Friday, March 27, 2009

HOW I READ A SUBMISSION/QUERY LETTER

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.

Happy writing!

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.

15 comments:

  1. I do not envy you (or other agents). Seems like a daunting task to find those diamonds in the rough while sifting through so much coal.

    :) Terri

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  2. Like this! And I think I would do it the same exact way.

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  3. wonderful post, jill. thanks for sharing your process!

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  4. Sounds like a logical way to do things.

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  5. Great insight, Jill. I like your example about the writing prompt churning out so many different responses.
    Happy Reading!

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  6. Great information. And lots and lots and lots of reading!

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  7. Thanks for sharing your process, Jill. I bet it's strange for you too, just being on the other side of the fence. Good luck with this and I hope you get some real winners in your hands!

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  8. Hello Jill, I remember meeting you at the Craft of Writing Conference in Dallas years ago. Nice to see you are still in the business and still with Jeff Herman.

    This was a very informative post. Thanks.

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  9. Thank you everyone for your kind words.

    Maryann, I am with the Herman Agency, headed by Ronnie Ann Herman.

    See the top right side of my blog for links to the agency.

    Thanks for visiting.

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  10. Great post, and I'm glad you look at the work itself rather than just the query. I'd rather know my book was passed on because of the sample than because of the query.

    Thank you for explaining how you do things :D

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  11. This was so reassuring. I might cry with relief. Composing a query has proven to be more stressful than I imagined.

    Sometimes I wish, "It's a great story! Give it a shot!," would be enough. :-)

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  12. I love this: "I want to experience your book as if I plucked it from a bookshelf" Nice writing.

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  13. This is a great inside look at your process. I like it.

    Thanks, Jill.

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  14. It is good to know those ten pages are actually read, agents seem like such scary people. Reading your blog puts 'wanna be writers' at ease. Thanks.

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