August 21st, 2009


letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 271 (a new record since I started tracking them)
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 3
genres of partials/manuscripts requested: fantasy, women's fiction, SF thriller (the SF thriller was an upgrade from a requested partial to a full)

# of queries left to read: around 600

This week's interesting (or perhaps confounding) tidbit: I'm past amazed at the number of queries arriving with either the title or the paranormal race in the book being called "Guardians." Seriously. What's up with this?

This week's query wars casualty: The person who sent the code for an embedded YouTube link as their query. Not only does this not work on my email program, but oddly enough, I'm not going to go look it up either.

Dear Authors:

As many of those reading this blog know, our submission guidelines ask for a query letter, a synopsis, and the first five pages of your novel. They also specifically state that we do not open unsolicited attachments. Of course, not everyone reads the submission guidelines (as I can very easily see every week from the number of queries that arrive for types of books that we say we specifically do NOT represent). So, every week, there are a few queries that show up with attachments and some snailmail ones that show up with much more than five pages, or sometimes even the entire manuscript. I'm not a rules lawyer type, so if it's seven instead of five because that's the end of a scene, I'm not going to have some sort of breakdown and need comfort food to make myself feel better about the whole thing. (mmmm.... comfort food....)

However, when it becomes obvious that the first chapter is thirty pages long and/or the author points out somewhat smugly in their query that it doesn't cost any extra to send a somewhat longer email than the guidelines indicate, I have to admit it doesn't make me more pleasantly inclined towards the work in question. Why? Because somehow it feels like they're taking advantage of something. And, given the constraints of time, it suggests they feel their query should get more of it than someone else's. In my view, they are disrespecting the other authors submitting.

And when a person replies and says: "If only you would read my book (not just the five pages), you would see what a great work it is. After all what do you have to waste but a few hours of your precious time?" -- well.... I'm not denying the fact that there is a possibility they are correct (though I honestly don't feel it's much of a probability). And I understand where their frustration is coming from. However. They are making an assumption that there is a pile of free time sitting here not being used. And what's more, if there were, I wouldn't want to "waste" it (their word, not mine).

And then there's the question of what's fair and what's right in terms of trying to evaluate the rising tide of submissions. Based on today's numbers, how many "precious hours" would it take to just read 270 or so books, rather than try to make the fairest assessment I can on each one based on what I know represents only a soundbite version? Let's say it takes 3 hours to read and assess a full manuscript (that's just an average -- naturally some read faster than others). That would be over 800 hours of reading for this week's queries alone. And there's only 168 hours in a week (counting the ones where a person is supposed to do things other than reading). So, um, well, the math there just doesn't work. Particularly since my clients would probably have me committed over it.

Despite what some may think, the query system wasn't devised to keep the agents and editors from reading great books. Instead, it is intended to maximize their exposure to same. Unfortunately, the laws of the solar system and the spinning of the Earth as well as various physiological limits have conspired against everyone in this case. If I had more hours to read, I'd take 'em. Definitely. I am, after all, an addict.

If you had three hours of "extra time" granted to you this week (like roll-over minutes, I guess, from some other week where you magically didn't use them all up), what would you spend them doing?