Live-blogging my queries again

January 9th, 2009 • Kate

I’ve quite a number of queries since I reopened for business on January 5th, so I thought — since it got such a great reaction last time — I would serve up another helping of live-blogging my queries. As before, I don’t intend to post anything too specific about the queries here, but I will try to remark on my decisions to decline or request material.
So, without further delay, let’s head behind the fold for some live-blog action!


1. Historical, but it put me off with a too-young heroine for the action in the story.
2. A sort of action-adventure memoir, just not to my tastes.
3. Literary YA, which was pitched with more emphasis on language and theme than on story. May be brilliant, but not for me.
4. High concept adult fiction, not exactly in my interest range.
5. Well-written and appealing, but too close in concept to a novel I already represent.
6. The tone of the query letter, which was echoed in the first three pages, didn’t connect with me.
7. This one struck me as a collection of short stories that were more about a theme than a story. Also, probably more literary than my tastes.
8. This next one is pretty high fantasy, and the intricately plotted world building didn’t capture my attention.
9. Paranormal that felt a little too overwritten for me.
10. This query didn’t fit into any of my stated interests, and seemed more spiritually bent than interests me.
11. Science fiction, told in a narrative voice from the future looking back at the actions of his own past, that felt too removed from the story for me.
12. Very amateurish, I’m afraid, and not a subject that interests me to represent.
13. I understand the impetus when researching agents to just throw everything out there and see if it sticks, but I think you can quickly find on my website a number of times where I’ve said I’m not interested in representing literary fiction. By sending it to me anyway, all you’re proving is that you’re not much for research, and why do I want to work with someone who has such little regard for my time?
14. Something different — a query for a job instead of a book. While I appreciate the offer of free readers I could farm manuscripts out to, I’m not looking to do so at this time.
15. You know how sometimes when you watch Gilmore Girls, you get so caught up in the language and the superfast talking and the wittiness, and suddenly you stop and realize most people don’t sound like that? The narrative voice in this query sounds like that. It’s too much for me.
16. Oooh, this one interests me. A rough plot that sounds familiar, but looks to be explored in a different than usual way, and a pithy descriptive comment in the opening pages that sings to me.
17. The writing in this one didn’t feel strong enough to me.
18. A deeply detailed fantasy world where the characters weren’t as engaging as the setting.
19. Chick lit that covers some very familiar territory. No thanks.
20. This one came across like a tidal wave — instead of trying to interest me in one book, the author pitches a six book series, and caps it off by informing me a fellow agent has requested material. All right then, good luck with them. Not for me.
21. This one felt younger than middle grade to me, and I’m not overly interested in anthropomorphic stories.
22. Coincidentally, this one is also too young for me, and also features animals as main characters.
23. Male-oriented commercial fiction. Also, I’ll say it again, even if you have a self-published cover to show off, don’t.
24. I feel like I’ve seen a lot of guardian angel plotlines lately. Here’s another. Also try to avoid cliched ways to start your story — main character waking up, getting dressed, describing him or herself by looking in a mirror, etc.
25. Mainstream romance that feels more like category than something that would stand out in the general market to me.
26. Vampire novel with a twist, but not enough to convince me it could stand out.
26. Middle grade novel that has a lot of dialogue in the opening pages, which makes it tough to get a handle on the characters. Also, they do a lot of “telling” about the action, rather than showing it.
27. I’m not even quite sure how to describe this one. But you know how manipulated you can feel as a tv-viewer sometimes, when a show begins with an opening action scene and then flashes back to “72 Hours Earlier” or what have you? And you know a part of how everything’s going to end up because you’ve seen it already? Why would you want to do that with a book?
28. Another request! Urban fantasy with an uncommon mythic retelling. I’m curious to know more.
29. An interesting idea and theme, but I didn’t feel the writing was strong enough. Also, another opening with the protagonist describing themselves while staring into a mirror.
30. Billed as a fairy tale, this query seems to hew too closely to that label. The fairy tale retellings that are selling right now infuse modern sensibilities or unique perspectives on the traditional stories. This just feels like an unknown traditional tale. Does that make sense?
(Small pause for lunch. Back in a bit!)
(And we’re back!)
31. Hey wow, ANOTHER character introducing himself by looking in a mirror. Also, I’ve said before, I’m not especially interested in the kind of fantasy adventure I could play in a D&D campaign.
32. Memoir without a hook that appeals to me.
33. Paranormal fantasy — but I prefer my paranormal with humor, not just a dash of romance. Others, I’m sure, may disagree.
34. This romance does have some humor, but I still feel like I know exactly what’s going to happen. I like a little bit more surprise in a novel.
35. Another vampire novel. Not that this is my only reason for declining, but guys, make sure you check your queries for spelling and punctuation mistakes. It speaks to your professionalism.
36. I just read a fascinating interview with four other literary agents, in which one of them said that that for him or her (this part of the interview was anonymous), “maybe” equals “no.” Now, for me, maybe isn’t always no, but without sample pages, maybe is rarely if ever going to mean yes.
37. This one speaks to the attention you need to pay to writing a synopsis. Yes, it’s a different skill set than writing a book, but if I’m lost in trying to follow a two-paragraph description of your book, you’re not going to get the chance to intrigue me with your presumably more-carefully crafted prose.
38. Another fantasy novel that just doesn’t sing out to me. A good reminder that an agent’s reaction is extremely personal, and there may not be any just “reason” behind the reaction.
39. This next one reads as featuring a very doormat-y kind of heroine, and I just dislike those. Even when they finally stand up for themselves, I end up wishing they would have done it 300 pages earlier!
40. Wow — no. A humor book that manages to insult me. I don’t think so.
41. High concept middle grade, but I’m not convinced.
42. Ummm.. I… that is… I don’t even know what this is. I kind of wish I could erase from my mind the memory of even reading this query. And the author calls is a “true story.” No.
43. An inspirational YA novel — I worry sometimes that calling something inspirational means you’ve sacrificed story for theme. In this case, the plot didn’t hook me.
44. Autobiographical stories — definitely not for me. Also, please try to spell my name correctly.
45. Another guardian angel story. The writing definitely isn’t here for me.
46. And, once again, we open with the protagonist looking in a mirror. I’m not saying it’s always bad, but it IS cliched, and you should be aware of that. Don’t you want your query to stand out? Besides that, I just didn’t feel a connection to the characters.
47. My third request. Some similarity to a previously published book that I enjoyed, but I’m intrigued enough to want to read more.
48. Historical novel, but I feel that what’s working in historicals lately is either a touch of paranormal, or a new perspective on a known historical figure. This has neither. Also, the creation of a fake country to set it in makes me wonder if the author just didn’t feel like doing the research to set the story somewhere real. There seems no other reason to create a new country.
49. This gives me hope. I got through 48 queries without any repeats, but #49 here is the third time the author has queried me on the same project (rejected twice before), not mention two other projects which I’ve also rejected. I haven’t even been in business for a year. Do the math.
50. Category romance. Again, nothing wrong with it, and it might even be something I’d enjoy reading on vacation, but not something I’m looking to represent.
51. Intriguing concept, but I found the execution somewhat lacking.
52. An adult action/adventure novel, which isn’t a genre I represent. I feel bad if there’s a book or website out there that says I’m interested in genres I’m not, but that’s why you have to find multiple sources of information.
53. Another multi-book query. Even if you hope to build a series off a title, I still think it’s best to sell the first book first, rather than convince an agent or publisher to take on three or four books by an unknown quantity at once.
54. This one is commercial fiction that seems to touch on all manner of issues. Not for me.
55. The voice in this middle grade novel doesn’t match the historical setting.
(Only six more!!)
56. *runs screaming away from the computer* *comes back after she’s calmed down* People, what did I tell you about writing your queries from the perspective of your characters? Oh yeah, I said DON’T. Too bad, because this was an intriguing concept.
57. A paranormal YA query from a YA — one of the reasons I mention the author’s age is because she does, and it shows. Look, you don’t have to tell me how old you are in your query. Unless you think I’ll be so impressed by your prowess at such a young age that I’ll disregard your lack of writing experience and years spent studying the craft of writing. Well, here’s a secret — you still need to be brilliant. And prowess at 18 isn’t the same as skill at 28, or 32, or 45.
58. I may talk to my dogs, but I don’t want to read your pet’s memoirs. No thanks.
59. This one features a strange metaphor for the life of a teenager. Just.. odd. Not intriguing.
60. There needs to be a balance, even in an adventure novel, between character and action. I didn’t feel anything for the character here.
And finally, an easy one to end on:
61. A book of poetry. Not for me.
So that’s clears out all the queries I’ve received since I reopened for business on the 5th. I’ll do my best to get back to people who sent emails while I was on vacation as time permits.

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14 Responses to “Live-blogging my queries again”

  1. lotusloquax Says:

    This is very helpful for knowing what your tastes are. Thanks for sharing.

  2. David Wright Says:

    Great, constructive examples. Thank you for posting.

  3. Julie Butcher Says:

    Wow, all that before lunch? I honestly think there should be a common rule about animal stories–ick.
    Julie

  4. beth Says:

    I love it when you do these!

  5. Anna Swenson Says:

    I really like this!It’s fun to know what other people are writing about and your reactions. I was just a little confused, though: where the only ones you requested 16 and 28?

  6. Gina Black Says:

    Thank you! Very interesting. 🙂

  7. Paul Michael Murphy Says:

    Yes. Animal stories do suck. I mean, who could possibly enjoy a book like Charlotte's Web or The Tale of Despereaux? Ick.
    (Ever notice how sarcasm doesn't quite come across in blog comments?)

  8. Ann Says:

    Wow. That was really interesting and instructive. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Christy Says:

    Thanks for sharing. I learned so much about your tastes and style here.

  10. Kathleen Peacock Says:

    You know how sometimes when you watch Gilmore Girls, you get so caught up in the language and the superfast talking and the wittiness, and suddenly you stop and realize most people don't sound like that?
    Reminded me of a review I wrote of The Goodbye Girl (which I actually do love): If real-life conversations were as witty and rapid-fire as those in The Goodbye Girl, they’d be exhausting.

  11. Carrie Harris Says:

    And once again, I get tired just reading this. It’s still intriguing as all get out, mind you. 😉

  12. jeanoram Says:

    As a writer, we agonize over every little word in our queries which is interesting seeing as it sounds as though a fair amount of it really comes down to whether the idea and writing sings to an agent and their interests.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  13. yvettesgonefishing Says:

    Just kinda responding to Anna Swenson. 16, 28, and 47 were requested.
    This is the first time I’ve seen a live-blogging of queries. I like this. I can see more immediate reactions to queries as you’re reading them. I’m getting more out of this than I have reading article after article after article of what makes a ‘perfect query.’ I’m getting frustrated with all the conflicting info I’m seeing.
    I haven’t queried you yet, but I’ve added you to my list. Great site!

  14. Poshykitty Says:

    Wow, this was so interesting! Thanks for taking the time to post it.
    I honestly can’t believe how many authors use the old looking-in-the-mirror technique to describe their characters. Who knew?
    I am curious to know if the request rate for this batch of queries is pretty typical for you.