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It was as hard as I expected it to be. I've read enough agent blogs to know what I was getting into, and yes, comparatively, we had it easier than a real agent would with a real slush pile. I knew it would be time-consuming, especially with the extra speculation of which queries were published books, and I knew it would be subjective based on what I like and actually read. It was.
So why was it eye opening if I expected all this already?
A few reasons.
1) I tried to offer at least one comment of personal feedback on each one but as I was working through them it got harder and harder. It wasn't that I didn't want to put the time into it, it was more often how difficult it was to pinpoint and/or word exactly what didn't work for me. In a lot of cases, I couldn't do so without having to sit there for 20 minutes to figure it out. And with tens of queries coming in on the hour, an agent can't let that 20 minutes go unless the query is really worth investing that time in and in most cases I imagine it isn't. Form reject. Problems solved.
2) This little competition didn't include reading partials, fulls, taking phone calls, writing proposals, and working with clients and editors. While I didn't have a problem with form rejections before, I really don't now. It makes sense. I can even understand why some agents don't respond at all unless interested. Sure, it may only take a few seconds to slap a form rejection in an e-mail, but if you're a busy agent who is continually swamped, those seconds could add up fast with the amount of queries that come in. Personally, if I were an agent, I would make a point to take the time for at least a form rejection - business etiquette, courtesy and all that - but at least I can better understand why some don't.
3) It was insanely easy to pinpoint the rookies. I often knew whether or not I was interested in a query within the first two sentences. Voice really did lend a lot to a query. Awkward phrasing and clunky, disjointed paragraphs were extremely common turn-offs.
4) It was hard to look for the published queries when I was really only interested in the queries for YA novels, which lends insight into why agents generally only represent what they are passionate about. When I start querying, I think I'm going to focus on agents who primarily (or only) represent children's/juvenile fiction. Having done this, I don't think I'd feel entirely confident in someone who represents a ton of genres.
5) I've heard several agents say something along the lines of: "I'm looking for a reason to reject your query." I understood this in essentials, but now I really, really understand it. If you have a handful of partials and fulls to read, client manuscripts you're offering edits on, published books you want to read, proposals to write, clients and editors to work with, and a never-ending stream of queries flooding you inbox, you're going to be loathe to take on any more reading material in any fashion unless you absolutely cannot say no to a query, which is exactly what we writers need to strive for. Make your query irresistible. If anything about your query is so-so, keep at it. Get it critiqued and critiqed again. Read article after article on crafting a perfect query. Don't let your eagerness work against you. You can't afford to - they really are looking for a reason to say no unless they can't, unless you give them something to be really excited about.
Overall it was an amazing experience and opportunity. As I continue on this journey, I think I'll continually come back to this experiment in my mind and apply it to things I read, experiences I go through, and queries I write. I really think I've gained something by taking the time to view the other side.
Huge thank you to Nathan and everyone that participated. I can't wait to see the results.
Posted by Casey Something on Tuesday, April 14, 2009