Another Submission Count

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jul 18 2008

I was out of the office recently and flagged those e-queries I received when I downloaded them on Saturday morning. Now keep in mind these are only queries received Wednesday through Friday.

In those three days I had 70 e-queries. What a nice round number! Once I got to them, about a week or so after they arrived, it took me roughly four days to get through the list. So here is how I responded . . .

24 were rejected for really no other reason than that the story didn’t grab me. In most cases the queries were well written, but the stories often felt blasé. They just didn’t have that spark.

In 2 cases the word count was noticeably short. Now I didn’t reject on word count alone, but if I was on the fence, the word count would have pushed me to reject.

In 6 cases the query was rejected because it was YA and I don’t represent YA. I realize I don’t specifically say on the Web site that I don’t represent YA, but I don’t.

In 5 cases the query was for something that clearly I don’t represent (other than YA). This could have been a variety of things—screenplay, poetry, military fiction (a la Tom Clancy) or just things that seemed a little too far outside of my comfort level.

In 10 cases I just didn’t feel the concept was different enough, and this holds for both fiction and nonfiction. It just felt way too familiar, like a story or a book that’s been done before.

In 5 cases I really just did not like the voice of the letter and assumed that would be similar to the voice of the book.

1 submission was for a children’s book, which I definitely don’t represent.

In 7 cases the query was so obscure that I really couldn’t understand or follow it at all.

In 1 case the query was forwarded, but the forwarded query had the name of another agent/agency, and in 1 case there was a long list of agent email addresses in the “to” column.

The good news is that I did request or respond positively to 4 queries. For 1 I simply asked for more information, and for 3 I requested partials. The bummer was that one of the requests had apparently been emailed to all of us at once and the work was being sent to Jacky instead.

So, some interesting information about the queries:

1 did not include a letter at all, but just partial material.

1 was sent to me, but addressed to Kim.

1 requested feedback on a query I had already rejected.

9 of the queries were nonfiction and 4 included attachments.

4 were addressed generically to “literary agent,” “dear sir,” or “BookEnds Agent.”

2 used the phrase “first novel,” which never works for me.

1 response to my rejection was urging me to read more, implying that I hadn’t read enough to make an informed decision.

And 5 of you were very, very sweet and sent thank-you emails after receiving my response. Thank you.


17 responses to “Another Submission Count”

  1. Avatar Mark Terry says:

    Sort of reinforces a thought I’ve had before: I don’t think I’d enjoy being a literary agent.

  2. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I agree with Mark Terry on this — I can barely get through my own writing stuff, I honestly don’t know how agents do it sometimes. I got tired just reading that!

    BUT, re: “…I realize I don’t specifically say on the Web site that I don’t represent YA, but I don’t…”

    Why NOT state on the website?

    The community of kidlit authors really do try so hard to abide by the rules.

  3. Avatar beth says:

    Thanks for doing this. I always find it interesting to see what the mail pile looks like at an agents desk. This sort of post never gets old for me.

  4. Avatar Heidi says:

    If I were an agent, I would count reviewing queries one of those parts of the job I dreaded. It might be fun for a week to see new ideas, but it sounds like enough bad stuff gets through that it would make me pull my hair out!

    BTW: I now know you hate the words “first novel” but I didn’t know that months ago when I queried, and you still requested my manuscript. It’s nice to know some mistakes aren’t the kiss of death!

  5. I understand your logic on not wanting to know if it’s a first novel, but what should a writer put in the paragraph that’s supposed to cite writing credentials? If I’ve never published, haven’t won any awards, and it IS my first novel, is it better to not say anything?

  6. Avatar Loralee says:

    Lots of helpful information for any writer looking for representation.

    Thanks, Jessica, for the time and effort you put into these posts.

    Thanks, Kim, for hanging in there with me.

  7. Seconding Melanie’s question. I have some ideas but love hearing different people’s takes on this.

    Keri–if the writer has never published/won awards/do anything, they might not belong to any formal writing groups. (Some require at least short story credits to join, although it varies by group and genre.) Of course, this doesn’t mean the writer isn’t fully capable and publishable, just that they might be very early in their writing career and not have much to note there yet.

  8. Avatar Keri Ford says:

    That’s interesting Kristin. I’m only familiar with groups you join to better learn your craft (obviously:O) and other things such as promotion.

  9. Thanks Keri and Kim. Like Kristin, I’ve read various things about what to include in the elusive third paragraph, but examples always help.

    My personal situation prevents me from joining any physical critique groups. I’m part of a small online group, as well as a large forum, but those don’t strike me as the types of things an agent wants to know about. For now I’ll stick with the happy to share bit.

  10. Avatar Gabrielle says:

    It must be so difficult to ever find an original story after reading such a volume of ideas… Colleen Lindsay over at Swivet usually comments on the trends (autism, unicorns, etc.) that eerily appear in query letters at the same time.

    What an odd world publishing is!

  11. Avatar Anonymous says:

    All the agents SAY they’re looking for something truly original, but in reality, they pass on original concepts because they don’t fit in with what has sold before.

    Most agents are herders, too.

    But when one vanguard agent takes a chance and breaks out with a winning new concept, the floodgates open and the copycats rush in for the next few years.

    Other agents simply lie in wait like a cat and pounce when they see some small press newb blazing up the Amazon charts. But what agents don’t do is take a chance on new material. “Not right for us” means “I don’t think I can make money with this.”

    You’ve got to either find someone who belives they can make money with your book, or else start making money with it yourself until they come to you.

  12. “And 5 of you were very, very sweet and sent thank-you emails after receiving my response. Thank you.”

    Interesting. I was told not to send a thank you as it just irritates agents with more e-mail. *Makes note once again about all agents being different.*

  13. Avatar Marian says:

    It actually leaves even a worse impression if you tell me that this is your first book AND you’ve spent years polishing it.

    Illuminating response, Kim. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read this before on any query letter do’s-and-don’ts articles, but it makes sense. And it’s one of the smaller mistakes that might be more easily made, too.

    Thanks for the posts!

  14. Avatar Vicki says:

    Julie – I’m with you. I’ve been told not to send thank you notes, since it becomes one thing the agent has to open.

    Must re-think. 🙂

    Thanks Jessica for the post and Kim for the response in the comments.

  15. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I find it interesting when agents say that they turn down projects because they’ve been done before. I really do believe that all stories have been told-but it is in the telling and exploration of character that makes one story rise above the others. I learned this querying. You can’t just write a decent query, you need one that showcases your writing as well as demonstrates what makes your story unique. It is all in what you bring to the table. It is all in the writing.

  16. Avatar John C. says:

    Hmm, I wasn’t aware of the First Novel bit either. I always put “this is my first” even though it’s not. Why? Because I’m unpublished. I guess I’ll simply keep my query letter silent on the matter from here on out.

    I’ve written 5 novels in the past 4 years. The first two I only did limited querying and learned about the publishing biz. The third I queried a bit and had some interest.

    I’m querying the 4th novel now. I feel better about understanding the biz better with all the blog reading and research I’ve done on individual agents. Meanwhile, I’ve finished outlining my sixth novel and will start polishing my fifth as I await the rejections for my 4th to start pourining in!


  17. “Julie – I’m with you. I’ve been told not to send thank you notes, since it becomes one thing the agent has to open.

    Must re-think. :)”

    I’ve come to the conclusion I need to start hanging around agent blogs I plan on submitting to when the time comes. They quite frequently will state what their preferences are beyond the standard submission guidelines.

    While I think most are forgiving enough to ignore a mistake if they love the query, why make more mistakes than you have to?