The voting is in, and wouldn’t you know: as of this writing the project that received the most votes as a query also received the most votes as a partial.
The query system works perfectly, right?!!
As always: it’s not quite that simple.
Without prejudging what conclusions people have reached, there are three main things that I personally hope people take away from the experiment:
1) The query system isn’t perfect.
When I read the queries, I thought all of them were strong in their own way, especially for a random sample. In the end though, I thought the two most promising queries were SHORELINE and UNREALITY CHICK. SHORELINE had an intriguing plot but I worried that the description of the narrative felt a little scattered, and UNREALITY CHICK had a compelling voice though I worried that the query relied too much on the voice and lacked plot detail. Since a strong voice is rarer and more difficult to convey in a query, I ultimately voted for UNREALITY CHICK as the best query.
However, I ended up changing my vote when it came to the sample pages. While again I thought all five samples were good in their own way, I thought SHORELINE had the most engaging and polished writing and it had my vote.
So. Even an agent changes his vote from query to sample pages. Does this mean the query system is broken?
Again, not that simple. Even though some queries were stronger than others, I think the strengths and weaknesses in each query did actually reflect strengths and weaknesses in the corresponding manuscripts, just as tends to happen in real life. Is it an exact one-to-one match between query and manuscript? Definitely not, which is why some queries fall through the cracks and why everyone should strive to write the best query possible. SHORELINE probably showed the largest disparity between query and manuscript, which is reflected in the voting. But across the board, my likes/concerns in the queries really did correspond to the likes/concerns I had about the manuscripts.
I think you can also see why I now ask that people send the first five pages with their queries.
Ultimately, while the queries were definitely good, I don’t think I would have requested partials in real life, and I believe the partials need some more work and polish before they’d be ready. But very solid efforts all around and keep in mind that…
2) Taste is subjective.
I don’t think I’m going to win a Nobel Prize for showing that the query process is subjective, but a subpoint I want to make is: subjective is not the same as arbitrary. Even people looking hard for the best arrive at different decisions and have different criteria for what that means. Everyone who participated in this experiment was approaching with roughly the same goals, and yet even the winning choice in both polls had less than a majority of the vote.
Same thing in real life. When agents talk about the importance of fit and loving a work, this is what they’re talking about. Even a group of very informed agents will have different opinions on the same queries and manuscripts, and they’re bringing years of expertise and experience to bear. It’s not a sign the system is broken, it’s built into the system: there are lots of agents (and opinions) in the sea.
3) Time is of the essence.
And the last thing I want to suggest is to consider how long it took to read and think about each of these queries and samples, and multiply it by ten a day and consider that behind each query is a writer whose hopes and dreams are hinging on your undivided attention. It’s just not possible to give every single manuscript an in-depth look at 30 or more pages. Some sort of shorthand is necessary.
And all things considered, given the time constraints I still don’t know if there’s a better replacement out there for a query + short sample, even with its imperfections. Queries really do give an agent insight into the overall work, with the sample pages providing another glimpse.
Queries aren’t perfect, but they’re the best system we have.
But enough about my thoughts, what do YOU think?
Did this experiment increase or decrease your faith in the query process? How much of each sample did you need to make a decision? Do you have confidence in your choice? Has it changed the way you look at queries?
And of course, one last thanks to the talented participants for offering their query and samples! I’ll leave it to each of them to decide if they want to de-anonymize themselves and talk about their experience.
I'll de-anonymize myself. I wrote I'M A NOBODY. I found this excersise useful. I now know that I really have to work on my query letter. I also have a lot of advice for when I start my rewrite. I wished I had moe time to clean up my writing, it was a first draft.
I think it confirmed my views of the process: it's functional but not perfect. But what is? I found a very strong correlation between the writing in the queries and the samples on four of the five. The fifth was a bit of an outlier. So I like the idea of the sample pages to catch the outliers – and there will always be a few outliers, both good and bad: poor queries with a really polished query, and a mediocre query with fine pages.
I think the query plus sample allows a good balance. I was pretty certain about the writing of each sample very quickly. Five pages would certainly be enough. After that a longer sample could be requested to further evaluate the writing and the story.
Word ver: mouse.
No kidding. Pinky and the Brain truly have extraordinary powers…
Nikki (Shoreline Author) says
First of all I want to extend a huge thank you to Nathan and to everyone who voted (whether or not it was for me!) This has been an amazing experience and I’ve already spent 48 hours tackling my query letter.
For those of you wondering our (my) reaction, it definitely felt like “Author for a Day” on my end – multiplied by about 100. It was a little overwhelming to get a ton of acceptances and rejections at the same time. And, just like agent responses, it was hard at times to get a vague “eh, it needed some edits”. I wanted to jump up and say “Wait! What needed editing? Where did you stop reading? What mythology didn’t make sense?” Even though I knew not to expect detailed critiques, it doesn't mean that I didn't want them. I obviously want to continue to grow as a writer and make this the strongest manuscript it can be.
Alas, just like the true agent/author process, I couldn’t ask those questions. (Of course I’m here now if anyone wants to respond!)
Again, I extend a heartfelt thanks to EVERYONE that participated – and the other four authors. I loved different aspects of every piece and learned from you all as well.
I voted for Unreality Chick for best query (and I'm A Nobody would have been my second choice).
When I read the sample pages, I only needed/wanted to read just a little to see if the writing was there and my attention.
On the sample pages, I voted for I'm A Nobody (with Shoreline coming in as my second choice).
For me, it was close to how I compare the blurb at the back of a book and then the first 1-5 pages.
I need both.
I think, this experiment has shown me how cool Nathan is to request the first five pages too. It's a short but fuller look.
Great job, again, of the volunteers!
Thank you very much, Nathan, for this exercise. I learned A LOT and I have even more respect now for agents. :o)
All the comments really reinforced with me how much personal taste plays into this whole process. It MIGHT be a little easier to take query rejections in the future because of this experiment. Maybe my query/sample execution stunk or maybe it just wasn't a fit for that agent.
Thanks for doing this, Nathan!
Julie Weathers says
I didn't participate in the experiment this year. However, this is perfect timing as some of us were just discussing queries on Twitter. I think the most important things for people to remember are the points you brought up. The system isn't perfect, but it works. It is very much subjective and preference. This even goes to preferred style. Do you personalize the query letter to the agent or not? Does the genre and word count go at the top or bottom? Sample pages are so important.
Thanks for doing this again and reiterating the important points.
K.L. Brady says
I think the query process, while imperfect, is effective more often than it isn't.
I have a MUCH better understanding of the process and a greater appreciation for just how important those first five pages are. Thinking back to the first draft of my novel, OMG!! It's no wonder it was rejected.
I'm so glad that I picked up Noah Lukeman's First Five Pages. It really helped me shore up those pages.
I must admit that I didn't read through all of the samples in their entirety–sometimes I didn't make it off of the first page. Now, I can understand how you could send out a rejection in 5 minutes. LOL I can see how you could review 25 queries in a day and reject them all. And I understand now that it's OUR job as authors to ensure that we keep the agent engaged. It's not the agents job to stay engaged.
Much greater appreciation for what agents do. I should probably send mine a thank you note. 🙂 You guys need an appreciation day. lol
Joel Q says
The systems works. But the more I participate– query letters, writing contests (entry & judging), Nathan's forums, etc… the more I realize everyone has different opinions about the same material. So it is now the goal to find the agent that has an opinion inline with my own about my writing.
Jan (Reality Chick) says
I found the experience fascinating. For one, I would never had guessed I still had this much ego left in the process. I've had plenty of rejections in my writing life, some really passionate editor reactions, and even a mom who posted online on a message board that mothers should watch out for my published fantasy novel so they could keep their little girls from reading it and being contaminated with evil, I suppose.
So I would have sworn I had no ego left. BUT even though I knew the sample I sent didn't work at all (and I wrote it a lot of years ago) and even though I wrote the query letter in about ten minutes (complete with typo: unexpected storm. ARGH), I still had kind of ouchy feelings over the criticism. That makes no longical sense, but there you are.
I was very pleasantly surprised by how much better several samples were over how I reacted to the queries. When I read the samples, I thought…hey, that's good. That's way better than mine. You could really fix that.
Ultimately mine wasn't fixable when I wrote it, which is why I had thirty pages floating around on my harddrive and available for this. I am impressed at the folks who caught so clearly from this short sample exactly the stuff that ultimately killed the story further on. There are some really discerning folks here, even if I made pouty face when I read some of the critiques.
And thanks for all the folks who liked Beck. I like her too. Too bad her book ultimately sucked 🙂
I agree with Nathan that all of these samples could use some revision before being submitted. And there are some good stories here waiting to be chiseled out.
We all know this is subjective, but I think what I took away from this was the odd things people will latch on to that will make them lose interest. I am constantly tweaking my own manuscript, but now I feel even more paranoid about its imperfection. Like if there's a comma out of place I could lose a reader. It makes me think that things have to be pretty close to perfect at the agent stage.
When an agent rejects my query it doesn't bother me like it does when they've rejected my pages. Every time my pages get rejected I think that if my writing was good, really good, then anyone would be able to see it. There must be a reason that these agents are passing. But, maybe I'm wrong in thinking this.
I completely dismissed your query, but ended up voting for your pages. Yes, they need some tweaking, but first draft? Awesome. I don't read YA by any means but when you get published I'll totally pick up your book and finish reading it.
I have a few comments.
About the process: This was an extremely educational exercise. There is so much that goes into an acceptance and it takes so little to become a rejection. Still, I think it works.
For Nathan: Do many agents request the first five pages with query or are you the only one you know of? Also, do you see that as a possible trend to emerge? From doing this agent for a day thing, I'd certainly do that. It gives you sooooo much more info.
For Nikki: I really liked your writing. The imagery was beautiful. I found myself a bit envious of your talent. You did, however, lose me when you described the memories of the girl when she was 5-weeks old. The fact she could remember it as well as the actions she was able to do as a 5-week old didn't feel mystical to me, it just seemed awkward.
I went for I'm a Nobody in the query, and Shoreline in the partial.
What I have learned is I don't have a strawberry frig what marketable YA is.
What else I have learned: In a forum scenario anyone can pick nits out of a query. Give it to them whole to say "yes or no" and suddenly the game changes. I will be viewing further query feedback with a spoonful of salt in future.
Word verification – Bachem: What you shout when about to use classical music as a weapon
I really liked I'M A NOBODY. I could tell it was a first draft, if I was a real life agent I'd ask you to resubmit when it was polished. All of the authors are brave folks. I'm still working up the nerve to share my MS with friends and family, and I know they'll be nice even if it is as I fear, the worst book ever. So congrats to all of you for having the cojones to do this!
J.J. Bennett says
I was surprised to see my choice be so different from the query to the sample pages.
A huge thanks for everyone who took part in this experiment. I think it was a great way for us to see an insiders view on being an agent. I think it was even better for me to see others works and queries. I learned from the experiance and need to get back to work now… 😉
Nathan Bransford says
I actually don't know that much about other agents' preferences and others here will probably be able to speak better than I about the variance between query procedures. I will say that even if an agent doesn't ask for sample pages to always include them anyway (in the body of an e-mail for an e-query). No one is going to reject you for including them and they could make the difference.
I think this was an absolutely fascinating experience. I loved seeing the different query letters and how much impact they can have (really underscores the importance of having a strong query letter to me; when it comes time to write mine, I know I'll have to take it as seriously as editing). It also helped me to understand a bit what an agent might be looking for. This was a fantastic experiment and I thank everyone who participated – and Nathan for throwing it.
E.J. Wesley says
Alright, Nathan, we're convinced. YOUR JOB STINKS! (jk) 🙂 Seriously, this was such an eye opening experience! Thanks again for doing it, and also mad-props to those who participated.
As a wannabe scribbler, here's what I learned, and an extra thought:
1) The query system works to the extent that it def. helps an agent sift through the mounds of pitches. Is it foolproof? No, the case of Shoreline showed me that. However, I (and many others from the looks of the voting) had my thoughts about the queries supported through the pages.
2) There are tons of great story ideas out there. Furthermore, there are also a lot of talented writers. For a quasi-random sample, these were very good. My suspicions were confirmed, however: It's all about the execution. Great writing without great story = not-so-much. Great story without great writing = not-so-much. This is not a judgment of the contestants btw, because I didn’t get to read enough of their writing to say one way or another. At least I hope 30 pages aren’t enough to doom a career … **gulp**
3) **EXTRA THOUGHT** Do you (Nathan) wear an executioner's hood to get in the mood when you go through your morning queries? It'd be so creepy-cool if you did! As I was reading through the offerings, I found that I was picturing myself as Cesar in the Coliseum, the lives of these authors/gladiators hinging upon the movement of my thumb. No joke, it was a total Darth Vaderesque power trip! You’ve got an awesome/scary job.
Katrina L. Lantz says
This was very fun. I was surprised by some of the writing samples after reading their respective queries. I, too, think Nathan is wise for requesting sample pages in addition to the query.
As to the question about what system could be better… I've been thinking about this since submitting work to WEbook's fairly new PageToFame, and I think–if it became a popular feature frequented by reading groups–it would be a preferable alternative to the agent query system.
Starting with a brief description of the story (like the query) plus the first page, readers decide which books catch their interest. In phase 2, a larger sample is provided, etc. until the entire book is read by professional raters (agents, top raters). In theory, this seems better to me than the agent query situation because 1) there are more people reading and rating in the beginning, so it's not just one person's (albeit educated) decision, and 2) raters are a mix of writers and readers, more representative of the market.
It sounded good to me, anyway. I'm interested in an agent's perspective of this system, though. Mr. Bransford?
Unrepentant Escapist says
Thanks for giving us the chance to peek into your life for the day. I didn't realize the quality of queries you get was so high…it makes me feel better about my own rapidly growing set of form rejections. From reading agent blogs, sometimes it's easy to assume you'll get to the partial stage if you're not a total idiot (since blogs often focus on the REALLY ANNOYING queriers instead of the "not quite there yet" queries.)
I admire you for going through so many queries when the payoff (one or two new clients, maybe) can be so slim.
Rachel Grant says
William and Nikki-
Heartfelt thanks to you and the other three authors-for-a-day for sharing your work. William, sharing a first draft is incredibly brave and I envy the advice you've received for your rewrite. I think this group did a fantastic job pointing out why they were pulled from each story and what they found confusing.
I also think this was an excellent exercise in voice, as voice showed so clearly in the first paragraphs of most of the stories, but was only clear (to me) in one query (#5). I'm going to look at my query and try to figure out a way to put voice in the pitch.
Thanks Nathan, for running this experiment and being quick to answer questions throughout the process.
Ishta Mercurio says
I don't think query alone really works, but query + sample seems to work as well as it can. I liked queries for #1, 4, and 5, but liked sample #3 the best. So this was eye-opening for me.
Thanks to everyone whose work we read, and thanks to Nathan for this experiment!
E.J. Wesley says
@ William, Jan, & Nikki
YOU GUYS ROCK THE BLOCK!
Nathan – without having to write a whole post on it – can you explain in a few lines why you wouldn't have asked for partials on any of those queries? Or would it have been for the same issues we saw in them? Thank you again for doing this – and kudos to those brave enough to participate.
And Jan? Go back to Reality Chick and revise! Hundreds of people here loved it 🙂
Emily White says
I found that while reading the samples, I became less and less patient as I continued reading. So, I was pretty lenient with the first one, but by the time I got to the last sample, I just wanted to skim through. I also had a hard time remembering what it was I liked about the first ones I read as I progressed.
Conclusion: I would be a HORRIBLE agent.
Kristi Helvig says
I didn't have time to read the pages yesterday, but I liked the Unreality Chick query best.
Ultimately, I think a great query can get your foot in the door but you have to have the sample pages to back it up.
Interesting – I, like whoever this morning's Anonymous may have been, thought Unreality Chick and I'm a Nobody were the strongest in both query and pages. Interesting to see I'm a Nobody not in the same running, percentage-wise. Maybe it goes to the fact that I'm not a large target-market, or maybe there is something else behind it, but I thought the writing of I'm a Nobody was engaging from the beginning. William – good job.
I'm not sure the title would make me pick it up off the table, but once I read the first few paragraphs, I at least wanted to know what was going on.
Anyway, this is a large sample of good writing and queries, and I'm glad that I got to read through, for sure. Thank you all for contributing – this was fun!
Ooh, I voted the same way as Nathan. For some reason, I feel proud, despite the subjectivity of all of this!
Thanks to both William and Nikki for sharing.
Nikki, as someone who loves Greek mythology, I was partially drawn to your query for that reason–but I also had reservations about it for that reason. From your query, and what I know of Greek mythology, it's not entirely clear why Persephone would be the villainess as opposed to some other goddess. My first thought was Athena, since she was Poseidon's nemesis and all–unless you're using a more classical definition of sirens, in which case Maya should probably be a bird more than a sea creature. I've read query critiques where readers implied that you can't assume that an agent has any familiarity with existing mythology, which is fair–but as someone who is familiar with it, this stood out to me enough that it begged for an explanation or clarification, even a very brief one.
Nathan Bransford says
Yeah, I think my reasons were similar to others' that have been expressed, but query thoughts in brief:
I'M A NOBODY: I thought this had an interesting plot idea but "was shattered" is such a common opener, and that combined with the line that begins, "In the 70,000 words of I’m a Nobody Dominic struggles to find a place…" gave me some concerns that the writing felt a little stilted rather than smooth and polished.
I WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU ANYWAY: I think the opening paragraph is strong and has an interesting hook, but there is some imprecision in the writing (i.e. it probably doesn't need to be stated that the presence of a serial killer would affect more than just Presley) that gave me some concerns.
SHORELINE: The idea is interesting, but the query doesn't adequately convey the voice and the plot description feels a little scattered.
BLACK EMERALDS: While again, interesting plot, I was concerned that the opening sounds good at first blush but feels just a tad overdone – does anyone really go looking for fate? It left me with the impression that this wasn't quite ready.
UNREALITY CHICK: The voice is strong, but as others pointed out there isn't enough specificity in the plot description to give me confidence about the novel as a whole.
Emily Anderson says
Some novels don't lend themselves to great queries and some people can write a great synopsis without fleshing out the novel. I think both are important and I'm glad to see you're taking the first five pages now. I think I'll take your advice and always include the first five pages whether they are asked for or not. I try to be meticulous about submission guidelines, but I always wish sample pages were requested. A denial on a query doesn't mean much to me but one with sample pages does.
This was a very illuminating exercise. While the query system definitely isn't perfect, I think it's pretty effective. To me, the two strongest queries had the two strongest partials. The query-plus-5 system is even better. I whittled it down to just one that I wanted to read more of after 5 pages. If anything, this whole exercise just goes to show POLISH POLISH POLISH. Don't send anything out until you've sweat blood and tears and made sure every word is perfect.
I also learned that I'd make a crap agent, I think. One, I have no desire to hold someone's utmost hopes and dreams in my hands. Two, I'm entirely too high-strung. When I clicked "submit" I held my breath for a second, worried that I made a wrong choice. What if I picked a choice that no one else liked (i.e. would never sell)? What if I passed on something that would go on sell bazillions of copies because I just didn't see it?! Gah! Too much pressure! I would never sleep.
This was a great experiment. There are lots of places for dissecting queries, but one doesn't usually get to see how the queries and the pages match up. Thanks to Nathan for setting it up, and thanks to the five authors who participated!
I learned that if the query is unfocused or unclear, the pages may be too, so it's important to look beyond the concept at the writing in the query.
With the samples, I only needed a few pages to know that three of them needed a lot more work. (Five pages with the query would be enough for me.) The other two pulled me in quickly: the writing was controlled and it flowed smoothly. Deciding between my two top choices required more analytical thinking. I would probably have requested the full on one of them and given the other author some brief feedback.
I agree with what you said about the strengths and weaknesses in the queries being reflected in the pages. I thought Shoreline had the strongest query because even though it was a little scattered, the plot sounded intriguing; Unreality Chick had a great voice but the plot details were thin, so it was my second favorite. And the pages reflected these thoughts: Shoreline's plot drew me in, and the writing in the pages was much stronger than in the query. Unreality Chick again had a great voice, but the plot seemed too thin to carry for a full book.
I guess what this has taught me is that a query does not need to be perfect to represent a great book, as writing a good query is difficult, but a strong query can definitely entice someone into reading the pages. A lesser query may not make an agent desperately want to read the pages, but if a stellar plot is conveyed through the query (which is what I thought when I read the query for Shoreline), flaws in the query may be overlooked in favor of the idea behind it.
I definitely gained some insight out of this experiment. Thanks for putting it together, and thank you to all the writers who submitted queries and pages!
Jan (Reality Chick) says
Oh, I wanted to mention something else about queries. This is probably the best query I've ever written, typo included. I suck at queries — no kidding. Now, the plot synopsis part was impossible because I couldn't exactly say, "And at about page 90, the plot falls completely apart and the writer's head explodes" so I had to sort of cram what kind of happened into something that might look a little like it could work.
BUT…the "no stress" of whipping up a query letter for a story I wasn't going to sell to send to an experiment where I totally was sure I would never be picked helped me write a query that was actually interesting and didn't sound like I was probably hemorrhaging at the time of writing it.
I think I'm going to pretend I'm sending all future queries to Nathan's experiment thingies. Really, this could help me. Loosening up and letting go of your inner freak out really is helpful.
Flint (Black Emeralds Author) says
Nathan rocks! I cannot begin to imagine how difficult his job is.
Thank you so much for all of the feedback! The good reviews are nice, but the bad reviews are how you learn. I couldn't be happier with the overall experience and all of the valuable information.
I think the part I found most interesting is that my own fears were actually what people picked up on. I believe I now have a good idea of what I need to change. Sometimes it just helps to hear someone else say it.
I think the length was the only feedback I wrestled with. After a lot of thought, I came to the realization that it is probably exactly what I needed to hear. Wake up Flint! I'll probably chop the first few chapters and start the story a little differently. (as a beginning to the revisions)
I really thought all of the entrants were very good. It just goes to show that there is a lot of undiscovered talent to compete with. I applaud you for the courage. Nikki, I really loved SHORELINE. I was upset when I ran out of words to read.
Thanks again to everyone. I can't wait for next year!
Thank you, brave participants!!
I'd say that SHORELINE's pages being overwhelmingly popular compared to its query, which received far less love, points GREATLY to how at odds querying can be, compared with the book being quieried.
re: SHORELINE — I read lots of YA, half of the published books I read aren't as well written as SHORELINE's thirty pages.
Also, I beg to differ about the amount of time it takes to read a partial. We are assuming agents are reading the entire 30 pages and I doubt that's true. I made my judgements pretty quickly — some only needed a paragraph or two, for my to discover the writing, pacing, or characters weren't enough to hold (my subjective) interest. And I imagine agents are much quicker than me, despite their workload.
First off, thanks to all the writers who participated. William, I voted for your query and submission, as I thought the plot had the most potential.
As for the query process, I very hesitantly quote Winston Churchill (as Nathan is an agent for several books about him it seems), who said that "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." Well, you could probably say something similar about the query process.
Writing is subjective, and no process could be perfect. Some good books will always slip through the cracks, and some bad ones will be published. But overall, I think the process will yield pretty good results.
Taryn Tyler says
A query is like an audition. It gives an example of how we can write and then the partial is like the callback in which the agent can get a more specific idea if this is the right fit. It's not perfect because even brilliant actors (musicians etc.) will have bad auditions as well as horrible ones doing good auditions but writers have the advantage of being able to edit and hone their first impression instead of relying on having the right amount of nerves and connection with the piece that performance artists do.
Phoebe – that's an interesting thought. I took the mythology of Persephone's being captured while playing with sea nymphs and turned it on its head, making her the source of the Siren's sacrifice. Sort of a payback. So I took 3 different legends and merged them together. I don't know if it's enough to fit in the query though, as some already said mine was a little long. I do explain it in the synopsis (not that many agents ask for it!!)
Marsha Sigman says
I thought this was great idea, really gives us an idea of what you are dealing with.
I chose the query on 'I would have loved you anyway' because I thought the story was the most interesting. Then when I read the sample pages of all of them, I chose Shoreline. Wierd, because I had no interest in that at all until I started reading and then wow, it was really good!
And I could tell by the third page whether the writing/story was any good or not.
Josin L. McQuein says
Definitely an interesting experiment.
The same query and pages may have topped both lists, but the people voting for both changed from one poll to the other. That seemed to be the most common comment on the second poll — "I changed my vote." So, it seems that a large chunk of the people who liked the pages for the winner never would have read them because they wouldn't have requested them.
Joan Kremer says
Interesting insight I had this morning: I read all five partials toward the end of the day yesterday and I had some trouble "wading" through them. This morning, I reread them just for the heck of it and found I was engaged by and enjoyed them all so much more!
So it may be true, as they say, that even the time of day/agent's mood/barometric pressure, etc., can affect the future of a particular manuscript!
Nikki–Of course I'm not an agent. but if I were a mythology-keen agent, and I received your query, it might be nice to just have a bit of a nod that suggests that you're familiar with the mythology and playing with it in a way that's self-aware. For a more concrete suggestion, I might replace the paragraph where you talk about sequel potential (which, I've read in various places, is unnecessary–and from the sound of it, some agents find it presumptuous, too) with something like this:
"A modern riff on three distinct Greek myths, SHORELINE will appeal to readers of author a and author b."
This will also show that you're aware of the market for similar works, which might be a slightly better use of your limited space. You might also consider suggesting Maya's connection with Persephone when you discuss the Goddess: "She is also a Siren, servant of the Goddess Persphone, and must make a deadly sacrifice to appease her mistress," or something along those lines.
I think there are a lot of ways that you can go to add some clarification here–and again, I voted for your pages, and I think the concept is quite strong. But I wouldn't want to see agents get hung up on the specifics like I did!
I chose I WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU ANYWAY from the queries because it seemed to have the most complex plot line. SHORELINE was my second in the queries.
However, SHORELINE'S pages brought me in and kept me longer than any other sample. I voted for its sample pages. I WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU ANYWAY's beginning felt a little unbelievable to me and jumped from scene to scene without building much.
I was a bit surprised to see how quickly I made my decisions on sample pages (and queries!). I usually knew by the end of the first page or two. I now know I have quite a bit of work to do on my own opening.
UNREALITY CHICK was my second pick based on samples. My last pick query was also my last pick from sample pages. All in all I think the process works.
Thanks for doing this. It was very interesting and educational.
I learned a lot from this–I read the queries/pages as a busy agent would. The ideal query seems to be one that tells you (briefly–no subplots) what the story is about, but isn't a tease like back cover copy.
Also, I would advise YA writers to stick within usual word counts–in my mind I was saying 100,000 words? That means a lot of editing–too much work–next.
I also recommend being careful with factual accuracy. Again, I think agent/editor would say to themselves, the SLJ reviewer is going to jump all over that etc Does this writer really know her stuff..uh oh…too much work there to fix.
And, cf course, we all know the importance of the first few paragraphs (ugh..I have such a hard time with that.)
I noticed a lot of people mentioned grammar/spelling errors. There are lots of great (and even fun) books about grammar–check reference section of bookstore. I would buy one of those before submitting. If spelling is a problem for you, have a friend who is good at spelling read through a hard copy. I wouldn't hire editors–too expensive.
Also, I wouldn't mention in query that this is your first novel. First novels are often (not always) practice novels and that might make agent pause and decide not to request if he/she is on the fence.
Joseph L. Selby says
I think you did a much better job with this project this time around. The increased standardization better exemplified the subjectivity of the results. I think the endeavor very adequately communicated your position.
Well done, sir.
Such an interesting thing to watch unfold Nathan
Kimber An says
My views are unchanged, but I've been reading agents' blogs for three or so years.
Some things have changed for the better in that time.
More agents are accepting eQueries.
More agents have automatic email replies so I know my email got there.
More agents are requesting 3 to 5 sample pages along with the query.
Rick Daley says
The exercise was both enlightening and entertaining, thanks Nathan and the writers whose work we reviewed.
I think the query system works as intended. Some things may fall through the cracks from time to time, but the truly persistent writers will give it another shot; it not likely that something good will fall through the cracks every single time.
It's promising to see that there are so many who are willing to a) support the existing process, and b) help brainstorm the efficiencies and inefficiencies inherent in it.
Too often we see loud nay-sayers who seem great at pointing out flaws, but are unable (or unwilling) to offer solutions.
Think BIGGER. Let the Internet do the query process for you. Expand your experiment, so that folks are selecting at least the top 5% of your queries.