I’m not complaining. That needs to be said up front. Not. Complaining. I love queries, I want queries, that’s not what this is about. Cool? Cool.
Now that we have that out of the way, let me just level with you: the number of queries coming in is rising every single day, and it’s kind of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, just by sheer numbers there are more good projects coming in than ever. This is great!
On the other hand, the “frivolous queries” that read like a Craigslist personal ad are also on the increase, and disproportionately so. For every one extra good query I receive a day I’m receiving two extra bad ones. This is bad! (and it seems it’s not just me)
As you probably know, query-answering time is in addition to day-in/day-out tasks that are very much a full-time job on their own. It’s not like I can divide my day between mornings dealing with clients and agent stuff, and afternoons devoted to queries. Every minute/hour/several hours I’m spending answering queries is a minute/hour/several hours extending my day. So far I have been able to manage everything and still maintain a roughly-twenty-four hour response time for queries, two weeks for partials, and a month for fulls, but that pace is getting more challenging by the week.
So. What would you do? How would you manage the unsoliciteds when they are forever threatening to overtake the ramparts? Would you only respond to the ones that follow guidelines? Still respond to everyone? Develop a more stringent incoming-query system?
As you answer, let’s say for the purposes of this discussion hiring an intern or assistant isn’t possible. What would you do if you were an agent?
I really appreciate your very short response time, even when you rejected my query! And I can't imagine how agents can stay on top of things unless they respond immediately. I agree with Joseph Shelby – post on your site some catchphrase that has to appear in the query subject line so that you will know they've read your guidelines. Anyone who doesn't check an agent's website before querying doesn't deserve to get a response.
How about a couple of well-placed posts describing "When Do You Know You're Ready to Query"?
Lay out a checklist with very simple criteria, e.g.: 1) I have a complete novel that has been revised X times; 2) Two or more people who are not related to me have read and critiqued my novel; 3) I revised my query letter X times; 4) I ran spell check on my letter X times; etc etc whatever you like.
Those kind of posts won't dissuade the worst offenders, who probably won't be swayed by anything. But there's likely a large middle ground of writers who don't realize they're just not ready yet.
Nathan, I've emailed you instructions. I'm sure the email is buried under a mountain of queries.
I am a disliker of the IGNORANT! that populate this world we like to call ours. The IGNORANT! like to send the icky queries that we like to make fun of. At least the IGNORANT! are good for something:) If I could take the bullet of the evil, conniving, multiplying forces of the IGNORANT! for you, I would. Totally. Believe me.
I think if they don't follow your guidelines, particularly if you can tell that at a glance, you can toss their queries over your shoulder.
As a novelist, I'd hate to have you rush past my query that took me as much as an hour to research, compose, recheck, and mail, because you're blind with exhaustion from responding to people who took one minute to effectively send you a text.
I'm sure someone has already mentioned this in 261 comments, but you're the #1 most queried agent on querytracker.net — so that could be part of the problem!
Keisha Martin says
Nathan, I must admit I sent you a email query and in hindsight…it sucked a blew major chunks I took your rejection seriously and I appreciated your brief comment. You are a cool agent that I would've loved to have on my side but that one mistake cost me guess it's too late to suck up.You are amazing you contacted me back I think less than twenty four hours, I dont know how you did it, but that is great, so I will continue to read your amazing blogs and learn; I decided to chuck the query I sent you and started fresh with my edito, I know what I have to do now…BTW its about Vamps I know you love everything about Vamps LOL.
Have you resolved the issue with Outlook?
When I did a pediatrics practicum in a clinic me and a friend developed a plugin for Outlook 2003 at the time, then 2007, which allowed us to drop any e-mail from the clinic's inbox into folders we created and send out a message automatically to the sender.
Many patients had the same general inquiries and each folder was configured to send a specific message with information that could be useful to them.
If that's what you need, I can send it over.
(Sorry for double comment, I posted this in the wrong entry first)
You've already heard back from a lot of people. Here's my advice anyway.
1. Hire an assistant for minimum wage (you can't use unpaid interns to do day-to-day office work any more; it's illegal).
2. Increase your response time. As a writer, I wouldn't be upset at any query response time under two weeks. Really.
Those of us who follow agent blogs know that your time is better spent making money for the clients you have. We will understand, and those of us who are smart will be writing instead of waiting by the email box.
P.S. – If you come across someone who's hiring slush/spec readers, could you possibly post a link in one of your weekly round-ups? I'm looking for a day job where I can telecommute. 😉
Lesli Muir Lytle says
I'd put a secret password in your query instructions. If they haven't read the instructions, they won't know to put the word in the subject line.
Or you could rely on blog contests.
(As other agents close themselves to SQUIDS, your numbers will just go higher. Until one day, only one agent will be accepting queries…and she never replies to any of them…Hey! There's a horror story in there somewhere.)
Cyndy Aleo says
A crit partner and I were having this discussion again today about why querying is so frustrating. We think we came up with the ideal solution… a form rejection sent from the author to the agent like the "Yes/No" notes from middle school. Only, the rejections are "Looks good, but not for me" vs. "Dear lord, please stop writing. Stop querying. This belongs in a drawer." At least you'd know why you were being rejected instead of the constant self-doubt and second guessing.
Set up an online submissions form–with the right algorithms, queries could be sorted by specific keywords (say, influencing books or genres) you're most interested in. It'd be best if this kind of engine could exist to allow writers to send out queries to multiple agents at once.