Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Questions for the Agent: Queries and Partials

From when I was gone, I asked you, the lovely reader, to ask me questions and/or suggestions for future blog posts. I'm back. I'm (mostly) caught up with work. And now I'm answering your questions in segments (this is part two). And asking for more questions. Here's the time to find out all you can about the agent (remember most everything is subjective and does not apply to all agents). 

Do I respond to all queries?

Yes, I do, usually with a form rejection or request. I wish I could add a personal note to them all, but I have too many to answer. If I am particularly struck by one, an exceptional title jumps out at me, or you have a well written query but I must reject your ms for some reason (either the writing, characters, or subject matter didn't draw me in) I will try to add a note to help or encourage you. 

When I'm on the fence:

I take into account your fiction platform; this means if you are active in writing communities, online communities, Twitter, and/or blogging, I'll be swayed favorably. If I see that you have a Twitter and/or blog that was started but abandoned two years ago or updated once in a blue moon, it might harm your chances.
I'll also take a look at the market. I might like a project (not love) but if it's in high demand, I'll probably take a chance. If I know absolutely no one is buying it (if, for example, your main comp is Twilight) I'll probably say no. 

Insta-nos for queries:
  • Obviously, if it's the wrong genre for me, it's gonna be a no. 
  • Also, if you don't address me by my name (spelled correctly), it's probably going to be a no. If you don't use my name, I'm going to assume you didn't personalize the query and you sent it to twenty agents at the same time (if you do, for the love of all that's holy, hide the bccs).
  • Writer shows he/she does not understand basics of grammar and/or spelling (I'll overlook obvious mistakes, even I can't catch every error; I can usually tell the difference between "Whoops didn't catch that" and "I think this is how this goes but I'm just going to guess") 
  • Not always an instant deal breaker, however, using cliches aren't going to get you far. "Fateful night" is one that gets under my saddle and chaffs.

Insta-nos for partials:
  • Unnatural dialogue.
  • Excess of backstory.
  • Cliche characters and/or situations and/or phrases. Ex: beautiful girl is so tragically misunderstood at school and that all changes when the mysterious new boy at school pays attention to only her.
  • Writer shows he/she does not understand basics of grammar and/or spelling (I'll overlook obvious mistakes, even I can't catch every error; I can usually tell the difference between "Whoops didn't catch that" and "I think this is how this goes but I'm just going to guess"--this goes for query letters too)
  • Writer shows he/she does not understand how to set a scene and/or plot. Ex: something I look for is length of sections and chapters. If the first chapter has sections or scenes a few paragraphs to a page or two long, it's probably because the writer doesn't know how to lengthen a scene and gives us what we need to understand the story or character.

Not so obvious insta-nos on partials:
  • Lack of voice. If I cannot connect with the character, and if I can't empathize with him/her, I won't care about what happens.
  • Unnecessary or excessive use of slang or bad language (this may or may not be subjective, because I understand some books use this as a device--I usually don't like those books). There is a fine line between voice and excessiveness.
  • A prologue that is excessively long or I don't think is necessary; I'll try to skip ahead to the first chapter to give it a fair chance, but your prologue should be just as well written as the rest and if I'm in a hurry or super slammed with partials, I won't get that far.

Would I take an elevator pitch knowing the writer needs a month or more to actually query?

Yes. You're showing initiative by showing up the the conference (class, bathroom, wherever you may be) instead of waiting to research until after you've finished writing. Please don't send me something unfinished. You get one chance, use it wisely. I've heard of agents getting manuscripts from people they met at a conference two years prior. Agents understand that conferences are packed with a lot of info, info that probably makes you think "I need to revise that in my ms". Please, go use what you've learned, then get back to us.

Any more questions that go in this category of queries and partials?

Happy writing!


Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Nice rundown on the list of dos and don'ts. Thanks for posting this.

Stephsco said...

My story starts with "It was a dark and stormy night..." is that bad? ;) J/k. Thanks for the helpful post.

Charlie N. Holmberg said...

Very helpful notes, thanks!

Charlie N. Holmberg said...

Vickie, are you going to WorldCon this year, by chance?

Anne R. Allen said...

Very important to know that a well-kept blog can be a deciding factor. Will RT!

Kathryn Rose said...

Thanks for this. It's great to know these details!

Anita Saxena said...

This is really helpful. Thank you!

Heather Kantz said...

Enjoyed this post immensely, as I am in the Agent query phase for the first time. It's a scary place to be, especially as a novice! Thanks for making it less scary.

Anonymous said...

Thank so much for taking the time out to share this with us. Much appreciated!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the great info!

Julie said...

Thank you! Great info--this was helpful!

Also... if we've submitted to you and haven't heard back, is it polite to follow up? And if so, how long is a respectable time to wait before doing so?

[Obviously, I find myself in this boat! Haha!]

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