Tag Archives: literary agency

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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It’s tension that keeps those pages a’turning…

When I read a novel I want something to happen. My best friend, who is an avid reader, doesn’t agree with me. She doesn’t mind reading a whole long book where basically nothing happens. When I had more time, and I was in a book group, I bagged reading a fair number of books where nothing happened. It’s really a matter of taste. Some of these were books that had won awards, were on best seller lists. People like them. But for me as a reader, it drives me crazy when nothing happens. I do love pretty sentences, carefully drawn characters and lyrical or graphic descriptions of place. But it’s also imperative to have a plot impetus to keep turning those pages. Now that I think about it, that goes for non-fiction, as well. Maybe I’m shallow or lazy or something (it’s quite possible both!), but I want to be pulled forward in a book. If I have to work too hard… well, I can just watch t.v. or pick up something else off the stack of books waiting for me to read them. Don’t get me wrong, I like deep ideas, intricate plots, meandering stories, complex characters. But there has to be a certain amount of tension, a certain amount of not knowing, that keeps the plot moving forward and keeps pulling me towards the end. You know how J.K. Rowling has said that she knew all along how the Harry Potter series would end? She started with the end so writing the books was just a matter of filling in everything that happened, with all the details. I definitely think of it as being pulled toward the end  of the book, rather than being pushed from the beginning. If there’s not enough tension, I don’t care how pretty the words and images are that I just read. I lose interest.

What has you keep reading a book?

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