February 20th, 2009


letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 122
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 1
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: mystery

Dear Authors:

I imagine many of the readers of Agent Rachelle's blog were dismayed to learn of the change in guidelines at her agency. Due to the volume of queries they are getting, they are no longer giving a guarantee of a response unless they are interested. Luckily, they list a 60-day period as a limit for when you can expect to hear from them. She's pretty unhappy about this decision, but resigned to the necessity.

I can empathize with her position. The queries seem to come in faster than I have time to read and respond to them these days, and I have to admit that the amount of time I get to spend on them seems as if it's becoming less rather than more. Based on my weekly stats, so far this year, I have read an average of 33 queries per business day. Let's suppose for a moment that reading, assessing and responding to each one only took 3 minutes per query (some take more while others, such as those mentioned in the next paragraph, take less probably). So, a little more than 1 1/2 hours per day. That's almost 20% of (so-called) regular business hours. And they are unpaid business hours -- unless one of those queries yields a sale, and those statistics can be grueling as readers of this blog well know, so most of those queries will not generate commissions. Looking at those statistics and knowing I don't have that kind of time in a business day (who does now-a-days? and who only works 40 hours a week anyway?), it becomes rather obvious why every week many agents seem to fall a little bit further behind on response-times.

Plus it doesn't help when people send queries without doing even a moment of research. For example, this week I got a query for representation for a coloring book! And there are many queries that I get each week that fall into categories that are completely wrong for me -- business books seem to be the latest craze and given the economy I can see why. But one can hardly expect an author to understand the economy when they won't even take a few minutes to do research on the agents to whom they are submitting. It can feel so exasperating sometimes. I mean, in theory a person is sending you a query because they want to work with you on getting their book published, and yet so many seem to be so careless of your time (and, by extension, your clients' time).

More than one person has suggested to me that I consider closing submissions for a period of time, or only having them open for a set period. Which I suspect would end up meaning that I would continue to get business books (or the like) regardless. It's a suggestion I am resisting. I don't think it will get me what I want -- which is great novels by either new writers or those already published that I can feel passionate about representing, and can sell. I can't find them if I'm not looking.