Catching up on queries

September 15th, 2008 • Kate

So I’m back to work, and as I suspected, email access this past weekend was nonexistent, and my reading time was nil. Which leaves me with a virtual stack of queries to read and respond to, as well as a number of partials still awaiting my attention. So i thought I’d do something a little exciting today. (Your definition of “exciting” may vary.)
I’m going to live-blog my dive into my query pile.
Now, this will be a little tricky, because I don’t have permission to post my queriers’ letters on the blog, but I will do my best to give insight into my process and talk about what turns me off or on about a letter, without getting too specific.
And in order to keep things tidy on the Ask Daphne page here, we’re going to go behind the cut.


98 unread queries, dating from September 4th or later. Some thoughts:
1. You don’t need to tell me how turning thirty made you rethink your life and start hitting the gym more.
2. Fine, just doesn’t excite me. Also feels a bit overwritten.
3. Yes, you actually need to write a query LETTER, don’t just send the first three pages.
4. Racist comments about characters work in dialogue or in the internal monologues of your characters, not in narrative, not for me.
5. Published author trying a new genre/age range. Possibly gimmicky concept, but it may work. The voice is catchy.
6. Two in a row I’m requesting. This one mentions memory loss which has a personal ring to it for me this week.
7. Nothing like I’ve mentioned being interested in. A self-help book? No.
8. For someone who didn’t include any sample pages, all I have to go on is the letter itself, which in this case is unpolished and somewhat immature.
9. Feels too reminiscent of other books I’ve read or shows I’ve seen. Nothing makes me jump up and want more.
10. Interesting pitch, but the pages lack a spark.
11. Pitched as commercial/literary fiction (which one is it?), this reads more like an industrial thriller. Not for me. Also, no pages.
12. Wow, another self-help/life improvement guide. Still not for me. Also, “chapters” is not the same as “pages.”
13. Overwhelming, much? 700,000 words already written in a fantasy world, and you’re sending chapters, not pages. This feels more like literary diarrhea than a tightly plotted novel to me.
14. Intriguing hook, but the included pages don’t match the promise of the premise.
15. If it can be played as a D&D campaign, I’m not interested in reading it. Battles of good and evil? Been there, read that.
16. Good pitch, historical interest, nothing I’ve seen before, but the voice didn’t sing for me. This is one I’ll expect to hear another agent snapped up.
17. Not actually a query, more a question about what I would or would not be interested in. Graphic novels and YA nonfiction — totally depends on the project, but I can see it happening for me at some point.
18. Nonfiction, but not narrative, and not for me, though it’s something I might page through in a bookstore if it were next to the register and there was a long line.
19. Same author as above, this time with a novel. Pick your STRONGEST work, and go out with that. Multiple submissions are likely to just get multiple rejections.
20. YA novel about a collector of words, which appeals to me. I’d like to see more.
21. Convoluted plot, and another modern retelling of a myth — I’m seeing lots of these lately. This one just didn’t spark with me.
22. This one is narrative nonfiction, but not a topic I especially want to represent, even as I can see the value of a good book on the subject.
23. This one feels like something that would have been published 20 years ago. Poor rich women. No thanks.
24. Legal suspense — not something I’m looking to represent. Also, watch for rampant and uncontrollable introduction of superfluous characters in your query.
25. Another adult thriller with a strangely perfunctory introduction of a number of characters, without their connections to each other.
26. Wow, I think this is something like the fifth query in this batch that uses amnesia or memory loss as a plot device. Beware of cliches, writers! This one doesn’t pass the “can I follow it?” test.
27. This one gives two different titles for the book being queried within the letter, and switches between first and third person for this memoir. No pages, so I’m just going to assume the writing will be in keeping with the letter, and so decline.
28. Hey look! A dog book with life lessons. I feel like I’ve seen this before, and it’s not for me.
29. Another good hook, but this felt overwritten — and included a prologue that seemed to give away the reveal.
30. Reads as very young middle grade, possibly early reader, and thus not for me. Also breaks one of my rules — please don’t have your characters write to me.
31. This is a worthwhile sounding story that goes about things the wrong way. Why are you using a novel to tell a strong from someone else’s perspective when you could try writing a memoir from your own?
32. Please don’t write to me about a “fictional novel.” This is another one of my rules. Among other things, it makes me wonder how much you know about the craft of writing.
33. There’s a time and a place for a full synopsis with a play-by-play of the action of your novel, and the query letter isn’t it. “Friday evening… Saturday morning… Sunday morning…” doesn’t hook my interest.
34. Another “fiction novel”, this one about soldiers in war. Not my cup of tea.
35. High science fiction gets a no, as the pitch throws in too much world building and not enough hook to interest me.
36. The problem with saying you like “quirky” is that you get a lot of quirk thrown at you, and too much quirk gets old fast. This one seems a bit too much, is all.
37. This is a new one: contemporary biography. No thanks.
38. Beautiful human girl with supernatural powers she doesn’t completely understand meets cute with brooding vampire, with the fate of the world at stake. And I say: again?
39. Nothing about a “crazy journey” screams “Read me!” to me. Also a 100-word query is too short.
40. Another request, combining my interest in travel with strong YA writing. And a metaphor involving a herd of cattle feels particularly apt to me this week.
41. Another nonfiction proposal, on another book I might consider reading, but have no interest in representing. This is why we say this is a business of personal tastes.
42. Does my injunction against characters talking to me in queries include narrators? Tough call. This is one where the query hooked me, but I was underwhelmed by the pages.
43. Yes, I love Joss Whedon. No, I do not want to read a YA novel about a high school girl whose calling is to defeat Hellmouth-y type things.
44. There’s a lot to be said for non-traditional family units, and lots of plots about new siblings teaming up. This one had an interesting pitch, but I didn’t love the writing or the MC.
45. This one almost got a request, but it reminded me of another book series, and I didn’t love the writing. Still, I could see another agent picking this up and selling it.
46. Don’t forget to proofread your queries, people. This one gives two different spellings for the MC’s name, which adds to the confusion of the pitch.
47. Just didn’t sing to me. Is it fantasy or no? Unclear.
48. A repeated submission from June that I declined then, and a quick search in my email folder finds it a third time. I reply with my original rejection.
And that’s about half of my queries, and it’s the end of the day, so I will go through the rest tomorrow. I hope this is helpful!

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8 Responses to “Catching up on queries”

  1. Emily Hives Says:

    This is really interesting! Thanks for showing what your query stack is like- I hope you comment on more of them if you have time.

  2. Winchester Grey Says:

    This is excellent in the way that every aspiring actor should sit in on auditions to really understand what NOT TO DO, every aspiring writer should learn what NOT TO DO when submitting query letters.

  3. Sandy Williams Says:

    Ah, I love reading about agent's query stacks. It has to take a lot of time to type up all those reasons for requesting/rejecting manuscripts. I really appreciate you doing this.

  4. Kathleen Says:

    Thanks for posting this – it is interesting (and amusing) to see the volume and variety you deal with.

  5. Gina Black Says:

    Fascinating. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Kiersten Says:

    I'm just impressed with your speed. To have that many, and get back to them all today–wow. I'm also glad my friend who received a rejection today doesn't know about your blog; I'm sure she'd drive herself crazy trying to figure out which number she was!
    Very interesting to see though, and thanks for the insight.

  7. jeanoram Says:

    That was so cool. I loved the insight–very helpful!
    Hey my comment is like all the others. You're getting repeats all over the place today. (Sorry.)
    Jean

  8. Carrie Says:

    This is a fabulous idea! And like you, I'm left wondering if there's something in the water that makes people all send in the same thing at the same time? Does it happen often?