The Query Wars – News from the Front

As of yesterday morning, June 8, 2011, I’d sent out 37 queries and received 15 form rejections (plus 3 “closed/no responses” for a total of 18), 2 requests for partial manuscripts, and 2 requests for fulls. The rest are just “out there.” Then later that day I received my first request for a full as a result of one of the partials:

Dear Mr. McIntosh,

I just wanted to give you an update on your book. I read your sample and really enjoyed it – there is a definite thread of suspense that makes me want to keep reading to find out what happens next! I also really enjoyed Nick’s characterization – it was simple, yet I already identify with him and his mission to discover the truth. Very well done.

When you get a chance, could you send us your full manuscript? Once we get it, we will continue our evaluation and get back to you with our decision.

Thanks for the great read so far!

To receive something like that from an agent is really exciting. The challenge now is to keep focused on reality, which is that full manuscripts get rejected all the time. Although I don’t think it will happen in this case, some agents request fulls and the writer never hears from them again.

Short of being offered representation in response to a full, writers hope at least to receive an explanation of why the agent chose not to proceed further. In some cases, agents will offer (or agree) to take another look if the writer will revise the manuscript to address whatever aspects of the novel the agents found lacking. But even if they don’t, a writer might be able to use an agent’s critique to improve the manuscript before sending out more queries.

In the event that I’m asked to revise the manuscript, my predisposition is to comply unless the changes are so incompatible with my vision for the story that it will become a novel I don’t want to write. But that possibility, as well as any other at the moment, is strictly in the purview of speculation.

That said, this process is not all that much different from roulette (hopefully not the Russian variety). One agent might say the story needs more of this and less of that, and another agent will say it needs less of this and more of that.

Why would we expect anything else? It’s not a science, and agents don’t have foolproof ways of predicting a book’s success. Only one in five earns enough to cover the author’s initial advance against royalties. About 40% of all the books printed end up as remainders to be sold at a loss or fed to giant pulping machines. Click on the link in the last sentence for author J.A. Konrath’s blog post that explains the idiocy of that business model. But I digress.

Agents can also make mistakes at the opposite end of the spectrum. Consider the case of John Grisham’s agent for his first novel, A Time to Kill, which initially didn’t do very well. He rejected Grisham’s second novel, The Firm.

Think about that for a minute. Do you suppose the agent has lived with a bit of “retrospective regret” in the years since? 15% of millions is a lot of bucks.

In the meantime, the emotional roller coaster of The Query Wars continues. While writing this, the ominous tone of a new email drew me to the inbox where I found my 16th form rejection from another agent who doesn’t think my project is right for his list.

Oh, well. Onward, Query Soldier!


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