Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Ten Queries... Brought To You From My Slush Pile!

Most of you will probably know the concept of #tenqueries from Twitter. I keep getting asked to do one of those, so here you go... 
Before I start, I'd like to point out that I love queries, I really do. Whenever a new query pops up in my inbox, I’m exhilarated by the prospect of finding a manuscript that makes me tingle all over. There's always the hope that the next one will be it -- a manuscript I have to add to my list. Yes, we might complain about too many queries in our inbox and a to-read list that's completely out of control, but we depend on writers sending us their work. So please don't take our complaints too seriously. Even if we hide it well at times... we love that crazy slush pile. That's the good news. 

The bad news is that literary agencies receive, depending on size and profile, dozens – sometimes even hundreds – of new queries each week. We’ve read thousands of queries. And how many fulls do I request? Phh... all in all 1 out of 15 perhaps? Or 1 out of 20? I'm not entirely sure, I would have to look at my Excel spreadsheet (yes, I log every incoming submission), but it doesn’t sound like a hell of a lot, does it? That's exactly why it is so important to have a strong and well-prepared query. To persuade me that I want – no, need – to read the rest of your manuscript.

In my submission guidelines I ask for a query letter, a short full-plot synopsis, and the first 3 chapters of the manuscript, so I don't base my decision on the pitch alone (unless it's a genre I don't represent), but always have a quick look at the pages, too. 

Ready? Alright, let's do this. Let's have a look at those (completely random) gems in my inbox.

1) Contemporary YA: Love the pitch and the premise. It's exactly what I've been asking to see during one of my #MSWL sessions. Unfortunately, the pages aren't as strong as I'd like. The writing isn't "tight" enough. There are far too many adverbs and adjectives, and the voice is slightly irritating. I don't mind a dramatic main character, but there should always be a reason why your MC acts, reacts, or behaves a certain way. I'm not a huge fan of someone being overly dramatic just for the sake of it. Also, far too much backstory in the first chapter. Goes to show that an intriguing premise isn't enough. Pass. (Sad face.)

2) Adult thriller: The query letter mentions the overall theme, but there's no proper pitch. Synopsis and sample chapters are not included. I don't know anything about the main character, confIict, or hook... and have absolutely no reason to read on. Pass. 

3) Adult Romance: The premise reminds me of the movie The Lake House starring Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves -- just with a bigger time gap (and actual time traveling back and forth). It sounds somewhat interesting, but unfortunately, that's not my cup of tea at all. That's just one of those things that comes down to personal preference, which I will mention in my rejection. All my decisions are based on my personal taste, so I want the writer to know that it didn't have anything to do with their story or writing. Pass.

4) Adult Romance: The pitch itself isn't actually that strong, but I still think I see the story's appeal. The pages are great. I love the voice -- it's funny, it's sassy, and it makes me want to read on. The query letter might be a little too generic and boring, but the sample chapters totally hooked me, so I'll give it a chance and hope for the best. Full request. (Yay!)

5.) Novel (no genre specified): No pitch. There are only bullet points: Title - [...]; Genre - Novel; Word count - 18,000. Synopsis and chapters attached instead of pasted into the body of the email. Where do I start? Firstly, the submission doesn't follow my guidelines (proper query letter and NO attachments). Secondly, a novel at 18k words? Yeah, that's not how I define a novel. And thirdly, I have no idea what this is about. I don't know the genre, I don't really know anything apart from the title and the word count. Why in this world would I want to request the full manuscript? When you put together your submission, be honest and put yourself in my shoes: would you want to see more? Always remember that I don't know anything about you and your work. All I have is what you give me -- a first impression. Don't waste it so easily. Pass.

6.) Contemporary YA: A revised resubmission. I previously passed on the partial because the first 3 chapters weren't strong enough. Too much info-dump, too little action, and the writing wasn't quite strong enough. Since I really liked the premise and the pitch, I said I'd be happy to look at it again after an extensive revision. The writing has definitely improved (yay). Unfortunately though, the sample chapters still feature far too many irrelevant scenes. By the end of chapter 3 we haven't even seen a glimpse of the story pitched in the query. That's a problem. It's a sure sign that the manuscript currently starts at the wrong time/ place. The writer needs to either revise those sample chapters one more time or cut them entirely. Right now I'm not drawn in by them enough to want to see what happens next. Pass. (Sigh.)

7.) Contemporary MG with elements of magical realism: Love love love the pitch. I immediately get a sense of the main character and her voice. Awesome premise, especially the element of magical realism. So creative. The partial is great, too. The voice pops out right from the first sentence. There are a couple of things I'm worried / unsure about, but I really want to know how this plays out. Full request. (Woop!)

8) New Adult: The book was self-published as e-book AND paperback a month ago. The author doesn't provide any sales information, but then again it's only been out for a month. Not entirely sure how I can help. At this time, I'm very hesitant when it comes to books that have already been published. Unless the author has a great track record, it's extremely hard to interest traditional publishers in books that are already out there -- especially since they no longer get the chance to publish it first and exclusively. So here my tip: whether you want to self-publish or follow the traditional route is absolutley your choice. But please make that decision BEFORE you make it available on Amazon (etc.). There's nothing I can do for this particular author. Pass. P.S. Sending me an Amazon link is NOT a query. So even if you self-published and decide to query, I still expect a proper submission following my guidelines.

9. Paranormal Thriller (adult): The pitch isn't bad, but I know straight away that it's not right for me. Parts of the story sound interesting, but I'm not really the best fit for paranormal stories. Psychics, ghosts, demons... that's just not my thing when it comes to adult fiction, I'm afraid. I do love psychological thrillers, but I want them to be realistic without any paranormal or fantastical bends, please. But I'm sure another agent will feel differently about this particular manuscript. Pass.

10. Contemporary YA: Author calls me Jessica (strike 1), slags off other ("meaningless") YA fiction (strike 2), and the manuscript is far too preachery ("to teach teenagers about life") (strike 3). 3 strikes are at least 2 too many (I could have overlooked the Jessica bit if it weren't for the other... problems). I'm over this submission already. Pass.

So... I feel a bit harsh right now, but HEY... 2 full requests. That's something, right? 

See, Zac agrees.... I think. 


  1. I found this interesting…it's only my second ten query list, I enjoyed your humor, and following your thought process. I am, however, curious about the already self published work comments. Wouldn't a publisher be interested regardless of the published title if the work was something they had been seeking? What about the bigger picture..like a series? Have they all given up the writing contracts allowing an author freedom to continue to write? What about picking up someone who has shown some success/sales?
    You gave me something to think about and I thought it couldn't hurt to ask..thx for a moment..June

    1. Hi June, thanks for your comment. I recommend you check out this link: http://theblabbermouthblog.com/2014/06/09/getting-an-agent-by-self-publishing-your-manuscript-what-some-agents-think/ It should answer all your questions regarding that topic. (I hope.)

  2. #5 made me laugh!
    Thanks for the list and your thoughts.

  3. I enjoyed your thought process here. Very cool to get an inside glimpse.

  4. I really appreciated this! It's the most informative tenqueries I've seen yet. #1 could possibly describe my own YA novel--I need to go back and check on that. I'm confused about #2: the query mentions the overall theme but there's "no proper pitch." I'm not sure what you mean by that, and I wonder if my query has a "proper pitch." Thanks so much for doing this. It's so helpful to all us writers out there who know how to write pretty much everything except a query. --Christa in France

    1. By "overall theme" I mean something along the lines of "international thriller about corruption", "YA novel dealing with friendship and first love", or "NA novel about figuring out college and sorority life". This tells me the topic of your novel but it isn't the pitch. The pitch should tell me something about the main character. Their goal, what or who is stopping them from achieving it? What's the conflict? Why should I want to read it? Hope that helps.

  5. It's nice to see an agent's thought process and the reason why a query didn't make the cut. Thank you for posting this! It was an eye opener!