Wow do I feel like a sucker. Some writers out there got creative and just plain good at query letters. A few months ago, I reported my rejection rate at 86%. However, what isn't good news, is the amount of full manuscripts I have requested based on those partials (20-50 pages depending on my mood): I'll give you a hint. It's less than five.
Those number still sounding really high to you? Freaked out? Ok, here's an example that will hopefully put it into perspective for you.
Imagine you are in a bookstore. How many books are in there at any given time? 10,000? Ok, let's go with that number. You are roaming the shelves. One in every one hundred you pick up to read the back cover blurb. One in every ten of those might sound interesting. You leave the store with one book. That's basically what agents do. Except we wade through stuff that isn't ready to be published. Most of the time though, it simply doesn't intrigue us. There are plenty of books on the shelf I gloss over because they just don't interest me.
Here are a few personal things about me as an agent, since it may be unclear elsewhere.
- I do not represent Middle Grade. YA for me begins at roughly 15, as long as the character has an "older" voice (meaning they don't sound MG).
- I do not represent Women's Fiction. I do however, represent Paranormal Romance which is a subgenre.
- I do not represent Literary Fiction. We do, however, have fabulous agents at the agency who do.
- I do not represent Mystery/Crime or Thrillers. Cozy Mysteries, however, have a special place in my heart. Mix Mystery/Crime/Thrillers with paranormal and I'm a happy camper.
- "road trip" - reminds me of the very acidy trip Where the Buffalo Roam. So it's a no.
- I don't do "sub-real" or "experimental" or anything else that can describe Gravity's Rainbow or House of Leaves. You will, actually, make my day a little worse if you mention them.
- Chuck Palahniuk. See above. His stuff freaks me out. And not in a good way. (great respect for all four authors and books, it just isn't my cup of tea)
- I love when writers are trying to build a platform with their websites. But DO NOT tell me hi, include the link, and expect me to go there. Still gotta include the query. And word to the wise, if you have sample chapters on your site, and I'm feeling generous, I will take a look--so keep that in mind if you have no idea why you are getting rejected.
- Passive voice. Avoid it. Especially in your query. If you use it in your query, you probably aren't aware of it, and therefore it probably runs rampant in your ms. Dead give away.
- Don't rely only on spell check (ms or query). Have someone take a look at it and careful of your homonyms.
- Very briefly, if you are a debut author, keep your word count within the confines. I won't look at 280,000 words. Querying a novel like that only marks you as someone who doesn't know what they are doing. In the same vein, I'll do the same to a word count I feel is too low. I like long books, so usually anything under 60,000 words sounds too short to me (actually, 60,000 words sounds too short to me, but I won't judge if the genre is right). (good guidelines here)
- Please distinguish your genre very clearly, especially between YA and MG.