Pub Rants

68 Queries In 60 Minutes

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STATUS: Auction day tomorrow.  Always fun.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? HOT STUFF by Donna Summer

I can’t help but think of the movie The Full Monty whenever this song pops up on the iPod. Always good for a smile.

I must admit that I’ve been a little behind on query reading so Sunday evening, I sat down to power through them. You are reading the above title correctly. I averaged less than 60 seconds for each query read.

If your pitch wasn’t, well, pitch perfect, I was hitting the pass button.

Here’s something agents hardly ever reveal (and this of course could only apply to me so take it with a grain of salt) but I honestly believe that your chances of grabbing an agent’s attention decreases in the warm summer months.

Quite frankly, I’d rather be outdoors doing something fun rather than reading. I feel the exact opposite in winter months. I’m happy staying home and catching up. Consequently, if I were to look at my client list, I probably took on more clients during the winter months than I do during the summer.

Not a hard and fast rule by any means but something to keep in mind.

So Sunday I’m reading 68 queries. I actually only asked for sample pages for 10 of those queries. You’d be right to think that the ratio was small. So what was up?

Here’s what I saw:
1) At least 10 YA dystopian queries where I didn’t think the concept felt original enough for what is a crowded market.

2) 5 queries for literary novels that said there was a commercial bent but I wasn’t seeing it in the query lettr. They sounded too literary for what I can take on and be successful with.

3) Several queries from writers that we had passed on but they had revised and wanted to know if we would read again. Right now I’m too pressed for time to give something a second read so I passed.

4) Several authors looking for new representation but I didn’t think we’d be a good fit given what they were currently writing and what has been appealing to me as of late.

5) Several middle grade novels that the queries themselves sounded too didactic. I didn’t take a chance to read the sample pages fearing the same.

6) Several steampunk fantasies that obviously pay homage to Gail Carriger but sounded a bit too romance or derivative for what I’d take on considering I rep Gail Carriger.

7) Lots of epic fantasy queries from a previous blog post where I mentioned that editors were more open to seeing these stories as of late. But it’s hard. Most of these queries were a bit too generic and you really have to make your fantasy pitch stand out. I particularly liked the one where the writer instructs me it’s not the “typical fantasy” as this one has character development. Like that’s the original element. Trust me, I’ve read a lot of epic fantasy and all the terrific ones have great original concepts and excellent character development.  You are going to need both.

Then of course there were the 10 queries I asked sample pages for.

One query startled a laugh out of me. That got a request. Another was a really charming middle grade novel. The query was inventive, well written, and charming in and of itself. I had to ask for sample pages. The writer left me no choice.

I only have August and September before the weather turns cool again so I’m looking for reasons to say NO. Come first snowfall, I’ll probably be looking for reasons to say YES.

33 Responses

  1. Anthony said:

    I love the transparency in this post. And the commentary on epic fantasy. After all, isn’t the best epic fantasy a tribute to the characters within?

  2. Ink in the Book said:

    Wow! 68 queries in 60 minutes! Oh my goodness. This means, if I want to catch an agents eye, the first sentence of my query better jump off the page…in the right direction:)

  3. Natalie Aguirre said:

    Thanks for sharing your impressions of the queries and why many didn’t work. It was especially interesting to read about the high fantasy ones that didn’t work. I’m working on one and need to be sure my query shows how my story is different.

  4. Heather said:

    General Q for you. If someone else came up with a really unique Steampunk style, offering something wholly new other than Gail Carriger (whom I love) would you consider that? Or do you prefer diversifying your genres? (I guess that’s technically 2 Q’s for you). I’m asking because I’ve heard you should query agents who carry similar styles, but I’m wondering whether some agents don’t want to get too much of one style.

  5. Anonymous said:

    #4 and #6 caught my eye.

    #4 because I did query you when I was changing agents, and you sent a form rejection for a manuscript that eventually went to auction. I mention this not to say “nyah nyah” but out of curiosity: I wonder if some agents simply prefer unpublished authors and if they should say so in their submission guidelines?

    #6 because I think writers would tend to query an agent who repped an author they admire, rather than to avoid doing so.

  6. Chris Breadlebane said:

    Thank you, Kristen. You and Sara give such excellent specific information about why you pass on some queries and accept others. It really helps. I love that the MG writer’s query “left you no choice” but to ask for sample pages–even during the summer.

    Thank you for being honest about the summer months. I don’t think you’re alone feeling that way. Of course, you do realize that now you will be inundated with queries come winter. 🙂

  7. Elissa M said:

    I’m a member of the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, and I see piles of work-in-progress fantasy. Much of it is awesomely good and some is still getting the kinks worked out. Either way, nearly all of it has great character development, so you’re spot on saying that great characters are a staple of fantasy (like magic) NOT a unique angle for any particular fantasy. I’m willing to bet that fans read series fantasy because they’ve fallen in love with the characters and not because they’re worried about the Fate of the World. 😉

  8. Jen Zeman said:

    Good info to know. It’s also refreshing to know you get summer fever like me! 🙂

  9. Anonymous said:

    “I only have August and September before the weather turns cool again so I’m looking for reasons to say NO.”

    — Well, it looks like you’ll be missing out on some good novels with that process. Your loss, another agent’s gain. And I’m glad all agents don’t think this way. 🙂

  10. Donna Hosie said:

    This is really interesting, thank you for sharing.

    I would say to those dismayed at these stats that it is very subjective to Kristin’s tastes though. As a writer I’ve just had my busiest ever month with requests and offers of rep. Lots of agents are still taking on clients and reading.

    Good luck to all.

  11. Becky said:

    I’m British, and we have a slightly different system when approaching agents over here, but this is really interesting. I appreciate that you’re upfront about how much time you spent on each query! It really brings it home how important it is to grab the agent/reader’s attention in the first ten seconds! I don’t suppose you could recommend a British agent’s blog(s)?

  12. Lexi said:

    Weather too nice for Kristen to spend more than 60 seconds on each query? How long did those writers spend crafting their queries, I wonder?

    My advice to anyone with a publishable-quality book is don’t query agents and put yourself at the mercy of their whims; self-publish and wait for them to approach you. Which they will if your book sells.

    Of course, by that time you may decide you don’t need an agent…

  13. Princess Sara said:

    My advice to anyone with a criminal charge is don’t hire attorneys and put yourself at the mercy of their whims; represent yourself in court and wait for them to approach you. Which they will if your case is a winner.”

    ^Does this sound reasonable? Because it makes about as much sense as Lexi’s comment. Yeah, some people can succeed that way (whether in publishing or in court), but it’s usually DESPITE their choice…not because of it.

  14. Pauline Wiles said:

    Definitely appreciated the honesty here regarding summer time. And, since 10 writers managed to demonstrate both skill and content in less than 60 seconds, I think that’s great and they can feel proud.

  15. Phyllis Humphrey said:

    I vehemently disagree with Princess Sara. To compare querying an, agent about a book to hiring an attorney for a criminal charge is… well. criminal. A rejected book is not going to land you in jail. Besides, many of us are doing quite well without agents.

  16. Cara M. said:

    Grabbing an agent is just like grabbing a reader. Do you spend more than a minute on a book that doesn’t grab you when browsing in the library?
    The book could have taken ten years to write. Would you give it an extra hard look if you knew that?

  17. Princess Sara said:

    “To compare querying an, agent about a book to hiring an attorney for a criminal charge is… well. criminal.”

    I used that example because criminal law if my field, but you’re right. Trying to file a civil lawsuit yourself would be a better analogy. Sure some people can succeed that way, but most don’t have the skill or the knowledge to do so. If you’re trying to succeed in a field you don’t really understand, you hire someone who understands. Disagree all you want, but that’s common sense. Marketing “self-publishing” as a panacea for all authors is…well, criminal.

  18. Elissa M said:

    Interesting how Kristin’s FYI about how fast she read through a recent batch of queries, along with a breakdown of why she passed on most of them, has become a discussion about self-publishing.

    If you don’t feel you need an agent, don’t query. Simple as that. You don’t need to go on an agent’s blog and preach how you’ve “seen the light”. Conversely, if you feel that agents are an important cog in the publishing machine, go ahead and query your work. Don’t lecture indie-authors how they’ve gone to the dark side.

  19. Carly Loveless said:

    I didn’t realize more agents were up to epic fantasy as of late, mine is quite short for epic fantasy but it still takes place in a different world. This is awesome news for me.

  20. Kristine Nielson said:

    Sixty seconds for a page sounds about right for a fast reader. I’m not at all surprised at Kristin’s pace, nor am I surprised at the proportion of passes to requests for sample pages. I think most of us would rather be outside doing fun things in the summer, perhaps even the authors who are querying.

  21. Unknown said:

    Hoping my query wasn’t in that pile….perhaps the tuesday pile:) but found this post awesome….and daunting… bout ready to start my query out with “Hey you” or Darth Vader nudity. Reworking at my query letter now.

  22. Raewyn Hewitt said:

    Thanks for your honesty. I’d rather know the truth about the process from the outset. With any luck it will up the stakes when I’m drafting my own query.

  23. jknightsworld said:

    I’ll have to keep winter in mind when I’m ready to start sending queries. Here in the Caribbean we don’t have winter so I will have to take a mental note.

  24. Mary Mathieson said:

    I admire your honesty. Maybe the world needs more agents to lighten the load.

    It does show that authors shouldn’t give up. It isn’t necessarily that their novel is not saleable. It could simply be a case of catching the right agent at the right time.

  25. Mira said:


    If you went over to PG’s blog, you probably noticed I was pretty harsh in my condemnation of this post.

    I wanted to apologize to you for the use of a particularly pejorative word. I’m sorry. I want to make my points, but I really don’t need to do so in a way that is hurtful.

    I’m sure you’re a good person, with good intentions, and I’m sorry if I was unneccessarily unkind.

    Whether you even post this or not is up to you; I just wanted to convey my apologies.

  26. Anonymous said:

    Great post! You’ve shared queries in the past, and I would love it if you could share the queries you mentioned in your post: the one that made you laugh, and the charming MG novel that you wanted pages for.

    Is that possible? Maybe only if you take them on as clients?

    Ah, I just want some more examples of good queries. Especially good MG queries [that’s what I write;)]

  27. JaMeS said:

    Can you share that MG query that you mentioned as one you requested partial pages from? I want more MG query examples that worked. It would be great.

  28. R.M. Prioleau said:

    I’m surprised to hear that there have been many fantasy queries.

    I am curious to know what sort of elements in fantasy queries are you and other agents looking for?