Monday, April 2, 2012

Fact or Fiction: Querying is the Best Way to Get an Agent's Attention?

Let me preface this post by saying I am well aware that agents have a hell of a task before them when they take on an inbox full of queries. Even my eyes start to glaze over when I read the 25-50 queries posted in contests such as Miss Snark's First Victim or Cupid's Literary Connection, so I can't imagine combing through queries on a daily basis.

I know it makes sense for an agent to judge your writing based on a sample of your writing. But I also know it's daunting.

And it's for this exact reason that I have to wonder if queries are really the best way to get an agent's attention. I'll tell you why:

I recently participated in Brenda Drake's Pitch Madness contest, where 5 different agents put in bids on pages from my LYM manuscript.
- One of them bid after already rejecting my query.
- Another had my query in her inbox, but hadn't responded yet. She requested my full manuscript from the contest. And a week or so later, sent me a form rejection on the query I'd sent weeks earlier.

I'll be the first to admit, the pitch Marieke wrote for me was pretty freaking awesome. But it's basically a 35-word summation of the same events agents would read in my query letter. And while I am EXTREMELY grateful for my requests, I have to wonder: why would they reject the query, and not the pitch?

Were they just sick of reading queries on the particular day they read mine?

Did they actually not see the query at all, and an assistant rejected it? (In which case, should they really be letting other people screen their queries, since everyone's taste is obviously different?)

Had they been requesting romance up the wazoo before they read my query, and rejected based on that alone?

Were they playing eenie meenie mynie moe?

There's any number of possibilities. But the question all these possibilities raise is this: Does every query really get the attention it deserves?

Lately, I feel like the answer is no.

I recently trolled through entries in a contest I entered, but ultimately did not get chosen for. So you can probably imagine my indignation when one of the entries I read - an entry supposedly screened and hand-selected by a panel of readers - had glaring spelling and grammatical errors.

And you can imagine my outright horror when multiple agents requested on it.

So I have to ask - Did anyone really read the damn thing? Or did eenie meenie mynie moe strike again?

All of this tells me that there really is no rhyme or reason to this querying biz. An agent can reject a query one day, and then request pages from a pitch on the same project the next day. One day they're on Blogger or Twitter putting queriers on blast for silly mistakes, and the next they're overlooking them.

So is the query letter really as important as everyone makes it out to be? Or is good luck what you actually need the most? Have any of you had similar experiences?


  1. You are exactly right! It doesn't take only a good query to catch the eye of an agent. It also takes the right moment, the right mood, the right circumstance. There is an awful lot of luck involved in the whole process, and you probably stand a better chance in one of those contests than the query in-box.

    However, sometimes the query in-box works too.
    Trying everything is your best option!

  2. <3

    Answer coming via mail in a bit, because it's getting too long. (Just sharing some experiences.)

    The tl;dr version: I strongly believe the query system works and is actually so very important... but sometimes a little luck is what you need too. And sometimes it's very hard to tell the difference.

    But hang in there, it will get better.

  3. I support contests because I do think agents are more focused when they review them. Or even if the entries are only so-so, the nature of the contest dictates that one must still be picked as a winner.

    Timing has a lot to do with it too. If the agent is busy they'll likely pass on a good query just because they're feeling over worked. But if it's a slow time, they might be more willing to work with an author to make the story better.

  4. You've raised some very good questions. It's all so subjective it's a wonder any writer gets an agent! But they do...

  5. I agree with Kimberlee - I think agents are TOTALLY more focused when they're reading contest entries (I've had similar experiences, as you know.) But I don't think it's about "having" to pick a winner - I think it's groupthink. And to some extent, exhaustion. But when you're an agent, and you have to read through piles and piles of (from what I hear mostly) horrible slush, a blogger offering you a list of pre-approved entries on a silver platter is bound to get a different sort of attention.

    Which is why I love contests.

    But yeah, the glaring spelling and grammar mistakes? Make me want to cry, or throw things.

    Today, I'm taking it as a positive. It means I probably don't have to sweat so much over my next query letter, because all the things I spend hours agonizing over are probably not that important. (Put a comma there? Do you think that 'explain' is a better word than 'exposit'? Is there too much voice here?) ARRRRRRGH.

  6. I third/fourth the opinion that agents are more focused when reading contest entries. With contests, there is a finite number of entries. There is the promise of an end, if you will.

    With queries, a tired agent might look at the 200 lined up to be read and, instead of trying to find reasons to request, they are looking for reasons to pass. And then another 100 pour in and, well... like you said, my eyes start to glaze over just reading the handful of entries in MSFV or Cupid's Lit Connection.

  7. I think it has a lot to do with what an agent feels like reading. maybe your query didn't do the trick in that moment an agent read it, but your pitch, which shines a different light on your story than your query, did it for them in another moment. that's at least how I like to think about it.

  8. I agree with Lori. And yes, luck/timing probably has a lot to do with it. :/

    Good luck on your submissions, Gina! And I left you some blog awards over here:

  9. I chose this one for the Deja Vu bloghop, because that's exactly how I feel right now! Gah! My PitchWars got 6 requests, PitMad got 8 and yet ... nothing. Querying is hard.

  10. I think you raise some very valid points in the query mystery. I bet you're right that many editors may have assistants screening the queries. And you just know that mood has to play a big part in reaction to queries. Good choice for the Deja Vu repost! Thanks for sharing this. Hope you're having as much fun with the DV blogfest as I am. Happy Holidays!
    michele at Angels Bark