Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Like I do on most weekends, I spent some time this past Saturday and Sunday going through queries that landed in my inbox. Now I’ve done a bunch of Agent Monday posts on the many crazy things that writers do over and over again when they query that result in the proverbial shooting-oneself-in-the-foot. But today I’d like to assume that if you have landed on this website that you are a cut above those people. That you actually research an agent’s guidelines before you hit send. That you’ve learned the ins and outs of how to query and how not to query. (Bless you!) So today I want to give a closer look at a much smaller group of queries. Queries that do, in fact, get me to read those pasted-in opening pages. Why the heck do I still do reject so many of those? What’s a writer gotta do to get me to request a full manuscript? Here’s what it takes…
1. More than a well-targeted tight query. Too often the query is awesome. The writing, not so much.
2. More than a cool concept. Too often the concept sounds exciting. The writing, not so much.
3. More than great credentials. Surprisingly often, the writer has some amazing credits to their name.The writing? Not so amazing for me. Seeing a trend here?
4. More than strong writing. The query is tight, the concept is cool, the writer even has strong credentials. And the writing is strong! But…it’s not for me. Something in the tone or point of view or voice turns me off, signaling to me that I am not the right agent for this writer. Hey, it is a subjective business, and I need to feel fully committed to the writer and the writing to take a piece on.
So, while you can’t control the subjective side of things, beyond trying to target agents who will “get” you, you can keep working on your writing to make it the strongest it can be. Strong beyond the obvious grammatically correct, spell checkiness of it all.
This weekend alone, I passed on queries that were well done but the writing quickly veered into paths I do not enjoy going down. Overly violent. Overly romantic. Misogynistic. Religious. Not for me, folks.
I also passed on plenty of writing that, while showing promise, was laden with too many problems. I’m only seeing 20 pages pasted into my queries, but if in those pages the writing is already burdened with things like meaningless dialogue, way too much telling or backstory, flowery purple prose, and an overall lack of timing when it comes to storytelling, well, I’m going to pass. Why? Because I have to ask myself do I really want to wade through several hundred pages of these same sort of mistakes? Do I love this enough to have to deal with the countless edits it would take to get it up to submission quality? The answer in 99% of these cases is no.
I’m busy. I have a list of amazing authors I spend a lot of time on. If I’m going to take on a new writer, it has to be someone who comes to the table with mad writing skills. This goes far beyond doing your homework with queries, and having a sharp concept, and even beyond being pretty darn good.
So continue to challenge yourself to get better and better at your craft. Write tight and with honesty. And I’ll look forward to seeing that in my inbox.
*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.
Yes, seeing a trend here, Marie! You seek **Amazing Writing** to follow through on those queries. With this in mind, we need to keep revising, keep polishing, keep learning the writing craft to send in those 20 pages that are amazing and deliver on the promise of the query. Just like a book offers a promise to its readers, we – as writers – need to offer a promise on our writing as well in order to get that book to readers…and deliver on that promise again. So a writer’s life is then “filled with promise” – right?
Definitely! And why shouldn’t we writers push ourselves to do our best? The trick is to not get discouraged in the interim, yet strive strive strive.
I love to hear your side of the story every week. Let’s hear more on the winnowing process. We writers are always in love with our own product!
You are too kind 🙂
It is eye-opening, after having been solely an author for so many years, to be on this side of the desk too.
The way I see it from both sides is: Anything that pushes us all to be the best in our craft should be viewed as a plus…even when it is so frustrating.
Thanks for commenting 🙂
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Oh, I laughed when I read this post. I once received a rejection from a literary magazine saying, “If your story were as funny and entertaining as your query letter, we would have published it.” I took that to heart.
A writer with a sense of humor is a great thing 🙂