letters from the query wars 7.8.11

# of queries week ending 6.10.11: 187
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 1
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: YA

# of queries week ending 6.17.11: 191
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 0
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: n/a

# of queries week ending 6.24.11: 157
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 1
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: YA-fantasy

# of queries week ending 7.1.11: 108
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 2
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: YA-SF; YA-paranormal

# of queries this week: 226
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 1
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: YA-paranormal

Oldest query in the queue: July 1st

How does one pithily explain that queries that follow guidelines tend to get more serious consideration than those that apparently can’t be bothered (or even moreso explain outright that they “don’t have time to craft individual letters for agents”)?

If I were the sort of agent who rejected/deleted based purely on the basis of not following guidelines, here are examples of queries from these weeks that would have not even been read, much less received a reply. Which is not to say that the queries in question weren’t hurt by these factors:

* Anything with an attachment, particularly if the query states it’s far more than the requested five pages.

* Anyone to whom I sent a link to the submission guidelines, and still they chose not to follow them.

* Anything addressed to “Dear Agent” or even lacking a greeting at all.

And here are things that made me, to some degree, disinclined:

* The aforementioned explanation of the lack of time to craft individual letters to agents. If you don’t have time for me, why do you feel I should have time for you?

* Use of the phrase “I have taken the liberty” which usually means the “I” is about to take the liberty of not following the guidelines, often with attachments, occasionally with some kind of explanation as to their special case scenario. (Little clue X 4 here — every book is unique; every writer is unique — ergo, special case scenarios can’t be relevant or everyone would need one.)

And then there are things that I simply end up not replying to because I can’t even really consider them queries:

* Anything that is a link – just a link. No correspondence of any kind, much less a query. Certainly no synopsis or pitch. There are so many people taking their writing careers seriously that I just can’t come up with a reason to slow down for those who are not.

* Anything that is a response to my response declining to read more that sends the material anyway. I really don’t understand it. This is how to get on an agent’s blacklist, if they keep one.

To everyone else — many thanks for sending what I request so that I can make an actual assessment. I’m not a rules lawyer about it, but I’d say roughly only 40% followed the guidelines closely enough.

7 responses to “letters from the query wars 7.8.11

  1. Anything that is just a link is entirely probably spam that goes to a malware-infested site — or at least, that’s what one-line links in *my* in-box tend to be. Passing them by not only saves time, but is safer for your computer’s health anyway.

  2. It really amazes me that people don’t follow the guidelines. I know I’ve put YEARS in working on my writing, learning, then finally reaching a book that I am going to submit. So after putting this much effort into something, and already working on another book, why would I (or anyone with a slightest bit of common sense) mess up a chance of being accepted by a good agent, by not reading guidelines? It sounds ludicrous – but from a selfish point-of-view, it also makes me feel slightly more optimistic about my chances of being read without irritating an agent.

  3. An agent (Kristin Nelson, I think) once said that a really great way to get an agent’s attention is to write a really great query that follows the agent’s guidelines. It’s so simple, but judging from your post, a lot of people don’t take that advice. I knew the number of people disregarding guidelines was high, but 60%? Wow.

    Follow the guidelines. So simple, yet so underused. 😀 Thanks, as always, for the stats, Jennifer.

  4. I’m surprised no agent has come up with software to sort through equeries-getting rid of all the dross and leaving you with the gold-programmed with each individual agents guidelines-. Someone should definitely invest in it, save a lot of time for people.

  5. Actually I have a question also: vis a vis * The aforementioned explanation of the lack of time to craft individual letters to agents. If you don’t have time for me, why do you feel I should have time for you? : what constitutes an “individual”-ized query? I have the basic three paragraph set-up and I haven’t been receiving many answers. I use the same basic query letter as a template and simply add the name of the Agent and change the date when I send it out. Is this not an “individual”-ized query letter?
    I remember the first few people I sent queries out to explicitly stated they wanted you to do research on them, so when I sent the queries out to them I looked up some of their clients and included and fourth paragraph where I made-in my eyes- outrageous and reaching similarities between two of his authors. The problem I had with doing that is that I am not familiar at all with contemporary fiction, so any time I would add this fourth paragraph-to me at least- it was very obvious I had no idea what I was saying, not to mention it just seemed superficial to me.
    For the most part I have been going by the information agents put in their bios-like: I’m looking for…-and deciding based upon that whether or not to send it to them.
    Should I be doing more research than this? I’m not sure how this whole wordpress thing works-whether or not you respond to these things, but I’d appreciate it if you could clarify things for me, as I have sent out close to thirty queries in the last two months with only five responses-.

  6. I work at a job where I collect paperwork from people that should be working with me on a professional level. Yours is not the only profession where people flat out refuse to follow directions, despite how explicitly they are spelled out. I think it is a form of psychosis we should identify and name.

    -Catherine Magro

  7. I’ve said this many times before on your blog, and I will say again: I am profoundly thankful that there are writers out there who can’t be bothered or are too thick or think they are too special to follow the clearly delineated guidelines for submission. This business has enough lottery odds as things currently stands without adding more hopeful writers who stand between myself and publication.

    If this sounds cold, it’s meant to. This is a business and the stakes are extremely high. I’d just as soon have less competition rather than more. If you can’t read the instructions, or think they don’t apply to you, you’re simply not ready for this business, plain and simple.

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