First off, many, many thanks to reader Jim Duncan for this idea. I take no credit for it. (I wish I could though.)
Here’s the deal. The commenters who participated in Agentfail expressed quite a lot of angst about agents who don’t respond to queries. Lots of people think we should respond to every single person who queries us.
So. Want to see what it’s like to manage a slush pile for a day? Think you can spot the good queries from the bad? Wondering how the view looks from our side? Think it’s easy to respond to everyone?
Here’s how this will work.
1. If you’d like to volunteer a query for Be An Agent for a Day, please e-mail your entry to email@example.com. It can be a real query or a fake query, but if it’s a fake query, please at least make it a stab at a real query rather than a parody. When you e-mail your query to firstname.lastname@example.org you consent to have it publicly posted on the blog. It’s an opportunity for some valuable query feedback. (I probably won’t be able to use every volunteer’s query, so I apologize in advance.)
2. Published (or soon to be published) authors: I need you. I would love it if you would share some of your queries for your actually published books. Please tell me who you really are when you e-mail, but change your name and the title of the book in the query.
3. On Monday the 13th I will begin posting 50 queries throughout the day. (This is a light day. I’m letting you off easy.) I’ll automate them in advance to post sporadically throughout the day, so there will be bursts of queries and then dead periods. It would probably be easiest to track the blog through Google Reader or another feed reader to simulate e-mails coming into your inbox.
4. This is where you come in. You will read and respond to as many queries as you can. You will have one week to respond to all 50 queries. You can draft your own rejection letter and manuscript request letter (personalized or non-personalized, your choice), which you will paste in the comments section of each query. You might even provide some specific feedback to try and help the author if you’re feeling extra conscientious.
5. You may request no more than five manuscripts, because hey, you’re not going to have time for your clients if you request more than five manuscripts for every 50 queries.
6. For the purposes of this contest you are looking for queries that demonstrate publishable potential, not necessarily your genres of interest.
7. Now the fun part: we’ll see how good people are at requesting the queries for books that ended up being published. I’ll post the requested/rejected stats for the actually published books on Monday the 20th, and crown the Superstar Agents who request all of the actually published books. The superstars may win a special prize (provided there are not 7,000 winners). Also, if you volunteered your query, you can track your response rate and feedback to see how your query fares.
8. If you subscribe to the blog via e-mail you will need to click through to the blog to participate. DO NOT E-MAIL ME YOUR RESPONSES. I mean it, e-mail subscribers. You must leave your responses on the actual blog. I’m afraid I’m also not able to offer tech support.
9. I thought about being extra mean and making you also do things like compare contracts and follow up on submissions, but I realize people have day jobs as well. So I decided to make it just slush.
10. Keep in mind that the quality of the queries will be far, far better on average than we agents actually receive, because anyone who volunteers their query reads agent blogs and is thus way ahead of at least 50% of the people who query me. And I realize that some of the test queries may be for books that will subsequently go on to be published books. But still: try and spot the already-published ones.
11. Please don’t give it away when you see your query or if you recognize someone else’s. Just respond with a standard rejection or request.
Also a note about this week: Tuesday and Wednesday the blog will be dark as I’m off to Oklahoma to meet the good people at the University of Tulsa. Thursday I will hopefully post This Week in Publishing, and I’m off again on Friday. I’ll start posting the contest queries next Monday.
Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments section! As always, rules and regulations subject to change without notice.
Kenny Celican says
I’m playing, and I’ll also be re-sending you my query; maybe I’ll get some good feedback from it!
Marilyn Peake says
Are you going to allow Anonymous comments? I suddenly realized that, if Anonymous comments are allowed, the same person could leave multiple comments about one query, and that might be confusing to the people who submitted queries in hope of analyzing responses from a variety of readers.
Ooh, Marilyn brings up a good point. I think posting anonymously should be removed for those that want to participate. I think that way it keeps it more professional (for those few that like to abuse it).
Besides how can you win the game if you don’t say who you are?
Well, I shall simply claim that whichever “Anonymous” wins is me! Clever, no?
Oh, I mean, um, Anonymous. That’s me. Anonymous. (Future winner!)
Abigail Rieley says
What a great idea! Over the years I’ve sent out a great many queries but it would be fun to try out the other side. I currently have a full manuscript with an agent so this’ll take my mind of waiting for her response for a week!
I’m curious how many queries you have received for this game so far?
*munching on popcorn*
Shove over Bukash, you’re hoggin’ all the popcorn.
Before I go any further with my query, Nathan, can you say what genres or categories (fiction or nonfiction) will NOT be considered?
Christine H says
I’ll send mine. It will be one of the dogs. But that’s okay.
Elaine 'still writing' Smith says
Submission sent for the game that isn’t a game.
I am feeling more nervous now than I have felt at any point in the writing experience.
Ain’t life grand!
You rock Nathan. I don’t know if I’m going to submit or play, but I’ll be watching either way! 🙂
I would like to join the bandwagon and offer you all the chance to play lawyer-for-a-day. Anyone who wants can have one of my plea dockets for a day and do plea bargains with the prosecutor!
Can’t wait to play. I’m thinking of a query for my latest idea. If it gets picked, the feedback would be invaluable.
verify word: uncesto (just too many possibilities to comtemplate)
Christine H says
Do you think that latecoming participants will be influenced by existing comments on queries? For example, if ten people have already commented on a query and six of them requested partials, I might be influenced by them?
I’m not planning to participate, but I would think that regardless of what anyone else said, you should be able to form your own opinion. You have to know your own mind to be either an author or an agent.
I might even be tempted to buck the trend, just because maybe the pack is heading the wrong way.
And perhaps there will be some unusual ones there that actually are published that you wouldn’t expect. The old “red herring” trick.
Just a thought.
Sun Up says
Awesome, I’m in.
I don’t get it–if you submit a Q, are you saying that you want to read slush?
what if you want to submit Q but not read slush?
What if you want to read sluch but not submit?
Confused in LitLand
Nathan Bransford says
Hi everyone, sorry it took me a while to respond to some of these questions. Things have been crazy.
Either way. Some are addressed to me, some generally.
Marilyn and others-
People will need to either choose a screenname or otherwise leave their name. Monday morning I’m going to post a list of suggestions, and that will be one of them.
I’ve received hundreds and hundreds of query volunteers.
Just stick around, all will be clear.
This should be an interesting exercise. It would also be interesting to see how many agents and editors could successfully pick out great books from previous years. One writer for instance, conducted the following experiment with Jerzy Kosinski’s National Book Award winning novel “Steps:”
(excerpted from Wikipedia)
“Steps (1968), a novel comprising scores of loosely connected vignettes, won the National Book Award in 1969.
In 1975, Chuck Ross, a Los Angeles freelance writer, conducted an experiment with Steps by sending 21 pages of the book to four publishers under the pseudonym Erik Demos. The book was turned down by all of them, including Random House (which originally published Steps) and Houghton Mifflin (which published three of Kosinski’s other novels). Ross revealed his findings in New West magazine four years later. His article includes Kosinski’s advice that next time he should offer the entire text. Ross repeated his experiment by submitting the entire text of Steps to literary agents in 1981, with equally dismal results. American novelist David Foster Wallace described Steps as a “collection of unbelievably creepy little allegorical tableaux done in a terse elegant voice that’s like nothing else anywhere ever”. Foster Wallace continued in praise: “Only Kafka’s fragments get anywhere close to where Kosinski goes in this book, which is better than everything else he ever did combined.”  Samuel Coale, in a 1974 discussion of Kosinski’s fiction, wrote that “the narrator of Steps for instance, seems to be nothing more than a disembodied voice howling in some surrealistic wilderness.”
A screenwriter conducted a similar experiment with movie studios and Hollywood agents with a retitled script of Casablanca. It was rejected by everyone, and only one reader said it was “too close to Casablanca.”
Nathan Bransford says
I’m going to blog about that in the future, because it’s something we discussed on the panel in Tulsa. Sometimes a moment in time passes. If MOBY DICK were submitted to me, I’d say it was horribly dated and needs a lot of trimming in order to satisfy today’s marketplace, and I’d be right.
It doesn’t mean it’s not deservedly a classic or a great work, but cultural moments pass increasingly quickly. Something can feel behind the times and thus unfit for first publication in a matter of a couple of years.
“A screenwriter conducted a similar experiment with movie studios and Hollywood agents with a retitled script of Casablanca. It was rejected by everyone, and only one reader said it was “too close to Casablanca.””
Some of the rejections in these kinds of experiments, however, can perhaps be attributed to editors who know what it is, but just don’t comment. “Oh they’re trying to play a trick on me–reject, no time to write a note.”
Nathan, very good and understandable point. And certainly right in the case of Moby Dick. In this particular instance, however, pub date was 1969 and the experiment in 1974 — so just about 5 years later. Figure the shelf life of a National Book Award winner has to be at least a few years, so it couldn’t have been that out of style by 1974!
I’m not submitting my query (my novel is incomplete), but I just wanted to ask a question about becoming an agent–how does one become an agent when one’s all the way in another country and doesn’t speak the local language? I’m guessing lots of e-mailing back and forth…
Saundra Mitchell says
Do requests for partials count toward our five? Or are we allowed to request five fulls and any number of samples?
Nathan Bransford says
Partials and fulls count the same. You get five requests.
M.K. Clarke says
I’m a pre-published writer, but I’ll play! This experience will REALLY give me something to prime my YA and other novels for prior to submitting. Thank you for the venue and the contest (you’ve also given me a blog update post idea, too. *smiles). Wicked idea, Jim!
Sharon Ervin says
I would request partials from:
#17 because of the writer’s style;
#18 because the book sounds quirky;
#21 because the writer has great credentials;
#31 because I found the clipped style of the query letter engaging, and
#35 because of the great title.
The Things We Carried says
I am simply here to learn!
Well, I messed up. I haven’t kept track of how many full’s I’ve requested. Aaargh. But I’m enjoying this anyway. Thanks for doing it. Sorry my usually rule-obsessed self dropped the ball. Hopefully you’ll do this again next year, and then I’ll get it right.
This is a fantastic idea!