Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, April 13, 2009

That's It!

Whew! All 50 queries have been posted. You'll have until Sunday Saturday evening to complete the project in case you were tied up today.

Also, with this many comments it's almost impossible for me to keep up -- I need your help to combat the trolls. Please e-mail me any comments that you find inappropriate.

Most importantly: thanks for playing! What did you think of the contest? Please post your initial thoughts. We'll be back throughout the week to discuss more.






240 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Your job is crazy hard! Wow. I have a whole new level of appreciation for agents.

~Lindsey S

Note: While I did not participate in Agent Fail Day, I sure as heck particpated in Agent Pass Day.

Nik said...

Initial thought...You need a raise! LOL

I'm just over halfway through and am exhausted. Granted, I'm trying to give my reasoning on most, which a lot of agents don't do, but yikes! And it's so clear, as if it wasn't before, why agents don't/can't take the time to give individual feedback on every query.

Henry said...

I was surprised that so many of your queries are for commercial fiction. Lots of mainstream-type premises. Wondering where the literary fiction queries are.

Anonymous said...

I am amazed! This is incredible. The feedback I've gotten on my query is fantastic. Thank you everyone!

I'm being rejected like a...well, I won't go there. But still, head is up and I'm still smiling.

What an incredible opportunity--for everyone. Thanks Nathan!

hannah said...

Finished. Happy with the five I requested--wish I could have requested two more.

I've already said that I was surprised by how mean people were. I continue to be.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

The rush of finding a query that had just about everything was great! I enjoyed this and kudos to everyone who submitted.

I hope my comments didn't come across as snarky, that wasn't the intent. And I did try to let authors know why I passed (most times anyway), I thought I at least owed them that.

This is but a taste of Nathan's power...moohahahahahaaaa...
(cough, cough)
I don't know how you do it. Luv you man. (sniff)

Mr. Snark said...

Nathan:

You sure to have to read a lot of crap. I don't envy you.

I know how much work it is to write a novel and I feel sorry for people who put in all that time and energy in the service of a lame or unoriginal idea.

Personally, I found the experience encouraging, but perhaps I'm just another deluded schlub like the rest of them.

Bija Andrew Wright said...

It was interesting. Not quite as hard as I thought it might be, but I've done some reading work that calls for an itchy trigger finger, so I know how to say "no" when something just isn't up to snuff. All told, I requested three, gave encouraging rejections to about five others. I did try to choose my words carefully when I got the sense that the writer was young and fragile--but that could have been a false impression.

It's got to be a little tricky when you want to help writers, when you see something you want to edit and proofread, but in the end, a no is a no.

Thanks for setting this up, Nathan!

Josephine Damian said...

I can see how an agent forms an opinion of writing/execution of query itself first, and marketability of plot/premise second - at least that's how it was for me.

Figured if a query was badly/awkwardly written, then the book would be as well.

What struck me was how light a lot of these books were, word-count-wise.

My five choices for requests were:

14, 15, 27, 35, & 46

Anonymous said...

Darn, forgot my siggie again


Agent XXX AKA this thread's Anon 5:16

Casey said...

This was a great experience. It definitely became harder for me to give personal feedback as the day wore on. I can see how days and days on end of this could get...

Thanks for the insight and the opportunity. I loved it!

Jen C said...

I set up an Excel spreadsheet to make keeping track a bit easier, and I've just read all 50, now am going back through my yes, no and maybe's. I have 8 yesses to whittle down to 5! Eeep...

But, I've found it to be a lot of fun so far! I'll be posting my requests/rejections a little later today.

Madison said...

This is just as hard and as fun as I thought it would be! Dang, I LOVE query letters! If there are any agents out there who want me to read these for them, by all means shoot me an e-mail! I loved this, Mr. Bransford and I think you should hold this contest more often. I had a blast whether I passed or failed. :D

AJ Richardson said...

Wish my query would have been posted, could have used some feedback. I am looking forward to reading other queries for some compare/contrast information. Thanks for doing this Nathan, I wonder how you get anything else done.

Selestial said...

I have new respect for what you guys do. I requested 3 and have a handful to read through again tomorrow when my brain is less fried.

On a side note, around the last 5 queries, my open ID stopped working. Not sure if there is a glitch or what.

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan,

Thanks for asking about our initial reactions to this contest. I think it’s fantastic. I haven’t read all the queries or comments yet, but I’ve read quite a few. Between both queries and comments, there’s now a wealth of information. The queries provide a small glimpse into the slush pile of an agent – variety of genres, different query styles, issues of grammar, and so on. The comments provide information on how different types of stories are received, and how agents-for-a-day evaluate specific queries. I’m finding it all very educational.

Anonymous said...

From what I've seen the comments here are tame compared to some real ones.

KathyF said...

This was great! I've read a lot about writing queries, but this was even more educational.

Still working on finishing up picking 5.

KathyF

Owl Sprite said...

Totally exhausting. I am mentally fried and I'm not even halfway through the list. Now I'm scrambling to get my real work done for tomorrow!

Heather Rose Chase said...

I didn't participate but I did read the comments throughout the day... my initial thought was that many guest agents used up their 5 requests early in the day and therefore it seemed like the early bird got the proverbial worm here.

Jen C said...

Oh also, I haven't read any of the comments, as I said I wouldn't before I'd made up my mind and posted, but I'm also interested to see what other people's rejections look like. I'm doing a straight form letter for everyone. Sorry if you think that's impersonal, lol!

Sooki Scott said...

This was a terrific learning experience. Thanks. And thanks to everyone brave enough to submit their work.

Nathan, I'm sure keeping track of our stats will be a nightmare, so here are mine.

Requested a full manuscript for:

#10
#27
#29
#38
#50

Hope I've helped.

Confucius says, "Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it."

Owl Sprite said...

Henry - I have a question for you (and Nathan, too)... what makes a "literary" book or query? I mean, I always thought it was presumptuous for a writer to call their own work "literary."

Googling this term didn't help me figure it out, since apparently any type of fiction can be called literary if it's "deep" enough.

I would like to think my book is literary, because I'm trying to explore some really deep themes, but it's on a genre framework because, well, every book has a genre, doesn't it? Or not?

hannah said...

5:24 Anon:

Really? I've definitely never seen real agents reject queries as brutally as a few people did today. Maybe I've been lucky.

reader said...

I only found three I'd request...#10, #17, and #38.

I'm surprised I didn't like more. Oddly, though, I found it was the voice of the query more than the plot that pulled me in. And that is somewhat disturbing because what if your novel doesn't lend itself to a fun, peppy voice? It probably doesn't get as many requests. Crap.

Also, No wonder agents drink. Nathan, can I send you something? Scotch, was it? A bottle of aspirin?

I do think queriers would prefer a few comments instead of their name/title on the rejections, though. I didn't bother listing anyone's name but off the top of my head was able to easily tell them why I was passing.

Derek said...

Fun and educational. Thanks, Nathan. Requested #10, #12, #17, #20, #39.

Robert A Meacham said...

I found this a great learning experience. It will make me a better author, so thanks Nathan for this exercise.

Saundra Mitchell said...

I DQed myself because there was one late in the day that I just couldn't bear to reject, no matter how fancifully I put up.

Curious though- if one of the queries turns out to be a real project, but unagented- will there be any way to contact its owner?

One of the projects my imaginary agent asked for a partial on is a project I think my agent would really, really like. If I could read the full and it's as good as the query, I'd like to rec it to my agent.

Anonymous said...

My guess is that if you calculate the "acceptance" rate (AR) of the 25 queries posted first vs. those second group of 25, you'll find a higher AR in Group 1, because the fledgling "agents'" eyes were bigger than their stomachs, so to speak, and they exceeded their aceeptance quota (AQ) for the day before the second 25 were posted.

But it's just a guess. And some 'agents' won't have started until after all the querie's wer posted.

Megan said...

What a crazy project. I definitely appreciate you doing this, and enjoyed reading the queries. I've got 9 I liked to whittle down to five now!

One thing I was thinking about - I used a form rejection for most of them, and made notes on a few, but each time I used the form I had to think about how that sort of thing does open one up to replies demanding an explanation, or giving you a hard time for saying no. One can't spend all of one's time explaining, so I can appreciate more the "no reply means no" perspective.

Though I still fall into the camp that thinks an "email recieved" auto-reply would be a good idea.

Monika said...

Wow, that was fun! There was some good stuff in there that I'm sad I had to turn away. Now I won't feel so bad when my query gets declined, I can see there is a lot of right place/right time involved.

Lesson learned: When I become an agent I'll ask for three sample pages with my queries. There were some letter that didn't seem to do the projects justice, and I imagine that the reverse is probably true as well.

My favorite was #24. ("The Story of Dadi") The query wasn't flawless and it might not be the easiest sell, but I loved the blend of history and puzzles and family drama. And the bit about the Elephant parable just did me in. ( I loved the "Story of Pi".) I just have to read it. It sounds like the sort of book that is classic enough to stay on the shelves at BookStar for decades.

Thank you so much, Nathan, for this game of airchair agent.

scj said...

What an interesting experiment! I knew what agents did reading query letters, but doing it myself gave me a new appreciate for how important a good, solid query letter is if you want to stand out and distinguish yourself from the rest of the crowd. It was definitely exciting to read a good query and think how good the book could be, if written well. It was also interesting to see how important sample pages can be - even if the query didn't hold my interest, I scanned the pages to see if the writing would captivate me. And a few queries that I was so-so about and ultimately passed on, strong sample pages would have made a difference and made me want to request more.

I also noticed (as someone else pointed out) how a few "agents" used up their requests at the beginning of the day, leaving the later queries with no shot of even possibly being requested. Later in the day, I solved this problem by setting aside the potentially good queries and then requesting them after a second read to be sure I actually wanted them in my 5!

It amazed me how many queries have great ideas behind them but weren't executed well enough for me to think the manuscript would be exceptional. I highly recommend to all writers that you get a good critique group to look over both your query and manuscript before sending it out anywhere. What a difference feedback and editing can make!

For the record, I requested #s 6, 9, 10, 20, and 39. I tried to request ones with strong writing and a good description of the plot, characters, and stakes, even if it wasn't a genre I typically read.

Ink said...

Nathan,

A possible blog topic somewhat related to all this: titles. I'm a title junkie myself, and love an interesting one. And today, overall, I thought the titles were often one of the weakest aspects of the queries. Other areas, I think, were handled better, with more originality and flair. You'd have a good idea, competent writing... and a pretty wishy-washy title. But do titles matter to agents?

It's said titles are often changed later in the publishing process... editors, marketers, chain stores - it seems everybody and their brother gets a say in the matter. So... do agents pay much attention to titles? Does a great title catch an agent's eye? Does a bad title push them away?

My best,
Bryan Russell

sally apokedak said...

I really enjoyed this. I learned about what I think works and what doesn't. And I'll do some things differently in my queries now.

I also can see why an agent might not ask for good work. If you have several good projects offered, and you can only ask for five, then you have to ask for the ones you really love or the ones you think you can sell.

I wanted to ask for nine partials out of this bunch. My favorite one, 46, I couldn't ask for because I'd already asked for my five.

That bummed me out.

But I had to go with the cat scan one because in this land of health conscious and paranoid people, I think that book will sell.

Very interesting exercise.

Shannon said...

This was an amazing experience; thanks so much for doing this! Going through these queries has helped give me a better perspective on what I would want to see in a query and what traps to avoid. I have a feeling this is easier said than done though lol. But hopefully i'll better be able to recognize the traps while still in draft mode on my own queries.

Thanks to everyone who submitted queries!

hannah said...

Bryan--

Keep in mind a lot (if not all) of the titles were changed for the purposes of this contest.

Heather said...

For the record, here are my five requests:

#2 Shimmering Destiny (Adult Urban Fantasy)
#10 On One Hand (Adult SF)
#27 Ghostland (YA Dystopian SF)
#38 Birthright (YA Fantasy)
#46 Shifter (YA Fantasy)

Although, special recognition to #48, because I loved that, and would have requested it for sure if I didn't have a limit.

I already said how great I think this was--especially for someone with a full-time day job (which Agents have just taking care of Status Quo clients).

I would probably be the slowest responder in the world, because I'd totally attach comments to queries if they showed promise, but just didn't fit in with my likes. I'm bad that way.

It was also cool to see what kind of agent I'd be... which is obvious based on my choices.

Great idea!

Laurie said...

Nathan, This was incredible! Do you need an assistant?

Thank you very much for offering writers a chance to see what it's like to be an agent.

As I said earlier, I found it much easier to give a yes or no when the first few pages were attached. And I found it easier to weed out the definite no's from the maybe's.

Im only on query #37, but I found myself saying no to certain queries immediately, but saving the maybe's to reread after I saw the whole batch.

Rule #6 made it tricky. If I was an actual agent, I would have eliminated some of the maybe's right away because they aren't subjects I'm interested in. But trying to figure out what would sell in today's market added a different level of difficulty.

In keeping with a true agent, I actually did this while working my day job and managed to write a 1500word article at today too. But now I find myself reading at night to catch up - just like a real agent!

Thank you again for your hard work on this project. I can't wait to see the results...but until then, back to reading...

And to the anonymous person who posted here about the feedback he/she received - keep on smiling and keep on writing! You obviously have one of the first prerequisites of being a writer: thick skin.

I'm just as surprised at the whining about honest critiques as Hannah is at the perceived meanness. Writing is a tough business, and when I get a harsh critique, I may pout for a few minutes (or even hours), but then I get back to work.

Mr. Snark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

Nathan

I requested Nos. 17, 20, 30, 35, and 37.

Thanks for this terrifying glimpse into a slush pile. I think we can all agree that writers have it tough, agents have it tough, and editors have it tough. The only ones who don't have it tough are the owners of the publishing houses.

I learned a lot, and I look forward to the discussion this week.

David

Ink said...

Hannah,

They should have hired me to do the titles! That would be a fun job... writing catchy titles out of the information from a query...

I can't be the only title junkie out there, right?

More than anything, though, I'm simply curious how much a title might matter. It would be funny, after the amount of time spent on selecting one, if all the agents completely ignore it. Think of how many more times I could have edited the opening!

My best,
Bryan

hannah said...

There's a difference between honest critiques and ones that are unnecessarily harsh.

I definitely appreciate some of the critiques I received, just as I appreciate feedback I get from agents and beta readers.

brian_ohio said...

Hey Nathan,

This was fun. Although I just finished and it is now 9:00 pm EST. With day job and 4 kids, trying to squeeze it all in was impossible. Or nearly.

One thing about this particular contest, because I could only request 5 partials, I REALLY scrutinized those first forty-nine queries.

In the end, I only requested 4. There were two from early on that I was really on the fence about. I passed thinking I would find something better. After reading all 50, I would definitely request them now.

So, I must state that my view was tainted a bit by the 'only 5' rule. Otherwise, this was really cool.

Thanks.

Brian

Endless Secrets said...

Nathan:

Although the work is much harder than I initially thought it would be i enjoyed it. i am just now narrowing my remianing 7 down to four as I have alreay chosen one.

I definately think you should do this again sometime.

I was wondering, I know you got many query submissions and could only choose 50, but how did you choose the fifty, as in, was my query that terrible?? *bites nails*

:)Ash said...

This was fun, Nathan. I finished about thirty of them this afternoon in between client meetings, and now that I'm home, I am going to finish up the rest!

I'm beginning to understand the "no response = not interested" thing. I've enjoyed reading the queries, but it is tough to squeeze them into an already busy day.

:)Ash

Nathan Bransford said...

endless secrets-

I chose them basically at random, so no worries!

bookshop said...

Am I the only person who decided to wait until all the queries were in before I pared down my favorites and narrowed them down to 5?

Surely not!


(Can we do this every week, I love it. :D)

jjdebenedictis said...

I know I can't be a super-agent, because I can't SELL. But, y'know? I could be a super-assistant for an agent! :-D

I added a brief comment to every rejection letter, just because that's what we writers dream of, but I admit it took too long. If I were a real agent, I just couldn't do that and still have enough time to do my job.

Mr. Snark said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jo said...

What a great idea! So helpful on so many fronts. Having read through most of the queries I have a much better idea of what works and what doesn't. The majority of them were really great. It was interesting to see how some queries really appealed to a lot of 'agents', some didn't at all, and others struck a chord with one or two. It brought home how subjective the process of finding the right agent for your work can be. Truly, it's a matter of trying to connect with the person who 'gets' your style. No one else will go to bat for you with as much vigor. Thanks, Nathan!!!!

Miss Lily said...

This was a really awesome idea, though I had a lot of fun going through this stuff. It also really helps me get a perspective from an agent's point of view of why things are rejected. It's actually strangely encouraging as a writer to know that it's not always the writing.

Colorado Writer said...

I can't imagine doing this day in and day out.

Thanks Nathan for the reality check.

I picked:

#15, #27, #37, #47, and #42.

I read about 4-5 at one sitting throughout the day. But, I didn't keep a spreadsheet so I don't even know if I responded to all.

Thanks.

Laura D said...

Thanks Nathan, it was fun. I totally failed as an agent, I only found 2 queries that I liked enough to want more. The one about the model/actress/singer turned addict/anorexic who goes home and the one about the amnesiac. I found both compelling both in terms of how the queries were written and plot. I can't wait to find out what the real queries were.
It took me hours to go through them all. Your job is hard!
Respectfully,
Laura Hyatt
P.S. Some of the critiques were very uncalled for and downright mean. They probably didn't put their own query up for review or else they might have been kinder.

Anahita said...

My initial thoughts:
1. It is a great opportunity to get feedback on my work.
2. It is a great opportunity to see other people’s work and evaluate my own against them.
3. It is a great writing exercise.
My current thoughts added to the above:
1. An agents’ work is very hard.
2. An agent’s work is wonderfully pleasant.
3. I have a long way to go before I become a writer!
I always look up the authors of my favorite books. But still, most of the times when I read a book, the story comes to life and lives in my brain as an independent entity. I tend to forget the human mind that was behind its creation. This contest, because of the query letters, has the effect of emphasizing the mind that beautifully formulated all of those thoughts into words. This makes the experience even greater. I was wondering, Nathan, is this the part of being an agent that you enjoy most?

RW said...

Wow. That must have been super stressful to set up the experiment. Very generous of your time Nathan. Reading them was illuminating in several ways. In a couple cases I was more impressed with the partial included than with query letter led me to expect, so I can see how it must be tough to decide when to request the partial.

Not that I'd ever expect you to do this again, but if so, I'd recommend this change in the way it's set up:

-It seems to me that what people really wanted to do was discuss among themselves why or why not they liked the queries. And ultimately the writers probably want more of that than different form rejection letters. So I would have the comments section focus on discussion of merits (with established community standards about civility and constructive criticism of course.)

-Instead of having people post their rejection/acceptance letters in the comments section, just have people vote with a poll. Maybe with choices like: reject with form letter; reject with personal advice (only allowed X# per day); request for partial (5 per day); request for full; etc.

hannah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
K. Andrew Smith said...

Interesting exercise. What's odd for me is that I'll read just about anything that's published, yet I was very quick to turn down nearly all of the queries. Of the five I requested more material, I was really only interested in one or two.

I eagerly await the reveal of which queries were for already published books.

Nathan Bransford said...

rw-

That may be a good model for a future contest, but I think people are forgetting that the goal of this one is not to see who has the best query but whether people are good (or not) at spotting the queries that went on to be published books.

I'm glad people were able to get some feedback as a result of the contest, but the real challenge is looking past the queries and seeing if people can make a living as an agent.

jimnduncan said...

Fabulous and fun. It took me about three hours to go through them all. I can't imagine getting to the point where I could do this in 30 min or less per day. Guess that's why I'm not an agent. This far exceeded my original idea for informing people about how hard it is for an agent to do this day in and day out (wonder how long I can milk the fact I gave Nathan this idea or has my 30 seconds of fame come and gone already? lol). I think people took a lot more than that from it which is cool. I know I learned a lot from it. The biggest impression it made on me was just how iffy queries can be, and how difficult it can be to sift out the good ones that might yield a publishable story. Even though I know there were a few queries in here that resulted in published works, none of them made me go 'oh, wow. I want to see that now!' Some were certainly better than others, but for me it was generally one specific element that intrigued me enough to request, whether it was voice or premise or whatever. Definitely a worthwhile endeavor. I hope this turns into an annual contest. Thanks again for doing this, Nathan.

Sheila said...

Okay, I'm not agent material. Another career path eliminated.

This was fun, though. I usually learn a lot from the people who comment here, but this time, I got tired of scrolling through the form rejections and long form letters. I agree with RW on that. Perhaps in the future (if there is a future Agent Test) you can limit comments to constructive criticism and then have a summary post where people select their favorites. Kind of like people are doing now.

Otherwise, thanks for sharing a taste of your day.

RW said...

Nathan, I definitely agree and understand I'm talking about a significantly different concept. No criticism of what you set up this time intended. I think you did a great job of developing rules and guidelines to shoehorn the goal--simulate the agent's experience--into a platform that isn't perfectly suited to it. (It's probably the nature of the comments section of blogs that people will tend to start talking to one another instead of following the rules of the simulation.)

Gwen said...

Nathan, I had great fun!

I certainly would not be able to handle this volume of queries daily, plus other clients. Phew! I do thank you for running this contest. Given the recent #agentfail, I think it was necessary in order for many of us to gain a better understanding of just what daily life is like for a literary agent.

One thing that I found interesting, personally, was the fact that some premises intrigued me, but I just had to reject them because of the fact that the queries were poorly written, I had difficulty following the plot, etc. It felt kind of frustrating to see great ideas buried under problems like that. But, after doing this contest... it is definitely obvious that I would never have the time to respond to queries with in-depth suggestions on how to tighten things up. :(

Thanks for a great day. :)

Nathan Bransford said...

rw-

Oh, no, didn't take it as criticism and I appreciate your thoughts!

Caroline said...

Wow! That was quite fun and educational. I guess the hard part for me was knowing that I couldn't actually read the novels from the queries that intrigued me. Several of the books were right up my alley. I'm 14, and a few of them were YA books that I would snatch off the shelf in a second. I can't wait to find out which ones were the queries for published books. I might be looking a few of them up on amazon later. I found this very enjoyable. Maybe I'll have a career as an agent in my future!

Question for Nathan: Are we required to post the five queries that we accepted? I didn't see that in the rules, and I didn't think to keep track. Thanks for the unique opportunity!

Nathan Bransford said...

caroline-

That's ok, I'll keep track of the Super Agents!

V. J. Chambers said...

Dude...being an agent would suck, lol.

This was a really neat idea. I didn't "participate," but I read all of the queries, and boy was that exhausting!

It was also really interesting to notice that form made a difference to me when reading. Big blocks of text were a definite turn-off. Punchy one-sentence paragraphs drew me in.

Neat exercise, indeed! Thanks.

S. Stockman said...

Initial reaction: ouch.

The ouch is in response to both the sheer number of rejections the people who submitted queries were subjected to (117 all in one day? I salute you, brave souls) as well as the harsh comments some people rejected the queries with. And also ouch in response to the throbbing ache in my head from foolishly trying to read all fifty at once.

As a writer revising my first novel and polishing it up in anticipation of maybe someday querying... I'm glad that most agents use a generic form letter.

Still picking my favorites, but I think it's interesting that some were stand-outs for being bad, some for being good, and others that received reactions at both ends of the spectrum. The example that sticks out in my mind is the story about the boy breaking his bones. Some thought it sounded brilliant and original, while others found the conceit trite and uninteresting. Makes me glad it only takes one agent and one publisher to say yes!

Sorry for rambling, this was just a fantastic idea and I got worked up. Thanks for your time and hard work, Nathan and Agents for a Day!

Jen C said...

Alright, done and done! Just finished sending my requests and rejections. I requested the following:

9
21
24
35
48

There were plenty of good ones in the mix, but those were the ones that stood out most to me in the end.

Nathan I have to add, sending out form rejections is SO BORING. I don't know how you do it with so many queries each day!

All in all, an awesome exercise though! Kudos to Nathan and the inventor of the idea.

And PS, while posting all those rejections I missed a whole bunch of great Word Veris, like hoverhag and platme.

Mira said...

I'm having a blast, although, it is soooo hard to turn people down. I hate that part. But the rest is fun. :-)

One hard part is trying to pick the ones that are already published. For example, there is one I'd like to accept, because boy oh boy oh boy do I think it's marketable.

On the other hand, if it was published, I'd probably know.

Unless some of these are published but not in print yet?

Anyway, choosing the 5 is hard, but fun.

Thanks, Nathan. :-)

Matilda McCloud said...

You DO have a tough job. I worked in publishing and read the slushpile (children's books) for three years. I thought it would be a breeze picking out the ones that have been published, but I have NO idea. I still haven't picked my five...

Thanks for doing this--very educational!!

quixotic said...

Wow! This was a fun experience, but I could not do this on a daily basis. I was only able to accept 4 queries, but thats not saying anything negative about the authors or their writing. I see now how truly subjective this process is. Everyone has different taste.

I have a new appreciation for what all of you agents have to go though. Kudos to you Nathan!

Rick Daley said...

This was a neat experience. Of my five partials, a couple were very non-standard queries, one in particular hooked me with the sample pages.

I'll admit that I didn't play entirely by the rules...The partials I requested were books I would like to read (and that I think may have sales potential) but not necessarily books that have already been sold/published. I'll be floored if I picked the right three.

My partials were:
#10
#27
#35
#46
#48

I give an honorable mention to #24, which did everything wrong sooo right! It gave me a much-needed laugh. Now, for that much-needed jelliquarium...

suki said...

This was a terrific and enlightening experience. I regularly critique queries for other writers, so I thought I had some idea what to expect. But 50 in one day, even in batches, was a lot to take in.

Amazing diversity of quality and ideas. And so many that I think could have been effective with a little more revision and research. Truly eye-opening.

Thanks for hosting it.

And, I will say that I understand entirely when a substantive critique goes a little too harsh. But some of the comments just seemed over-the-top intentionally bombastic or mean. I know you can't control for that, but I was surprised to see it in what should have been a mutually educational environment. So I also commend everyone who participated professionally and in good faith.

~suki

Sasha said...

Thanks for the idea, Nathan- going through those queries was really fun.

What I learned:

Originally, I thought the "not right for *me*" line was just a crock... until I read a bunch of queries for books that- though they sounded well written, etc- just were *so* not to my taste that I couldn't request pages for them.

And, turns out I really respond to semi-twisted YA. Weird, because that's not what I write.

Did anyone else find them requesting pages for books totally unlike their own? Or only certain types of books?

suki said...

Oh, and I picked #9, #17, #29, #36 and #38.

So much fun to see the diversity in everyone's choices, too.

~suki

Laura said...

This was fun! Something tells me the novelty would wear off if this were my job every day, all day. ;)

I reiterate-- I get why it's so hard -- the entries started to run together, and I began to lose my objective p.o.v.

Thank you so much for this peek at your world. :)

Anonymous said...

So far there are a few that I am on the fence about, and will read through again, but nothing has really leaped out to make me say "I have to read this!" If I was expecting to get 50 queries a day like this, day in and day out, I probably wouldn't request any that I have seen here today. I know that's harsh, but almost everything seems derivative or way too "out there!" Or just unsellable.

EJ Lange said...

Nathan,

this contest was educational for 2 reasons:

#1 - the feedback on my query has been great, even the crits - very constructive and helpful to me. (now if i can just finish the book!!)
#2 - it's going to be really eye-opening to see which queries are for actual published works. hey, if we get them all right, can we come work for you? ;)

-ej (aka: Agent Erin)

*****
requested:
#9 #10 #26 #37 #46

Disgruntled Bear said...

Dude.

Mission accomplished.

We now have a whole new understanding of how hard your job is as an agent. Thanks for the eye-opener!

I hope you'll post results from this. Which ones got the most requests? Which ones are already accepted?

I also hope that, if you have not done so already, you will request partials from the "most requested" on the list. It would be nice if all of our hard work helped some of our fellow writers catch a break.

My picks: 10, 21, 24, 43, 48. I read through them all and made a "short list," then went back for a final cut, or I would have wanted to request seven partials.

Sending individual responses is exhausting; I will never criticize those who send them to me; at this point, I just appreciate the closure!

ikmar said...

It took a whole hour for me to go through it all, but it was easier to say 'No thanks' than I thought it would be. There were only three that called to me.

Even if I missed one that was actually published, I wouldn't have been the right agent for it.

Thank you, Nathan, for providing this exercise. It was quite enlightening.

TheDivaAgent said...

Loved it. Despite my Diva Agent persona, I found many of the queries to be exceptional. Your readers do their homework. Kudos to all who braved the heated spotlight of the public query. The Diva Agent wishes she were truly an agent. I'd have trolled this day's blog to add to my list for sure. I have been in situations where I've gotten to read queries, partials,etc, as part of a critique group, or in an effort to help friends who were submitting. I always enjoy the process because I LOVE to read. A published book has to be really, really bad for me to put it down, though that has changed a bit since I've gotten older. Unpublished is just a state of being. There are many gems that will never be published.

Thanks for the great idea. Next time, I'll make sure to bring only puppy dogs and rays of sunshine to my comments.

Yours in Divaness,

The Diva Agent

Laura said...

Question: Are you considering any of the queries listed for representation?

Some of them were pretty good, I thought.

Anonymous said...

First of all, thanks Nathan for doing this, and for picking my query as one of the 50. And to all of you Agents for a Day for taking the time. The feedback so far has been quite helpful and I expect will make a difference once I'm ready to submit.

I'm tight on time this week, so I opted to read/skim all the queries but respond only to the ones I chose. What I found most interesting is that since there were so few queries for the genres I prefer (such as memoir and literary fiction), I was drawn to those even when I was unsure from a quality standpoint. And what I asked the author to send varied -- I was identifying in my head what I would need in order to make the next level of decision... e.g. 20 pages or so to tell if the writing was any good and if the story hooked me, a synopsis to answer questions of plot, a full manuscript for the memoir knowing I might easily give up at 20 pages but if I kept going I'd want to know if it could entice me to finish it in one sitting.

I got the sense that after a couple of months, I'd probably get a lot more critical in this initial stage.

Bane of Anubis said...

Bryan, I agree about the titles, but then again, not every book can be titled: "Bryan Russell: Jordan's a Jerk (and he fouled me)" :)

Laura said...

one last thing: I did not do this according to your rules-- meaning I wasn't trying to pick the ones that were published. I chose the ones that resonated with me most. I wouldn't purchase a non-fiction book or a mystery/thriller or romance book, so I passed on those, even some which sounded like good premises for their particular genre. I chose what I liked best. :)

I think a lot of us did that. I chose: 9, 21, 23, 43, 48

T. Anne said...

OK I give! I'll watch happily from the sidelines. It's fun reading the queries! (um... just for one day ;)

Polenth said...

So far, I've found my number one reason for rejection was forgetting to tell the story. Some of the queries had decent writing, but didn't want to let us in on the plot.

Anonymous said...

For me, the most interesting thing was noticing what my eyes tended to glaze over and what caught my interest again.

Chose: 9, 13, 17, 20, 31
Came really close to choosing: 16, 24, 29, 37, 43

-Agent Pro Tempore

PurpleClover said...

I think it was loads of fun. But harder than it looks.

I would have requested 10 out of the fifty.

Instead I chose: 1, 10, 17, 46, 50

Tara Ryan said...

Okay, I always knew you were a rockstar, but now I realize just how tough your job is! I swear to never again complain about a form rejection letter.
Also, I really feel for you as you tally. An insurmountable task. May the schwartz be with you.

:)Ash said...

Okay, finished!

I want to see more of 17, 27, 10, 34, and 36.

:)Ash

Harsh Critic said...

That was really fun. Though I feel guilty now for spending so much time on that rather than revising my manuscript.

It was interesting to see what kinds of manuscripts people were submitting. There seemed to be a lot of fantasy and dark fiction, and very little women's fiction, humor and light fiction, nonfiction, and memoirs.

I picked:
10
17
27
37
46

There were about five more I really liked too.

I tried to say something constructive about every query, and despite the agent name I chose I don't think I was mean about it.
Thanks for doing this, Nathan.

Katie said...

so fun and FASCINATING!

Karen said...

Nathan, thank you for this! While it would be a whole heck of a lot easier to keep up on these without having my "real" job in the way, I definitely have a whole new level of respect for what you do and for the quality of queries and manuscripts you must see on a daily basis.

I can't believe I managed to get it all done in one day! I'm exhausted.

Jen C said...

Laura said...
one last thing: I did not do this according to your rules-- meaning I wasn't trying to pick the ones that were published. I chose the ones that resonated with me most. I wouldn't purchase a non-fiction book or a mystery/thriller or romance book, so I passed on those, even some which sounded like good premises for their particular genre. I chose what I liked best. :)
I did that too, I know that's not what we were supposed to do! My picks came down to my slightly quirky taste in literature..

Henry said...

Somebody asked so I’ll answer – it’s not like I seek out “literary fiction,” and I write a kind of hybrid literary/pulp fiction myself, but I’d say literary fiction spends as much time with language as it does plot. And I was struck how the queries were mostly based on a high concept storyline, rather than someone submitting a novel about, “The lives of five people living in New York” or something that sounds boring on the surface, but might be interestingly written. But the queries had a lot of FBI agents and CIA agents and larger than life subjects. Obviously this stuff can be handled with depth, but I’m guessing by how the queries were written that they’re mainly commercial writing. I figured Nathan was getting more character-driven stuff, or maybe these are the kinds of books he chose to show here.

DeadlyAccurate said...

This was a lot of fun, and I hope you do it again some day (if it's not a crazy amount of work for you). My only complaint is that I had to be limited to five, because I had no way of knowing what was coming later in the day. I also know that if I did this professionally, I'd know how to be even more selective than I was.

Kristi said...

Whew...finally finished. I don't know how you could do anything other than a form rejection if you do several hundred of these in a week.I only requested two out of the fifty which means I won't win the contest, but I went with what I liked and it was fun to do.

I picked #10 and #27. I thought #36 looked interesting also but didn't request it. Anyway, thanks for hosting this and I can't wait to see the published books.

sara said...

Great exercise!

Nathan - how many of these queries would you have requested material from?

StrugglingToMakeIt said...

There was definitely some work to this, but it was fun. And educational. Great edutainment. I expected picking only five to be hard, but it turned out to be even harder than I thought. Some were really easy to reject, but there were still way more than five I would have liked to request.

Thanks for hosting this contest. It was a good experience. I can't wait to see the results...

Jeanne Tomlin said...

Hey that was easy. Form rejection on 45 queries. I want your day job.

Well, semi-kidding, but I don't care a thing about individualized feedback from an agent on a query, just a prompt and polite response.

And there wasn't a single query I would have made snarky remarks about on Twitter either except the ones that were obviously jokes. A couple of those were pretty amusing.

Anonymous said...

Dear Nathan,
I learned sooooooo very much. Thank you for this exercise. It was educational and humbling. I also took home a lesson in manners and was deeply affected that a game can be infectious in all the wrong ways sometimes - something to be watchful and more careful about - for sure.
Your job is very hard. I totally burned out and that's not fair to the writers either. It took me ALL day. I had the day off and I found it invaluable.
The caliber of the queries was wonderful. Sometimes I had too much of certain themes. Sometimes I didn't have enough information to make a choice. Sometimes I didn't even get the genre so I probably missed things altogether. I confess, for the first half of it, I was amusing myself pretending to be an agent for a day.Like HA! I could walk in your shoes. NOT! But wow, what an experience trying to.
You have my respect even more after this.
And then I had to TRY real hard to think what would sell, fill a hole in the marketplace, etc. as opposed to what I like. And even there, I began to understand how important it must be for the agent to LOVE the writing too. Now I *really* get it why something needs to be *for you* and why *not for you* is not necessarily a bad thing, but why personal taste needs to be factored in for your job.
Thank you again for this monumental experience. And apologies for being such an amateur.

ai-hua said...

Synopsis of my Agent For A Day posts:

- doing over 50 CAPTCHAs and choosing my OpenID/typing it in every time was hardest part.
- Blogger occasionally ate comments. After a while I stopped bothering to type responses with helpful comments because of that.

- having pages with the query helps a LOT.

- five is too few! T_T


And finally: Thank you so much for doing this. ♥

Calli said...

New to this blog, but this Agent for a Day contest has been interesting and illuminating. I included notes independent of the rejection/acceptance letters in each of my posts so far, to explain why I accepted or rejected, and since there are real people attached to many if not all of these queries I'm wishing I'd gone back and reworded at least a couple of them (and that after spending half an hour trying to find the right words for each commentary. Form rejections definitely have their place). I tried to keep things polite and constructive but I still worry I might've crossed the line a time or two. I can't imagine trying to balance all these aspects as a full-time job. I think I'd burn out quickly.

I still have forty or so to go. Oog. And all of us participating have until Sunday -- you have to deal with far more than these on a daily basis. The only word that comes to mind is "Wow." This contest has given me new respect for what agents do.

Thanks for running this contest and the blog.

Bane of Anubis said...

27,20,17,&6 for me (and perhaps 29 if I had more understanding of the NF market), though only 27 & 17 are one's I think I'd enjoy reading (the others are one I think have publishing potential, particularly 20 in the niche market)

- 10's probably a winner, but that damn underachieving 5th alien has my craw atwitter (though I do believe it may very well be one of the 3)

Angie Ledbetter said...

Shows how important the query is to meeting with success, even though you can sometimes see promise despite a few snafus. I do feel sorry for your eyeballs, but this was lots of fun.

M. K. Clarke said...

Nathan,

Wow. What an eye-opener. I sure don't envy you--but you've made my job harder (in a good way!) to write strong right from the gate. I'll never complain about getting rejected again (well, least not as much).

Thanks much for the free "Agent-For-A-Day" boot camp. I hope you'll get the chance to read my work in the future.

~M.K.C.

Renee Collins said...

I'm still not finished, but I already feel that this has been a fantastic object lesson of sorts.

The one thing that struck me most of all: it really is subjective.

It was fascinating to see some of the queries I was most taken with stack up the rejections. And, the queries that I liked the least would garner requests. In fact, nearly every query got at least one request.

Fascinating. I mean, we hear it again and again (and again and again,) but it was interesting to see actual, black and white proof.

I am so blogging about this tomorrow.

Lucy said...

Things I'm starting to notice:

1. It feels kinder to give a form rejection than to offer someone an explicit description of why their writing is atrocious. One writer, for example, has a Noah's Ark problem: his or her descriptions all come two by two. However, it's difficult to say that, or anything similar, without sounding brutal. The end result: an autoreject.

2. Bad writing makes for an easy decision. Middle of the road writing that has potential is harder to decide.

3. I can almost always tell from the first paragraph, or two at most, whether the writing will hold up or not. The result is that most queries needed only a few seconds for me to evaluate them, and about half a dozen--a fraction of the fifty--had me on the fence regarding a decision.

4. Because the goal of this game is to spot publishable work, I made five requests. If I had consulted mere personal interest, I would have made fewer, as my genre interests are different.

5. Yes, it was totally fascinating to get a view of how good work stands out from the pack, and yes, it's terribly hard to quantify the differences between "send me more" and "this doesn't work for me." I could spot it, but as Jessica Faust has said in the past, it's almost impossible to articulate.

Nathan, thank you for letting us play, um, (cough) work. :-)

Kristin Laughtin said...

I didn't post on any of the individual queries (I was at work all day and just read when I had a moment or two), but man! Hard job. Even considering that I would have form-rejected quite a few for grammar and the like, it's hard to choose between "yes" and "maybe" on a lot of them. I'm curious to see how my picks for the books already published line up with reality.

Onovello said...

This was really a great experience.

I did have a few disquieting moments of reading through stacks of English Comp essays, but then remembered I didn't have to put a letter grade on anything and that made the process easier.

Thanks for a novel day! (Sorry, couldn't resist....)

kdrausin said...

Nathan,

My eyes are closing, but I don't want to leave my computer. There are still queries to answer! Do you feel this way every day? Oh my-This was a great learning experience. It's one thing to give directions on how to write a good query and quite another to have to read and answer fifty queries.

I made a list of lessons learned today. I also made of list of questions to better understand how you handle such a workload.

I have to finish tomorrow. Wait, it is tomorrow. (12:10am.) I have chosen three..17,22,35- I have to reread 24 queries before I choose the other two. Thank you, Krista

liznwyrk said...

It's hard with the caveat that some of these represent published fiction and that we are to try and find those. I find myself struggling with some of the queries as to whether or not it sounds familiar because it's been published or if it is just generic and relying on formulaic plots and ideas. If you ever have the stamina to do something like this again, I would suggest removing the hunt for published works and instead simply have people focus on what they would query. You could choose five in advance that YOU would select and the "winner" could be the one who aligned closest with your selections. Although, I think all of us hopeful authors are winning by having access to this experience. Thanks!

Other Lisa said...

I wasn't gonna do it but I got sucked in.

I noticed that voice was the thing that drew me the most. Some of the queries had premises that seemed familiar to me, but if the voice was unique, I was much more likely to take a chance.

For the most part, the professionalism with which the writer approached the query made a big difference to me as well. I did request one where I felt that the query wasn't as strong as it could be, and rejected another even though I found it intriguing because the query was shaky (e.g., no author details).

I really wished that more writers had pasted in a page of their MS. That told me a lot as well.

Plus, I did reject a few that I thought seemed pretty commercially solid because I didn't feel like I could get out there and sell them with the necessary enthusiasm.

FInally, it took me longer to make the cut to five than it would have to read a few extra partials. Again, having that sample page/pages would have helped in a few cases! I'm thinking of one that I almost requested but it had a premise I'd heard before and though the query was professionally done, I didn't see enough of a voice to take the leap (I notice that a number of folks here did request that one though). I would have loved a page of the writing.

Now I have a headache.

KathyF said...

Well, I'm finally finished.

I chose 43, 12, 46, 48, and 50. But it was difficult to choose.

I already know that I wouldn't make a good agent. I prefer to read for what I like as opposed to what I think would sell to a publisher.

But thanks for the contest. It was quite helpful and an eye opener in ways I hadn't quite anticipated.

KathyF

Brigita said...

Your job is crazy hard, but it's also very exciting to try and find the 'right one'.

Also, very informative about query mistakes.

I love this exercise.

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

I'll never make it as an agent...after 7 hours of slush my brain has turned to mush!
I only requested 6, 10 and 27 with 32 for fun.
I ended up with hugely, helpful feed back too. Thank you.
It's too late to sleep now so, maybe I could pop over to the man with the extra capital letter and discover the joy of commas!

CJK said...

Thank you for the experience. Not only did it give me a look into your world, but also made me realize that a rejection isn't the end of the world. The query just needs to find the correct agent.

Anonymous said...

I learned a lot from the feedback on my query...requests AND rejections. Thanks you to Jim for the idea and to Nathan for putting in so much time and executing it so well.

Newbee said...

I'm excited to dive into the madness you've created here Nathan. Looks like fun...

I've been out of the loop this past week for a "Spring Break" into the farthest depths of insanity...Disneyland. After spending my life savings on trading pins for my kids to miss place, I plan on staying home to ponder my new found depression of feeling pennyless until payday. (This so happens to be next week by the way) So, I'm penciling you in to my evenings at home after work. Happy reading...

Jen

Adam Heine said...

This was fun and educational. Some of my initial thoughts:

* A lot of things I'm used to seeing slammed by Query Shark, Evil Editor and others (e.g. saying you were a contest finalist in your bio, or something) were not ever the reason I rejected something.

* It was hard to look objectively outside my genres. I gave much more grace to SF/Fantasy than anything else.

* Almost everybody had good ideas. Almost everybody had trouble writing about them.

* Being vague about a story (i.e. talking in terms of themes, lessons learned, and plot devices) makes that story sound like every other story out there. Specifics are what make something stand out.

* Every single query had problems. I still requested 5 (might have requested 7-10, if you'd let me).

For the record, I chose queries #2, #17, #24, #27, #39.

jjdebenedictis said...

To echo Renee Collins, I too was surprised at the subjectivity.

Most of my picks did well with other "agents", but one of my favourites got rejected a lot, and fairly summarily, and there were many queries I thought weak that were simply slurping up the requests for pages.

It really made me wonder, "Am I out of touch? Why isn't anyone else seeing what I'm seeing?"

PPP said...

I tried to have fun with this without being mean--I hope I didn't step on any toes. I did try to be helpful where I could.

In the end, I would have only requested 3 out of the 50 (numbers 6, 20, and 36), but I requested 5 to increase my odds of being a Super Agent.

I hope another agent does this same thing with all MG and YA queries--I think I would rock at that. I found myself being much harder on the queries that fell into these genres because I read these types of books very often and know what's been done to death.

My best to those who submitted queries. It must be hard to open yourself to public comments, and I hope you got a lot of tips on how to improve.

Signed,
PPP

romoak said...

This was great. But, yeah, I'm burnt out. Got all 50 done today though. I did try very hard to put (hopefully) useful comments on each post.

My game plan was to read them in order and if I liked it, request it. Surprisingly, my requests are pretty evenly spread across the board.

Requests
#6, #17, #27, #35, #48

Now, if only mine had been up there *Sigh* :)

Jen C said...

#35 and #48 were the bomb, my two faves.

Selene said...

Well, this was a fun exercise. My only comment is that I wish more people had sent pages.

There were queries I thought had kernels of interest but where I ultimately didn't request anything since the writing in the query itself didn't convey much voice or originality.

Some queries that supplied pages also made it easier to reject them due to overwriting, starting in the wrong place etc. etc.

Selene
presently aka Selene Da Agent of Selene Literary

dhole said...

This was a really interesting game; thanks for putting in the necessary work.

I think that what I've learned is that if I were an agent, my requirements would say, more or less, "send the entire manuscript as an .rtf"; more than half of the queries without sample pages looked as though they might be workable, but it was a lot easier to reject on the basis of prose.

Of the five I asked for, I assume that at least two, maybe more, are actually unreadably bad, but there's no way of knowing on the basis of the query, and the ideas seemed interesting.

(The reason why I'd ask for the full, rather than pages, is that it's not like it costs extra, and it'd make the process of getting more pages and saying no a little less fraught for the authors involved.)

Writer from Hell said...

I on behalf of all my fellow writers from hell... we rest our case.

You win.. hands down!

Phew Mr. Brown.. this is a crazy job. You deserve kudos for having this brilliant idea of making us see the light.

You are super intelligent and you have got the pulse of the audience. (is this aggressive praise?)

Ellen said...

The query I submitted was used, and I'd like to thank everyone who participated. I learned a lot, the acceptances gave me a much-needed boost since I'm on the home stretch of writing my MS, and the rejections gave me lots to think about - both how my query was constructed and how my book is constructed.

Thanks so much to Nathan for oganising this, and to everyone who took part. It really has been invaluable to me.

Nay said...

That was so much fun! And so much work!

Thank you for arranging this, I learned a lot from it.

-Nay

9, 10, 20, 36, 46
with a strong runner up 27
and honorable mentions 6, 50

Writer from Hell said...

I read only 2 queries and that too, just the first few lines. had me hooked or had me not.

I absolutely get it when agents say "the hook" .

You can say I know right over n over again.

But a sad aftereffect is I feel so diffident now - I'm not going to send any queries to anyone for some time now. booooo hooooo

Writer from Hell said...

This reversing the tables was a blockbuster and you deserve the nobel peace prize for saving the writing world from the war that was brewing..

Really if people started addressing conflicts like this in the world, there'll be more peace as there'll be more understanding.

You are so creative, positive, bright, pragmatic etc. etc. all the aggressive things ... all in all awesome!

Neil said...

A great experiment and a wonderfully light-shedding lesson for all of us writers. I think what's amazing is how quickly you start to skip over stuff you don't find interesting. You become very brutal very quickly and make up your mind in seconds. (I should point out I only had time to play this in my head, not post). What I find staggering is the amount of fantasy stuff out there. It's not my genre so I guess I was just struck by how many magical lands there are out there. Also I was amazed at how many query plotlines come across as highly, highly derivative. And I imagine the majority of these posted are far better written than a lot of the stuff that arrives in Nathan's inbox. Overall, then, a real eye-opener. Those first two lines of your query better be genius, fellow writers, because they're likely being perused by a practised scan-reader!

Melissa said...

Thank you so much for doing this for us, Nathan. I loved it. I've read and critiqued query letters before, but not on a mass scale like this.

I now have a clearer sense of the need for a good voice and a clear plot summary in a query. I also learned that it isn't enough to have a good premise. Writers have to show convincingly that they can develop their good premises into full stories.

I know I picked some queries that won't turn out to be good books, and I think I passed on a couple that would have been worth reading. Apparently the process really is as subjective as all the agents and editors say it is. I've never been one of those people who reacts to rejection with anger and accusations, but this still felt like an important revelation.

I requested 9, 10, 20, 38, 40.

Thank you, Nathan. This game was hard, but it was also fun. If you ever do it again, I plan to play again.

Melissa

writtenwyrdd said...

I can see you might get all crankypants and not give questionable letters a chance, if this is the sort of thing you have to read ad nauseum!

But for the most part, a quick read does give me a clear Yes/No response to go by. So I imagine that you can get through the slush easily enough...except for the Sheer Volume of it all!

Thomas said...

I only selected two queries: 17 (the Japantown detective story) and 20 (the trucker memoir). There were other good queries I might have picked, but I wanted to be as strict as possible because if I was an agent, I have to assume there's going to be another fifty queries tomorrow!

I didn't have difficulty going through all the queries. For most of them I made my decision by the end of the first paragraph and I never bothered to finish reading many of the queries.

That was the revealing aspect of playing this game and I now fully understand why agents keep hammering on about good writing and a voice. Without those two evident in the beginning of the query, you are doomed. The queries that immediately stood out were the ones that had a voice, good writing, and an actual, recognizable plot.

There were queries that had promising descriptions (such as the Hollywood star who returns to her Texas hometown), but the author included minimal or no plot details, and those I had to reject.

There were other queries that were well-written, but just didn't appeal to me for subjective reasons.

Last but not least, I didn't expect the sheer number of science fiction/fantasy stories. I doubt I would have represented those genres as an agent, so they were auto-rejections.

I do want to pose this question to all the writers out there who are following this blog:

Are you absolutely sure people want to buy the book you're writing? If you are writing to be published, you need to answer this question.

Nixy Valentine said...

I blogged about this yesterday, because I learned some surprising things from taking part.

#1 Clear, original concepts are important.

#2 I knew after reading the first paragraph if I wanted to put it on my list.

I thought there were a LOT of good queries and good concepts here, and that made it very very hard to choose 5. My selection ended up being based on this: If this book was on the shelves, would I read it.

I also didn't go for the pick the published author objective, because after doing a handful, I wanted to use my "votes" to encourage authors whose concepts I really liked, even if it would mean not winning the Super-Agent game.

Some of my top 5 were not the best written queries, but they all grabbed me with their voice and concept.

I also found it hard to turn down projects that were obviously well written, but just didn't interest me personally. And I know agents do that every day. Eesh.

Overall, I LOVED doing this though. What fun! I did try to leave comments on every single one, because as a fellow writer, and not a real agent, I wanted to be helpful. I hope I was. =)

Owl Sprite said...

I don't have time to complete the mission. I know we have until Sunday, but I just can't let myself dump any more hours into this. So I have to give up.

Thanks so much for the experience. It was really an eye-opener. This will help me enormously in writing my own queries in the future. It also confirms my deepest fear: unless a writer practically has a degree in marketing, s(he) probably won't be able to sell his/her work.

And, that the competition is as stiff as everyone says it is. I'm definitely not quitting my day job any time soon!

I do find it very hard to judge a query just by the query. I want to read the first page or two, to gauge the writing itself. I think Nathan said somewhere that he sometimes looks at pages first, then at the query. That's how I would probably do it, too.
Partly because I suspect that some well-written queries had pages that weren't that great, and vice-versa.

Sol said...

I should really mull it over more to determine what I've learned but at first blush, two things come to mind...

1. It really is a subjective (and quick) decision making process. Which makes me feel better, in a way, as a writer.

2. A few letters really stood out as great when I read them. Surprisingly the opinions of other readers ran the gamut. Which also made me feel better.

Both things made me feel better because when it is somewhat about chance, I feel I still have a chance.

I did my best to be respectful, hope nothing I wrote reads otherwise.

My best to all participants. And to those who submitted entries, it took some chutzpah, thanks for that.

Cheers,

Sol

Julie Weathers said...

All right, four hours and eighteen dozen cookies later, I am done.

I didn't comment on all of them as it's...6:22 a.m. and I need to get some sleep, but I'll come back later.

Thank you, Nathan. I think this should be a required exercise for everyone who gritches about the query system.

Also, I was pretty disappointed at some of the glib and rude replies to honest queries. Such r the internet.

Also, kudos to all of you who read and offered help. I have much respect for you.

JMW

dhole said...

Just a side note:

Assuming that five of the queries are for books that have made it through the query process, the odds of someone picking all five by random chance are a bit worse than one in two million.

So if my assumption is accurate, and someone does get them all right, I'm guessing that it wasn't random chance on their part.

morphine-moniza said...

good god that was hard. I actually gave up half way because I had work.

I think giving a form rejection speeds things up quite a lot, but it's really hard giving form rejections because, like you said, there are real people behind the queries. So I tried to give personal comments but it was exhausting and I just couldn;t keep up. so sad.

morphine-moniza said...

That said, if all of these authors actually have real manuscripts that are finished, I sincerely hope they manage to get published because I really want to read some of the books that were described in their queries! There are some very creative people reading this blog.

Annie said...

This was so much fun, Nathan! I loe it. Why not let us (collectively) do some of your work for you? Can the collective readership of this blog pick up good books? I think so. I think that as individuals, we will be more hampered by our individual genre preferences. I'm sure I haven't done well in the 'pick the published books' stake, because of my personal preferences.

Anonymous said...

I was completely intent on answering each query individually. But as I found myself rejecting multiple queries for similar reasons and struggling to give a reason without crushing the author's hopes (or just bashing on the query itself), I started copying and pasting responses that I had already formed for previous rejections. I can see how one easy, polite, and all encompassing form rejection would certainly make things easier. I also noticed that when I began, even the easy rejections got a little variation, but by the end, I was Copy and Paste Girl even for the ones I thought were promising.

I only had two I *had* to request right away. Then I had to sort through 9 maybes for the remaining 3.

I do think that two things does affect our experience. The five requests only--and also that we're expected to choose five, or at least three to play the game--means that if there seven good ones in today's batch and only two in tomorrow's (I realize there's no more coming for us, but an agent would have that possibility) we don't have the option to request even a few chapters to see a sample of the writing when we're on the fence about a project.

As a side note, some of the ones with pages, I didn't need to read because I had already made up my mind, but there were many queries that if I just had a page to read so I could get a sense of whether an interesting plot with a bad query would also be badly written (this is not always the case--queries are hard!), I might have requested. Then again, there was one I thought had potential, and the pages turned me off.

The other thing is that knowing that it's a game to find the three published books made me look at the novels in a different way. On one hand, this was good. It kept me from only requesting YA urban fantasy (in fact, I'm not sure I requested any) just because it was something I knew. I had to think of it as, not just what did I think I would sell if I was an agent, but what do I think some agent somewhere probably already sold. And even then, there were some areas where I just didn't feel I knew enough about the genre to say whether it was going to be right for the market (like the non-fiction entries).

I think that's it for my thoughts. Thanks again for the contest, Nathan. It was fun.

Lots of love,
Sage

Anonymous said...

I have a new appreciation for what you have to sift through. I have about 10 more to read, but I haven't found one that appeals to me. And I can see how it isn't just the wording/style of the query--it is the type of book it is--it is really a combination of so many things.

I'm also surprised at how wordy these queries are--this urge to get it all in when this is not the way to do it. It's all about appealing writing and an engaging hook.

Wow.

theflightytemptress said...

I really enjoyed doing that. I think I probably tilted towards the genres that I like (Romance and YA), but I even put a couple thrillers on my list! I managed to get through it in about two hours, skimming when it was clear I didn't like something.

But two hours for only 50! (Yes, I tried to give feedback). Geez, no wonder it takes so long to hear back.

Thanks for your hard work, and for the great contest!

I ended up requesting queries 6, 17, 27, 39, and 48.

Scott said...

Nice exercise, Nathan. If nothing else, I did get a great sense of where my query fits in the slush.

On the contest itself, a few observations:

1) It might be easier to just have people comment on books they choose as prospects in future contests (if there are any). The rejections were strange in that they seemed to only serve as a somewhat pointless exercise in writing them. Were the contest constructed to give criticism, it wouldn't be an agent for a day type thing I imagine, so it seemed a little superfluous to answer them all and I stopped at around #30. Point made that replying to everyone is hard to do, but I would have just copied and pasted a form rejection for most of them if I'd continued.

2). I got confused as to whether the contest was about picking five books each one of us liked (I really would have only chose four, but that's beside the point), or picking the five we thought were successful queries. If any of them were fantasy, not being a reader of that genre I would likely have passed. YA and Romance, as well.

3) I didn't understand including writing samples. If the query was good enough, I requested pages. If it wasn't, I didn't bother to read them. Made scrolling a bit of a chore, but kudos to those who submitted them.

All in all, it was a good learning experience and congratulations to everyone who got selected to participate for having the courage to put yourself out there.

Chris Eldin said...

Thanks for hosting this!!!

My picks: 2,27,37,43,50

But if I'm allowed two more: 10 and 17

Anonymous said...

I did get tired as the day wore on, but not once did I think something was "crap."

I mentioned in the comments several times that I didn't have enough info on the plot or something to that effect, but not once did I think, oh, this writer is an idiot. Not once.

I noticed, though, that I skipped the intro paragraph, read most of the "pitch" part (or only half if it was rambling) and would automatically skip to see if the writer had any writing credits. I wonder if that's how agents do it?

Cat Moleski said...

I have only screened 15 of the fifty so far, and I am in total awe of what agents do on a daily basis now. I also understand why a submission must be as polished as possible. I didn’t have time to get to all 50 in one day and if a submission wasn’t well written or the idea wasn’t compelling, I passed quickly just because I didn’t have the time to spend wondering if a project with a little more work might be saleable when there were more submissions spilling into the box every minute.

I don’t know if I’d make a good agent or not, yet. I kept my rejections to a form for the sake of expediency. I suspect it may also be a way to keep personal feelings out of the exchange.

I plan on getting to the rest later, but it feels like an endurance test. Thanks for the learning opportunity, Nathan!

EMC07 said...

Nathan,
Your job is not easy. It was educational to try and critique these. I have not done so on AW yet. There's some great ideas out there. I saw two of my own ideas in those fifty... Not sure what that says about me... maybe I need to be more original?

Thank you for the opportunity to live a day in your shoes. It is greatly appreciated. I wouldn't mind doing this again as it is mutually beneficial to both agents for a day and the brave query writers.

I have a few more to go, better get to it!

Thanks again :)

BookEnds, LLC said...

Nathan:

I think this contest should win you most brilliant blog idea of the year. I love it. I haven't read the queries (I think I've got enough of those to contend with), but read through some of these comments. I really like that your readers are given better perspective on what one day can be like for an agent and what I truly hope is that everyone will see how truly important writing the perfect query is.

Thanks for doing this!

-jessica faust

Keri Ford said...

ALL DONE!

Whew. First off, I'll say I cheated, so if that takes me out of the running for the Super Agent, I'm cool with that.

I requested things that appealed to me, and rejected a couple that looked good, but were not my cuppa (I told the authors of these this if this was the case).

I also cheated by the number of requests I made. We were only supposed to make 5. Well, I lost count somewhere. BUT I didn't request a lot of fulls (don't know that I requested any). I did several partials, 1st chapter/synopsis, and things like that to see how the story would take me and how the writing would hold up.

I noticed the query that started with a pitch grabbed me a lot easier than all the 'love your blog' stuff. Might have been because the praise wasn't mine.

It was a great experience all around. wonderful to help me with own queries and also a nice peek into the life an agent.

Lois said...

This is insane! I want to help answer each one with one comment. Get to the point, I don't have all day!! ha ha. Thanks for this.

Jeanie W said...

Wow, Nathan. Great contest. Thank you so much for taking the time to set it up.

I wish I could participate fully, but this is a busy week for me. I did read about twenty entries, enough to develop a tendency to quit reading queries that required any extra effort to decipher the writer's meaning.

Kahlessa said...

I’m a bookseller with one of the large chains and I found this contest intriguing. It’s fascinating to view the process that determines which books end up on our shelves. If the queries were for nonfiction books, I would have taken part (schedule permitting). As a bookseller, I find it far more difficult to recommend fiction than nonfiction. There’s so much subjectivity in what different readers consider a “good book”. One person’s pleasure is other person’s punishment.

So when customers ask me to recommend a “good novel”, I ask what titles they have enjoyed and try to find something that will fit. Sometimes I’ll ask a co-worker who seems to have similar tastes for suggestions. But I never tell a customer, “I know you’ll love this book.” That is not something I can guarantee.

Cat said...

Well, I read 36 queries so far and I am totally exhausted. With my writing, 3 kids on easter holidays and a household to run I can't do more than those. I requested 4 but didn't keep track of the titles, sorry.

I got a whole new understanding of the workload of an agent and I learned that this definitely is not a job I'd enjoy doing. My side will always be that of the writer. But I do sincerely hope for an agent as devoted as you, Nathan.

Kristi said...

I agree with Neil...I got to the point where I knew from the first sentence or two whether I was interested or not, and I often just skimmed the rest of it. This might be why I only ended up with 2 that I liked enough to request (10 and 27). Interesting contest.

Dara said...

It's great! And it really gives me an idea (at least on a very small scale) of what an agent has to do everyday.

I stopped yesterday right at the halfway point and I'm hoping to finish today. It definitely makes me appreciate what an agent does even more so than before.

Anonymous said...

My query was one of the posted ones. Reading all the comments led to a sleepless night. I must need thicker skin.

My first reaction was to feel like I'd gone to an eighth-grade dance and not only did all the girls refuse to dance with me, but the boys dragged me out back and took turns beating the crap out of me. I found it's hard to get that many rejections in one day.

There were many constructive comments and I took those to heart, even though some of the suggestions were contradictory. There were a fair amount of requests and that made me feel good. There were many replies where my reaction was, well, I'll bite my tongue and wish they'd done the same.

Now to rewrite my query at least one more time.

Amethyst Greye Alexander said...

Mr. Bransford,

It didn't take me long to understand what agents mean when they say a large part of choosing to pass or request has to do with gut instinct. Sometimes it only took the first line to know (though I committed to reading the whole query, regardless). In the end I had two definite requests and four 'maybes' which I pared down to three to stay within my 'five requests' limit.

The exercise has proven to be incredibly valuable, I think. It gave writers the ability to see mistakes they may have made from an impersonal, objective place. Personally, I appreciate that understanding.

Will be writing my letters throughout the week. Thanks for the 'game'!

Amethyst Adams

Anonymous said...

Anon--

That must have been hard to see all those rejections. By the end of the day, I was praying that my query wouldn't appear (it didn't). It's possible that your query lacked zing, or if this is your first novel, it's possible that this manuscript might need to be your practice novel. It's a little known fact that JK Rowling wrote two practice novels for adults before she wrote Harry Potter. So keep writing!

Adam Heine said...

A couple of people commented on the number of fantasy/sci-fi entries, so I thought I'd count. Here's what I came up with:

YA: 12
Thriller/Suspense: 11
Literary: 5
Fantasy: 5
Mystery: 2
Science Fiction: 2
Middle Grade: 2
Memoir: 2
Non-Fiction: 2
Commercial: 1
Romance: 1
Women's Fiction: 1
Not Sure: 4

wickerman said...

Done.

I think I only requested 3.

My main issues with everything is that my laptop is old and slow and it took forever to load the front page with 50+ posts on it :)

My biggest cause for rejection was usually a query that told me a lot about things that had nothing to do with the book. I also passed on romance almost automatically, because i hate it and wouldn't know a good one from a bad one.

All in all, I finished with about 2 hours of total work on it - in addition to my 12 hour day of 'real' work yesterday and two kids, dishes, laundry etc.

Not an easy job this agent stuff (and or course this exercise is but one aspect of a much bigger job) but it wasn't the end of the world that many people are making it out to be.

I personalized all but maybe 5 responses and left comments in about 8-10 of them.

I wish more people had included samples and I think I asked 5 or so folks to re-query with sample pages for further evaluation.

great experience!

Lauren H.K. said...

Adam, thanks for doing the genre breakdown. I also noticed the abundance of thrillers and YA while I was reading through the queries. I wonder if it's a good thing that I'm writing a YA thriller...?

The genre breakdown reminded me of some of the query stats posts Nathan's done of the past year or so. Sounds like the random sample of queries turned out to look a lot more like Nathan's inbox than he might have anticipated.

Monika said...

To the last anon, that's exactly why I didn't volunteer a query. If I receive three rejections in a week, I mope for hours. But now I wish I had offered mine, just to see the feedback.

I salute your bravery! If it's any consolation, all of the query were rejected more than they were accepted. And none of the queries were terrible -- merely incomplete.

Anonymous said...

This was an intriguing idea that went awry. Reading the "rejections," all I from them was arrogance dashed off by rejectees. The pseudo revenge element of this - ah ha! I can reject, too! - was a bit pathetic but, I suppose, if it prevents a Columbine or post office meltdown or road rage incident, it was worth it. The lack of imagination exhibited by a group of people (who also seemed to participate in the agent fail debacle) was telling: while many aspiring writers claim to want feedback, comments - TIME - it was clear from many of the breezily "written" comments those were not quality responses they themselves were willing to produce.

Christine H said...

One thing that I'm realizing is how the same book could be represented in very different ways by a query. Books are necessarily rather complex - they have to be in order to hold a reader's interest for X-hundred pages.

A query is just a short blurb.

My book is a fantasy-adventure with a romantic subplot and literary aspirations. So what do I focus on for the query? If I just focus on the fantasy part, it could sound too much like a routine genre story.

If I focus on the romance, it may sound too light and not interesting enough for readers who want more action.

If I try to focus on the deeper themes, it may sound boring.

I could conceiveably write three queries, at least, for the same book - each focusing on a different aspect. The question is: Which approach makes it more marketable?

That question, I feel, hasn't been answered yet. perhaps there is no answer. But it would be interesting to post, say, 3 different ones on my blog and see which is more appealing. Maybe I'll do that, if I have the time.

Owl Sprite said...

Anon 8:02:

I did not participate in AgentFail, and wasn't planning to participate in this, either. But I got sucked into it for a while anyways.

The core problem - for me as well as for real agents - is the time involved in crafting detailed replies. I tried to at least mention the title of the book in each of my rejections, and give some suggestions if I had any, but I spent 4 hours on 23 queries, and didn't even reply to all of those.

The day is only so long, my friend. "But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep." - Robert Frost

Bane of Anubis said...

Christine, I'd say it probably has to do as much w/ the agent you're querying as anything - e.g., writing an excellent romance query might not stand out as much to a predominantly sff agent as a lesser written fantasy-adventure query.

Anonymous said...

From; The World's Gratest Arthur

Since my query obviously got lost or accidentally sent to junk-mail, I am posting it here for comments. I do not fear the snarks among you as this is the best query you have ever red.

Dear Mr. or Mrs. (or possibly Ms.) Agent,

I am querying you about my psycho-thriller/suspense novel, "The Agent Who Hated Arthurs." This is the 7th book of a trilogy, and I have already written 5 of them! There are 52 more plotted, so you can be sure that you will have something to sell every year of your career.

I have been writing seriesly for nearly three weeks, two days, five hours and 59 seconds and have writen 22 novels in that amount of time.

My first is a science-fictiony S-F novel, another one is S-FF-SYA-SF, two are YA about young adults in the tween stage who self-imolate and cut themselves, but nobody does anything becuase they (the young adult in question)is a rock star/model/actor/environmental-activist/skydiver/cat-lover///time-traveler who, after giving herself a paper-cut, always goes back in time and stops herself from cutting in the first place.

I have also written literary novels about a mad-scientist who grows Dinasaurs from (big twist here) RNA instead of DNA. Another is a gripping suspense-novel where there are no characters, absolutely NOTHING happens, then, at the end, the reader finds out it is all a dream.

Another book that is a sure best seller that will sell millions of copies around the globe is "The Lascaux Cave Painting Runner." Think "The D'Vinci Code" meets "The Kite Runner," but set 30,000 years ago... When the Xqituthuthu Clan's greatest mind, inventor of the campfire and irony, is found dead while scratching his new invention, a round thing that can be used to move objects, onto a cave wall, and the only clue to the murderer is a clever mathematical equation that won't be rediscovered until Einstein, the only person who can solve the crime is a young man from ANOTHER CLAN! who is greatly despised by this clan because they believe that eggs should be broken on the small end, and that they are descendant from Gods who came to Earth from the sparkly things in the sky in a giant FLAMING SHIP and manipulated some strange miniscule ladder (too small to see)in an ape's body to make humans before they left again in their ship and left a prophesy that one of them would return again in 28,000 years and perform miracles in a desert city. At this time, all other clans believe that humans were created by snails as a way to get around. (The major religion involves carefully carrying snails from one place to another). This book, which took me a whole 48 ours to write, runs 429,400.2343 words. (All dialog is writen in the native language of the tribe, which isn't completely formulated yet, so has fractional words!

I have written several others, though the above books are my favorites. I know it is hard to believe, but ALL of these are AVAILABLE for agenting.

My currant book, as I said, 7th in a trilogy, is a highly commercial book that is also an absolutely mind-blowing novel that will completely alter your views about humanity and snails, and make your brain ooze out of your ears. Yes, before you ask, all of my books contain snails -- it is the common thematic element, like John Irving and bears.

Like Harry Potter, this novel will transcend all age ranges. In fact, Harry Potter makes a cameo appearance, along with Leonardo D'Vinci, Galaleo, Newton and pop culture phenomonan Sanjaya! so that it will appeal to almost everyone.

I cannot tell you more about this searingly stupendous project until you sign a series of non-disclosure agreements and a No-Harm contract, since 9 out of 10 people whom have red it, have gone mad and writen me that they are no longer taking submissions, even though I see in the trade magazines that they still think that are making sales! Absolutely delusional.

I saw the 10th person on the news, jabbering about some nonsense that he had sold a book called "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!" Imagine that!!! How stupid. Of course, people are prejudiced against zombies! Who would read that? So, of course, he must have gone mad two.

Anyway, I am sure that you would like to become the world's richest agent by selling all of my 22 currant novles, and the many more that I will write, so look forward to hearing back from you by 1:01 pm today. If you are off by 30 seconds or so don't panic! -- that's what the extra minute is for, incase you don't synchronize your watch daily by the national attomic time agency like I do.

Thanks so much for your time, and I look foward to a long and mutally profitable relationship.

Sincerely,
World's Gratest Arthur

Deniz Bevan said...

Can I go back and request two that I rejected? I realise that's not proper agent behaviour...

Joseph L. Selby said...

I'm not participating as an agent. I understand the point you're trying to make, though you did not need to make it with me. I understand your frustration and appreciate the hard work you do, especially adding this blog onto all your other responsibilities.

While I did not participate as an agent, I did send in a query. I figured that the opportunity was worthwhile regardless of any feedback offered. I wanted to know whether my querying skills were good enough to make the cut of 50. If so, I'm on the right track. If not, I need more work. Because of that, the revelation that the selection was random was very disappointing. I had seen it as a real opportunity and put a lot of effort into offering my best.

Regardless, thank you for all the hard work you do and the time you spend with us here on the tubes.

hannah said...

"it is the common thematic element, like John Irving and bears."

^I laughed so hard here.

Therapist/Writer said...

I guess I'm a little harsher. I would have asked for pages from only two: #10 and #37.

Anonymous said...

It seems some of the guest agents need to brush up on their skills.

A mystery novel's word count range is typically 65-80K. I kept seeing 'agents' rejecting stories because 70K was too short.

Tamara said...

Nathan - This experience is invaluable. I have a much clearer idea of what to write in my query letters. However...from the comments, it's obvious how subjective agenting is, so no matter what you write, you just never know.

I'd love to ask for more than five (hate that rule, btw! lol).

You've certainly succeeded in giving us a taste of what it's like to be an agent.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Christine H.,

I really relate to this concern too.

I think a book that has different tonalities (an adventure, character development, fantasy, etc.) that are well blended is a VERY exciting book.

To me, as a reader, it appeals on many levels of satisfaction that a more superficial genre one-tone may not.

But how do you write a query that doesn't sound like you threw everything -including the kitchen sink- into a novel?

(i.e., Dear Agent, Editor, etc.
Here is my...lit fic, romance, fantasy, chic lit of 700,000 words...)

Boy, I sure would like to take a look at some of the queries that would have preceded some of my favorite mixed novels too.

One of the things that most stands out in this blog is how this community really tries to come out and help each other.I appreciate that so much.

And just look how many people genuinely apologized when they realized they might have inadvertently been being otherwise.

Anyway, if anyone out there can comment further on Christine's question, I'm interested too.

Lisa R said...

Dear Nathan:

I think this was so instructive for me as a writer--especially in terms of my queries. I think your job is way harder than I thought it was. Not that I ever thought it was easy but after about 23 queries I felt pretty weary! But I could kind of see the queries that just nailed it (for me personally) and I could also see how some queries are ALMOST there but not quite. I could see how some of them sounded really good but just were not interesting to me personally so now I have a whole new appreciation for the old "agenting is a subjective business"! This will really make me go back over my own queries and try to improve them. I thought this was a great exercise for aspiring writers. Thanks!

jimnduncan said...

Anon said, "it was clear from many of the breezily "written" comments those were not quality responses they themselves were willing to produce."

The point of this activity was not to comment on queries but to gain a better understanding of what it's like to have to go through the slush every day and try to find material you might think is publishable. The query feedback, while helpful or useless depending on the comments, was just a side effect of the process.

When I came up with this idea and passed it along to Nathan for possible use on the blog, it came out of all the recent posting on the blogosphere about how/when/if agents respond to queries. It became apparent to me that many writers just don't have a real understanding of just how hard and time consuming it is to go through the vast amounts of slush that pop into their inboxes every day.

My approach to querying, which I call, for lack of a better term, realistic pessimism, is that the assumption for querying should be that you will receive a form rejection. This is based on the simple fact that the odds of producing a publishable book (different than just writing a good one), and managing to find an agent who loves what you have written, is looking for your particular kind of story, and believes the market is looking for said kind of book are really, really slim. Really slim. Just because you've written something fabulous does not mean you are owed a publishing contract. It doesn't work that way, and sadly, I think many writers unfamiliar with the industry believe that if they write something grand, it should sell.

My main goal for suggesting this Agent for a day idea to Nathan was to inject a little more reality into people's minds about what one aspect of the industry is like. It seems to have done that based on a lot of the comments I've seen here so far. Now if this activity could just be sent out to the million or so writers out there who really do need this information.

Eva Ulian said...

I loved it! And having had a mountain of rejections I knew exactly what to say- but I didn't, I added more than "this is not for me". Having studied umpteen books on getting published I was able to offer positive suggestions as to what the writer could do to improve his/her chances of getting published.

Now I'm wondering (seriously) if some agent would like to give me a job!!!

Eva Ulian said...

PS I have spotted 2 queries that will go on to be published but I did not ask for them as it's not the kind of novel I enjoy, however I know some agent will have picked them out. I will list them here as soon as I finished reviewing all the other queries.

Ceadrick said...

I chose 10, 17, 27, 37 and 46. I thought they were the best overall. The rest I would have my assistant send a form rejection to. It took hours to read all of the letters, and I just don’t think I would have the time to personally respond to the other 45. I can see how much work this is, and that doesn’t include the rest of your job. Thanks for the eye opener.

Anonymous said...

From; the World's Gratest Arthur

Dear Mr., Mrs. or Ms Agent,

I now have 24.33 novels to agent as I have written 2.33 more since I queried you a half-hour ago. Oh, now I have 25 novels as I have been multi-tasking as I was writing this query.

Sincerely,
World's Gratest Arthur

P.S. NOW I have 32 novels available for representation...

sally apokedak said...

@world's greatest writer.

Thanks! That was great fun!

Jabez said...

I thought this was very rewarding and entertaining. It was insightful seeing queries all in a bunch instead of in isolation and detail like usual. You get a different perspective for how queries stand out and what elements don't play as well because you see them over and over.

One question I had for Nathan, though: Do you think the quality of these queries was better than what you usually see in a group of 50 queries, and if so by how much?

Nathan Bransford said...

jabez-

They are definitely better. "How much" is difficult to quantify, except that I normally request about one or two out of fifty and probably would have requested around 5 or 6 here.

Vicky said...

I reviewed them all in one day and thought I would never want this job. Since I average 100 emails a day in my marketing job, that says volumes - LOL. Worse, I think I'd become known as Axe Agent or something horrible like that because I only requested *1* complete and *3* partials.

As I read the queries, I grew increasingly annoyed at the large number that showed the authors haven't done their homework. There is so much information about how to write a dynamite query that I lost all sympathy for these writers. In other instances where the premise and character development were unclear, I figured chances were extremely high the manuscript was not publishable quality.

I hereby terminate my short-lived career as Agent for a Day and now have even more appreciation for my own agent & Nathan. Au Revoir!

Ceadrick said...

I also thought 6, 9 and 48 were interesting, but we could only pick 5. One thing I noticed reading comments is how subjective this process is. This leads me to believe that you have to hit the right agent on the right day to have a shot. Now if I could read minds over great distances I might find an agent!

Ink said...

Bane of Anubis,

I have to admit that when Jordan did that little push off... well, I tried to ham it up as I knew there wasn't no chance I was getting up for the blocked shot. But, you know, an offensive foul? On Jordan? Championship final? Last second? I should've known better. Should have just hacked him and made him make the free throws. At least we might've got the ball back with some time on the clock and Stockton might've found Malone for a little jimmy. But, hey, I've been in the second most posters of any player in the NBA! (I just edged out Craig Ehlo)

Best,

B. Russell, Utah Jazz (Author of Jordan's a Jerk and the bestselling Positive Thinking: Getting Over Bitterness)

Colorado Writer said...

Mostly, I don't know how your eyes don't glaze over by query #10.

hannah said...

Re. people flagging word counts--I noticed that too. People saying 50K is too short for YA? Browse the YA section and you'll clearly see that's not true.

bookshop said...

I'm in this weird position. I think there was a bit more pressure in this case because of the contest aspect of the challenge: *pick the three published works from among the mix*.

As of right now I only have 4 requests, most of which are YA. Of all the ones I'm still considering for the 5th spot, they're *all* YA (well, #6 says it's commercial but comments seem to agree that the query fits YA better). So my choice is stymied by the knowledge that surely your 3 published works wouldn't all be from the same genre, right? So there's a whole element of consideration there which wouldn't exist under normal agenting circumstances.


If I were an actual agent I wouldn't have felt compelled to leave all the extensive query feedback that made the work of responding harder.


I were an actual agent, I probably would have put my top queries in a pile, gone back and read them later and seen how I felt about them, then request fulls/partials of my favorites and winnow the rest out with encouraging notes.

I tried to do that here, but by the end I was wishing I didn't have to focus on picking what was publishable/marketable, because mostly I just wanted to pick only the ones I really got excited about.

I *still* wish we could do this more often. :D I love it.

Bane of Anubis said...

bookshop, perhaps Nathan will have query Mondays - where Monday query submitters agree to be ranked by his legion of blog fans and then he requests partials from the top X choices :) - then the legion of angry writers can go to town on each other instead of on agents - at least on Mondays.

Dara said...

Well, I just finished and realized I only requested four. :P

Perhaps I'm too picky. Or I just don't have the eye for it. Or both :P

My picks: #9, #10, #27 and #38.

Jabez said...

Thanks, Nathan. That's actually a great job of quantifying it.

Adrienne said...

I loved this idea (though knew from the off that it would be way too hard for me to participate) and have been following it the last two days.

I must say what gets to me most in the comments sections are the statements of how much people respect what you do and how tough it must be. Not that those comments aren't valid (and I totally share the opinion), but that I would imagine this contest isn't really a true reflection of what you have to deal with. This is (and again this is a hypothesis) a reflection of what you would have to deal with if everyone understood how to write a decent query and followed the submission guidelines. This contest didn't include the utter tripe that agents ALSO have to deal with.

This contest also didn't deal with the rejection response, that is to say, people will not be given an opportunity to see what happens when they engage in a dialogue with a rejected author through personalised rejections.

So I have to say, it's pretty impressive to see what a hard job you guys have in the best possible situation, let alone the stuff you have to deal with in the real world.

And also, dude, you're going to give yourself a heart attack if you keep crafting these insane contests! Not that we aren't grateful . . .but dude!

Harsh Critic said...

Ceadrick, wow, you picked the exact same five queries that I picked!

I feel like Elaine in the Seinfeld episode where she shares the same movie taste as another guy at the video rental store. It ended badly for Elaine though.

:)Ash said...

Anon 7:19am:

I'm sure it was very hard getting so many rejections in one day; keep in mind, though, they were rejections from other writers, not agents. So, they don't really matter, and this gives you the opportunity to work on the query so that the actual agents request pages.

Just work on your query and make it the best it can be. And don't be ashamed to get help. Writing a query is very different from writing a novel.

I'd suggest posting your query in the SYW (share your work) forum at absolutewrite.com. There are many helpful people there who are more than willing to help you clean up your query.

And you may also want to join a critique group. I don't know what I'd do without mine.

Good luck!

:)Ash

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