Screening Queries: The Glamorous Life of an Associate Literary Agent

I bet you think being a literary agent is pretty glamorous, right? Well, let me assure you my life is so far from glamorous it’s not even funny. Well, maybe it’s a little funny.  Let’s take a peek into what goes through my head when I’m screening queries. Here goes:  Ummm this coffee’s good. Nice and hot. Ok, let’s get started. I’ve only been an agent for a few weeks, so how many queries can I have? Holy shit! I’ve got 85 queries in my inbox! Well, I’m up for this. I bet there’s some good stuff in here! I’ll start by bouncing back any that have very obviously not followed my submission guidelines. Wow, 12 queries with absolutely no title in the subject line. bounce x12… scan, scan, scan Three queries with attachments instead of the first 20 pages, hunh! bounce, bounce, bounce Let’s see, this one says science fiction in the subject line, but let’s see how science fictiony it is, maybe it’s great. click “When Martin discovers his father was an android and his mother’s alien family wants to move back to their galaxy he doesn’t know what he should do about his time-space continuum research. My manuscript, complete at 456,292 words…” Hmmm. I don’t even represent science fiction. Why don’t these folks do their research? copy-pastes polite rejection… scan scan scan Ok, this one says paranormal YA.  I’d love to find something new and interesting. Not really into the paranormal, but… crossing my fingers. click “Stella has been living with her dad since the divorce but she goes to live with her mother in the Pacific Northwest and falls in love with Eddie who turns out to be a vampire. Eddie’s really hot and really nice and doesn’t want to kill Stella even though she smells really delicious to him. I know this sounds a lot like Twilight but it’s really, really different.” Ummm, ok, well… copy-pastes polite rejection. sips warmish coffee.  scan scan scan click “Dear Lisa.” Ok, I REALLY want to just reject this person right now. I mean, Linda/Lisa what’s the difference, right? I’ll give them a second chance though. keeps reading “I was inspired to right my first fictional novel in this series (and I’ve written the next four books, too) because I had a dream that I bought my book at Barns and Nobel.” groans  Seriously, is there any other kind of novel besides a fictional one? copy-pastes polite rejection but really wants to reply something snarky and correct all the typos. scan scan click “Dear Ms. Epstein. My 65,000 word young adult novel, written in free verse, is like a cross between J.D. Salinger and Fannie Flagg with a slight sprinkling of John Irving (because I live in New Hampshire).” Oy, shoot me now. copy-pastes polite rejection. scan scan scan click “To whom it may concern,” copy-pastes polite rejection scan click “Dear Linda, I know you don’t know me but I hope you can help me learn how to get my first book published.” Sighs. Copy-pastes some publishing tips. Adds “good luck!” at the end. Trying to be generous here. scan scan scan. Oh, this letter sounds kind of good. Hmmm. I like this. Nice. Business like. To the point. All the information I need. Got my name right. Cool. starts reading first 20 pages which follows query letter, as asked for in submission guidelines Ok, not bad. First five pages. Not bad. Next five pages. Oh no. Getting bad. Next page. Wait. What? Oh, ok. I see. Next page. Uh oh. Getting bad again. Dang. copy-pastes polite rejection adding “keep writing” to try to be encouraging. Sips cold coffee. Ok, my brain is a little numb. How long have I been working? Only 25 minutes. How many queries are in the inbox? 65?! How is that possible? checks date/time of e-mails In the 25 minutes I’ve been working 17 more queries have come in? Shoot me now. I’ll never be done. And I have three full manuscripts to read and Thanksgiving for 16 to cook. Ok, back to it… repeats this process for the next 3 hours, intermittently refilling coffee cup with fresh, hot coffee.

Yup. Pretty glamorous, right?!


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6 responses to “Screening Queries: The Glamorous Life of an Associate Literary Agent

  1. Apparently I cannot type coherently tonight. That should say ‘the irritation you feel by rambling comments left on your blog’.

    • Interestingly, I’ve started drinking cups of coffee instead of mugs of coffee. It’s much more satisfying because I actually finish them before they’re too cold; I get to take more breaks from my computer because I need to go re-fill; and I get to feel all macho about how many cups of coffee I drink in a day. Like that. And it’s really good coffee (Extra Dark French Roast). Today I probably had 4 cups in the morning. Of course I call it morning until I get out of my pajamas. Today morning lasted until about 1:30pm. I get a lot of work done in the morning.

      I just keep refilling my cup as long as the pot’s full and I’m working. The number and quality of the queries make no difference at all in my coffee consumption and I really like comments on my blog. I wish more people would comment. I may have to have a contest to generate that. But what would the prize be? Suggestions?

      • I think a better question is whether the quality of queries is altered by the number of cups of coffee you have consumed.

        Did you hear about that study someone did of parole judges in Israel? It was found that when presented with virtually identical cases (severity of crime, behavior of prisoner while in prison, etc.), the judges were markedly more likely to rule for parole in the morning and just after lunch. The idea is that the default, i.e. easier, decision is to leave the person in jail. So when the judges were hungry and/or tired, they took the easy way, and denied parole.

        Presumably, the default for an agent reading queries is to reject. So an agent would be most likely to respond positively to queries she read early in the day, or just after eating. (I have always assumed that whether an agent [or editor] “likes” a piece depends not only on the quality of the piece, but also on the mood of the agent / editor when she reads it.)

  2. I think the burning question is this: Exactly how much coffee did you drink today? And is your coffee consumption altered by the number of queries in your inbox, the quality of said queries, or the irritation by rambling comments left on your blog? 😉

  3. Rhonda

    Double fiction equals nonfiction. Surely you don’t not see that?