It is strange to be on the other side of the submission process. For years, I was the one writing and rewriting my queries. Writing and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting my manuscripts. And now I am the agent, reading and evaluating the words of hard working writers whose hopes and dreams are sent to me in the form of a one page query and a 10 page manuscript excerpt.
After reading hundreds of submissions in the last few weeks, I realize I do not read every word. I do not read in logical order. But I read to absorb the information I am looking for.
When I receive a query and the first 10 pages of your manuscript, as per my submission guidelines, I skim to see if your book is a CB, MG, YA or GN and to discover the genre. Next, I look to see who you are and what you have published in the past. Then, it is off to the manuscript.
Now, why do beeline to the manuscript? There are two reasons. First, I do not want to be influenced by your book's description. I want to experience your book as if I plucked it from a bookshelf and am deciding if I would buy it or not. And second, because a great idea can only get a book so far. It is the execution, the writing that brings a plot, a cast of characters, the soul of a book alive. A quick side note here--When I go into classrooms to teach, I'll give 30 students one prompt, but I get 30 different versions of a story. That is how it is with manuscript submissions. I get a fair share of similar plots outlined in query letters, but the executions of those plots are what determines if I ask for a full or not.
If I love the 10 pages, it is back to the query to read every word plus a quick jaunt over to your blog or website, if you chose to include this information. I may even google you, if you didn't.
So bring on your queries and 10 page excerpts. I can't wait to read them. And I hope this helps diminish query anxiety and increase the effort every writer puts into their first 10 pages.
PS Just wanted to mention, sorry if I take a bit of time to get back to you but it is because I am reading those ten pages from each and every one of you. Sometimes the first two pages aren't working but your voice kicks in on page three and I can see that with a bit of revision you will have a fabulous book. I send out a fair share of revision requests based solely on those first 10 pages, and I have received fantastic fulls as a result.
When Kristin O'Connell George introduced me to Valerie Worth in my first UCLA Children's Poetry class, I fell in love with poetry for children. Worth's ability to capture the essence of an object or animal with minimum words and maximum sensory imagery is astounding. Her poems make readers think beyond words on a page and engage in the recreation of the poem's subject in their minds, in their souls. We can't read Worth's safety pin or dinosaurs and simply move on to our next thought because Worth demands we return to our previous conception and re-evaluate.
Closed, it sleeps On its side Quietly, The silver Image Of some Small fish;
Opened, it snaps It's tail out Like a thin Shrimp, and looks At the sharp Point with a Surprised eye.
Dinosaurs Do not count, Because They are all Dead:
None of us Saw them, dogs Do not even Know that They were here-
But they Still walk About heavily In everybody's Head.
I am happy to announce that I will be joining Herman Agency as an Associate Agent representing Chapter Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult authors. For more info on Herman Agency and for submission guidelines please see our website at http://www.hermanagencyinc.com/
I am a huge fan of humor. If you can make me laugh or crack a smile, you are my kind of writer. Even in a serious literary book, there is room for humor.
Some of my favorite books are Frindle, Stargirl, Speak, Stuck in Neutral, How I Live Now, Millicent Min, Good Enough, Seeing Emily, Things Left Unsaid, Flipped and Because of Winn Dixie.
I would also love to find funny boy books that are mixed prose and graphic novel a la Wimpy Kid, Bruce Hale's Prince of Underwhere, and even full graphic novels like Bone.
At this time I am limiting queries to published writers. However, as a writer I do have a lot of writer friends, so I will accept queries from writers I know and from the people they refer to me.
Make sure you write the word QUERY in your subject line and please, no attachments.
Modified to add: I have been asked to accept queries from SCBWI members. I owe a lot to SCBWI, and if you are reading this and don't belong....join NOW! As such, I will also accept queries/10 pgs from SCBWI Members too.
Added Feb 1, 2010: I no longer send form declines. If you do not receive an email response to your query + 10 pages within a month, I am sorry but I am not the right agent for your work.
Agent Colleen Lindsay has deemed today #Queryfail Day on Twitter. On her blog she writes:
Today is #Queryfail Day on Twitter, the first of what will probably become a monthly or semi-monthly experience. What is #Queryfail Day, you ask? * rubs hands together gleefully * A group of online agents, book editors and periodicals acquisition editors are posting about their queries in real time. The idea is to educate people about what exactly it is in a query that made us stop reading and say "Not for me." We're being very careful not to include personal identifiers of any kind. The idea isn't to mock or be intentionally cruel, but to educate.
I like to do my research on whomever I am querying and find an interesting way to not only include what I have learned but let the reader know why I chose to query them.
I like to sum up my manuscript in a succinct and compelling paragraph or two and show that I know who my target audience is and why.
And, I like to talk a little about me.....a little since it is the manuscript that the agent must sell or the editor will publish, and not my past accomplishments.
Agents and editors have blogged about this topic to the point that most of us should be writing fantastic queries. If your query is not a knock-out, then read the following posts and good luck with your rewrite.
JILL CORCORAN is a children’s book agent with Herman Agency. Her current interests include: high concept Young Adult and Middle Grade Thrillers, Mystery, Romance, Romantic Comedies, and Adventure manuscripts.