Blogger: Michelle Ule
Location: Happily home in glorious Santa Rosa, Calif.
Almost every step of a publishing career begins with a simple query—a quick pitch—describing a manuscript. It could be a simple, “what do you think of this story?” asked at a writer’s conference. Most of the time, it’s a short e-mail written to an agent describing a project and asking the agent to take a look. What happens to a query that’s sent to us? Here’s the inside scoop on queries that arrive in our agency’s in-box.
Books & Such Literary Agency received 2,937 queries in the first five months of 2009.
Nearly 3,000 people had an idea, wrote it down, poured their thoughts into a manuscript, and then sent us a polite request to read about their project.
Four agents and an editorial assistant read queries here at Books & Such—we all read queries, no one is exempt. It’s part of our daily routine. Janet has been reading queries since 1996; I started five or so years ago. I estimate I’ve read nearly 16,000 queries; who knows how many Janet has considered?
That sheer volume, coupled with English degrees for most of us and personal reading habits, means Janet, Wendy, Etta, Rachel and I have a fair idea of what people are writing and can assess the uniqueness of a concept pretty quickly.
We also make an interesting mix in our agency, coming from a variety of denominations, Janet worked for Campus Crusade for Christ, Etta’s married to a pastor, and I’ve taught Bible study for 29 years. We’ve seen lots of ideas and writers come and go—and easily recognize storylines, weird ideas, and theories we’ve encountered before.
I heard long ago that bank tellers learn to recognize counterfeit money by handling authentic bills. As soon as they touch a bill that doesn’t “feel” right, they take a closer look; it often turns out to be false.
Similarly, once you’ve read a lot of good writing and heard a lot of plots and nonfiction ideas, you can recognize a truly new story, or an old concept with a different twist. A new idea, a fabulous wordsmith or an intriguing concept grab our attention and, often as not, we’ll turn to each other and say, “I’ve found something I like. What do you think?” That’s one of the most satisfying moments in an agency, when we mine that gem hidden in the mountain of queries.
And then we’ll want to see more . . . just like anyone else.