Nathan Bransford is, at times, brilliant. Not about his sports picks apparently, since he came in 84th I believe, but he is brilliant about some other things. Taking reader Jim Duncan’s suggestion about doing an agent for a day thread is one of those instances.
He invited people to submit queries to be included in the fifty “chosen ones.” He got more than he anticipated. This shows how much of an eternal optimist he is. I’m guessing he got 573 queries, but suffice to say he got hundreds. Yee haw!
He posted the fifty and the agents for a day had to either send invitations to submit or rejections. Some included reasons why they were rejecting. Unlike real agents, they had a week to sift through the fifty submissions. Nathan admitted he went through sixty-five real ones the first day. If a person hasn’t followed #query fail, Twitter where several agents discuss typical days or Jennifer Jackson’s brilliant Query Wars, this might be surprising. I was surprised it was that light for him given his presence and popularity.
I decided to try and do all fifty in one day to better emulate how a real agent looks at them. I did nine Monday morning and then went to work. I got home from work about 1:00 a.m., mixed up some cookie dough and started baking cookies and going through queries. I found I could just about read one, make a decision and post a comment in around the time it did to bake one batch of cookies so it all worked out well. Especially when I forgot to set the timer.
Most queries were far, far too long.
Ones that started out with rhetorical questions really got on my nerves after a while. One started out with a rhetorical question that was a complete gimmick and had nothing to do with the story. I not only rejected that one, but commented on it negatively and I tried to keep on the positive side with my comments.
Some queries were rambling and repetitive. You have approximately 300 words to sell your book. Repeating points burns those words needlessly and it makes me wonder how prevalent this is going to be in the book.
Epiphany number one. I started wondering if flaws in the query were going to be multiplied x 300 in the manuscript.
Some queries described what their book was about. Many said things like, “gripping thriller, hilarious comedy,” etc. yet there was no indication of that in the query letter. Query letters are like a good strip tease. Reveal enough to stir up the reader emotionally and leave them wanting more. Walking out with a sandwich board that says, “My name’s Cha Cha Vavoom and I’m sexy,” doesn’t quite do the same thing. If you have to describe what your book is, but you can’t give me any hint of that in your writing, then I passed.
Well written sample pages help. I didn’t like the query on one, but I read the sample pages and the author very nearly reversed my decision. In the end, I passed because they lingered far too long on one detail and it got repetitious. The writing definitely was good.
Attitude does matter. I would have requested one, but his attitude gave me the impression he was going to be a diva and the kind of man who would be a bit condescending to women. He also tacked on a deadline and that sealed his fate.
I passed on one non-fiction because it was a subject I felt really needed to be researched and verified if I wanted to put my name on it. I realize this isn’t practical in the real world, but I know how I am. Erroneous details, like the 14-year-old bull rider who was going to win the championship riding a bull with his rawhide handle smeared with pinetar made me want to beat the author, the agent and the publisher. I don’t want people wanting to beat me. I can instill that emotion enough. That book, I think, had an excellent query and subject matter. The author had a great platform and it was, in my opinion, very marketable.
I requested some far out of my reading comfort zone because the queries were good, the ideas were good and there was a certain spark to them that made me think they would appeal to the public.
I passed on two because the subject matter was just icky.
In my opinion, I think all writers who plan to submit queries should do that exercise. It ought to be mandatory because it demonstrates in a way no one can tell you why a good query letter is important. It shows you why rambling long query letters are suicide. It also proved to me that a person really can make judgments on query letters. It demonstrated it really is a very subjective business. Things I hated other people loved.
One thing that did surprise me was the stupid comments made by some “agents.” Some were like little kids trying to be cute in front of a bunch of adults. It wasn’t amusing. The rude remarks weren’t cute and I’m going to wager if someone leveled those same remarks at them they would be whining and complaining for years. I was saddened that people couldn’t rise to the occasion and try to be civil. On the other hand, I was happy to see how many people tried to offer constructive comments and that made up for the nitwits.