It’s That Time Again

June 12th, 2009 • Kate

live-blog-1You asked, I answer! Now it’s time for another live-blog of my queries. I’ve got over 100 in my inbox right now, but we’ll just see how many I can get through. To recap — this isn’t about making fun of anyone (aka, it’s not queryfail), but is hopefully just an exercise to help you see my thought process as I go through your query letters and try to find something with that incalculable “something” that makes me what to read more. Ready?

1. Not making things easy for me, are you? This one is a no, because it’s a format and age range that feel incompatible to me. It might work younger, with illustrations, in which case it would need to be shorter.
2. An adult police thriller. An easy no.
3. The query for the next one emphasized plot over the hook — not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case I felt like I had been told the entire story of the book, and didn’t need to read it for myself.
4. This next one felt rather amateurish to me — in that the author clearly loves what he’s writing, but isn’t going about things in the most professional way. The format, the sample, the letter: each felt a little off, a little not-ready-for-submission.
5. An interesting idea, but without any sample pages, all I have to go on for writing style is the query letter itself, and the voice there takes a backseat to the concept.

6. The writing in this one just isn’t polished enough.
7. Another in a long series of fantasy novels featuring the one outsider who can save the world. Opening pages, setting up character’s boredom, unfortunately cause that effect on the reader.
8. Not sure what gave the author of this next one the idea his book was middle grade, but it’s not. Also, authors, when you compare your book to my clients’ titles, are you condescending to them? Not a good idea.
9. Some interesting bits in this next one, but I wasn’t drawn in by the writing.
10. Well written, but more on the side of epic or traditional fantasy than is my preference to represent.

11. This next one was a tough decision. Strong writing, but it includes a paranormal element that I think might take away from the driving plot. For me, if I have doubts, that’s unlikely to turn into a yes, so I say no early (and hopefully less painfully).
12. Conceptually similar to a title I already represent, and I didn’t feel the characters were strong enough to stand on their own.
13. A non fiction query that might fit my interest in pop culture, but feels more sociological than pop. Beyond that, the voice is offputting to me.
14. Paranormal romance that doesn’t feel big enough for me — I like reading category romance, but it’s not what I want to represent. There’s a reason I don’t list “romance” on my submission interests and it’s useful for you to know, as authors, that that may mean I don’t have any contacts with editors in that world. Is that what you want from an agent?
15. MG fantasy that makes me rethink my stated interest in “quirky.” To me, “quirky” does not mean deliberate misspellings, excessive use of exclamation marks, and an overabundance of puns. And yet, many authors seem to think that’s what I mean.

16. Another novel more romance than mainstream women’s fiction, with some interesting literary allusions, but just not for me.
17. Traditional fantasy, well-written, from an author with nice credentials, but better for one of my colleagues that specializes in adult fantasy.
18. Adult literary novel with recent-historical social commentary. I’ve lost count of the ways this is wrong for me.
19. While I recognize a market for it, I’m not interested in YA or MG nonfiction.
20. Another adult thriller. Another easy no.

21. A YA mystery, but I’m overwhelmed and lost in the plot description included in the query, and the voice of the main character/narrator doesn’t appeal to me.
22. YA paranormal, but the writing feels too unpolished, and the synopsis has a squick-inducing plot that’s hard to get over.
23. A memoir, which might work for YA or MG, but the writing doesn’t appeal to me.
24. Chick lit, where I wished for more about the character before getting into a traditional everything-goes-wrong-before-it-goes-right plot.
25. Another category romance. Also, a note: there is no need for images in your emails to me. My mail program interprets them as attachments, and attachments may get your query deleted unread. Do yourself a favor and don’t risk it. No images. There’s no need.

On that note, I’m taking a break for lunch. More later!
And… we’re back!

26. Overly long women’s fiction with a story that just doesn’t draw me in. And by overly long, I’m talking over 200,000 words. May I direct you to this post by Moonrat which explains why we have general “no longer than” cut-offs for books?
27. An “unconventional” submission that gets a very conventional “no thank you.” Completely out of my stated interests.
28. As #26 was too long, #28 here is too short — the word count and voice are more appropriate for an early chapter book than a middle grade novel, which is fine, but not for me.
29. Women’s fiction with another girl-loses-everything-in-order-to-find-herself-and-love type of plots. May be great, but just didn’t draw me in.
30. A middle grade novel from a previously published author that feels a little too issue-driven (or rather, Important Theme-y) for me.

31. So you know how yesterday I said I was getting tired of paranormals with the same old vampires, werewolves, fairies, ghosts, and guardian angels? This is an angel book.
32. Adult novel on the literary side. Wrong for me.
33. Oh good, I was worried I wouldn’t have a chance to repeat one of my favorite comments: if I can play your novel as a D&D campaign, it’s not for me.
34. The idea that a novel written by a teenager represents a special closeness to the teen experience is nice, but it has to stand up against the writing quality of those who have spent years perfecting their craft.
35. My first request of the day! A middle grade novel that wasn’t immediately hook-y, but where the writing drew me in with the compelling voice of the main character. I’m curious enough about her to want to read what happens next.

36. To continue on with my thought from #34, a young writer’s book that isn’t about a young protagonist, without that “teen experience” as a selling point, is even harder to place. It’s all about the writing!
37. Another request! A YA high-tech thriller. Really curious to see what happens next.
38. Sigh. Why so much raping, authors? A dark adult novel with a paranormal aspect. I just don’t want to read more after a serious downer of an opening.
39. I think fellow Colorado lit agent Rachelle Gardner said something similar recently, but no, living in a small town does not give you a unique ability to write about small town life. Also, I’m wary of middle grade novels set in what appears to be the author’s own childhood — they often lack appeal for contemporary children.
40. Vampires. Why did it have to be vampires? And witches, and civil war, and I think I’ve seen this before.

41. I’ve said this before, too. Don’t query in the voice of your characters. Particularly when they’re dead things. It’s kinda creepy.
42. This one was a close one, but again, I tend to err on the side of saying no. Compelling idea, but it’s one that I feel has been done before, and I don’t know if the heroine’s voice is unique enough.
43. Without actually saying the word “superhero,” that’s what this feels like to me — an origin story. I already have two superhero novels on my list, so that’s enough for me.
44. Three! My third request — this one a YA crime novel that might fulfill that Veronica Mars yen I spoke about yesterday.
45. An unpersonalized email send to me via bcc. about the author’s self-published book. You may be seeking representation, but this comes across as unwelcome promotion, and is not for me.

Ok, this next one doesn’t earn a number. But emailing me that it’s too much work to include your first three pages in an email and that if I won’t take an attachment or snail mail means you won’t query me — well, is “good riddance” too harsh?

46. A little confusing. This one feels familiar, but I can’t find a record of it in my archives. So this could be either of two things: I saw it before and already made a decision, which I will stick to; or it’s familiar because it’s a lot like something I’ve already seen, which doesn’t speak well to originality and newness, as editors would see it. The lesson from this: if you’re resubmitting, TELL ME. If it’s a revision that you think would change my mind, make that clear (even though I don’t usually change my mind about revisions).
47. Memoir, without the pop culture aspect that would turn it into something I’m interested in representing.

Going to take a break now. Nowhere near the over 100 I had to look at, but with three requests, I consider it a fairly good day. Any questions, sing out in the comments.

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31 Responses to “It’s That Time Again”

  1. Anna Says:

    YES! I love these! Thanks so much, Daphne!

  2. Jeannie Says:

    I really enjoy this! It's as if I have the inside scoop! 🙂

  3. Katie Says:

    This is a very fun read but my query is in the mix there somewhere and my stomach is in a knot.

  4. Kate Says:

    Katie, if you're one of my blog readers, chances are you're not going to make one of the mistakes that people who don't read the blog might make, right? In which case, if I do get to your query and end up declining, you'll get more of a personal response than you would otherwise. And isn't that a good thing?

    I'm not just trying to put an optimistic spin on things, I'm seriously curious. If any author out there feels I'm being unjustly cruel or things these live blogs are more akin to rubbernecking an accident than something helpful, please let me know.

  5. Adri Says:

    I don't think you're being unjustly cruel. I think my query's in the pile you're wading through as well (unless it got lost in transit) and while I am chewing my nails and wallowing in a morass of self-induced insecurity wondering if any of the criticisms mentioned are about my story/writing, I don't think anything you're saying is in any way malicious. I've seen some agents be unnecessarily nasty; this comes nowhere close. You're just being honest about valid points that cause you to reject queries, and I find it interesting and helpful.

    And now I feel like I'm butt-kissing. I'ma go back to rubberne–er, watching now.

  6. Katie Says:

    I agree with Adri and Jeannie. It's fun to see what you think about the different stories that come to you. It's great insight I wish I would have found sooner. (Just so you know I'm not sucking up. I queried under a nom de plume.)

  7. TereLiz Says:

    Anything that gets me into the head of an agent is helpful to me and my approach to the querying process. Thanks. And no, I don't think you are being cruel in the least. You are helping writers understand the difficult thought processes you must go through to do something as simple as request a partial in pretty kind and honest words.

    No one could complain that the time you spend doing this would be better spent reading more queries, not if they are serious about improving their writing to earn an agent.

    And I'm biting off my fingernails, too, because I'm probably in that pile! 😉

  8. Karen Says:

    Add me in as another one trying to identify my own query in the mix. I'm seriously hoping I'm not the amateurish one. 🙂 Regardless, I'm enjoying the view into your decision-making process. Thanks for taking the time to show us how you work.

  9. Christina Farley Says:

    I look forward to your lists because it not only helps me see how an agent looks at the slush pile, but it also shows me what you are looking for. So thanks.

  10. Shawna Says:

    I never realized how nerve-wracking something like this can be when it's your query in the mix. So far I've counted three that could be mine (right genre) but I hope I'm wrong. ; )

    I don’t think you’re being cruel, unjustly or otherwise.

  11. Kristy Says:

    I've heard it's "good" to compare how your work is suited to what the agent already represents. In fact, I've seen it stated on agents' blogs that they would like to know if your writing is similar to a current client.

    That being said, #8 says it seems condescending. Would you recommend not mentioning current clients when comparing work?

  12. Karen Says:

    I love this! I wish more agents would do it and I certainly don't think you are being mean-spirited about it. Even though my query has long since passed through your inbox (whew!) I still learn from posts like these. So thanks for once again giving us info we can use.

  13. Leslie Ann Says:

    are there going to be more?

  14. Karen Says:

    In reference to #26 Jennifer Jackson has a post about word counts on her blog today.
    http://arcaedia.livejournal.com/204327.html

  15. Kate Says:

    Kristy, regarding your question on my comment on #8. It is a good thing to talk about an agent's other clients, but I'm not sure that saying your book is "so much better" than their books is the way to go, in the same way you don't endear yourself to a hostess by insulting her taste.

  16. Ashley Says:

    It's extremely helpful to know what's going on inside your head! I just don't know how I'd feel if mine was one of the ones going through this process… I wouldn't be able to get away from my computer. I'd keep hitting the refresh key and hope it was updated with something recognizable.

    I have one question, though. If the first chapter has a different tone from the rest of the novel, would that turn you off from asking for more? For example, the prologue takes place in a different time period and therefore wasn't written with witty narration but then there's a jump to modern day when it gets to chapter one.

    As I finish my revisions and start thinking one step ahead, this is my greatest fear about my novel. But I can't figure out a way to make it work if I started in present-day just so I could send pages from the main narration.

  17. Anna Says:

    Daphne, I was reading Alyson Noel's first book and I noticed she thanks someone else as her agent. What's the story there? Could it be a helpful/interesting learning experience for publishing newbies like myself, to learn why and how one would change one's agent? Thanks!

  18. Kate Says:

    Ashley –

    What I would want to see in the example you cite is the first three pages from the first chapter, not the prologue. And then you can ask yourself — if the story works without the prologue, do I need it at all?

    I'm on a campaign to rid the world of prologues! (ok, not really)

  19. Ashley Says:

    That's great to know, thanks!

    The prologue is actually a dream (weeee, clichés!) in the 19th century and she wakes up, present day, in chapter one. It's got pieces of necessary backstory, but I guess I could figure out other ways of including them. I'll rethink it.

    Thanks again!

  20. Jamie Says:

    I LOVE these… mine isn't in there this time–but I can't help wonder what it would take for the unfeasable one to take on another superhero book 🙂

  21. Becky Says:

    How do you feel about novels in verse?

  22. ElanaJ Says:

    I love this sneak peek into agenting! Thanks Kate!

  23. ChristaCarol Says:

    These are great! It is great to get into the mind of an agent. I have a YA fantasy (contemp. voice though) I've been considering pitching to you, but now it seems you may not be interested in this particular genre right now? Some agents say query anyway, as one never knows when the agent might change their mind (as authors we must always be hopeful). What would you say?

    Keep 'em coming! Great learning experience for all of us I think.

  24. Kate Says:

    Becky – I'm not a fan — or rather, I may be a fan, but I'm not the best reader for them, so I usually pass.

    Christa – You can always try me, if you believe your novel is exceptional.

  25. laine Says:

    Wow. This is awesome. It's great to get an inside look at what kinds of things might get me turned down. I have to say, this blog has been an invaluable source of info. over the last couple of months.

    You're my number one agent to query…if I ever get up the guts to actually send the query out. I do happen to have a YA paranormal with none of the usual vampires, ghosts, werewolves etc…oh, and it's also written from a teenage boy's point of view. When I saw that actually listed in your likes I almost had a heart attack. 🙂

    I am curious about something though. Just how important is the synopsis, if you like the writing style of the book? I think I have a decent query, and the book is done…but I'm having a hard time with the synopsis. It's decent…but I'm not sure it's decent enough.

  26. laine Says:

    wow. sorry for using the word decent so many times. Guess I should have read it over before hitting submit. I sound like an idiot. Luckily, I'm under an alias:)

  27. Susan Says:

    I agree that your tone is far from harsh, here. I'm still trying to get over the thing between 45 and 46!

    P.S.–I am not kissing up because you already represent me. 🙂

  28. Megan Says:

    YES! Thank you, Daphne! These are always interesting and give rare insight to the contents of your inbox! Thank you!

  29. Christie Chambless Says:

    I agree with Katie, this is a fun way to stay in the loop. I too have a query in there somewhere, so I was wondering if you send out responses to everybody. Or do you only e-mail back if you would like to see more?

  30. Kate Says:

    I respond to everyone unless, as I mentioned on Twitter the other day, the email is not personalized to me and reads more like a press release than a query. Those I treat as self-promotional spam.

  31. I Need Your Help! Plus links, competition and fried green tomatoes | Website of Megan Burke Says:

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