At the beginning of 2015, I implemented new submissions guidelines. Instead of reading queries and then requesting sample pages, I now request that authors include the first ten pages of their manuscript along with their query letters.
What a difference! Instead of reading only 45 full manuscripts (like I did in 2014), I read 87 full manuscripts in 2015, plus 129 sample pages, and although many of these projects weren’t right for me, they did end up being right for another agent.
Now, having tried this new submissions process for a year, I can definitely identify some pros and cons.
PRO: I’m guessing writers probably love it. It gives them a chance to wow me with some opening pages, whereas before, if they didn’t perfectly nail the query letter, they might have been out of luck.
CON: Sometimes it takes me weeks longer to respond to queries than I would like. If I know I have to read some pages with it, I can’t just breeze in and get it done in 30 minutes. I need at least an hour to read the sample pages attached.
PRO: I’ve learned that some writers can nail the query letter, but their actual pages are not quite ready for an agent to read. And I can decipher this pretty quickly. This allows me to ask for full manuscripts of novels that are ready.
CON: It’s more pressure for the writer to really nail those opening pages.
PRO: The number of novels I read all the way to the end went up in 2015. It’s pretty rare for an agent to read an entire manuscript if they know early on that the project isn’t for them. I actually read many more novels to the conclusion before making a decision about offering representation.
CON: Man, I was a bit slow in getting back to some writers. I had several manuscripts for an embarrassingly long period of time.
INTERESTING TIDBIT: When I do ask for a full, I almost always make my decision on whether it’s right for me within the first 60 pages.
If a writer didn’t nail the query, did you often still take a look at the sample pages? If so, any instances when the sample pages led to a request where you wouldn’t have from the query? Thanks!
Yes, I love when agents request X pages in an query. Aha – a foot in the door! I get a chance to show her what I can do!
On the flip side, as you correctly surmise, the practice has me radically re-thinking how I craft my WIP. I got a few “starts too slow” from agents on my last query round. And I am totally open to the fact that my work may, in fact, start too slow.
But gosh, some of my most beloved novels start slow. There’s something to be said for taking a reader by the hand and gently leading her into the new reality you’ve created.
So I struggle. Do I write the story I’ve crafted? Or do I write the first ten pages in such a way to get the other foot in the door and then jerry-rig the story to fit those ten pages?
I am quite certain there’s a balance in there and that I haven’t struck it is a reason I remain un-agented. But since you were pro/conning, I thought I’d add to your list.
No “con” to needing to nail those opening pages. A publisher or prospective reader will want those opening pages to be compelling or they won’t buy the book, so we might as well be willing to do the same with an agent.
Thanks for the information. I knew the opening pages and query were critical, but this shows me the thought process behind why they’re so critical. For an author, this is their precious work that they’ve spent countless hours shining and buffing, their “special one”. But you receive countless “special ones” and have to decide in a timely manner what works, and what works for you.
Thanks for the insight.
Thank you for this post. Digging through the publishing process feels like the first day with students each year, daunting and exciting. I am fifty pages in to my first novel and this information helps immensely as I move towards getting my baby out into the world. She is restless.
Instructive post for a Belgian/Flemish author like me who has been a fulltime author in a small language community (Flanders has 5 million people) for thirty years now and who has traditionally published around 30 books (lost count somewhere :-)). My Publisher is Dutch(Flemish is a kind of Dutch, but I can write in pure Dutch) and in The Netherlands and Belgium we don’t use literary agents, nor in France and in Italy, where I’ve been published. Authors negotiate directly with Publishers in these countries, and mostly only after the editor has read the complete manuscript. I used an American literary agent to find a publisher for my novel “Baudelaire’s Revenge” in 2014. The operation went smooth, although I didn’t know a damn thing about query letters and all the other things that seem to be required in the States. So I guess I was lucky :-). By the way, I have a Russian literary agent now for the recently completed Russian translation of “Baudelaire’s Revenge.” He speaks fluently English, but when he gets excited when we Skype, he showers me with Russian, which I don’t understand… A list of curses and damnations, perhaps? 🙂