Every Monday morning, as sure as the rooster’s cry (I don’t actually have a rooster) I can expect to come in to 100+ e-mails from the weekend, mostly queries. I like to think of it as the Monday Deluge, and it means that if I’m going to answer all of them (and oh, I do) plus the regular work for clients and such, it can make for a bit of a hectic day.
It also explains why you may be hearing from me on the weekend: if I put in some Saturday or Sunday e-mail time it makes Monday oh so much easier. But since I was reading manuscripts this past weekend I didn’t get to any queries. So: hello 100+ e-mails! Nice to see you this chilly Monday morning.
As I was working through the e-pile, it got me wondering: how many e-mails do I send anyway? Sure seems like a lot.
Well, as of today, according to Outlook I’ve sent 11,921 e-mails so far this year. That’s just for work — it doesn’t count personal correspondence. Most are responses to queries, but it also includes e-mails to clients, colleagues, editors, you name it.
11,921 e-mails as of August 24th translates to about 50 per day, including weekends and vacation time.
To put that in perspective, let’s say I worked nine hours every single day, including weekends, and didn’t take any vacation or break for lunch. 11,921 e-mails translates to an e-mail every ten minutes. Somewhere in that time I also theoretically have to read manuscripts, have meetings, talk on the phone, and, you know, read the queries I’m responding to, while still maintaining that e-mail every ten minutes pace.
Oh, and in real life I really do take vacation and try to break somewhat on weekends… and thus have to work considerably more than nine hours a day during weekdays.
What does this all mean?
First of all, I’m not complaining. I love my job, even if it means I’m staring at a screen (computer, Kindle or iPhone) for the majority of my waking hours. Please don’t ever hesitate to e-mail me.
But here’s what it means for writers: the next time you wonder why agents send form letters or why some don’t respond to queries altogether… please remember these stats.
It also means that I necessarily have to make snap decisions when I’m reading queries. I don’t really have time to sit down, contemplate, and absorb the aura of a query. There are tons more in line and I have to move quickly if I’m going to get through the day. So if a query is needlessly long or doesn’t include key details (published authors, once again: PUBLICATION DATE AND PUBLISHER DON’T MAKE ME GO TO AMAZON ARGH) hopefully this puts into perspective why literary agents turn into lunatics about certain pet peeves that end up costing precious time.
So there you have it. I would write more… but I need to go write some e-mails.
Aw, well, Bane, I'm sure you've also been right many, many times before. For example, as I'm sure your wife would point out, when you married her. 🙂
For real dude, if you're really spending that much time sitting in front of a computer, I hope you're also doing some back strengthening exercises.
Sciatica is no joke, believe you me!!
I wrote my query letter after I finished writing my novel. And the first query letter I wrote was for Nathan. I have since spent several months polishing and editing my novel and just last Monday I began the querying process. I believe I finished the novel in April or May so that would have been ween the query was written and I waited tell I was done editing before querying.
And your right Bane with 12,000 emails this year so far I may just seem vaguely familiar. Wait haven't I read this query before, I could have sworn I read this query before but wait look five pages I haven't read well darn it I should ask for more. Or who does this egotistical writer think he is how dare he query me again I am calling every agent I know and we are blacklisting this writer.
I was expecting rejection so I haven't taken it too hard, yet. I am buoying myself with thoughts that the author of the Time Traveler's Wife was rejected more than two dozen times and the book has sold more than three million copies.
This is clearly why people should not get freaked out by how long it takes to get a response to their queries. I'm a procrastinator by nature, so I'm in awe of the how agents get back to people in any way that is reasonable. I'd be going bonkers. Kudos to you Nathan and your fellow brethren
You've got ten minutes between emails, Nathan: MAKE the time to "absorb the aura of the query." Is it that difficult to print out a hard copy on handmade papyrus, set it on fire, then stare at the flame for the telltale emanations of marketable prose? HINT: No, it's not. Somebody's cutting corners.
I love that you calculated it down to email/minutes. That's great! I would do the same thing 🙂
scott neumyer says
I implore to spend a few days tackling my work inbox, sir. LOL I'd be THRILLED to only get an email every 10 minutes. hehe
Steph Damore says
Bane – I guess there is a bit of an idolish following. What was that word that's been floating around the Internet? Bransfordites? Was that it? Rick D. – help me out.
Nathan, you have groupies with a label. Bransfordites – it sounds so Elizabethan (or perhaps Jane Austen'ish) – anyways, how cool are you? It would explain the emails.
In addition to your e-query followup, meetings, manuscript readings and so forth you STILL found time to blog. Impressive 🙂
When I saw STATS in the post title I became excited at the prospect of some query data – but I suppose the email data is interesting as well.
I guess it's sort of like hoping your team drafts the player you want instead of some French born player you've never heard of… meanwhile, the real steal of the draft just floats on by. Oh NBA GM's, why do you torture me so?
Tamara Hart Heiner says
so very fascinating. sounds like fun. where do I sign up? 🙂
Anita Saxena says
I felt tingles of carpal tunnel after reading that
Nathan Bransford says
Sorry to serve up Alexis Anjica instead of Courtney Lee. Hope the next post is at least a Mario Chalmers.
Nathan Bransford says
Whoops, meant Ajinca. Sorry Alexis!
Nathan, I do have another comment here, and I'm serious about this one.
One of my pet peeves is the query itself. I think it's a hugely inefficient way for an agent to get the information they need.
Although I've posted about this before, no agent has ever agreed with me about this, and I'm confused.
It seems clear to me that a form-filler would work better and save the agent, not to mention the writer, a ton of time. It would be so much easier to read and interpret. The sorting capabilities alone would be awesome.
All the other information – can the author write a summary, would they be easy to work with, etc. can be ascertained later. Why bother getting that information for authors the agent will never work with?
The benefit of this system, too, is it takes the focus off the query and puts it back on the writing, where I believe it belongs. It would significantly reduce tension betweeen agents/writers as well.
Maybe there is something about the query that I don't understand…..But I have to admit to being confused.
Thank you for making the time to respond to queries. I appreciated hearing back from you about mine.
The whole "No response means no" option other agents employ is driving me crazy.
i hate only one thing other than a rejection it self.
agents say "make sure to personalize your query do not send us a form query."
the same agents send form rejections. i understand the time issue i really do. but please at the very least give out what you ask for.
I believe the word you're looking for is "BranFans."
Marilyn Peake says
Nathan, your post might explain why some agents seem to be snapping angrily or sarcastically on a daily basis about queries and writers in general. I like your tone: informative and humorous, along with a mention that you love your job. Probably one of the main reasons that so many writers seem to snap angrily or sarcastically on a daily basis about literary agents is that their workload is equal to or greater than the one that you described. Writers who work full-time jobs as busy as yours have it really tough trying to write and submit manuscripts before or after work. I once worked 60-hour weeks, often sleeping four hours per night. When working on book promotions, I’ve sent and received so many emails, the sheer number of emails crashed my computer twice and my computer guru husband had to work some kind of computer magic to straighten it all out. I love writing, though, so I don’t mind the long hours and I deeply appreciate all the hard work that agents do. Every day, though, I find myself wading through angry Twitter messages and blog posts within the writing community, mostly agents and editors complaining about writers and writers complaining about agents. I think that perhaps the Internet, email, and computers have made life much more stressful within the publishing community. When I was in Alaska, life was extremely relaxed. Native residents talked about how many things just can’t get done quickly there, and so daily life includes great patience and appreciation of the beauty of nature that is all around. I took over 2,000 photographs and my husband took over 1,000 photographs in Alaska. I plan to look at them often to avoid stress. 🙂
Nathan Bransford says
Yeah, I think you make good points all around. First of all, I know a lot of people reading this blog are writing novels while also holding down full time jobs. We're all busy!
I also agree that e-mail may be making things difficult. For one, it may just be too easy to send an e-query, so agents get a lot of frivolous ones — and that's frustrating. I also think people are snippy because the Internet kind of tends to do that and Twitter especially doesn't lend itself to very nuanced discussion.
Michael Pickett says
I'm almost afraid to ask this because it might increase your workload, but it's something I've been wondering for a long time. How do you find time to write such a great blog with all of the other stuff you have to do?
Literary Cowgirl says
That's a lot of email. Dealing with those volumes wouldn't even be possible for me. Yup, still on dial-up.
Nathan – I wish I could write my ms in the time it takes you to read one. 🙂
Marilyn Peake says
Nathan, I agree with you that Twitter doesn’t allow for nuanced discussion. Actually, it’s often difficult to find that type of discussion anywhere on the Internet, even within writing communities where you would expect vigorous intellectual discussions to be going on 24/7. I think one of the main reasons your blog is so popular is because you introduce intriguing topics and then allow discussion to go off in all different directions. For discussion to be meaningful, I think it has to be allowed to go off in various directions even only vaguely tangential ones, in order to explore new areas related to the original point. Too many Internet discussions repeat the same points over and over and over again, in order to stay on task.
Wouldn't it be funny if Mr. Ajinca was a devoted NB blog follower? Maybe he's writing From France to the NBA: A Life of Pine…
Nathan Bransford says
He was probably going to query me first too until I misspelled his name. Argh. BLEW IT.
J.J. Bennett says
Have a great day, sip your drink of choice, and enjoy the weather. It's the little things that help get us through the day. 🙂
Nathan Bransford says
Some agents have submission forms. I just prefer e-mail.
And I still haven't seen a better submission system than a writer sending a brief description of their work in their own words. If I find one better I'll use it.
Melanie Avila says
That's a lot.
T. Anne says
Ok, I won't take my rejections so personally now. 🙂
Lis Garrett says
Wow! This does help me to understand why the one literary agent to whom I spoke on the phone talked so quickly I could barely understand her. She was busy!
It's okay about Ajinca. I mean, he plays for the Bobcats… No platform. The publishers will look at those attendance numbers and give you the thumbs down. Maybe if he gets traded to Chicago or New York…
L. T. Host says
I will never, ever, complain about my job again.
Gosh… are you SURE a gift basket of mini-bar bottles won't be appreciated with my query?
Thanks for your response!
I did mean an e-mail submission form, actually.
I've commented alot already on this thread, and I don't want to take up too more space. So, as briefly as possible.
The advantage of a fill-in form is you don't have to wade through a letter to to find out what you want to know. Just a quick form and the 5 pages.
Publishing Credits (if any):
Address and Phone number:
Title of work:
Description of Plot, Main conflict and Resolution:
(limited to 4-5 sentences. You can force this on a computer form.)
Reason you are querying this agent:
(limited to 2 sentences.)
The beauty of this is the computer can sort based on the subject lines. For example, all screenplays and poetry could be set up for automatic form rejection. All word counts over/under a certain amount, etc.
I'm not an agent, so maybe there's something I'm not seeing. But this seems very simple to me. The hope is not only would this save time, but make it less a good book will fall through the cracks. It let's the writing will shine through more than the query.
Okay, I've posted way too much today. I appreciate your patience and opportunity to present this, Nathan, thank you.
Oh, you could use check-box answers on genre and word count. That could help you sort.
Okay, I'll stop now, sorry.
I love email queries, the response times are so much faster and a lot cheaper. Too send an query via snail mail and include a SASE you are looking at a dollar a query. Then if you get requests for partials or full manuscripts your out a lot more money. It cost me $20 to print a manuscript and I printed two and bound them for me to hand edit instead of doing all computer editing. I think I could trim it to $15 a manuscript without the binding but then there is postage on that and I am back up to $20.
I am trying to stick with all email queries right now, it's cheaper on me, saves trees and I can still contact agents. I bought a copy of both Writer's Market and Jeff Herman's Guide to Literary Agents and it amazes me how many agents are still requesting only snail mail queries.
Nathan Bransford says
I think it's definitely an interesting idea, and I've been meaning to ask agents who have submission forms how they like it.
It may be counterintuitive, but I actually think giving people the freedom to formulate their own query helps. It's extremely easy to weed out the frivolous ones because they're much more likely to be crazily formatted and have wacky fonts and such. It's a visual clue that I don't need to spend much time thinking about that particular query.
In some sense, helping the writer figure out what's what might make it more difficult to sift through the ones I'm not really interested in, rather than easier.
Patrick Rodgers says
Oh so Nathan you are saying I should requery you now that I have worked out my learning curve on querying 😉
I didn't have any crazy fonts or what not but gmail did mess up my formatting making some paragraphs a different font and I missed the change to including five pages since I wrote the query months ago and only emailed it last Monday. Plus I removed a paragraph that I thought sounded too egotistical.
Maybe I will wait another week tell you forget me a little more and read a couple hundred more emails.
J.J. Bennett says
It amazes me daily how many of you write post after post to this poor man (Nathan). He posts today how busy he is and yet you all still post over and over and over again. He is too kind…really.
Nathan Bransford says
I don't mean fonts mismatching, I mean really really badly formatted. I can't obviously share these, but everyone should just let their imagination run wild about how they'd write a bad query and then multiply that by two or three.
I don't mean to pick on these types of queriers because, as they'd say in the South, bless their hearts they just don't know any better. But these comprise anywhere from 10-25% of all queries and they all have to be responded to as well.
Rick Daley says
"Um, how does Query Tracker know that?"
The same magic that tells a thermos to keep the hot stuff hot and the cold stuff cold.
Patrick Rodgers says
I know I was mostly joking Nathan, I was more bummed I didn't notice the change to including the first five pages because I wrote the query months ago and I was a little too over enthusiastic to finally begin the querying process. I honestly don't think having one paragraph in ariel while all the others were in times new roman would make as big of difference as not including the first five pages of the novel.
I think you should post a few of these crazily formatted queries removing names and information of course (heck you could even change the content and just leave the formatting) to give us a better idea of what you have to sift through.
Rick Daley says
I think a query letter is a better showcase of a writer's style and voice than a submission form.
And I'm not just saying that because I started a query critique blog. I've opened it up to sample pages and synopses, I could just as easily allow submission form responses into the mix. No bias here. Move along, folks.
I think I'm hearing your concerns….You need to know if the writer is 'workable.' I think that's what you mean, and that's legitimate. My question, though, is do you need to know that about people you'll never work with?
So, I'm suggesting: to save time, reverse the order. Weed out the writing first, then find out which of those people you want to work with.
Whether the writer is easy to work with you can get that at any point in the exchange, and decide not to offer representation.
And who cares how easy a writer is to work with if you don't like their writing?
And just think of the time saved!
Anyway, thank you Nathan. I really appreciate that you're not tossing the idea out and for the chance to discuss this with you.
I agree with Mira about the form query. It seems a shame we spend days writing the "perfect" query, send it through the e-mail which I 'swear has a blender in there somewhere and maybe even turns the words a different color, only to have the agent give it one glance and flip off a rejection.
I'm just glad some agents didn't decide to become doctors!
I must admit my heart sinks when I see a submission form on an agency´s website. It just seems kinda counter-creative. With a query the challenge is similar to that of writing a novel: do something original within a tight format. Submission forms on the other hand just seem too… formulaic for an industry whose bread and butter is creativity.
Also, it often seems to me that a submission form goes hand in hand with a policy of ´no reply unless interested´. Which leads me to wonder if the forms really do get read.
~Aimee States says
It literally took you six minutes to reject my query, which still cracks me up a little. But you have a great reputation, and deservedly so. I'm a fan and I think the world of your efficiency and tact. You have a great attitude.
Chuck H. says
11,921 e-mails?! Mr. Bransford, I heartily apologize for the two I sent you. You obviously don't need that kind of aggravation. Sorry.
Word Ver: bleat – kind of what I'm doing now.
Lydia Sharp says
Content to be an author. Never want to be an agent. Thanks for reaffirming that for me.
yeah it took Nathan about ten minutes to reject me. i hadn't even opened a new window before my email box showed me a new message.
but he lets down easily. and doesn't apologize which i like a lot.