Miss Snark recently linked to a writer who expressed confusion and angst about having a query letter rejected in nine minutes flat. Anyone who has submitted a query to me probably knows that nine minutes would be a slow response time for me, and that includes both requests for partials and rejections. To quote Val Kilmer playing quick shooting Doc Holliday in Tombstone, “I’m your huckleberry.”
Here’s the thing about queries — they come in really fast, and they add up quickly. If I ignore them for a couple of hours my computer starts smoking and sparks fly out of the monitor from being overloaded (not true, but that’s how it would happen in an ’80s movie). Sure, I could read these queries, wait a day to be polite if it’s a no, and then send a reply, but that takes twice as long — I would have to re-read the queries to refresh my memory, and when you’re talking about hundreds of queries a week, that time quickly adds up. And a no’s a no, right? As Socrates said, does not ripping off a band-aid quickly remove thy band-aid as surely as removing it slowly?
So here’s what I do. I read the queries as soon as possible after they come in (repeat: I read them. Repeat repeat: I read them I read them). I think about it. I type out a response immediately. It really doesn’t take very long. Just because I respond quickly doesn’t mean I didn’t think about it, it doesn’t mean that I disliked your query way more than one I didn’t get to for a day or two and then rejected, and it certainly doesn’t mean I dislike you. I like you a whole lot, especially that new sweater, which looks terrific on you.
Besides, no one ever complains about getting a request for a partial in five minutes!
Nine minutes does sound long. I think I got your KO and your response to my follow-up question within nine minutes.
Bryan D. Catherman says
But does your e-mail program say, “You’ve got a query, ding”?
Let me tell you how Nathan really rolls.
There will be no postings tomorrow. Nathan will be busy watching the season finale of his favorite Hills tonight. He will be emotionally unavaliable.
“Get out of my blog”! said Nathan to his favorite anonymous.
People don’t understand this.
When I worked as the absent minded scientist and had a desk and office covered in stacks of papers, I avoided all paperwork and was always rushing to get things done.
When I learned how to work properly, I finished things in advance and never let the paperwork sit and wait. It turned out that I could get twice as much done (or alternately finish in half the time and get more work done).
Nathan has apparently figured that out too.
No, it’s me, isn’t it? You just haven’t been the same since I put on that five pounds!
original bran fan says
If all agents could respond that fast, no writer would ever have to do simultaneous queries, we’d all be singing kumbaya, and the world would be a better place.
And if agents could get publishers to respond that fast….
Nathan, have you ever had a publisher turn down or accept one of your clients in nine minutes?
My query was answered in about 4 minutes with a request for a partial and then only an hour before a ‘no thanks’. Quick is kind.
Nathan Bransford says
The quickest I’ve ever heard back from a publisher is a few days after I sent something, and when that happens I’m usually stunned. If only it were nine minutes…
The Anti-Wife says
You should have quick response buttons like the internet dating sites.
A “wink” could be a request for a partial.
A full fledged e-mail could be a request for a full or an offer of representation.
Then there would be the “No Thanks” button which could have subheadings like:
-Not my genre.
-Not for me but someone will take it.
-I’m too busy for this now.
-Looks like crap. I recommend self-publishing
-Give up writing, please!
Nathan, if I get on cycle 9 of ANTM, will you publish my book? Pleeeease?
Just kidding. Kinda. Unless you will. But really, just kidding.
Nathan, if ONLY all agents responded as quickly as you do. My life would be a dream.
Perhaps you could do a post on this: How long are we supposed to wait for email responses? A week? Two weeks? A month? Miss Snark said a month, but if I do that, it would literally take me a year to query all the agents at a big house like ICM or William Morris. That’s just crazy.
What say you?
Nathan Bransford says
I’d say wait a month before you follow up (politely, via e-mail), but I also wouldn’t query exclusively. If you do it’s going to take forever. It’s ok to grant exclusivity when someone asks to see your manuscript, but until that time I generally wouldn’t limit yourself.
Jennifer McK says
Wow. Somehow spending three days on a query letter, a week being all angsty and stupid about pressing “send” and then getting a response of “no” in nine minutes seems…I don’t know….amazing.
Of course, if I would just quit starting queries with a rhetorical question…..
December Quinn says
Shouldn’t a query letter be short enough to read in a minute or so?
How do you concentrate on your other work, then?
I’m an editor (of the journalistic variety) and I have press releases coming through constantly – in much the same way, I suspect, as queries do for you. I probably also devote about the same amount of time on my initial consideration of a PR as you do on a query.
But I need to look at them as a block, every hour or so.
If I broke concentration every time a release came in, I’d never get work done at all.
What is there to bitch about?
This isn’t sex.
Fast is good.
But queries are short! Fast is good! People don’t stand in bookstores for an hour staring at the back cover and first few pages of a book before they buy it, so why would they expect agents to spend a day on their queries?
Heck, one of the reasons I queried you when I did (instead of in a couple weeks, when all my schoolwork will be turned in and I’ll be in a position to concentrate on submissions) was because I knew you’d answer really fast and I wouldn’t have to worry about it for more than a few days.
B.E. Sanderson says
I’d rather have a fast ‘No’ than what I’ve come to call a ‘non-responder’ – the agent who never bothers to reply and you’re stuck wondering if your query got sucked into a black hole.
Thanks for being one of the quick ones.
Seriously, though, fast is good. Less anxiety is good. Sleep is good. But I’m getting off-track.
Mary Paddock says
It certainly lends perspective to the whole process of writing and sending a query letter.
If I’ve got less than nine minutes to impress an agent, it had better be exactly what they’re looking for and do more than just sparkle. In fact, it probably ought to look like I’m holding on to the Hope Diamond of the literary world.
Fast is great! I think the fastest for me was something like four minutes. I always noted it in my spreadsheet, so if I had to query the agent in the future on a new project, I would know they had the courtesy to respond quickly.
A quick ‘no’ is a favor…nothing worse than waiting around for an answer.
Nathan, you’re just practising good time management principles – handle every piece of paper (email) immediately, and only once. After years spent in the publishing industry, meeting many, many people unclear on this simple concept, I wish that everyone followed your efficient example.
I don’t know how I got here (Go Internet Go), but Doc Holiday says “I can be your huckleberry”.
Not trying to be a know-it-all, I just like that line.
The quicker the cut the quicker to heal, right?
I sent off my manuscript to MacMillan New Writing (yes, I’m aware that you know how this story ends) and had to wait for twelve weeks to work out for absolutely certain that the answer was no. Long before the stopwatch had got to the last five seconds, I’d had an inspiration and changed the book so dramatically that what they rejected didn’t really exist any more. After that I’ve had a few more and changed it even more. Even I’ve pretty conclusively rejected that book. All which to say, if it is no,I’d like it to be quick – there are always more ideas out there and I want to get to work on them.
To quote Val Kilmer playing quick shooting Doc Holliday in Tombstone, "I'm your huckleberry"
Nathan – this post caught my attention way back when I found your blog last year. I have the .wav file of Val Kilmer saying "I'm your huckleberry" and it is used as my "you've got mail" notification at work.
Not sure why I'm telling you that – just something to share!
But what does it mean if someone has sent you a query and a follow-up query and it's been two months with no reply? Does it mean I did something wrong in the query itself? (I don't doubt that this is possible)
Leaf River Writer says
I love your sense of humor. I moved from the Southern California high desert to the Midwest. I miss the mountains, but not the earthquakes. The Spring and Fall here are fabulous and it's wild picking raspberries and asparagus in my backyard, not to mention a truckload of tomatoes. Are you interested in memoir?
If I haven't heard back from you in ten days, am I allowed to follow-up with a friendly email?
Nathan Bransford says
Normally yes, but I'm behind at the moment because I'm coming off on vacation. Queries will be delayed for a while.
Thanks for the update!