Monday, September 28, 2015

QUERIES BY THE NUMBERS (Or, why I haven’t responded to your query letter yet)

Don’t hate me because I’m behind in answering your query. It’s not personal; I have thousands of unread queries in my in-box. Not because I’m lazy or I’m inept or I hate writers—just because I got 1000 queries my first week as an agent and they’ve kept on flooding my in-box ever since.

And I am not alone. In my unofficial survey of agents who actually consider unsolicited queries (not everyone does), I gathered enough data (in an admittedly non-scientific manner) to offer up the following statistics regarding queries. These are the odds you are up against when you send a query:

      The average agent gets 5,000 to 10,000 queries a year
      The typical agent represents 30 to 50 clients
      Which makes the best case scenario in terms of your query resulting in representation: .01% chance
      And the worst case scenario: .003% chance

What’s the takeaway here? Don’t rely on queries alone. Network with agents, editors, and your fellow writers at conferences and genre association meetings; press your published pals for referrals. Find other means of pitching your work; relying on queries alone is a risky proposition.

And whatever you do, don’t get peeved at publishing professionals who 1) don’t respond; or 2) don’t respond in the way in which you would prefer. Give us a break. We are drowning in inquiries, and we don’t get paid to read queries. We get paid if and when we sell our clients’ work.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some queries to read….

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Monday, September 14, 2015

Top Ten Things You Should Never Say to an Agent

1.         I’m calling to tell you about my story.
Don’t query by phone. Or text. Email queries, referrals, and conferences are the best ways to approach an agent. But you should check an agent’s website for submission and query guidelines, and follow those to the letter.

2.         Dear Sir/Madam,
This tells me immediately that you have no idea who I am or what I represent.

3.         Dear Paula Munier,
This tells me immediately that you know how to do a mail merge, but not that you know how to write. For more, see #1.

4.         Dear Paul,
This tells me immediately that you have no idea who I am or what I represent, right down to my name and gender. It also tells me that I can expect a careless manuscript full of typos, inconsistencies, and inaccuracies.

5.         I know you don’t represent “insert genre I don’t represent here,” but mine is different.
Most agents specialize for a reason: Namely, they know what they can sell, and what they can’t. Why would you approach an agent who doesn’t sell what you need selling?

6.         You can sell my 210,000-word story as one big novel or seven 30,000-word books in an epic series.
Ignoring word-count guidelines is the quickest way to discourage any professional from reading your work.  If you don’t know the word-count guidelines for your genre, look it up.

7.         All my beta readers love it.
This is almost the same thing as saying that your mother loves it. For all I know, it could actually be the same thing, as your mother may very well number among your beta readers. This means less than nothing to me, unless your mother and indeed all of your beta readers are bestselling authors in your genre. In which case, you have most definitely buried the lead.

8.         I’ve attached my full manuscript as a word doc.
Agents have overflowing inboxes. And attachments can be computer viruses waiting to happen.  Do not include any attachments in your queries unless specifically requested to do so.

9.         I’ve attached my entire manuscript as a pdf.
Microsoft Word documents are the industry standard. Submitting a pdf screams paranoid aspiring amateur author and/or (perhaps justifiably) paranoid screenwriter turned novelist. Neither (necessarily) inspires confidence.

10.      Here’s my book on a flash drive for you.
Save your time and money. Flash drives may be lighter than hard copies, but they are just as likely to get lost or tossed.

Post Script: It goes without saying—but it happens often enough that I’m going to say it—that you should never insult the publishing professionals you meet on your quest to get published, agents included.  It’s a small world, and what goes around comes around. I’m just sayin.’

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