Questions about Queries: a self-referential interview

hand mirror and womanLinda: Good morning! I wonder if we could ask you a few questions, a little interview of sorts?

Me: Sure. But referring to yourself in the third person will make people think you’re stuck up, or have an entourage, or crazy. Probably mostly crazy, since I’m interviewing myself, and “you” are actually “me.” Also, can you hold off on being so cheery and all exclamation pointy, please? I haven’t even finished my first coffee of the day.

Linda: Welllllll, ok then! Um, I mean, ok. So, your readers have some questions which I thought you might address, since I know from a very reliable source that you didn’t have any brilliant ideas to blog about this week.

Me: What source? Why do you think that? Just because I usually post on Thursdays and today’s Friday, you think I’m out of brilliant ideas? Sheesh.

Linda: Let’s not get too weird with the meta-ness of this post. How about I just get right to some questions about queries? Let’s start with whether you read all of your query letters? Do you read each one?

Me: The truth? Well, I have an intern who screens queries for me once a week, because they build up very quickly and I get buried. She’s been instructed to delete anything with an attachment that shouldn’t have an attachment (according to my submission guidelines). Anything addressed to anyone but me (e.g. to my boss, to a different agent, to whom it may concern) also gets deleted. If there’s a query and no pages it gets deleted. Genres that I don’t represent get a polite rejection. Attention is paid to the genres that I do represent. She can’t get through all my queries in one day, so I read a fair amount of them myself. I also read anything I’ve requested from a conference myself. My intern is instructed to leave those for me. It’s a good reason to pitch me at a conference.

Linda: So how many queries do you actually get? You’re always complaining about being “buried.” How hard could it be to keep up?

Me: You don’t need to be so judgmental about it. I’m busy! Queries aren’t the only thing I do you know. I can get anywhere between 2 and 20 queries a day. So at the end of a week, if the intern is off (like this month) and I’m busy doing other things (like editing client work, submitting manuscripts, meeting with editors, putting together submission lists, keeping up with industry news, reading, etc…) I usually have about 100+ new queries waiting for me in my inbox.

Linda: After getting rid of the ones in that first sweep,  do you or your intern then read the rest of the queries and included pages?

Me: Well, I start to read the query and when I get to something that makes me want to stop, I stop. Sometimes that’s in the second sentence, sometimes I read the whole query and then all the pages. Or, sometimes I read the whole query, start the pages, and stop when it’s apparent it’s not for me.

Linda: What makes you stop?

Me: A query might be a genre that I represent but the subject matter doesn’t appeal to me or has been done so many times that it doesn’t feel original, or sometimes the query is so poorly written that I just assume the pages will be, too. The query might be fine but then when I start the pages I stop because the writing isn’t where it needs to be for me to take it on. A lot of the time it’s just subjective. I just don’t like it. It’s not “a good fit” for me. It’s the same as when you’re in a bookstore, looking for a book. You pick up a book  because it looks like something you’d be interested in; open the book to scan through it a little; but put it back on the shelf because it just doesn’t strike your fancy. It’s that simple. I’ve said it a million times: I have to be in love with a manuscript to take the writer on as a client.

Linda: But don’t you ever take something on just because you think it would sell? Maybe it’s not what you like to read but it could make you some money.

Me: No. I don’t work that way.

Linda: Really?! Come on…

Me: Really. I invest way too much of my time and energy with each project I take on. I’ve read and worked with some of my client’s manuscripts 4 or 5 times, in great depth. I have to love it to do that well and then be able to pitch it to editors with all the enthusiasm it deserves.

Linda: Ok. Well, when you reject a manuscript why can’t you at least give the author some feedback, more than a “not a good match” or “not right for my list” kind of answer? Don’t they deserve that, so they can improve their work?

Me: I just don’t have the time to do that. I wish I could. Believe it or not, queries aren’t my first concern. My first concern is taking care of the clients I have. I love making a difference for writers, helping them them improve their writing and their querying. I do my fair share of that, too. I go to conferences and I’m offering two writing workshops starting in February plus running the Writing Yoga Retreat in the summer, where folks will get very close attention and input. I just can’t do that when responding to queries, too.

Linda: Well, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions! We really appreciate it!

Me: Yeah, no problem. And thanks a lot for not listening to me about those exclamation points and using the royal we. Weirdo. 

 

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11 responses to “Questions about Queries: a self-referential interview

  1. Any chance you’ll be holding a workshop/feedback opportunity for picture book writers now that you said you were open to subs? (with or without yoga!)

  2. I think this might be one of your very best blogs. I propose that once a week, you interview yourself on a variety of topics. Apparently you know exactly what questions to ask you.
    (This is great insight into how an agent has to think and operate. I’m going to share.)

  3. Amber: So, what’d you think of Linda’s post?
    Me: I thought it was insightful, honest, original, helpful, and full of lots of perfectly reasonable points why my manuscripts may be floating along somewhere in the great-digital-file-13 under realm, and why I might never know.
    Amber: Come on, you don’t think interviewing yourself is just a little weird?
    Me: Okay, maybe. But let’s just keep that between myself.