letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 196
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 0
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: n/a

Around 570 queries still pending.

Wishing for more needles and smaller haystacks…

The pace of arriving queries is still on the rise. Which makes gaining ground in terms of response time somewhat on the daunting side. Particularly when the percentage of those that don’t follow guidelines also appears to be increasing. I’m not talking here about people who deviate in their definition of synopsis or something like that. Nor applying rules lawyering (which I’m not excessively prone to in any case). These are barely recognizable as a query letter at all and are usually only a few lines long. Given how easy it is to find our submission guidelines online and numerous articles and sites giving advice and information about the query process, these are puzzling at best. Too often responding to them and sending a link to the guidelines only nets an antagonistic reply.

It’s almost inevitable to find one’s self feeling that if a person can’t or won’t make an effort in this scenario, that they aren’t a person with whom an agent or publisher will be able to work. After all, it’s not as if it’s done after finishing the novel, getting an agent, getting a contract, editorial revision, copy-editing, or even seeing the book on the shelves. This is not an easy pursuit nor a casual endeavor. Nor a quick path to fame and riches. It is not (as one person’s letter put it this week): “something to try just for the hell of it.”

But this is a calling for some. A creative and inspiring journey. Finding those stories keeps the search going…

26 responses to “letters from the query wars

  1. Queries
    “Here’s to hoping for more needles and smaller haystacks,” he says as he raises his glass.
    Keep up the good work. I imagine it’s rewarding when you find that gem every once in a while.
    Daryl Sedore

  2. I think you’re right about not wanting to work with people who don’t care about their query. I think it says something about who they are. I read in “The Forest for the Trees” by Betsy Lerner about such writers that don’t feel that they have to play by the rules, they’re just that good. Often this limits their chances of being published even further. As a writer who does my homework and is professional, I honestly welcome these people to keep shooting themselves in the foot with their arrogance. It will just make my query stand out that much more.

  3. Queries
    Any serious writer knows that writing is hard work, not to be done as “something to try just for the hell of it”. Best of luck to you wading through those stacks!

  4. Ugh
    I don’t envy your job. I mean, commenting on a hundred ESL essays isn’t always a thrill, but I still think I’d rather do that than search through query letters. You’re a more patient woman than I am!

  5. Just hearing about people who don’t even come close to following relatively simple submission guidelines is incredibly frustrating for writers as well (though, we’re lucky enough not to have to deal with them). I say, if they can’t be bothered to read and follow the guidelines, delete!

  6. query form
    I wonder if asking for queries by web form instead of email would help. Then you could have several fields like genre, word count, synopsis, that they would be required to fill out. You could even even restrict the word count to no greater or less than 400 words or something like that. Trying to figure out the form might prevent alot of the people who don’t know how to follow direction from submitting. Then you could change your email address so no one could find you!

  7. Speaking for those of us who still hope maybe we can be “the one” you like, thanks for persevering. Maybe one of us will help make it all worthwhile. Keep reading…there is another Jay Lake or Jim Butcher somewhere.

  8. It’s amazing how some people keep getting this wrong. :-/
    Jennifer, just remember there are those of us who are honing our skills and getting a polished novel together before sending anything your way in an effort to not waste your time. 😉

  9. Boy. I gotta say, with the increasing number of queries, I’d be more and more inclined to just delete the ones which failed to meet the requirement guidelines.
    Possibly this is why it’s my job to write books and yours to agent them, but man. I wrote an *awful* query letter, but at least I *tried*!

  10. I love how you ended this. 🙂
    I’ve noticed that quite a few agents who blog are reporting a query flood at the moment, with no end in sight. Is that typical this time of year? It seems like *everyone* is suddenly drowning.

  11. After years of discipline, I’ve limited the initiation of RL chat about my WiPs to just my wife and one particular friend. It’s worth the effort! No one wants to be “that guy” who only wants to talk about one or two subjects.

  12. haystack sorter?
    Given the routine nature of some of the query fails, you could probably hire a student (or two) at minimum wage to help you with the job. It might also be a good way to train or identify new people to work at your agency.

  13. huh
    Wow, at least you’re kind enough to email them back with direction towards your guidelines. And the very fact that you’re genuinely looking for that needle is a very respectful take on the slush pile. Thanks!

  14. I haven’t seen you since, gah, 1998? or some AmberCon around then.
    I was just wondering if you might be coming out to either the Willamette Writers Association conference or the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference this year.
    I’m looking to attend one or the other in 2010 (leaning toward Willamette Writers Association at this point) and thought … maybe someone I know will be there!

    • oh, the real topic!
      I’m sorry; that is really off-topic. By way of explanation, I had thought about sending a general post about my surprise that so many folks don’t follow your guidelines for submissions, especially since yours seem quite straightforward compared to those of most agents I’ve looked at on line.
      I do have a newbie question about submission guidelines though. When agents or editors request “the first five pages,” does it mean they want _literally_ the first five pages, going from the started-a-third-of-the-way-down front page to the cut-off-mid-sentence fifth page? Or is it more “approximately the first five pages?” or a certain number of words?
      Enquiring minds ….

      • Re: oh, the real topic!
        I’m not going to be at either of the conferences in question this year.
        As for your question about the 5 pages — I’m not much of a rules lawyer, but many agents are so your mileage there may vary. I’ve thought about changing mine to a word count limit but hadn’t settled on that yet.

  15. ms jackson, you need minions. if i wasn’t in frigging KY, i’d lend my services.
    i actually do have an off topic question for you (and i hope you don’t mind, you obviously don’t have to answer) about manuscript format. is it still standard to underline anything you’ll want in italics later, or is using italics in the manuscript the new way to go?

    • I think you may find that preferences will vary between old school and new school. Personally, I just recommend consistence throughout the manuscript.

  16. …boy, I would ban the ones who give an ‘antagonistic’ reply when steered from their deluded way to the actual instructions…’mistakes’ are a much different category to me than ‘rudeness’ and ‘immature hostility’…

  17. Thanks for caring enough to continue to look.

  18. Doubtless some other writers would disagree, but I say form reject or ignore them if they’re that bad. You are so nice to send the submission guidelines at all, in my opinion. I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t bother.
    But yes, I echo the sentiment – thank you for continuing to look! You’ll find that needle.

  19. Wow, it sounds like you’ve got an uphill climb. But don’t worry I’m sure that you’ll find something worth reading in that pile. Keep on going, Ms Jackson, we’re rooting for yah!
    -K. Carson

  20. ohhhh fer
    Zero for 196? Ouch. Hang in there. Hopefully 197 or at least one in the 200s will dazzle you.

  21. Awful
    That is awful. I thought everyone would take something as important a query letter seriously. It’s hard enough to get the foot in the door, why would someone not even follow basics?
    I am working/studying queries for the next six weeks before sending it out. I would not waste all those years it took for my novel to throw it away with a lousy query letter.

  22. Haystacks will snowball…
    As your dilemma multiplies, more and more will close themselves off to queries, and the few that still take them will get their haystacks doubled over and over, until no one will take queries without secret passwords in the subject lines.
    I suggest being the first to go for the closed sign and password. How you get the password to the right people will be a problem. But maybe you could send them on a goose chase like on National Treasure. They could get the second letter of the third paragraph in all your posts on HOW TO QUERY PROPERLY. Hah!

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