When I first started out as an agent I was desperate. I’m not going to lie about that. I was sitting in my spare bedroom, turned home office, aka BookEnds headquarters trying to eek out a living by reading query after query (all via snail mail in those days) hoping one or two would be a winner. Needless to say I wasn’t very picky.
Queries: Getting Pickier and Pickier
It wasn’t long before stacks of binder clipped pages lined my walls and filled my one bookshelf. Each shelf had it’s own month designating when the materials had arrived. The sad thing was that in about an hour I could get through 5-6 of those proposals. Most of the time I didn’t read much beyond the first 10-15 pages. Most of the time I probably knew that from the query letter alone.
As time went on and I started building a client list I got pickier and pickier. I would trust my gut when reading a query and stop requesting things that were outside of my expertise just because they sounded interesting. Still though, there were times when I was asking for things I knew would be clunkers, but I just had to see for myself.
My time is even more precious now. I have a pretty full client list and with email queries I get tons and tons. I barely have time to read the submissions I request and I’m just not adding that many new clients to my list. Therefore I am much stricter with my queries. In fact, I just rejected one.
In the past I know I would have asked to see more. The idea was really intriguing. But the writing was weak. The query felt unpolished and a little cliche. It didn’t grab me in every way. So I passed.
I’m not alone in this. I would say most agents (except those who are new and building a business) are going to be just as picky as I am. As much as they’d love to read just because it might have potential, they usually don’t have the time. Queries are there for a purpose, they are to allow us to weed through what we want to spend our time on and what we don’t. They’re an introduction not just to the author’s plot and characters, but to the author’s writing as well and we’re going to look at all of that when making our decision.
So write those queries carefully.