Whether you’re heart broken by that rejection email or still reeling in excitement from a partial, full request or THE CALL, many of you may want to know what goes on in the decision making process. Well, I can’t speak for every agent out there, but I’m going to take you behind the scenes into my pretty little head so you can at least understand what guides my query decisions to say yay versus nay.
One of the first things that draws my eye is how the query is formulated. I always get this sense of excitement when I’m about to open one. The mouse hovers over the unread email for a few seconds as I silently send up a prayer for this story to be amazing, to knock me off my feet and wow me with its awesomeness. And then I click the query open with bated breath and skim right through the email. That’s right. I don’t read it. Not just yet anyway. Why? Well, let me paint you a picture first. I’m on a blind date and I’m meeting them for the first time. He’s already at the restaurant, awaiting my arrival. I hide around the corner and look for the guy wearing the red and black striped tie that matches my dress we’d agreed would be our tell for recognizing each other. I spot him, and like the stalker I can be, I spend some time scoping him out. I look to see what he’s like, his appearance, his mannerisms, anything that will give me more information about his character. What I see with just that one initial look already sets my opinion in motion. Well that’s the same thing when I get a query. With that quick skim, there is so much I can learn about a writer.
Did they follow the agency guidelines?
If they did, it shows to me that the writer is good at following instructions and that they’re very serious about sending this to me so I should respond with the same measure of seriousness. When a writer doesn’t follow the guidelines, they get a frowny face. Not as in a rejection but I literally aim my frowny face at the screen. Now does that stop me from reading it? No, because I never know what I might find. But the writer does lose points on my imaginary scoreboard. However, I can tell you this. I have yet to find a story I adored that didn’t follow the guidelines.
Do they include the genre, age category and word count?
As I skip to the end of the query, I search for these three things. Why? Because when I go back and read the story I want to make sure that it fits within these parameters. If the query says it’s a young adult mystery then I’m going to expect to read about some strange events happening to that teenager, not an adult learning to find love in a candy store. If these three things aren’t in the query, then it makes me think that the writer doesn’t know what or how long their story is. And if that’s the case, then they shouldn’t be querying in the first place.
Do they include information about themselves?
I mentioned about stalking the potential blind date right? Well, I do the same things with writers. If they put in their query they published a book on Amazon, you better believe I’m going to check it out and see if that’s true and how was the reader audiences’ response to it. That will tell me how the readers take to their writing. If a writer mentions graduating from an XYZ school and majoring in English then I will try to track them down to confirm this. There have been people who lied in their queries so I like to check to make sure the facts are in fact just that. So when you hear agents say how they wish that writers were online more, wish that writers included contact info (ie: Name, Address AND Phone Number) and wish that writers added information about themselves (ie: writing credits and background info but not full life story), they mean it. How else will we stalk you without it? ☺ You may think I’m kidding but I’m really not. So do your best to be active on social media because I WILL RESEARCH YOU! Did I mention I’m an expert in forensics and research? Investigation is my forte!
I’m particularly interested in Young Adult, New Adult and Adult novels. They’re my favorite of the age categories. Same with the genres; I enjoy certain ones like psychological thrillers, mystery and romance. This is mainly because of a personal preference. When I’m reading for fun, I tend to read more books out of these areas because they captivate my heart more. Therefore, I represent books in those categories and genres because I know the areas better than any others. So when I find a query that meets my taste buds and/or matches something on my wish list, it’s a happy day!
Okay back to queries. Finally, I start back at the top and begin reading. I usually know if I’m going to like a story right off the bat. Does the query writing captivate me? Does the story’s content itself captivate me before I even get to the story? And finally does the writing captivate me? All three play a hand that when put together can turn the tides of a ‘maybe’ to ‘no’ or a ‘maybe’ to a ‘yes’. That’s how the queries start off in my head. They’re all at the maybe stage until something makes or breaks it.
I tend to get distracted very easily. Maybe there’s a noise outside or I hear a conversation going on in the kitchen that I want to be nosy about. The fact that that happens while I’m reading a story is never a good sign. If I’m not completely sucked in then I might end up passing. I have to love a story completely before I decide on if I want to read more or represent it. The writing has to be good too. It doesn’t have to be Stephen King or Jane Austen good. If I end up scrolling down to see how many more pages there are, that’s not good. If I end up coming up for air and wondering if that’s it, if I finished reading it and where did that x number of hours go? That’s good. It’s very good.
I don’t look for perfection. I look for what’s perfect to my eyes or what can be close to perfect with a little more work. I make notes and inform those writers who I can see the potential in and invite them to revise and resubmit. It doesn’t mean it isn’t good enough. It just means that I know it can be better; that I can see the potential in there and want them to see it too. It’s up to the writer to decide whether or not to take on the challenge. That once again gives me insight to their character; that they’re good with criticism and are driven to write the best story they can possibly write.
Sometimes even after I’ve requested a partial or a full, the book may be perfectly fine but I may not have either been able to connect with the story or felt that I wouldn’t have been able to do it justice. If that’s the case then I usually try to send it to one of the other agents at GWL before I inform the writer of my decision. And usually, if I have to email them, I try to explain why I didn’t particularly feel for their book. I try my best to give any tips or things I may have noticed and wanted to bring to their attention for when they query other agents because if no one ever gives a writer feedback on why they were rejected, how will they ever improve?
Bottom line, effort matters not only in writing but in querying. How much is put into it makes a difference. I hope diving into my agenty mind didn’t overwhelm you writers and you can gain something from this. Writing is hard. Querying is hard. Deciding on whether to take a chance on a writer is hard too. I understand now that I’m on both sides of the spectrum. But all I can say is to keep writing, keep learning and make both your story and your query as amazing as you know it can be. Best of luck!