, I’d guess take the two partials you requested based on the query, and save them for last.
    This is because, it seems to me that the other options will be quicker decisions.

  15. I would put the recommendation from another agent. Then the partials b/c you requested them
    Then the full that is resubmitted.

  16. This is totally based on mixing it up and making it exciting for you.
    Number each one. Then put the same numbers in a hat, draw and read each one in the order of the number you pull out.
    Every once in a while you’ve just got to mix things up and do things a little differently.
    Good luck!

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