By Mandy Hubbard
Hi All! I hope this Query Week has been helpful! I know that querying can be thrilling, scary, tiring, gratifying, exciting…. and sometimes all of that all at once. As a writer, I’ve been there, and I know how you feel.
As an agent, it’s also many of those emotions, and more. To wrap things up, I thought I’d give you insight as to how I approach the inbox every day– what I think as I read queries, what will make you stand out, etc. I hope this builds nicely on what Vanessa posted yesterday!
First off, when it comes to queries, I always start with the oldest ones first. I approach them with nothing but hope— will this be the query that makes me sit up and take notice? Many writers see agents as mean ‘ol gate keepers that only want writers who have huge credentials or the most amazing high concept book known to man.
Not true! Some of the queries that just plain blow me away seem rather anassuming at first–but the writing is just plain good. That’s all I’m looking for. Really good writing! Everyone has a fair shake at it.
When I start reading, I’m pretty neutral– I do not go in expecting to be blown away, but I don’t expect to hate it. You’ve got a blank slate, so use it to your advantage– grab me from the get-go. If your book is funny, showcase your humor from the first line. If it’s dark and emotional, make me care about the character so that I’ll want to follow her for the next 50,000 words.
For queries I just really don’t like, I don’t read the sample (My submission guidelines ask for the first 5 pages). It might be something I don’t represent (I’ve seen some chapter book submissions and adult fiction subs) or it might be something that doesn’t suit my personal tastes (high-fantasy or deeply cultural). Or it might just be a hot mess. I see those, too.
For Meh Queries, I move onto the sample. If I’m leaning toward a rejection, your first paragraph or two really has to reel me in. I’m not just checking to see if you’re a competent writer– I’m giving you a chance to change my mind. Most often, it doesn’t.
For queries I’m on the fence with, I read further. I’ll give it a full page or two– many times the whole 5 page sample, hoping to see that spark that tells me the book may be bigger and better than the query gives it credit for. These are the queries where the sample is most important, because it can tip me in the right direction.
If your book is a humorous book with a quiet concept, the sample is paramount. Humorous books are all about voice and making me laugh. If you don’t do that in 5 pages, I probably won’t want to see more.
Sample pages are your friend. As an intern I lost count of how many times I sent a query on to the agent saying, “yanno, the concept is kind of quiet, but those pages just pulled me right in.”
For queries I love, I eagerly scroll down, crossing my fingers that the writing holds up. I often don’t need more than a page to confirm it, if I’m super excited by the query.
Because I ask for samples, I skip right from the query/sample to the full manuscript. If you were printing/mailing it, maybe I’d do partials, but I see no reason to have you create a new document just for me– I can stop reading at any time and it didn’t waste any paper.
Okay, so that’s my process for reading queries. When it comes to fulls, things go a little differently. For starts, I don’t read them in order. I know, that’s mean, right? But trust me, it’s a good thing. If your book is funny, do you want me in a grumpy mood when I’m reading? If your book is serious, and I want to laugh, I’ll open that humorous MG and save your dark/edgy YA for when I’m in that sort of mood. Just like different books appeal to you on different days. Further, sometimes I just get a manuscript with an exciting concept and I dive right in. On top of that, some books are Middle-Grades weighing in at 20K and some are urban fantasies at 100K. Depending on how much time I have, I may choose to read one over the other.
I read fulls a little differently– I go in with certain expectations. I know I like the concept and sample, so I am always hoping the rest holds up. You’ve got about 50 pages to really hook me. If i’m at page 50 and I can put it down and go take my daughter to the park and I’m not thinking about what’s going to happen next, I’ll start leaning toward a rejection.
I do sometimes have 2 or 3 projects going at once, and if yours isn’t battling for attention in my mind, it’s not a good sign.
When I represent an author, I go in knowing I’m in it for the long haul. If we don’t sell it on the first round of submissions, I could be reading it and resubmitting it and working on revisions with you for months. That’s why I have to truly love it, not just like it.
So, I hope all this gives you a little insight into how an agent reads and what they are looking for.
Good luck to all those in the query trenches! And remember, if you write MG/YA and you have a project ready for submissions, feel free to send it my way. Send your query and the 5 page sample (both pasted into the email) to email@example.com