Queries from an Agency’s POV
Blogger: Michelle Ule
Why Don’t I Get a Personal Response?
Part 1 of 3
We received a thoughtful e-mail last week from a writer who asked a pertinent question: “Why don’t you respond to our queries personally? It would only take a minute or two, and it would make the writer feel better. Don’t you know how hard it is out here for writers trying to catch the attention of agents?”
I replied by explaining why Books & Such changed its policy on responding to queries two years ago. Here’s an amplification of what I wrote:
Up until two years ago, Books & Such did respond to every query sent to us whether via e-mail (our preferred method) or through the mail. But in 2009, the volume of queries exploded, often reaching 800 queries each month.
You can do the math. If we spent even one minute responding to each query (which would give no time for personalization), that would require more than 13 hours per month just to answer the queries. That doesn’t include the time needed to read through them and think about a response.
We ceased taking postal mail queries in 2010 for the same reason. It takes even more time to open envelopes, read through the query, write the letter, print it, put it in the SASE (which people remembered most of the time) and then mail.
As an agency, our first responsibility is to the clients we already have. If we responded to each query, we wouldn’t be able to keep up with our jobs: examining proposals, negotiating contracts, submitting manuscripts to publishing houses, keeping track of royalties and other payments, reading about industry innovations, discussing marketing ideas, talking with clients, traveling to conferences, dealing with crises and a host of other items in our job descriptions.
Things settled down in 2011–our Representation e-mail address “only” received 5,875 queries throughout the year, for an average of a little under 500 per month. But that number doesn’t include queries our agents heard pitched at writers conferences, proposals recommended by our clients, editor-suggested writers, etc.
In the first two months of 2012, with the addition of Rachelle Gardner to our staff, we received 1,345 queries.
And, yes, they’ve all been read. As the letter we send out automatically in response to every query states, if you don’t hear from us asking to see more of your writing within 30 days after you send your email, please know we have read and considered your submission but determined it wouldn’t be a good fit for us.
Please understand–it’s not easy to say no to the vast majority of interesting queries we receive. I don’t how many times I’ve read a project description that I, personally, would love to read. Many of you are very fine writers with imaginative ideas. Lots of you have platforms and stories that should be shared with the world. God has given numerous queriers fine-tuned insight that is valuable for the Kingdom of God.
Our query system is NOT about you.
It’s about the sheer numbers of people, many excellent writers, seeking publication today.And a carefully, painfully-arrived-at conclusion that we couldn’t provide personal responses–or even individual responses–and honestly say we were making our clients our highest priority.
How do we make our decisions? Think about all the stories that have been pitched to us. If it’s a new concept to us, chances are very good it will be a new idea to an editor. We’ve read so many queries, we recognize a new twist almost immediately–and those are the projects we ask to see.
Based on my experience over the last eight years, King Solomon had it correct when he commented: “Of the making of books, there is no end.”
Tomorrow I’m going to talk about fiction queries–what stands out and why, how to research your project’s chances and what we both appreciate and sigh about, here at Books & Such. On Friday, I’ll take up nonfiction.
What questions do you have about the querying process? Any suggestions about how to deal with queries more effectively? Is there something we could do to make it a little more personal without losing our ability to do our jobs for our clients?