letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 205
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 3
genre(s) of partials/manuscripts requested: urban fantasy (1), historical fantasy (1), mystery (1)

I’ve spent this week celebrating my years as an agent — as an advocate for my clients — by giving away books.

Many, many, many of those clients came to me via the initial contact of a query letter. That letter was where my journey with these authors began. Not everyone can afford to go to conferences and meet agents face-to-face. Few can obtain the rare referral. In that respect, queries level the playing field. They present an opportunity.

The query wars belie their name by attempting to clarify, to assist, to improve, to demystify the process. If they are to continue to attempt that pursuit, in what ways have they been most helpful in the past? What kinds of entries are the most illuminating? What new ground could they cover?

16 responses to “letters from the query wars

  1. Just seeing the numbers helps. Hearing about common mistakes, or why specific things (like length of query letter, or the importance of not requerying) are also good. Even though I have probably seen these things several times on different agent blogs, I know that a lot of people are coming to read your blog for the first time each day, and repeating key points makes sense. Hearing about why you accept things that you do accept is also helpful. It’s different for every agent, but knowing that agents are humans who care about good stories counts for a lot.

  2. First of all, I want to thank you for the query wars. Not only do they help show what you are interested in as an agent, they also help remind those of us still trying to find an agent that there is hope out there. It goes beyond that, however. By letting us see how many queries you deal with in a week, how many partials you request, etc., you remind us that we have to always submit our best, be it a query letter, a partial or full manuscript. This isn’t an easy business to break into, but your query wars do show that it is possible to do just that. So, thank you.
    As for what is most illuminating, for me, it is seeing what partials you’ve asked for. What would be helpful would be to know what it was about a query that grabbed you and what genre or sub-genre you might be looking for at any given time.

  3. First of all, thanks for even blogging about the query process and other things and aspiring author like to hear about.
    The most helpful posts are the ones that give an insight into what queries do and don’t work for you. When you mention “this week’s query wars casualty” you point out the ways people shoot themselves in the foot. Things like mentioning in your own query why you will be rejected, or trying to use someone else’s platform for your pitch.
    And there is simply seeing the numbers of many queries and partials have worked for you in each genre, which is the best insight we the odds are and what you’re looking for.
    Things that could also be helpful? What about a specific query works for you: a great opening line despite lacking characterization, interesting conflict(s) that will drive tension, or genre bending that doesn’t compromise marketability. I suspect you’re reluctant to talk too much about current projects you’re considering, but it’d be cool if we could get a quick blurb about the things that are really working and the things that are really, really falling short.

  4. I like to see what’s catching your attention and what’s selling.
    I can’t really change what I have written already, but I can watch trends and agents and see where queries are likely to get picked up. And it gives me an idea where I want to aim my next book at.

  5. Setting aside the “first five pages”, what is it in a query that really catches your mind? Does “clever” count? Does claiming a new twist on an old idea” carry much weight? What’s important…a character sketch, a plot outline, or ?
    Other than the obvious, such as terrible language skills or the hated “re-query” are there other things that make you say I’m not going to waste time reading the pages?”
    What do you see in a good query that opens the door for those mythical pages?

  6. I enjoy and appreciate the query wars stuff so much, I wish I had something constructive to say about it! I’m sure that keeping it reasonably fresh is a challenge, but I’ve found it so useful. I’ve learned so much from it, and also enjoyed the feeling of seeing so many who are tilting at the same windmills that I am.
    I wish this was more helpful! I’ll try to think of something tomorrow …

  7. Thank you!!
    I enjoy your blog. Thanks for taking the time to provide us all with such great info.
    I like the query wars too, especially now that I’ve sent one in to you in the last week. 🙂
    And finally, congratulations on your anniversary – I hope you enjoy many more!

  8. I like numbers.
    I’d like to see a number breakdown and general timeline… just to put it in big-picture perspective.
    (As an example)
    Author sends query.
    Query read by agent. (Week 3)
    Agent requests partial. Average chance of partial request: 3/205= 1.4%
    Author sends partial.
    Agent reads partial. (Week 5)
    Agent requests full. Average chance of full request: x/y (I expect higher percentage here based upon Agent’s experience in selecting ‘winners.’)
    Author sends full.
    Agent reads full, offers representation. (Week 12)
    Agent offers revisions…
    Editor convinces publisher to buy rights for publication. (Week 20)
    Agent receives offer for first North American publishing rights. Average AAR ($3k unagented, $5-8k Agented)(Week 22)
    Publisher slates book for Fall, FY 2014.
    Book launch date. (Week 130)
    I know this information has been posted in bits in pieces in various editors’ and agents’ blogs, but to see it on one single page as a whole (basically: steps involved in the publishing process) would be sobering. Not that you’d likely have time to do every step in depth, but meebee at least from the Agent’s perspective.

  9. I enjoy the query wars posts and find them both helpful reminders of the basics and also reality checks. My side of the process looks different from yours, so it’s really nice to have that viewpoint.
    The new ground I’m currently seeking is a better view of some of the other pieces of an agent’s job (and that might not fit into query wars at all). I like to look forward at stages I hope to achieve, so I love hearing about the kinds of questions prospective clients ask, for instance. Client career planning, challenges and best moments for debut novelists in the real world, client career steps forwards and backwards, “if only I’d known” feedback, that kind of thing — I recognize that most of these would be too specific to apply as advice, but if you and your clients would be willing to share the occasional brief skirmish, I’d appreciate it. That kind of view also helps me remember that your work is much broader than that pile of queries.

  10. It’s nice to know you care!
    The shear fact that you are blogging this subject is of great importance to me. I believe it helps us all know the types of queries you like and don’t like, and we become more familiar with your personality which is also helpful when submitting a query. I don’t believe it’s any one subject but the whole process that is helpful.
    As you continue to share your concerns and joy re queries, we as readers and participators will continue to learn and grow from each other. Having said this, I will state that my favorite tidbits are your comments on what makes a query work for you, or what is it in a query that makes you want to ask for the partial or full manuscript.
    I understand this can be different every time but this does help me the most. Thanks.

  11. Hmmm … maybe we could pool advice about building fiction platforms?
    Building non-fiction platforms are pretty easy to figure out, even if doing it takes a lot of effort; if you write about woodworking, get some credits and experience in that field. Building a fiction platform from scratch is a tough prospect.

  12. Like most here, I agree that I enjoy reading about what you’ve liked or disliked when reading a query. What has caught your attention, and what it is that makes you want to stop reading.
    I’m relatively new to this blog, but I think giving us an over view of what is most important to you as an agent to see in a query would be helpful. I know this tends to change from agent to agent, and it’s immensely helpful for those of us trying to personalize a query to know what the agent wants to see and what to avoid.
    Thanks for your posts, they do a lot for those of us trying to figure out their queries.

  13. Feel free to be repetitive.
    As a high school English teacher, I’m very impressed by the number of queries you plow through weekly. I’d like to assume that, in general, the papers I have to read tend to be less refined than the work you receive, but I’ll bet you can instantly think of some examples which might have come from ninth graders who missed some basic skills along the way. As for the blog, I think your biggest challenge is that you are a good writer; as such, you don’t want to keep saying the same things over and over. Unfortunately, some of the most important things people need to hear might get buried in the archived posts, because the fact is that you are reporting on a repetitive part of your job. Perhaps you, like me, find yourself tempted to snap at a writer who is making the same mistake the last ten writers have made, and you have to remind yourself that they just made it once. It’s not their fault it’s a common error. These are the kinds of things to vent about on the blog, and feel free to come back to them, so writers hear about these common errors over and over.
    Well, I’m going to take up a bit of your time with a query of my own, but before I do (and in a separate space) I wanted to thank you for taking the time to give people individual and corporate feedback. Both, when it comes down to it, are above and beyond the call of duty. You could simply send one line email replies to queries and never tell anyone why in a blog, and your signed clients wouldn’t complain that you’re focusing all your time on them. We, your aspiring-to-be-published-writers audience, are very grateful for your extra time.
    On that note, a question, perhaps worthy of a post: how do you balance your time? Do you read queries at a certain time of he day? Have you managed to avoid taking them home on the weekend (you should, for the sake of your sanity, but I often find myself taking home stacks of essays to read in the evenings and on weekends)? Perhaps you could reiterate a point I saw on another agent’s blog, which is that we writers need to send out multiple queries because there’s a measure of luck involved in the process. My query may have come to you at the end of a very long day, or during a commercial break during your favorite TV show, but it may hit another agent at a better time. I know I may give short shrift to the last essay in my pile sometimes, and I’ll bet your last query of the day gets a little less feedback than your first or best one. That’s okay. We’re human.

  14. Every week I read: # of queries read this week: ___ # requested: _.
    I learn I have to be better than 200+ writers week after week. That takes stamina and talent. Working on both. Thank you for the continuous reminder.

  15. Letters from the query wars
    I love your Friday Query Wars posts. I’ve written about the art of writing a good query many times, and I’ve linked to your Query Wars posts a number of times as a way to show the importance of writing a really great query letter and having a really great manuscript behind it. So, thank you very much for sharing this information.
    As for what else,it’s always useful to see query letters that have worked for you, if the writer doesn’t mind.
    Thanks again

  16. Then perhaps there’s still hope for me and my soiled query letter.

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