A Peek in the Query Pile

April 16th, 2012 • Kate

I know my Live Blogs of my queries are usually a big hit, and since I’ve spent a good amount of time this weekend reading, I wanted to share some thoughts about some of what I saw. My fellow Colorado lit agent Sara Megibow often tweets a weekly #10Queriesin10Tweets, so think of this as a slightly longer version of that, while still shorter than a full live blog. As always, I don’t do this to call out any one writer, but hopefully to give a sense of what might make an agent say yes or no after reading a few pages. Ready?


  1. Pass. Contemporary MG. Interesting concept, but weak writing, plus a number of grammatical mistakes.
  2. Pass. YA paranormal (I think. It’s unclear.) Another interesting concept, and a great opening paragraph, but the author makes a common mistake and keeps things way too vague in the rest of the query. Of course you don’t want to give away the twists and turns of your narrative, but you need to be specific enough to intrigue me.
  3. Pass. Short story collection for MG, which isn’t an automatic pass, though it is close. The real reason I’m declining is because the author doesn’t tell me anything about the plots, and instead focuses on the lessons to be learned in reading the stories.
  4. Pass. Contemporary YA novel, with unfortunately weak writing, so much so that it was hard to even get a handle on the query.
  5. Pass. A YA fantasy novel highly dependent on issues of destiny and prophecy, which I find a challenge to enjoy.
  6. Pass. Adult mystery/suspense, which I don’t represent.
  7. Pass. Another adult novel, this one a suspense/mystery. (I wonder what the difference is?)
  8. Pass. Self-help. Although this is more practical minded than most self-help, it still isn’t something I rep.
  9. Pass. Another YA about a prophecy and a chosen one. In addition, the author neglects to include the sample pages I request in my submission guidelines. While they might not have convinced me, you should always give yourself every change to win over an agent, and that includes sending what they ask to see.
  10. Pass. A series of books for young children on dealing with difficult situations. Again, these are books pitched for the lessons they impart, not the stories they tell.
  11. Pass. Adult fantasy, which is usually a pass anyway, but this one clocks in at over 200,000 words. Way too long for me! (And I don’t just mean length of time to read — I can’t believe that a book that long doesn’t need major pruning.)
  12. Pass. YA with definite adult category romance stylings. That said, I don’t get much of a sense of the plot, only the set-up that puts the plot in motion.
  13. Taking a closer look. YA sci fi (which seems to be of great interest to me right now!).  Quirky, poking fun at the usual overdone trends, and coming up with something interesting. Worth a closer look.
  14. Pass. Women’s fiction based on the author’s own life.  Besides the fact that I don’t represent women’s fiction, I’d not sure opening with the fact that it’s autobiographical is your strongest selling point.
  15. Pass. Another women’s fiction. While it’s true I used to look for this, after three years of being open to it, and not finding anything of interest, it’s no longer something I seek, which has been noted on my submissions page for several months, if not a year.
  16. Pass. YA sci fi again, but with weak writing.
  17. No response. This is a repeat of a query sent four days previously, to which I’d already passed. Even seeing hundreds of queries a month, if not more, I still have a pretty good memory, and if something sounds familiar, I will doublecheck my files to see if I already saw it.
  18. No response again, for the same reason. Guys, I know I’ve been behind, but resending a query a week or so after you send it the first time, when my stated response time is within two weeks, just stinks of spamming.
  19. Pass. YA ghost story that just feels like I’ve seen it before.
  20. Pass. Women’s fiction. Ergo, not a genre I represent.

So there you have it! That’s actually a pretty good sampling of my query inbox — out of 20 emails, I’m taking a closer look at just one. Seven of the queries were for genres I don’t rep, so figure about 35% of my queries are misdirected — but still take time to answer.

With these kind of numbers, why do I still accept queries? Because there are some AMAZING manuscripts in there, and I LOVE finding them. The last three clients I signed — Elizabeth Briggs, Krista Van Dolzer, and Susan Adrian — all came to me via my query inbox. You might be next!

Filed Under: Slushpile

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27 Responses to “A Peek in the Query Pile”

  1. Rebecca Petruck Says:

    Congratulations to Elizabeth, Krista and Susan!

  2. Elizabeth Briggs Says:

    Thank you. 🙂

  3. Susan Adrian Says:

    Thank you!

  4. Krista Van Dolzer Says:

    Thanks, Rebecca! Happy to join the ranks of Kate's MG writers;)

  5. Rebecca Enzor Says:

    I love the Live Blogs of your queries. Definitely helps to see why you are passing on things.

  6. Ella Schwartz Says:

    Great insight! But why do people insist on wasting your time with genres you clearly don't represent! *sigh*

  7. Stephanie Scott Says:

    Very interesting! Thanks for sharing, it's always so insightful.

    I wish something more could be done about your 35% … Big red scrolling letters on your website perhaps: Read Submission Guidelines! But I know part of the problem might be that queriers are getting agent info from sources other than the agency website.

  8. KimberlyAfe Says:

    I love reading these little tidbits. Thanks for sharing them.

  9. Julia Says:

    This is wonderful!! Thanks so much for taking your time to do this service for the writing world 🙂 I loved what I learned.

  10. Paloma Says:

    So you respond to everyone even if it is a rejections, right?

  11. DaphneUn Says:

    For the most part, yes. Except for the ones above where I listed "no response," but in those cases, I had already responded to the previous query they'd sent on the same material. I also don't respond on mass emails to a large group of agents, or generic emails sent bcc.

  12. Jenna Says:

    Thank you for taking the time to share this. I am a few drafts away from being able to query my YA novel, but it is helpful to see these kind of comments/suggestions before I even begin to query.

  13. mblesy Says:

    Very helpful. Thanks. I noticed that you didn't get any MG queries. Are you wishing that you received more, or do you prefer YA? Thanks.

  14. DaphneUn Says:

    I got a couple of MG queries in this batch, actually. And I love YA and MG pretty equally, though my list right now is leaning a little heavy on YA. Which just means there's room for more MG.

  15. mblesy Says:

    Oops, I meant to say "many" not "any." I am in rewrite bliss now with my MG novel. Hope to have a query to you by early summer. Thanks for the reply.

  16. CWS Says:

    What does it mean when you put aside something for a "closer look"? I received a rejection a while back where it apologized for the delay but said you'd seen something intriguing about the query and had set it aside for a time (or words similar to that.) Would that have been a closer look query? Just curious…thanks!

  17. DaphneUn Says:

    That's it exactly, CWS. My procedure now in looking at queries is to read the letters first, and if I can make a decision at that stage, I send my response immediately. If I see something I like in the query and want to read the attached three pages, I put it aside for another time. I've found that that allows me both to respond more quickly to what doesn't work, and to devote the right amount of attention to what might work – which otherwise can get overlooked in a pile of not-right-for-me queries. In the case of the query mentioned above, I liked the pages, and asked for the first five chapters!

  18. CWS Says:

    Thank you for responding!
    So when you do go ahead and reject at this point, that would typically mean there's something lacking in the first three pages?

  19. Jean Oram Says:

    Books that imparted lessons (unless buried in a fabulous story) when I was a kid really, really annoyed me. What I always wonder about writers who love to preach in their kids books… what did they read and enjoy as a kid? Did that appeal to them?

    Just me mumbling out loud as I ponder the fact that you had a couple in your query slushpile.

    Thanks for sharing your pile, it's always great to see what it looks like from the other side of the computer screen.

  20. Jean Oram Says:

    P.S. I just noticed your site banner still says "Women's Fiction" which may be confusing some writers. Which reminds me… I have some updating on my own website. Eep! (Off to do that now…)

  21. DaphneUn Says:

    Thanks for the heads up, Jean! I just fixed it.

  22. LHauser27 Says:

    I enjoy your blog and your posts. Thanks so much for the info. I know for me, I was a bit confused because I saw in your submission guidelines that you didn't specifically mention women's fiction, but some of your favorite authors are Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot, and Jennifer Weiner- all writers of women's fiction. Also, I read the "agent spotlight" that was linked to the submissions page, and you stated women's fiction was one of your interests (although I did note that was from 2009). I was hesitant but decided to query you with my women's fiction novel anyway based on the listed authors you like and the link included on the submissions page. I apologize for creating extra reading for you. Maybe others saw the same thing I did??? Thanks again, though, for all your feedback to authors.

  23. Amber Says:

    Thanks for sharing this…I just braved your query list. fingers crossed.

    On a side note- I just finshed Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children…I loved it!!!

  24. saul Says:

    I came to this blog out of curiosity from query tracker.

    This is not going to be a popular response. I recognize my query in the line-up. While I appreciate, you clearly omit identifiable characteristics- this routine public outing and exploiting of the rejected query letters–seems unkind.

    With all due respect–as one of the writers who was rejected–this is NOT "a big hit." with everyone. I wish I had known that this was your practice. I did not know this or I would not have queried you.

    I absolutely admire the agent who invites writers to submit queries for her critique. It's above board–it's with the writer's blessing–and we all benefit.

    Now that I know that parts of our rejected queries were being held up for scrutiny as a "teaching tool' and entertainment for other writers–I will not query you again. I wish you advised writers on your that possibly one's rejected query will be referenced–publicly.

    I glanced through and stopped reading–it was very unpleasant.. I know all the combinations that can prompt a rejection—–good concept –weak writing or vice versa…etc etc.

    I learned nothing–except apparently not all agents are equipped with the kind of sensitivities that makes a good writer a good writer and persevere—- in spite of stuff like this.

    Wishing your agency all the best

  25. DaphneUn Says:

    Dear Saul – I'm sorry you feel that way. I maintain that the descriptions I pulled to post are relatively vague, and my purpose is not to be unkind, but to be a learning tool.

    I wanted to check myself if I could make the connection to your query, but I'm afraid I found no recent email from your address, or queries from someone with your name, if indeed you used the same name and/or email in your query as in this comment.

    However, I will not debate your point that an author who would take offense from my blog post is not likely to be a good match with my agenting style.

  26. @JanWritesBooks Says:

    I find these posts invaluable. Most authors want feedback on their queries so they can improve them. Most agents are too busy to give that kind of feedback on books they will never make money on.

    I'd not be offended at getting free advise on my query, even if it simply identified where my query was weak. This post may have just saved me being in the pass file with many agents. I think authors need to be adaptable and flexible in the journey to have their work published and if your query doesn't succeed, rewrite, rewrite and rewrite again until you connect with an agent. It isn't as if their aren't a lot of agents out there.