Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Recap #1: Was This Easier or Harder Than You Expected?

If you haven't yet finished your queries, please continue to leave your requests and rejections!

But also, please note a programming change: I'm changing the deadline to Saturday night Pacific time, at which time I'm going to close the query threads so I can start compiling some stats. Monday morning I'll reveal which queries were for books that went on to be published and reveal the Superstar Agents.

Now then. When I announced the contest I really had no idea how this would go. I thought there was a chance people would only make it through five queries and think "This is hard," or people would breeze through all 50 and think, "Is that all?"

So. For those who have already ventured into the land of agentdom, how was it? Was reading through 50 queries easier or harder than you thought it was going to be?

(And allow me to brag that I made it through 76 real ones yesterday.)







220 comments:

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Suzan Harden said...

I've judged RWA contests where part of the experience is giving the entrant a detailed critique, so I don't envy an agent's job at all.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I have my own slush pile, so I already got the hard bit. I read through a few of them but there was no way I could give up my day job all day to do it. And it would have taken all day!

Did you request any yesterday, Nathan?

Thomas said...

I enjoyed the contest and thank you for the opportunity to participate into something that did give me a good insight into what agents face everyday.

I found that I could reject a query by the end of the first paragraph. Only a tiny handful of queries that started out poorly redeemed themselves later in the query.

If the query was also something that covered a subject I wasn't interested in: science fiction, fantasy or young adult, immediate rejection.

I'm sure that after doing this day in and day out for years, most agents develop a well-honed instinct of what queries will lead to written materials worth asking for, and can reject a query in one or two seconds.

Nathan Bransford said...

ss@s-

I requested 2 out of 76.

Renee Collins said...

Definitely harder!

I think that going through 50 query letters might have been not too bad, had you not included the challenge of requesting the published books.

This made it much more difficult. I couldn't just select based on personal preference. I had to keep saleability in mind. That made it harder, and much more like a real agent's job, I think.

I had just a blast with this, Nathan. Blogged about it last night. :)

RW said...

It took me about an hour and ten minutes flat. To do that, I waited until they were all in so I could straight through.

The simulation is probably a little harder than real life in one way just because it's in blog posts rather than in email. Navigating that was cumbersome.

It was harder than I expected to make any kind of judgment based on the query letters. I did a lot of flip-flopping on whether they would be worth exploring any more. Agents have to start somewhere, and if the query is weak, why read further. But I can see how a writer nevertheless manages to write a book that's a lot better than their query letter. The few times there were sample pages, I ended up liking it more than the query letter led me to expect. An argument for sample pages, I guess.

Keri Ford said...

It was difficult, no doubt. Had I not been trying to give a small crit for each one, I would have breezed through them fairly quickly.

I was surprised at how often I *didn't* look at included pages or look to see if they were even there. The only time I looked for pages was if I was on the fence with the query.

The phrase, 'gotta have a hook' really nailed home. Like many, after about 2-3 sentences, I knew for the most part whether or not I'd want to read more.

Something else (wow, long post). I always wondered why agents don't ask for fulls when they're requesting email submissions. Now I know. Some of them I liked the idea but needed a feel of the voice. Well, heck, if I asked for the 1st chapter, I can sail through that while I'm waiting for my lunch to know if it's somethign I want to read. Whereas a full, I would put off until I had time to really sit down to prepare to read a large chunck or all of the manuscript.

CarrieK said...

I'm still in the middle of my decision-making, but so far the reviewing process has been about as hard/time consuming as I expected. But I was a little surprised by how much I wanted to write editing suggestions for the authors who submitted the first few pages of the novel! I wanted to tell them that, for example, I really saw promise in the voices of their characters, but that the plot seemed rushed...

But I finally decided that if I couldn't make a positive, easy-to-act-upon suggestion in fewer than 2 sentences, it wouldn't be worth it. I'm not in a peer writing group with them, after all, so there's only so far I can go in offering my unsolicited help.

Tough decisions!

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

I think it's harder. I saw many queries that were so creative, and for the want of sharper editing, they would have made the cut. I hope the writers don't get discouraged. It was also interesting that you included a query that seemed half done, like the sender cut off part of it in error. It sounded promising, but I had to reject because it wasn't complete. Also, the ones that rambled on, I didn't mind because I could still hear the author's voice in a few (Didi was the one that stood out for me, though it was quite long). So if I were an agent, I don't think I'd go the "hook, book, cook" route. But then I wouldn't make any money either probably :) Guess it's still the pirate's life for me. Yo.

Agent XXX

Justus M. Bowman said...

Nathan,

I think "made it through," or at least "made it," is a euphemism. Ha ha.

Kristan said...

I thought it was easier to make quick judgments than I thought it would be (though I did prefer having 1-5 pages to read as sample - though I would super-prefer them all to be formatted more readably) BUT it was way harder to not let my eyes glaze over as I tried to read through such similarly organized query letters time and time again.

Josephine Damian said...

Easier as I went along - saw I could eliminate most on first sentence alone - there was a sameness to how badly written most of these queries were.

I see how agent can go through hundreds in one day. Very few queries as well as books are readable past the first sentence.

kdrausin said...

Nathan,

Thank you for this opportunity. I found it much harder than I expected. Having just received an agent's rejection letter, it helped me understand that there are many reasons why a story may be rejected. I rejected many stories that I thought could be very good. Time, marketability,client list,agent's mood,can all play a role in requesting manuscripts. My choices...17,22,35,6,46- ?? I'm curious to see how I did.
Thank you, Krista

JohnO said...

Hey Nathan, for those of us who read them, what kind of stats are you looking for? Our five-ish picks?

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

It is hard. There are some queries with stories that sound good, but I wasn't sure if they would sell well. And others that could be good, but I wouldn't want to read them (I don't care for chick lit or romance).

Being an agent is hard...

KC in SF said...

Nathan, thank you so much for doing this! It was fascinating seeing things from an agent's perspective. I'm a quick reader so I was able to get through the queries quickly. The difficulty (and what took me the longest) were the "close-call" queries. I found about 8-9 that held promise and had to think hard about narrowing it down to five.

If you ever want to go on vacation and need someone to cover you, I volunteer!

also, this exercise was so much fun, I hope you do it again some time, but PLEASE do it during a weekend. I don't need the temptation during a work day when I'm doing my real job. :)

thanks again,

KC in SF

Sheila said...

I have critiqued queries before, and usually I am looking for the strengths, so I can compliment them. But in this exercise I was surprised when I found myself on the lookout for faults. Rejections are faster and got me through the pile faster.

Nathan Bransford said...

johno-

Everyone is welcome to compile their own personal stats, but I'm not going to be tracking that. I'm planning on compiling the percentages requested on each query in order to 1) see if the "wisdom of the crowds" applies to the published queries, 2) to see which was the most requested non-published query. Then I'll track the Super Agents.

Dara said...

It was as hard as I thought it would be. :P

The hard part is trying to balance reading the queries with the rest of life. I definitely understand why many agents do a "no response means no". The contest definitely helped me see how difficult an agent's job is.

I still have eight more to read :P

Monika said...

For me, the hardest part was dealing with the 'maybes'. Part of me wanted to revisit them with a fresh eye, and part of me wanted to dash off a quicky rejection so that I wouldn't forget to get back to them.

If I were an agent in real life, I think I'd peruse my inbox every morning over breakfast and leave behind all of the 'maybes' for my assistant to sift through.

Could we have another contest exploring another angle of the agenting life?

The Classic Carol said...

Query Submitters: Barking criticism? Take heart. You sparked an emotional response, how cool is that?! Keep writing. Did the Agent-for-a-Day ask for a partial or full? How super cool is that?! Keep writing. After making a career in Advertising/Marketing sales I've learned working with the public requires a THICK SKIN. Get one and keep writing. Now as a manager I tell reps, "Got a no? Buck up. Go back. It's not over. You did not share enough info for the customer to make a buying decision. Share better."
Nathan, I'm having a difficult time imagining a better learning, enlightening, self-probing, exasperating experience than Agent-for-a-Day. I envy you not. I admire your stamina to plow through all the comments. I would have closed it out long ago, if only for self-preservation and sanity. GOOD LUCK!

M. K. Clarke said...

I'm thrilled to have been part of this experience. Thank you, Nathan, for opening this venue to new writers.

~MKC

Rick Daley said...

It met my expectations. I had a slight taste of it with my Public Query Slushpile blog, but I had 50 queries there in about two weeks, not one day.

If anyone wants polite feedback beyond the form rejections, go to http://openquery.blogspot.com (NOTE: it's not a SNARK site!)

The most interesting part to me was finding a query with a good story line, but not having a unique voice, or finding something else in the writing that lowered my confidence that the writer had the ability to execute on a full novel.

There was one with a pretty bad query, but I loved the voice in the sample pages so I requested the partial. I just wanted to keep reading the story.

Brigita said...

It was definitely harder than I thought (I'm still sifting through the best queries).

But it made me realize just how excellent a query has to be in order to stand out. A lot of these queries were very good, most of the stories interesting, some very original. I understand now what my query is competing with and why it rarely gets a desired reply. :)

But it's also fun, it's like a treasure hunt. It must be thrilling for an agent when you find a trully original, riveting story.

Thanks for this experience.

ryan field said...

I thought it was damn hard. And the hardest part was trying to think like an agent, when I'm so used to thinking like a writer. If that makes any sense.

Anonymous said...

I haven't actually gotten to the other queries yet. I'm still working through the comments on the query I submitted. I have to say, the people who paused to give me feedback have been VERY helpful and I appreciate it very, very much. I'm already applying their comments.

Thank you! Thank you!

Tami said...

I LOVED this - I learned a ton about query letters from it and from the comments.

Also, it definitely drives home the usefulness of having the first page included with the query letter. The queries felt like someone saying "hello" and the addition of the first page was like adding a handshake into the meeting.

You have some exceptionally creative readers of this blog, good sir. The sheer range of plots was incredible.

Much fun, and a reader's thank you to those who were brave enough to submit your queries!

Anonymous said...

In retrospect, I wish we could have had a vote at the bottom of each query:
__ accept

__ decline

__ maybe (mull over this one and get back to it)

and then the comments could be more streamlined too.

Chris Eldin said...

To me, this was much easier than I expected. It was easy to spot the amateur queries and put them aside quickly.

I think that the hard part would be getting the partials and fulls, and deciding which among them you'd like to take on. Plus, the effort in reading those must be tremendous.

Agents wear many hats! Glad not to be there!!!!
:-)

Nathan Bransford said...

chris-

You sure you got the right ones?

Wes said...

Nathan,

This has been very enlightening. Reviewing the queries was much harder and more time-consuming that I expected.

Thanks for the insight.

Anonymous said...

I read all the queries but decided not play by giving out rejections and such. There weren't any that I thought "oh, I absolutely have to read this!", but the ones I thought were good drew me in just by virtue of being good queries and I probably would have requested pages just because. I found myself groaning when I got to the really long ones, and I only read one paragraph of one of the included pages before deciding it wasn't something that interested me. The others I didn't read any of the pages because the query just didn't grab me at all (and in some cases I didn't even finish reading the query.). I found certain topics were an instant turn-off for me (namely elves and Faeri and vampires. Surprisingly not the werewolf one, probably because I was intrigued by the Argentinian angle. Vampires had worn out there welcome in my house long ago though, right around the time the whole urban fantasy genre took off.). But on the whole though, I don't think anything in there was of a subject matter that I'd willingly devote my heart and soul to in order to edit and try to sell; none of it really spoke to me and got me excited, even though there wasn't anything wrong with some the queries, which I hear is quite common for agents. Of course, I've never had the illusion that I would make a good agent since my literary interests are pretty narrow, even within the genres I enjoy. But the exercise did open my eyes to what made a good query and what was too long and what was too short.

Amy said...

Definitely harder than I expected. Along with what seems to be a lot of other folks, I quickly found that if the first couple lines of the query didn't hook me, I stopped reading. I was doing this while working, and I just didn't have time to spend on queries that didn't reach out and grab my attention.

The most helpful thing I got from this exercise was the opportunity to see the other side of the process. When I start submitting my own manuscript, I think it will be a lot easier to handle the rejections because I have a vague idea of what it's like to get so many queries.

I really appreciated this contest, and look forward to seeing which queries were real.

DeadlyAccurate said...

On the one hand, making a decision was easier than I expected. I knew within seconds whether I wanted to keep reading. On the other, knowing those would be arriving all day, every day, rain or shine, was enough for me to feel a sense of mounting despair. If I hadn't known an end was in sight, I could never have made it through.

That said, I would like to do this again, because it *was* fun.

:)Ash said...

In some ways, it was easier than I imagined; in other ways, more diffiult. So, I voted "about the same".

I'll confess that I skimmed most of the queries and first pages, but I suspect actual agents do that, as well.

The part that was hardest for me was rejecting the queries. I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, which was very unexpected. I don't ever enjoy hurting people, but I'm a lawyer and frequently decline cases, so didn't think saying no to a query would be an issue.

I guess I just have a soft spot for writers :)

Pinkie said...

This was a great experience. My query was included and it's been instructive to read the criticism. Before I realized my query was in, I perfunctorily handed out standard rejections. But after reading personal crits and praise for my query, I felt obliged to be kinder, in the sense that I would at least indicate why I was not choosing a book, and the reason tended to be mostly because the quesry wasn't compelling.

I wonder how quickly I would deviate from this protocol if I were an agent and had to sift thru 70 of these a day. But now I feel that it's easy enough to include a personal note at least about writing that isn't compelling or writing that's good but not right for this agent now.

But I've never queried a real agent and don't have the experience of a form rejection or a personalized rejection. I will take the comments about my query to heart and revise accordingly and send it out -- there is a first time for everything.

Thanks everyone, and thanks, Nathan. Truely an enlightening experience.

CPK

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I have to thank you big time for this contest. As someone who has a query in the mix, I now know exactly what I need to fix in my query. Nothing beats getting hundreds of rejections in one day to help a writer discover his query's strengths and weaknesses. Wow. I'm inspired to start the querying process for real.

Ginger Simpson said...

Just out of curiosity...what did you do with the queries you didn't select?

What was the criteria for selection. Does this mean the one I sent in sucked?

The Writers Canvas said...

Nathan,

You've convinced me with your 'Agent for a Day' activity. I'm going to have to go back and send thank-yous to those agents who took time to send me a personalized rejection or a 'not for us, please submit something else anytime' comments.

My question...do agents just get to queries as time allows, or do you set aside a certain hour or so each day to review them? Either way, it's a tough job and I give you Kudos for doing it!

Thanks again, great blog -

Elaine

Bane of Anubis said...

I thought it was roughly the same, though I didn't personalize responses (though I did provide my reasoning, which took more energy, particularly when you're trying to do it in a constructive way w/o hurting someone's feelings).

It's also a bit hard to spot queries that would be outside your genre/specialty (e.g., non-fiction, lit-fic for me) - I think that's what makes an agent's job out there rough... It's probably a lot easier to spot something that's right up your avenue of interest, but if it's something else, that takes more research and effort to know whether it'll sell, if it's been done before, etc.

brian_ohio said...

I knew it wouldn't be easy... and it wasn't. Time consuming and I was sending out a form rejection.

A few things that hit me...

1. I'm surprised how LONG some of these queries were. They were good... just needed tightened. But length was a red flag for me.

2. I found myself entranced by the voice in the query. A good voice and I would re-read the query.

Do you feel it gets even harder with the partials?

Thanks again.

Brian

Casey said...

It was as hard as I expected it to be. I knew it would be time-consuming and very subjective, and it was. I loved it as much as I thought I would, too.

I think I would have blown through them a lot quicker if I wasn't doing so much speculation.

One thing I find that I understand better is when an agent says they are actively looking for a reason to reject a query. I thought this odd, but now I can see how a handful of partials, fulls, clients, and a never-ending line of queries could really weigh an agent down. I can easily see wanting a reason, any reason, not to request more reading material unless you absolutely couldn't pass on the query for one reason or another, which is precisely what we need to strive for with our queries.

Thanks again, Nathan.

Mira said...

I'm not done! I'm only at 15.

How did you guys go so fast?

The hardest part for me is figuring out not who I like, but who is published......

wickerman said...

I agree with Bane here. PArt of the problem with 'scoring' is going to be taste. Maybe I rejected one of the ones that went on to be published because it was romance or chick-lit. It may not be that it is not publishable stuff IMO, but that since I have zero interest in those genres, I wouldn't rep it is Danielle Steele sent me the query.

Likewise, no offense to Nathan, but something he would have rejected does not necessarily = not good enough. Most published books were rejected at some point before final acceptance.

It all DOES give me a new appreciation for the fine line agents have to walk and how hard it must be to hit the old reject button when something is teetering on the edge. What could be worse than seeing something you grudgingly rejected get picked up and turned into a best seller by the next agent...

Bane of Anubis said...

It's good to know that Nathan would request 5 - 6 of the 50 - will you contact said authors (unagented ones) for such requests?

Also, 76 queries yesterday - that's roughly 500/wk - sounds like you're 15,000/yr is heading toward 25k - I hope your wife doesn't hate us too much :)

John said...

I found it somewhat easier than I had expected, but not in a good way. I found myself reaching for the form rejection early and often. I wound up requesting only three partials, numbers 20, 35 and 48, and of those the only one I'm reasonably confident is one of the published ones is #20.

I think my quick trigger finger resulted from a few different factors:

1. I was way pickier than I would want any agent to be toward my own query (which was not among the chosen 50).

2. There was a lot of fantasy, and that's not my favorite genre. I wouldn't reject it outright, even without Nathan's admonition to pick what would sell rather than what matches our own preference. But I found it hard to get hooked on most of those storylines.

3. It occurs to me that trying to condense the dramatic hook of a story into one or two sentences almost always results in lines that feel overblown and self-consciously breathless. I see this in my own query as well. It's sort of like speaking song lyrics aloud tunelessly. No matter how great the song is, it will come out sounding lame. Now it's back to work on my query to see if I can get past that weakness.

Karen said...

I already expected it to be tough, but the hardest part was really figuring out which ones I would be willing to spend my time on. And I could easily have said yes to about 10 of them.

I was just confused as I read through the comments. I was under the impression that we were just supposed to be deciding whether we would ask for a partial or full manuscript. But I saw an amazing number of people that commented that they would reject a query based on the number of misspelled words. And there was a lot of harsh query criticism. I didn't think that was the assignment.

But, again, Nathan, thank you for this exercise. It helped me not only to understand your point of view in terms of workload, but also to really see what you're looking for in a good query. It helped in a way that a "how to" post can't.

Douglas L. Perry said...

Nathan I'm groveling at your feet right now. I had NO idea that agenting could be SO hard. I'm sorry to say that I could only do about 10 at a stretch before I wanted to pull out my hair and run through the streets naked screaming "No more, no more". (Nobody wants to see that by the way)

But at least for me I found it was instructive and I think that was your point. Well done.

Christine Rose said...

The perspective was the greatest thing gained from this exercise. I went through all 50 yesterday, while continuing with the work I had to do for the day, similar to an agent with work other than queries to get through. And I know this was like 1/4 of what an agent receives in a day.

I began to see the monotony of query after query after query. Another name. Another plot summary. Etc... and how those with *voice* stood out from the rest.

I also saw the necessity of canned responses. Those that were close I gave a more personal response, but there is no way I would take the time to personally respond to each one. It's all I would've done!

I found that I wouldn't even read through all of them if they were making rookie mistakes, hadn't done any query research, or if their query got so convoluted in details that I had to spend extra time to decipher it.

GREAT exercise.

Jenn Johansson said...

I started out by leaving personal comments on each one. But it wasn't long before I got exhausted from looking for all the things they could fix or got to one with so many things wrong I didn't know where to start.

I now officially "get it" about form rejections. Thanks Nathan! :)

wickerman said...

This whole exercise has got me wondering if Nathan will let me put him on the spot a bit. This question is probably impossible to answer with a specific number, but maybe he can give us a look inside his email box (figuratively of course).

You said you request partials/fulls on about 1-2 per 50. That's 2-4%. Now on paper (or screen to get technical!) that's a ~ 98% rejection rate. HOWEVER, how many of every 100 queries had ZERO shot from the get go?

What i mean is, how many were either for something you never rep, had no contact info even if you did like it, were so muddled you thought it was a cake recipe or was addressed to Mr Curtis Brown?

Like I said, I doubt you have hard and fats numbers, but do those 2 or 4 requests out of 100 come out of what really amounts to 80? 60? 40? How much of the group is really seriously in the running when all is said and done?

Anonymous said...

read through them, got 4 i would definitely ask for and not sure on fifth. Can see how personal taste really matters. I'm not much on fantasy so wasn't into most of those. Some were obviously bad (probably on purpose) others seemed like honest efforts. Some were bad writing with a good story, others good with a not right story. Truthfully, I had a tendency to want the ones with good writing even if the story sounded off.

Lara said...

I think it was about as hard and took about as long as I expected. I think, though, that you'd have to really be right for the job of agent to do it day after day on top of a bunch of other stuff.

The whole agentfail thing has really reinforced for me that I just respect what (real, legitimate) agents do. I don't think "no response means no" is so horrible, and I've actually had a lot of reason to feel good about the agents I've interacted with. They all seem to really care about books and about what they do.

Maybe I haven't been at this "looking for an agent" thing long enough to get bitter yet! :-)

Also, I have to admit that I do think bad queries are kind of funny. And that's from someone whose first attempt was HORRIBLE, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Just noticed as of right now that Query #1 has 210 replies and Query #50 has 141. That means there are 60-some folks still plugging away.

educlaytion said...

Thanks Nathan for this fascinating experiment. You rock. I've learned a lot.
1. There are great queries that still don't interest me.
2. I don't expect to have chosen the right submissions.
3. I don't expect to be surprised when you reveal them.
4. I'm encourage to:
a. Pitch a lot more
b. Pitch NF
Thanks again. I'll be sure to send my students this way for the learning experience of a bloodbath of rejection.

Maripat said...

I have new admiration for what you do. Honestly, I learned I need to have my characters stand out and show my story's conflict. I have a new appreciation for marketing my writing.

After the first read through, I only had three queries I would request more on. I feel evil. There are five others I want to go back to and re-read but after some time away from this. And I'm supposed to be outlining a new novel idea.

This was a cool idea for a contest. Thanks for putting the time into it.

Lara said...

By the way, I have to say, I do have new respect for you in particular, Nathan. Maintaining a blog is a huge time commitment, and this is one of the best ones out there. The fact that you also send timely and polite replies to queries definitely sets you apart.

That said, I do understand agents who don't respond if not interested. When writers think about this, I think they're imagining their own carefully-crafted queries meeting this treatment, but I get the impression that most agents get a lot of mass queries, barely legible queries, things that are just so wrong for them that it's hard to articulate why, etc. etc.

But again, I've encountered several really caring, professional agents in my brief time as an aspiring novelist. There really are good people out there who want to advocate for books. That's why the agentfail furor surprised me.

Brian Crawford said...

Awesome contest, Nathan. I’d love to know what this did for your blog stats yesterday. I know I usually look once a day, and yesterday I visited you at least 50 times – so I can imagine how that translated across the board!

JuJu said...

This would be so much easier if I wasn't doing this in the middle of the night.

But thanks, it was fun seeing what kind of queries people put out there to be rejected and accepted.

Unfortunately you said that since most of us read your blog we'll usually produce upper middle-class queries. Makes me wonder what the badder queries are like.

Fawn Neun said...

Easy to decide which ones I wanted to see, hard to pick just 5.

Cindy said...

That was quite the experience being an agent for the day. Easier because I knew I wasn't getting as many queries as agents usually do and harder because I could only pick 5. I probably would have ended up with about 8 or ten, which would then just inundate me with more work, right? I managed 50 yesterday without a HUGE issue, but I can't imagine balancing that with already existing clients, partials and all the rest that you agents do. People might or might not say it a lot, but you guys work hard and are good at what you do. Thanks for giving us all the opportunity to be an agent!

Nathan Bransford said...

Brian-

Yesterday I had about 8,800 unique visitors and 27,000 page loads.

Records all around.

reader said...

It was easier, because I skipped the intros, and went right to the heart of the query. I could tell in a matter of 30 seconds of reading if the book's premise and plot were clear, after that it was a matter of taste/marketablity.

But, I will say I had no idea how similar many of the FBI, CIA, Detective stories felt after reading just a few.

Hook -- the hardest part of writing.

lucy in the sky said...

I only had a couple that I would have requested, but had already reached my limit and so had to pass. It was fun, thanks!

Soratian said...

I set out to write personalised rejections but I now realise the value of a good form reply that you can use over and over again. There was someone who had a really good one with the checkboxes. Amazing!

I also realised that it's really quite easy to give feedback to promising manuscripts. What's hard is giving advice that's likely to not go down well, e.g. craft needs work, platform insufficient, immature viewpoints. Once you go into stuff like that, you're basically asking for retaliation.I realised that for those, I should just went with the form reply.

If going with the form replies, I'd say that this exercise was easy and enjoyable. If attempting to give personalised feedback for all queries, it's really demanding. As Rachelle said, an agent's time is better served advancing her clients' welfare, not being immersed in answering queries.)

Fawn Neun said...

Like SSAS, I have my own slush pile, so I admit, I got fed up kind of early (especially knowing I would never see the samples I was requesting).

In some ways it was easier than I thought, there were some intriguing ideas there, and I wouldn't have minding getting a synopsis and a couple sample chapters to look at.

I also discovered that I tend to gravitate toward YA story lines. I would never have suspected that since I edit for a lit 'zine which is very much for thinking adults.

I very much have a limited set of genres I'm interested in reading, so that made it easier. I can see why agents are so particular about the genres they represent. The thrillers may be genius as far as I know, but I'll never get through more than a page of the ms.

I also found that I didn't mind the less than perfectly worded queries as long as they had a great premise and were for a genre I usually enjoy. Even a well-worded query for a thriller/murder mystery can't move me to request a partial.


This was fun, thank you!

Laura said...

It was hard. I kept thinking, just because the query is good doesn't mean the manuscript is and vice versa.

Plus, they all started to run together and I began to doubt myself after a while.

I would imagine you have to love this job to keep at it.

Marilyn Peake said...

I voted "About the Same" because I always assumed a literary agent’s job is both interesting and hard. What was new for me, though, was a much deeper understanding of why agents so often send out form rejections. This is an incredibly busy week for me, so it suddenly hit home how quickly agents must need to read queries during weeks in which they’re busy working on their clients’ books. Right before this contest started, I had realized that, if I devoted enough hours every day for the next three to four weeks, I could probably complete the first draft of the novel I’m writing by the end of that time. I decided that I would try to pull myself away from the Internet and all other distractions and get the job done. Then this contest was announced. I don’t think I’ll actually play agent for a day, although I might if I can devote enough time to evaluate all 50 queries; but I have certainly learned how hard it would be to work on clients’ books and respond in detail to queries at the same time.

Sun Up said...

Harder than what I expected. Mostly because you could only chose five and so you had to be REALLY selective.

But I enjoyed it--wouldn't quit my day job though.

Sooki Scott said...

Prior to this exercise, I had a fair feel for the time-consuming, repetitive nature of query review. But what I found most surprising is my now greater understanding of the comment "not right for me."

There were a couple well-written queries with the proper components for a compelling story, yet they were not something I could, in all honesty, champion. Thank you.





Confucius says, "The cautious seldom err."

Sandy said...

I so want your job.

Michael Pickett said...

I have to admit that I only read about four or five of the queries yesterday and I didn't respond to any of them. That is because I know that being an agent is hard. I had no illusions about that. Plus, I had writing to do yesterday. I did find it interesting that all of the queries that I read looked pretty good. I thought all of the stories had potential. So, unless I only happened to read the published ones, I understand that sifting through all those queries is hard and, in a lot of ways, subjective. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Kristi said...

It was about the same as I expected. I wanted to do them all on Monday to give me a sense (albeit a very small sense) of the queries you face each day. Also, Mondays are the one day I work outside the home, so I thought it would be more realistic to try and manage them while doing a day job. Although, there would have been no way I could have done that any other day of the week (too busy playing pirates with my little ones).

I am bummed my queries didn't make the 50, but at least I know how to spiff them up before sending them out now. Thanks Nathan!

Dearth of Reason said...

I did not intend to play. But I thought it would be fun to read the queries to see what's percolating, what kind of ideas stimulate people to dedicate huge chunks of life and soul to writing >50k words.

Following the experience, frankly, I am in awe. Hard? Wow. Especially when I consider that a normal agent day would have more queries than I saw, manuscript partials to read, industry news nuggets to collect, clients to coax and nurture, colleagues and industry luminaries to twitter and call, contracts to negotiate, conference attendances to plan, other agent and writer blogs to follow, lunatic rejectees to guard against, and at least for you, Nathan, the endless demand of administering a well-traveled blog.

This was a great exercise. Maybe now those haters out there can muster up some slack and respect.

I am busy too, as a writer with a day job. But after yesterday, no question: I'll keep my busy, and amigo, you can keep yours.

Sarah Laurenson said...

This was very enlightening. I said it was harder as I didn't expect I would get so tired of reading them and start skimming like crazy. Really got a feel for how easy it is to find what's wrong in a query rather than what's right. Then it became too easy to reject them out of hand for small errors rather than giving them a good reading.

Thank you for such an eye opening exercise.

Anonymous said...

Let's take it to another level...

Everybody walk into your nearest bookstore, give yourself 20 minutes to read the jacket copy of as many books as you can, and then you have to buy only 1.

Why did you pass on some?!

The real deal, the big show. Time to run with the BIG dogs. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

Bounce up on it!

Polenth said...

I didn't find reading the queries easier or harder than expected. I've seen enough on critique forums to have an idea what would come through.

But it really highlighted how much I struggle with word verification, so that made it harder than I expected. Usually, getting them wrong repeatedly isn't a big deal. When you have 50 replies to post, it's nightmare worthy. I'm plotting ways to kill word verifications at the moment.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

The most fascinating part of this, to me, was the myriad of ways Agents for a Day phrased their rejections. It was so interesting to read the comments, post after post and read a long, rambling phrase that in the end, said, "No thank you."

As interested as I was in the entire contest, it's the comments that got me and ended up on my blog today - and I keep going back and reading more. Of course in the real world, any rejection is better than nothing at all, but mentioning the economy, a nod to querying widely, blanket encouragement? I think it's silly unless it's very, very personal, and I see how that can be next to impossible for an agent.

Again, it's all valuable insight, and it will make me embrace my form rejections!!

Janet said...

I was so sure it would be hard that I didn't even try. I was convinced a long time ago that a personalized response to every query was simply impossible, given the number of queries you contend with and the wackos who will argue back. Although I suspect most of those wackos are more ignorant than crazy. I might have been tempted to do a little pleading myself, if I hadn't gained an insight to what the job entails from blogging agents.

Kudos to you, Nathan. I don't know how you do it.

Marilyn Peake said...

I cannot get these queries out of my head. I keep coming back to this blog every few hours, reading more. I'm going to try playing agent for a day. Mocha Latte with two shots of espresso? Check. Sharpened keyboard? Check. Form rejection letter? Check ... and sigh. Determination to try to respond personally to at least some of the queries? Yes ... and now understood as priceless.

Lupina said...

I didn't submit a query and so far have not done the judging either due merely to a crazy-busy time both personally and professionally the past week, but I look forward to reading and selecting. Thanks for extending the time for us slowpokes, Nathan.

Although I am sure this will be a super learning experience, I do not need any convincing that an agent's job is tough. Nathan, this was a very ambitious project and I hope it pays off for you in the two queries you followed up on.

Kristin Laughtin said...

It was about what I expected, but I already expected it to be time-consuming and difficult. I found myself questioning the author's intent a lot. "Did they mean this, or could this be interpreted this way?" And really, if I tried to do that to hundreds of queries a week, I'd be exhausted.

I was more drawn to queries that were concise, straightforward, and not bogged down with explanation of everything but the book. I pretty much auto-rejected anything with multiple mistakes in grammar or punctuation, on the basis that the author would need to work on the technical side of language before I would consider representing them. There were quite a few queries where the story idea sounded decent, but I would have given a form rejection for this reason.

Although I was never one to mind form rejections, I can definitely see even more clearly why they're so helpful! Personalized responses to everything? Madness!

Anonymous said...

I did a lot of form rejections but also shared my reasons with the group at large. About halfway through, I thought, "Well, if I'm taking the time to type out the reasons for the group, shouldn't I be sharing them right in the rejection as well?"

And then I realized that to do so, if I were an agent, it would invite a response and, potentially, a lengthy, unwanted dialogue with the querier.

I emerged with a newfound appreciation for the form rejection.

Fairduncan said...

A larger comment here:

I think the writers among us (yes, I'm one) need to let go of the need for feedback and comment from agents. Agents aren't there to offer critique or feedback -- this is the business of crit groups. A polite form rejection is plenty.

I also think it's unreasonable to expect an acknowledgment that an email has been received. Email -- and correctly stamped and addressed snail mail for that matter -- very rarely goes astray. Toughen up, people ;-)

On the other hand, I do expect agents and editors to give some sort of response within a reasonable time period. It seems only professional.

Still playing the Agent for a Day game, I think it's even more important that the agent be on the ball in those instances where they've requested a partial or full. My own target would be to reply to a partial within ten days and a full within a month.

Dale - Las Vegas said...

As someone else mentioned, I had a general idea by the end of the first paragraph.
It amazed me how many queries showed a lack of proper grammar and sentence construction. If they can't write an interesting query, how can they write an interesting book?

(Of course, I should probably keep my mouth shut as you rejected two of my queries!!!)

Elizabeth said...

I have a question, Nathan, although I understand if you'd prefer not to answer it.

I read all the queries, and of them, there was only one I wanted to read and would have requested had I been an agent. I would have rejected some queries for poor writing/lack of clarity/etc. But my most common reason for rejection would have been simply: this idea doesn't appeal to me.

So my question for you is: is it that way for you? Do you reject most of the queries you receive because the story doesn't appeal to you?

Nathan Bransford said...

elizabeth-

Partly it's subjective, but I think people here might have been overrating their own personal preferences at the expense of what they think they'd be able to sell. This is my job, so I need to be conscious of what I can sell. Personal preference is a part of that, but it's far from everything.

Megan said...

I'm in the minority here, but I found it easier than I expected, at least when it comes to deciding whether I'd be interested in the book. If my own interests align with publishing...I'm not so sure.

deannachase said...

Nathan,
Kudos for this wonderful experience. I learned so much by just reading through those queries. It was easier and harder than I expected. Very time consuming, but spotting the interesting queries was pretty easy. Narrowing it down was tough.

It is easy to see why agents send form rejections or none at all.

Keep up the good work!

Joyce said...

I didn't play, but I did read through them all this morning. The comments really showed that when agents say "this isn't for me," most of the time that's exactly what they mean.

I did pick out one of the published books (of a NYT bestselling author) because I read that book--with a different title. The query was not one of the better ones and didn't get many requests. I found that really interesting.

Venus Vaughn said...

Things I learned:

It REALLY is subjective. There's no excuse for not writing a great query, but even a great query doesn't mean the agent will be interested in the idea. They are or they aren't, and if they aren't, be glad they're not representing you. You want an agent that really likes your project, not one that had to talk herself into it.

I don't like crushing people's dreams. To that end, for the queries where I was on the fence, I wrote a different type of rejection. A more encouraging one, where I implied that just because my tastes didn't mesh with the project that it doesn't mean their work doesn't have merit.

I was fortunate enough in my reading that I came up with exactly 5 yesses and had 9 maybes.

I was surprised to discover that it took so much time to say 'no' or 'thanks but no thanks' to the other 45 queries. So, I understand now the 'no response means no' line that many agents take--however, that doesn't excuse the agent from setting up an auto-response just to say that the query was received.

I've heard that managing multiple e-mail accounts is tedious. That may be so, but I've been doing so for well over a decade, and honest to goodness, it's not that tough. Tell an IT pro exactly what you want and they can set it up for you.

Thanks for the exercise.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, the inner workings of genre fiction...and this is the stuff that, for the most part, DOESN'T get published...yehck!

EJ Lange said...

nathan, you mentioned on the previous post's comments thread that you would have requested materials from 5 or 6 queries in this batch of 50.

will you reveal to us which ones at the end of the contest?
pretty please? :)

oh, also - when you're doing your tally, are you only counting full manuscript requests or partials as well?

Nathan Bransford said...

EJ-

I can't really do that accurately because I know which ones are and aren't the published ones.

But in real life I passed on some and requested the partials for others. But I don't really feel comfortable revealing which ones because that's all real life work, which I keep confidential.

M. Dunham said...

After reading through the queries, despite my plans to become a published author, I realized I would enjoy becoming an agent as well.

I might be sick in the head. ;o)

Bertha Lavelle said...

This was hard.
At first I thought I'd leave a personal comment for each query.
After reaching query 39 or so, I thought, to hell with this, and I switched to form rejections. A few rejections later I thought, why not just reply to the queries I'm actually interested in and just ignore the others.
(Principles? What principles?)
I think (hope) I would treat the excercise differently if it was my full-time job.
Still, it was hard. Fair play to you Nathan, and all the other agents for a day who were kind enough to leave constructive criticism for those who queried.

My choices were:
Rosie's Child - 36
Losers - 35
Dadi's game - 24
In the driver's seat - 20
An Orchard - 10 (not sure if that's the right title

And close runners up were
Glyphs - 26
and Nugami - 17

Jenny said...

Hard to believe any of these ended up published, but that's probably because it's so hard to judge a book from a query letter.

I commented on the five that looked most promising and asked for more, but nothing posted here got me all that excited. I would have liked to be able to see page 1 as part of the query.

Jenny said...

P.S. I forgot to thank you for putting this together. It was a clever idea and a lot of fun to participate in.

Madison said...

The hardest thing was having to pass on projects you thought might have potential but the query just didn't cut it. That's very frustrating. I think I would have requested about 8 of the queries but alas, I could only chose five.

Anonymous said...

The big problem with the amateur agents is that they're only concerned with their own respective genre. Not many of them have the ability to go with what has potential commercial value, because it's not what they want to write (and probably not what they read, either).

And therein lies the rub. A lot of these wannabes, if they were taught to actually write something that is commercially competitive, might find that they don't enjoy the process--that it's not fun like it was when they were just doing it without a clue, when they had complete control over the entire process.

Writing a commercially viable genre piece is actually a form of technical writing--the writer needs to conform to certain expectations on the part of the intended audience and markets--it needs to be original, but not too original--don't color too far outside the lines, and there better be some lines. And the fact is that most people are not technically inclined. The ones who are good writers but not techncally inclined go on to be "literary" writers. The ones who can't really write think the genre fiction looks easy, then they realize how technical it is, and hit the wall.

Venus Vaughn said...

Oh, and another thing. The introductions at the beginning, the TITLE, the agent compliments, all the detritus just got in the way.

All I wanted was the pitch.

The extra-convoluted ones got a form rejection. And there was only one maybe that turned into a yes because of included pages--but hey, that made all the difference for that author.

I didn't get hung up on misspellings and grammar issues. If the query was intriguing, I wanted more. If it was hard to read, even with perfect grammar, I didn't.

Heather Harper said...

Much harder than expected and I haven't even picked my final 3-5. I've pared down the entries to a list of finalists, though.

Rejecting has been easier than requesting, IMO.

Choosing the three reminds me of trying to figure out who the final five cylons were on BSG.

;-)

morphine-moniza said...

I have a feeling that it might actually be a bit harder to answer queries on a blog quickly, than if we were reading and answering queries in email form. Scrolling and finding queries again was a complete headache for me (literally because it actually gave me a headache). And then you have to wait for the page to load, and type out WVs and what not. Just a thought I had..

Lupina said...

Oops, I read your Saturday-Sunday timeline dyslexically and now see you did not extend it after all, but that is ok. I am two-fifths finished and enjoying the variety so far. It feels like a treasure hunt rather than a big chore, but then I don't do this every day.

morphine-moniza said...

Anon 2.16

I was one of the pretend agents who went with the books they would want to read. From what I gather from blogs, a lot of agents do that too and special in particular genres that they enjoy reading. I think that works because you create links in the industry related to that genre and also because you like reading the books you represent you do a better job selling them.

I think that's why agents turn down projects which go on to be commercial successes. And its entirely possible that if an agent chooses to sell something they wouldn;t read themselves but realise is commercially viable, then the project would go on not to do as well as with some other agent who actually loves it.

I've actually read various forms of this argument on blogs run by agents so I think quite a few of them react to manuscripts not only as agents but also as readers, maybe even primarily as readers. It doesn;t mean that they are unable to identify the commercial worth of the books they reject.

Anonymous said...

Some say like like the pitch right up fromt in the letter, before eventhe title. I disagree.

I think it behooves the writer to frame the pitch by first stating title, genre. Otherwise, as someone else pointed out, the reader is trying to figure out as they read the pitch, "What's this supposed to be? thriller? sci-fi? mysetery?" and they're not focused on the actual pitch. So get the genre out up front and remove all doubt, frame that pitch so the reader's mind is ready to go.

Furious D said...

I know how hard it is to wade through that sort of material. That's why I'm sitting out this contest. I'm either too harsh, too soft, or too easily bribed. ;)

Anonymous said...

It wasn't terribly difficult, although I have selected only 2 definites and 4 maybes...still trying to narrow those down to 3.

Two things struck me:

One of the queries was so bad that I wouldn't have given it a second thought, but the pages had such a vivid voice that I couldn't stop reading.

And, regarding "voice": As a writer, I'm always a little confused when agents and publishers say they are looking for "voice." I still can't define or describe it, but this exercise has shown me that I know it when I see it.

Agent99

Katie said...

I cannot tell you how helpful and enlightening it was to do this! I didn't send one in, but I read a bunch. I think this whole process has DRASTICALLY helped my own query - so thank you!

Scott said...

I thought it was about the same, but the rub is I don't have to now try and shop my choices to publishers. :)

Anonymous said...

The Q is a very simple matter, and there is some wiggle room for personal preference, but in the submitted Q's, there was a fair amount of drivel, a few perfect specimens, and everyhting in between. For my $, this is the ideal Q format:

4 para's max:

1) Intro (incl. why Q that agent, title, completed word count, genre.
2) pitch
3) about you (if relevant--if no credits, or no platform, relevant background to the book of any kind, then omit)
4)Close (completed ms. available, thanks for your consideration, etc.

And that's it. Worked for me.
Bounce up on it!

Sharon aka Sapphire said...

I enjoyed reading all 50 of the queries. I made brief notes on each letter, but have only posted five of my responses so far. I hope the query writers will take the time to read the other author's letters. I think it is important to present your query in a professional manner. Wordiness is not always a good thing.

balinares said...

Dear Nathan,

Thank you very much for this insight into your work. I'm one of the many distant Internet voices who truly appreciate the considerable extra work you put yourself through for this experiment!

I don't think the experience can really be described in terms of easier or harder than expected, for me: the queries were, as a whole, better than what I was bracing for, but not so many had, ah, the smell of publishable material -- does that make any sense? I was surprised by the amount of gut feeling I ended up relying on.

Here is my selection:
#20 - IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT
#36 - ROSIE'S CHILD
#40 - BECOMING EMILY NOVAK
#27 - GHOSTLAND
#43 - THE LION'S MANE

(Is it okay to post it here rather than under each individual query post?)

I have a strong hunch that neither #40 nor #43 are among the published three, but the game was to pick material that we felt might be marketable, so I tried to play along.

I am also surprised that the queries which I ended up selecting do not match my personal genre preferences: I believe I may simply be pickier when it comes to my favorite genres. I am not sure whether that's a good or a bad thing, though. Is this a common phenomenon?

Thank you again for organizing this little experiment: it was highly educational!

gwen said...

Reading the queries was no more difficult than I anticipated. The difficult part was trying to decide which partials to request. It definitely would have been a bit easier to decide if sample pages had been attached.

I still had fun, though. Obviously with practicce, one would grow much more adept at spotting errors and weeding out the queries that are not up to par.

Mira said...

Wait a minute. I'm going about this the wrong way.

The point isn't to pick published authors. It's to pick more published authors than anyone else.

I shouldn't work hard trying to find the right ones.

I should work hard at sabotaging everyone else's choices.

Notice:

Everyone stop reading.
I'll tell you who to pick. Don't worry yourself about it.

You can trust me.

Mira said...

By the way, what do we get if we win this thing?

Not that it seems to really matter to me. Apparently I can be whipped into a frenzy of competition with no discernable goal whatsoever.

But it would be nice to know.

MaLanie said...

Thank you for the experience, Nathan.

This has been a great learning lesson.

My best,

MaLanie

melissablue13 said...

I started late and now I'm tired only after 31. But I can be honest and say this would be harder to do if there were only women's fiction, romance and YA queries. Bypassing non-fiction all togther is probably what made it easy. The clincher is that some of the books that I just wouldn't read had really good queries.

To my tally for 1-31 that I'd request within 5 seconds:

15, which has the most !!!!! next to it on my note pad, and 21 and 31.

The, if only I read those stories winners from 1-31:

10
11
12
14
25
29

And, 30 surprised me with the writing. The query totally lost me, but after reading the writing I changed my outright no really fast.

Now, all this is to say. I stand by my decision to be a writer. Nathan you can keep your day job, it's safe from the likes of me.

melissablue13 said...

Oh, I had no intention of doing the contest(hence ignoring the rules), just wanted to see what it was like to be an agent for a day.

Gregory said...

Dear Nathan;

Thank you, GREAT JOB, and a question: The issue of first-person queries came up. I thought I read all your stuff, but if you've addressed that, I missed it. Thoughts on that? Good? Bad? Auto-rejection?

Most important lesson learned for me: More on what NOT to put in a query.

Response to some who complained about the comments, found them "breezy," etc. I had the exact opposite reaction. Yes, a few were snarky. But for the most part, there was a great deal of good, honest feedback here. Very valuable. Lots of time spent by people doing their best to help others. GREAT JOB, PEOPLE!

Thanks again, Nathan. I know people think they got some insight into your world here. And we did, to 5% of it. But then there's dealing with authors, publishers, editors, manuscripts, selling, selling, and selling. I often wonder how you find time for this blog. Amazing. Thanks again!

-- Greg P

"You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success - but only if you persist." -- Isaac Asimov

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say thank-you Nathan. This made it easier for me to realize query rejections do not mean I necessarily did something wrong when I get a rejection, and there is hope. Keep sending out those queries.

Marie

Nathan Bransford said...

greg-

I don't really have thoughts on first person queries. If it works it works. I think it's usually awkward for people to write as if their character is narrating, but I'm sure it's worked before.

Mystery Robin said...

The hard part for me was to keep readiing with purpose. I felt my eyes glazing over, and going on auto reject mode. I think I've heard agents say before that the answer is NO unless you give them a good reason to say yes. I can see that. I can also see how you start to spot trends in queries and start generalizing.

I felt jaded by the end of the list!

Also, it wasn't nearly as fun as I thought it would be. I imagined something more like browsing my audiofile magazine. Not so. Not so.

Anonymous said...

Her'es my patented Cycle of Success™:

1. write book
2. try to get agent for said book
3. while waiting to hear back from agents, start writing book #2
4. if, by time you're done writing #2 you haven't managed to get rep for or sell #1, decide if #1 is worth either PODing or selling to small house; if so, then do that,; if not or if you can't, then abandon #1
5. repeat Q process for #2
6. start #3

There it is, folks! What # in the porcess are you all on?

jjdebenedictis said...

I'll bet the people whose queries were featured here will never be bothered by rejection ever again...

IQOkie said...

I'm sure this is still nothing compared to an agent's daily workload, but there is one thing that made it harder for us pretenders: genres we don't like.
An agent usually represents genres he likes or is familiar with.
Reading fantasy makes my brain tired and I found myself skimming those.

I know one thing, if I were an agent I would have to break it up in little blocks throughout the day, say five every other hour or something. I was a better query reader with a fresh mind.

Nixy Valentine said...

I picked "about the same" simply because some things were easier than I expected (I knew right away that 90% of them weren't going to make my list) and some things were harder (narrowing down that last 5 when I had 10 I liked... and when I had 7 I liked, it was torture).

The game did take longer than I expected, but that's because I decided to write personal comments to each author, just to try to be helpful.

SGF said...

Actually I voted that it was the same as I thought it would be, but at the time I had only gotten through four queries last night. Today I'm powering through a lot more and I just realized how absolutely heinous it must be for agents to do this EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Change vote: much harder.

Jen C said...

I'd say it was more or less what I expected. Once I'd worked out a system for keeping track I got through the 50 quite fast, and then worked on the list I'd made. I had to do real work in between, so I can't say how long it took me all up.

I did try not to think too much about my short list, I just went back over it a couple of times and pulled out the 5 that really spoke to me. I have a feeling that I missed one of the ones that was published now that I look back, but it just didn't register with me as much as the ones I chose.

And apart from the boringitude (is so a word) factor of form rejections, it was just as much fun as I hoped it would be!

Kalika said...

I will never, ever even think of being an agent. After only 50 queries, I was exasperated enough to start gibbering at some authors to just QUIT WRITING NOW. I didn't, of course. I've yet to settle on my five, I need to investigate further those I found interesting.

Raven56 said...

And done.

Definitely a cool exercise, I appreciate your having gone to the effort of organizing it.

All told, this was if anything slightly easier than I expected. The vast majority took very little to time to reject, mainly because the author's voice didn't do anything for me, and I think of that as the first consideration.

Of the total, 11 out of 50 took a more careful read-through, and I probably would have requested about 7 if it weren't for the limit (although I wouldn't necessarily read all the way through all 7).

If anything, though, what this has done is confirm my previous positions on the matter. I have a great deal of sympathy for agents who must use a form rejection; anything else is madness. But if I can whip through 50 queries in under an hour and a half, all while having to fill out the blogger comment form each time, then I have no sympathy whatsoever for agents with the option of creating an auto-response program who instead say "no response = no interest."

All in all, very instructive

Marilyn Peake said...

Phew. After 3-1/2 hours of reviewing all 50 queries, I'm now planning to reread nine specific queries and then post the rest of my "Agent for a Day" response letters. I learned a lot, and am looking forward to the discussions following this contest. One thing I learned for sure: I could not have evaluated all 50 queries in 3-1/2 hours if I hadn't resorted to sending out mostly form letters, and I had to send out mostly form letters in order to balance this contest with my writing, which I view as similar to the time constraints of literary agents trying to represent their clients’ books. I am now going to take a break, watch a couple of TV shows, then finalize my query choices.

Anonymous said...

I said it before and I'll say it again:

No response does not mean no. Only no means no.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Well, maybe in the metaphysical sense, but who lives that long?

Marilyn Peake said...

Ahhh, before I go off to watch TV, I’d like to add one more thing. In my opinion, there is a LOT of talent in these query letters, even the ones to which I ultimately respond with my form rejection letter. I’d like to say a whole lot more about this right now, but I really need to take a break, and I know there will be many discussions about this contest after it’s completed.

Amy said...

First off, hats off to the people who submitted their queries. I did not submit mine because I felt like it might be too terrifying to open myself up to so much rejection.

Did I think it was hard? No, but I don't think any of my past white collar-type jobs were hard either. Sure, they had annoying tasks, I'm sure reading and responding to queries fits in with updating cost basis for AT&T in the financial world, and I've done plenty of that in my life. I do think updating a Blog every day, and reading the requested manuscripts would be harder than managing the slush pile.

I'm not implying I chose the right ones, but I did chose the ones I thought were interesting enough I'd read the pages, and I left many out, including the Trucking Memoir that struck me as interesting. I was surprised I chose 2 YAs, since I never read YA. I don't read sci-fi so I couldn't offer anything on those.

Here are my choices:

9
10
17
25
29

Thanks Nathan for the fun contest (yesterday my husband was a bit annoyed with me for being pretend agent, rather than finishing the taxes) and thanks again to the people who offered up their queries.

amyandnick ...... aspiring@agency.com

Anonymous said...

I found it difficult, even though I didn't really participate. Simply because I recognized my query and I felt really bad reading people say it sucked. One person that I saw requested a partial. Another seemed trolly. But whatever.

Adam Heine said...

It was exactly as hard as I thought it would be, but that's not saying much.

It took me 4 hours (interrupted by toddlers and meals) to get through all 50. I could've done it faster, but I tried to say something at least a little constructive on most of the queries rather than just saying no. I probably could've saved myself 30-60 minutes with a form rejection.

Caroline said...

I actually have to say it was easier than I expected, and a lot more enjoyable as well. Of course, it was helpful to have a day off school on Monday so I had time to respond to the queries without being under pressure. Perhaps I've found a new career option, if I can't make it as a writer (that's number one).

I thought I would have trouble turning most of the queries down, but I guess I felt particularly ruthless yesterday. I think I definitely improved as I went along, and most of my acceptances were in the early numbers. My list was 6, 9, 20, 26, 46. Now I just have to bite my nails in anticipation. I am crazy curious to see which books were the published ones!

writtenwyrdd said...

I got about twelve done while at work. Not able to pursue it and work, so I gave up. But I did find that I could form an opinion for the ones I read fairly quickly.

It's not an easy job, and I can see where you might always wonder if you missed out on something at the end of the day.

Matilda McCloud said...

Dear Anon--

I know it's hard to see those rejections, but just keep in mind that it is a learning process. I cringe in embarrassment when I think of the queries I sent out a couple of years ago. I'm now on novel #2 (and am starting #3), and have received several requests for partials for this one. So try not to be too discouraged or too hard on yourself either.

Other Lisa said...

I voted "about the same." I'd participated in the first First Chapters contest on Gather and read (or tried to read) hundreds of first chapters - that's a pretty good slush pile simulator.

The hardest parts for me were pulling the trigger (deciding on/narrowing down to 5) and letting my personal preferences affect my decisions. There were several queries I did not request even though objectively I thought they had more commercial potential; I just wasn't interested enough in the subject matter to pick them.

I learned that I really am swayed by voice, by something distinctive in the style, and that I really liked having a sample page of writing.

I think even though I would have requested more than five if I'd had that option, I probably would not have chosen as many as five to "represent."

I also think...you know, I kinda like doing this! I don't know that I'd necessarily be that good at the job, but I can definitely see the fun potential.

Really great contest, Nathan!

Megan said...

It didn't take that long but I got lazy towards the end! You can notice if you read my comments from numbers 1 to 50!

It was interesting to see the quailty and difference between them: some people sucked up (for lack of a better word) and others didn't.

I definitely have a bigger appreciation for Agents!

Horserider said...

I have a bigger appreciation for agents now! It took me two days to answer them all with my normal responsibilities of school and my own editing.

It was actually easier than I expected and even fun. :) But I can see how reading a couple hundred of them a day would get wearing after a while.

Carolyn said...

I said "About the same" because I knew that this would be hard with only two choices; reject or request full. There were several I would have requested at least a few pages.

I also now know that if I were an agent, I would definitely want to see at least 5 pages with every query.

Thanks for doing this.

Also, I ultimately, only requested 4 MS.

Lita said...

It was harder but also more fun than I expected it to be. I just couldn't make myself give rejections. And I'm with Joyce - I've recognized one of the pubbed ones (btw, my apologies!), but I was surprised how many people rejected it. All in all, awesome contest!

Newbee said...

At first I found it very easy...then I started second guessing myself and felt I might be over looking something. I found myself forgetting my own opinions and started thinking of others feelings. (Both the writers and the publics view on a book...) I'm only half way through the pile and already feel bogged down with partials! (I think I requested four...or maybe five?)

PurpleClover said...

I voted earlier but couldn't post at the time. Mainly because my children were beating each other senseless and if I want them to be Doctors I had to intervene.

Anyhoo, I thought it was harder in the sense that after query number 30 or so I just wanted to be done. I don't think I could do this on a regular basis. Not sure how you guys do it every single day. But I'm sure it has something to do with the rewards of getting that debut author and seeing a paycheck for the recently pub'd books!

Melanie Avila said...

I didn't comment in the posts but I did read them all and wrote down my choices (9, 21, 33, 37, 48) . Man, I now understand how you can make decisions without reading the entire letter.

*passes bottle of bourbon to Nathan*

Writer from Hell said...

twas Boom Ting

Tawny said...

This contest was a brilliant idea! Was it harder, easier or about the same as I expected? The same. If I were an agent, would I have requested the books I did in this contest? Probably not, since they weren't in a genre I would want to represent.

Still, I'm curious to see how I did. I'm not familiar with the markets for fantasy, YA, thrillers/mysteries and non-fiction so I doubt I have any clue what might be marketable.

Very interesting exercise.

Liz said...

Compared to negotiating ownership of intellectual property and helping managers terminate contracts with terrible vendors while ensuring the least liability exposure? My usual day swimming with the sharks?

I expected this to be really hard. I always figure everyone must have it harder than me. So far it isn't that bad. I think the hard part would be the boredom of slogging through it all (plus the silent and slightly heartbreaking schadenfreude of the occasional really bad query), but then that sparkling gem shows up that makes it all worthwhile, right?

Thank you for doing this. It was very instructive to see what it's like to have a pile of these to go through - what kinds of things make you shut down v. what makes you go "aaahhh."

Anahita said...

I'm still working on them. I have read and ranked almost half. I still think it is hard and I still think it is interesting.

Vic K said...

I have to say it was easier going than I expected - I mean in the sense that I didn't have any trouble deciding the ones to say no to. Which isn't to say for even a moment that I think I'm going to be the agent of the day, but that I found myself really clear on two things; first, how much personal taste goes into the decision and second, knowledge or preference for a genre.

For example, rightly or wrongly, I didn't ask for more info on the non-fiction proposals, and I avoided - regardless of whether I thought they could sell or not - subject matter I didn't think I could be passionate about. My thinking on this was that maybe they could be sold, but since I was pretending to be a real-life agent, it wasn't fair to request what I couldn't sell myself. And the reason was I just wouldn't be able to work up the requisite enthusiasm for them.

I also realised how damn hard it is to write personal rejections and I absolutely understand the form letter now. You could lose hours, and I mean HOURS, thinking up flattering ways to say some honest truths in the process of trying to help people. If I was an agent I'd be a form-rejector for sure.

The other epiphany I had during the process was realising how hard it is to find truly original concepts or ideas. I ended up focusing on that as my driving goal... and it was harder to find than I thought.

Learning that is actually the true gift I received from all of this, and I thank you for that Nathan. Because at the end of the day, I realised that for me as agent-for-a-day, what a query needed in order to stand out of the slush is an original concept or a unique delivery.

Having said all that, I'm certain I won't be agent of the day because I did make entirely personal calls, for the most part. And will as I go forward, filling in the rest of my requests and rejections. But regardless, I learned something very valuable and so the exercise was very worthwhile for me.

Thanks Nathan!

TFree said...

Nathan, you evil bastard, stop supplying me with interesting, time-consuming ways to procrastinate!

Chuck H. said...

This was hard, man. I had to concentrate and think and everything and given the state of my brain cells that aint easy.

Seriously, this was hard and I kept finding myself turning nasty just like those little brats in Lord of the Flies.

Word Ver: dogicali. Any of you west coasters loose a pooch?

Anonymous said...

"Compared to negotiating ownership of intellectual property..."

isn't that exactly what an agent does?!

Hallie said...

I chose about the same--but only because I've done some work that's similar to going through slushpiles, and since I find agenting so interesting, I knew what I was getting into! That said, I thought I would have an easier time figuring out where my accept/decline point would be; I got caught up in thinking about how and where I could sell different books, and I ended up with a preliminary spreadsheet of 9 to request and 14 queries that I marked as maybe because I found them interesting...until I didn't. Now I'll go back to the 9 I picked out for manuscript requests and I bet the final five will be much easier to see this time around.

I haven't checked the submission guidelines, if there were any, for these queries, and I ignored anything that I could reasonably excuse as a faux pas in favor of focusing on what the author said about the books. While it's not exactly standard, the first few pages of the story helped me quite a bit. I know queries are hard to write, and when I was undecided at the end of the query, the first few paragraphs usually cemented my decision. I definitely felt better about my decisions, at least.

And now I'm off to start in on my responses!

Thanks for hosting this. It's definitely been a great learning experience.

Melissa said...

I expected it to be as hard as it was, but it still gave me insight into the process, how it works, and how it feels to read all those queries.

It was an exercise in empathy. Writing is also an exercise in empathy, on some level, and reading is too.

Marilyn Peake said...

I finally made my choices, replied to every query with slightly personalized responses, and I am exhausted! Not sure where I should list my choices, but here they are...

I requested full manuscripts for the following queries:
# 2 – SHIMMERING DESTINY
# 9 – IF IT AIN'T BROKE
# 10 – ON ONE HAND
# 17 – INUGAMI
# 39 – THE COPYCAT KILLER

If I hadn’t been limited to five manuscripts, I would have requested more.

Adam Heine said...

I noticed a few people thought the sample pages were a better tool to decide whether they should accept or reject, to the point where they thought maybe the queries aren't necessary at all.

I can understand that. I mean, the sample pages can tell you if the author can write or not. But without the query, there's no way to know if the story is sellable. All the writing skill in the world won't help if the novel is about a young orphan whisked away from his hateful aunt and uncle to become a wizard in a magical land...

Anyway, if it were me, I'd want both.

austere said...

Often wanted to tear my hair. or throw something.

But I notice that after a while you get the hang of things.

And spelling, grammar and punctuation matter the world.

Jen C said...

OOooh no. I think I made a mistake when I was putting everything together and I missed one that I meant to say yes to! (I forgot to bold it on my spreadsheet, lol!). Marilyn posting the title just reminded me that I meant to choose it!

Can I go back and delete my rejection/request and swap it over? Or would that be against the rules?

Man, being an agent is confusing sometimes!

Steve Axelrod said...

Here's my experience ... you just get a kind of word fatigue; each bad sentence is a blow on a bruise. You wind up passing at the first mention of fairies or werewolves or a story that will change you awareness of this or that forever. You get jaded and mean. Good stuff jumps out, but there isn't much of it and it has to jump high and fast to get your attention.

I wound up not finishing ... not really caring if I was right about the trucker book or the CAT scan guy got published, though just for the record those are my two most likely candidates, and neither one of them was fiction.

73 in one day. You must have a mutant power, dude. Use it only for good. Or ... or -- maybe you're a fairie or a wizard or something, and someone will write a really really bad book about your adventures. I sure hope not.

Anonymous said...

Re: "And spelling, grammar and punctuation matter the world."

ROFL! Please tell me that was on purpose.

Aimless Writer said...

It's kinda fun but I'm not doing this 365 days a year.
However if you had my job anything would be better.
:)

Cat Moleski said...

It was definitely harder the first day. I couldn’t believe I was really going to do this exercise with so many other pressing things to do, but I made a commitment to finish. The second day was easier, and I became quicker with my rejections and more choosy about my asks.

One thing I'm getting more of a sense about is the 'voice' of a character in a query. I could never quite figure out how to get the voice across in a letter about the story before. After reading just 25 letters, a glimmer of awareness is forming in my brain and I’m so glad I decided to do this. Thanks, Nathan!

Marybeth said...

I'm starting this contest out a bit later than most, but I have found it very educational as I am in the process of writing my own query letter. I just want to thank you for giving us this opportunity. More than anything I have found it quite entertaining! I had a harder time with the rejections than the requests for a manuscript. There were so many that COULD be good, but the query just didn't pull me in.

Ulysses said...

Much harder.

Details of my thoughts about this are here.

The reader's digest version:
1) There are a hundred ways rejection does not equal bad work.
2) Standing out is tough when the crowd is so big.

Thanks for this. I feel I have achieved enlightenment (well... in this area, anyway).

kaseee said...

Harder, because I had a lot of trouble leaving comments. It wouldn't let me sign in after the first one and I got kicked out several times.

Megan said...

The Premios Dardos Award
For You:
http://bookworm-megs.blogspot.com/2009/04/april-blogging-day-16.html

Rachel said...

I'm not finished going through all the queries yet. So far it's been an incredible learning experience. I like reading others' queries...seeing the scope of ideas as well as the various styles of query letters. I'm a little disappointed in some of my fellow agents-of-the-day. Most are very polite and respectful. However, some of the comments are downright hateful...Mr. Snark, I'm especially thinking of you. Maybe you're trying to be witty, but it comes off as childish and malicious. It took a lot of guts for people to post their queries. Let's be respectful of that.

Thermocline said...

Thank you for running this, Nathan. Some of the weaknesses of my own query letter are now quite apparent. These 50 queries and the feedback offer some great lessons.

Lois Lavrisa said...

Nathan (aka- agent all the time),

This was a blast- thank you for running this contest. May the best "Agent for a Day" win!

To get through the queries, I read all 50 of them once. If they "hooked" me or got me in some gut level way- I put the number of the query down on a post it note.

The others that hit me wrong (for whatever reason) I posted a form rejection letter.

I went back to the numbers I listed on my post it note- (eight intrigued me) then re read them all, and then narrowed down my choices and sent five a full request. This was what seemed to work for me.

I can not wait to see the results (on Sunday?)

Thank you again for this fun challenge.

Sincerely,

Lois Lavrisa
Your Agent for a day

bookshop said...

2 eye-opening things for me:

1) I honestly thought the publishable, "real" successful queries would be instantly detectable - that they would just sparkle like stars in a coal mine or something. They didn't!

2) I thought it would be easy to reject everything and focus only on the ones I really ~loved.~ Except:

a) I didn't fall in love with any of these based on the query alone.

b) There was only one query that made me absolutely sit up straighter and think yes yes yes THIS, this is what I want - and I wound up rejecting it, after a painful process of deliberation.

Because what I was reacting to was the intention behind the concept, not the concept itself, or the way it was presented to me.

That was a painful moment.

But it really drove home for me how important the query is. No matter how in love an agent is with your idea, if you can't show them that 1) you can write and 2) you have a fully formed and logically realized work, it can't succeed.

I STILL want to do this every day. :D
________

Bookshop's final request list:

#9 - (urban YA)
#20 - (personal memoir)
#27 - (dystopian YA)
#36 - (women's literary)
#38 - (YA fantasy)

Rick Daley said...

Anon @ 11:36pm:
["Compared to negotiating ownership of intellectual property..."

isn't that exactly what an agent does?!]

Not as I understand it. The author retains ownership rights, what is negotiated are the rights and rates for the distribution of the work.

The agent must first find a suitable buyer for those rights, and then must negotiate favorable terms.

Nathan can probably add a lot of clarity to that if I'm off base...

Karl said...

Thanks for putting this up, Nathan. I've spent the day flicking through, and although I haven't played agent so far it's been a useful afternoon.

I'm impressed at the high standard. One or two writers seem a little young and not quite ready for publication (that isn't meant to be the fob-off it sounds like), but there were none of the lame ducks, pseuds, or nutters I'd expected. Conversely, there weren't many that I was desperate to read more of, but that says more about my tastes - I'm not one for genre fiction - than the queries themselves. Fighting through the slush pile really is a subjective thing.

Doing this also made me think of my own novel, and any potential queries I may write, in a more detached way. That's very useful.

Janny said...

With wanting to give the authors the benefit of the doubt--and trying to ascertain which were "real" books that had sold!--it was time-consuming and required some thought. But overall, it was easier to decide than I thought it might be. This wasn't so much because the queries were so poor (I made allowances for the fact that most authors hate to write queries!) but because a lot of them were GOOD...but NOT QUITE THERE.

Those "good, but not quites" are enough to keep anyone guessing!

But overall, Nathan, this was FAR too much fun. I enjoyed it immensely.

Janny

Selestial said...

I never thought it was easy, so I voted "about the same". The biggest issue for me was the scrolling (my computer started acting wonky) and that my Open ID stopped working. I will say that it was time-consuming though, more so than I would have thought. I do understand why most agents don't provide feedback - sometimes not for me means just that.

Kristin said...

That was fun. Seriously fun. But I have no qualms sending a form reject (as a pretend agent) or being on the receiving end of one (as a writer). I thought it was great how often my mind was made up after the first paragraph - and even better when I didn't want to stop reading until the very end!

splatter said...

I can't even begin to express how much fun I'm having doing this. I wish it were my full-time job.

I'm not done yet, what with another full-time job keeping me busy most of the day, but I will say this - I found myself skipping past first paragraphs a LOT. people felt such a need to explain why I had this letter in my hand, and I just wanted to shout "tell me about the story already!" I wasn't expecting to be quite so strongly opinionated on that front.

I also have found that I know right away if I want to reject a story. It's deciding if I want to request pages that's harder. Even so, I'm happy with the decisions I've made so far.

rantonson17 said...

I thought this was a GREAT activity. I can't wait to find out which ones are going to become published! I would also love to learn more about being an agent--and specifically how to become an agent. Perhaps a future blog topic?

rantonson17 said...

Ok, sorry--

I totally spaced out on the "how about a blog post about how to be an agent" comment I just posted. I just found it in your FAQ. Please disregard that portion of my previous post. I must have blinked and missed it (probably a result of reading and posting on 50 queries right before!)

Diana said...

Thanks so much for this opportunity. My concern is that I would start off being too generous and burn up all of my available requests. What I found was that I really could tell, in a skim, what appealed to me and what didn't. Not necessarily what was the best or the worst, but what I could get behind with enthusiasm.

I was surprised at how annoyed I became at any query that was long enough to require scrolling. I have a big monitor, and any query that fit on the screen in one piece made me less frowny.

Just_Me said...

I put myself on a time limit and queries that intrigued me I placed in a MAYBE pile. Sixteen of the 50 wound up being MAYBE. But even when I grabbed the 7 that really jumped out at me, when I started analyzing them, I'm having trouble picking 5.

For me the problem is deciding whether there is a market and whether a good idea with a so-so query is going to work. Only one jumped out as a must have.

Another couple that were really well written queries are just subjects I can't get the energy to care about, but I know they will do well on the market. I wouldn't rep them as an agent because they don't fit my style, but for this contest I wonder if I should include them.

Does that make sense?

Rebecca Knight said...

Hi, Nathan,

I had a TON of fun, but also definitely learned how hard it is to be selective when you have a handful of "good" queries on your hands, and have to pick the truly great. That made my palms sweat, let me tell ya!

Blasting through the queries was easier than I expected, and much more enjoyable, but then the narrowing it down was what destroyed my mind. Also, I didn't have the heart or stamina to give individual critiques, and used a generic, pleasant form letter. I get it now in a way I didn't quite understand before.

I blogged about it, too (http://rebeccaknightbooks.blogspot.com/)--it made a huge impression on me.

You should definitely do this again some time! It's great to have a reality check every once in a while, and it makes us appreciate things from the agent's perspective ;).

Thanks again!

Nora Coon said...

Easier, but only because I used to be an editorial intern at a publishing house and thus spent all day, every day reading the slush pile. It's definitely hard work!

The hardest part was having a strict limit of five, because I was always worried I'd use them up and then find better ones. However, I only ended up requesting three, so I guess it worked out all right.

Janine said...

This was super educational for me. After reading through all these, I'm glad I've ever had a positive response to a query! Wow. Maybe it's called the slush pile because it turns your brains to slush after awhile? I did find myself rejecting some right off the bat, without reading all the way through.

RainSplats said...

Nathan,

I would be a horrible agent. You're amazing. I wished all of them had included the first 5 pages. Some contained ideas I loved, but writing I didn't love.

...and then it all starts to blur...

-Rain

jnantz said...

I actually really enjoyed it. My querty was one of the 50, so I got a great deal of helpful feedback, and I also saw what separated mine from the ones I would choose, especially how much tighter they were. It was about as hard as I figured it would be. I teach, so I know all about the time it takes to go through a stack of stuff and evaluate it. I tried to stick to what I thought could have a market, but I doubt I got all the published ones (think I got at least one, but no more than that).

I took #10, #25, #27, #38, and #46.

I know very little of the YA market, but a few just sounded like something my students would dig.

Anonymous said...

Keith Champagne
I selected #9, 10, 17, 36, and 48.

Anonymous said...

i chose #21, 25,34, 35, and 49


from agent Backdoor Trojan

Anonymous said...

Suzuki Volkeswagon reporting for duty.

I selected queries 37, 27, 26, 12, and 10.

Katalina Marie said...

This is agent Katalina Marie and I chose numbers 12, 27, 32, 45, and 46.

Aisling said...

Agent Aisling Richards

Selections: 6, 15, 45, 46, and 48.

I thought this exercise was a great idea. I really enjoyed being able to see what agents have to go through on a daily basis. It definitely gave me a look at the other side of this industry and I definitely loved taking part in this!

Anonymous said...

Agent AM

Selected #14, #20, #24, #35, #42.

This was a great experience! But definitely much more time-consuming than I'd originally expected.

Anonymous said...

This experience was enlightening i chose #'s 17, 29, 35, 39, and 48 myself.

Anonymous said...

Agent Manny filer,
I chose queries 6, 27, 33, 45, and 49

Anonymous said...

Agent Quintus Blackburn

I chose #'s 17,29,33,35, and 36

This contest was really fun, and it showed a hopeful writer a look into the business of finding an agent! Being an agent is very tedious!

Anonymous said...

Toyota Mistubishi wa yoi desu
I have chosen 8, 10, 21, 37, and 41

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