Pub Rants

Query Confession

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STATUS: This song is totally making me want to visit Key West—that and the sudden cold spell Denver is having for the next two days. I’m so ready for spring.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FINS by Jimmy Buffett

I love reading other blogs, but I have to be honest and say I haven’t been looking at my favorite sites for over two weeks. I feel so out of the loop.

So it was interesting to see one of my stats being batted around—the stat that last year the Nelson Agency read over 20,000 queries and we took on 8 new authors.

But here’s where the confession comes in.

I didn’t read 20,800 queries. My incredible assistant Sara Megibow read 20,800 queries (three cheers for Sara!) and I think it’s important that writers know the truth about that—that there are many agents who have assistants who screen the queries.

I probably only read about 4000 queries.

And how did I get that number? Well Sara, on average, usually sets aside about 60 or 80 queries for me to look at out of about 400 a week. With a little simple math, I came up with the number 4000–which I’m basically just pulling out of a hat.

Now there are some agents who read all their own queries (bless their souls—I don’t know how they do it), but I think writers should at least understand that the possibility exists that screening occurs.

In good news though, I’ve taken on two new clients since January—both from queries that were received and not by referral. Now how that will shake out in terms of final numbers for the rest of the year, I’ll let you know.

10 Responses

  1. Dave Kuzminski said:

    Should you happen to revisit P&E, our primary site was hacked and we’re using our backup site at URL which happens to be a complete copy with only a different logo from our host.

    Thank goodness, we were prepared. Hopefully we won’t have to reveal the location of the third P&E site.

  2. Kate said:

    The idea of reading even 4000 (let alone more than 20,000) queries is mind-boggling for me. I sit here, staring at my solitary query letter on my screen, and couldn’t imagine having to read 4,000 of (likely better) quality of these each year. I like reading, but…sheesh.

    I bow down in awe of you and your assistant

  3. Yasamin said:

    I think it’s very good that you give your assistant the credit that she deserves! 🙂 obviously with that kind of number buzzing around, she’s a hell of a reader! lol

    I think I would rather light my own hair on fire than read 20,000 queries.

  4. kathie said:

    With all that experience, Sara’s prob. on every agent’s list of people to acquire! Or she’s simply blind after logging all those reading hours. Here’s to 20,000 more for you guys to sort through. Says a lot about your work

  5. Helen DeWitt said:

    Most agents and editors had much more time for general reading between the ages of, say, 10 and 25 than they will ever have again. If they were to list the books that made the strongest impression (for example, in a blog’s “Complete Profile”), 4 or 5 hours spent on a book in 1985 could pay off again and again in 2005, 2006, 2007 (and so on) in attracting writers who also loved that book and eliminating writers who loathed it.

    I know that my former editor, Jonathan Burnham (now at HarperCollins) read Irene Handl’s “The Sioux” at 10 and loved its sophistication (book about decadent French aristocrats, not the Native American tribe). He loves Svevo, Proust, Dante, Montale, Sybille Bedford, David Mitchell… These facts are not in the public domain; no amount of online research will dig up that kind of information. 20K queries a year is about what one would expect in a world where a) writers are rarely telepathic and b) the publishing industry is deeply suspicious of the written word as a means of communication.

  6. Anonymous said:

    Does an agent ever get to the point where her agency is full — that she has so many clients that she doesn’t have time to sell one more author’s books?