Queries versus samples, e-submissions versus paper

Today, in fifty queries, there were three (thankfully with samples attached) that were far weaker than the actual work. Nothing was objectively wrong with them, mind you, but they were--well--boring. The writers sounded bored with their work, and stodgy, scared, formal. But then--who can blame them?

And then all three works--the actual works--were probably in the top ten percent, writing-wise.

So that's three B- queries with three A or A- samples.

In one case, I finally said (with a note about how I only mentioned it to try to be helpful--and that there was nothing objectively wrong with her pitch) that the sentences in the query simply weren't as vivid as those in the actual work.

And that's the thing--there's nothing objectively wrong. It's just that all of the things beyond that that I look for--the things that get me excited about a piece--the things that are subjectively so right--just weren't present.

We'll see how that goes--if she'll write back at all; if she'll be angry when she does so.

But this is frustrating. There's clearly a disconnect between writing-writing and query writing.

Why in the world don't some agents want sample pages if they're asking for e-queries anyway? I understand not wanting manuscripts in hard copy--we have a finite amount of space, and no one likes standing in line at the post office to say, "Hi, this is over 13oz, and it's not dangerous, unless you count its ability to make one want to set themselves on fire." (That seldom happens--the fire or the desire to set fire. The biggest flame I've seen in the office belonged to a scented candle.)

If nothing else, I hope the transition to e-submissions allows authors to submit samples more of the time--to change the standards of the submission process.

Most agents are on an e-system, yes? What has your experience with this been? Is it a hassle (files that won't open, emails lost)? A convenience (faster response time)? About the same?


Adrienne said...

I very much agree with the sample page suggestion.

What's even odder is that in the UK, where snail mail is still the preferred submission method, the standard is to send a cover letter, synopsis and first three chapters. So despite the whole finite space issue, they are actually accepting sample pages, vs agents in North America who have tons of "space" thanks to the wonders of email and yet are not.

Very strange.

Yat-Yee said...

More agents are going the e route now than when I first started querying in early 2008. I like it because most of my correspondence outside of querying is done electronically and have come across very few problems.

I do think, however, that the convenience of sending queries and samples electronically means that agents and editors are getting a lot more submissions and that may be the only drawback.

Uncomplicated said...

Most agents I've seen do want to see pages but you are the first I've come across that prefers an attachment. Every other one promises a journey straight to rejection hades if there's an attachment. They want the pages in the body, which is okay but marginally annoying. The annoying part comes in because the body of the email almost always does funny things with the spacing and special characters (like quotations sometimes). I wish more agents (all agents?) allowed attachments.

As for those agents that don't want to see pages... maybe one-fourth I've seen go that route. I avoid querying them. Not exactly on purpose, it's more like, they're the agents I plan to query eventually but first there's this other agency that's willing to actually look at my work--woo hoo! And I especially avoid an agency when I can't find a specific agent's personal preferences, and instead just find a blandish, "We prefer to see a query only at this stage" or whatever. It makes me think I'll get an equally impersonal response, and I don't particularly like the royal We, (especially in rejections. "Thank you but We don't feel this is right for our list, etc..." with the agency as the signature. So sigh-worthy). Okay, this has gone way off into my own thing. As for your last question, about most agents going to the e-system, yes I like it. It's made for faster responses and less paper/stamps/trips to the post office. I'm not against mailing out queries if the agent doesn't accept e-queries but the truth is, since I'm anonymous and all, I actually forget about them most of the time. I have them on a list in my Querytracker account but I haven't remembered about them until right now.

Wendy Sparrow said...

I can't figure out why they wouldn't want a few pages, but there are a lot out there who want queries only.

My queries tend to be rambly and odd. (I'm not a formal type of person, and it comes across in my queries. One agent told me that my query was the most interesting query she'd ever read.) Anyway, I don't feel like my summary is my strength, though. Judging the entire body of my work by my query isn't quite an accurate portrayal. So, honestly, an agent that only requests a query is an agent that goes to the end of my list. It's my loss, of course, not theirs.

Why can't all agents just ask for a reasonable amount of pages and then just toss them aside if they don't get hooked? The new standard seems to be five pages. Five pages!

I'm sounding a little sour grapey today. I should really just go back to working on my first five pages and query and quit whining.

Travener said...

I'd say 2/3 of agents that want e-queries don't ask for sample pages or synopsis. I also find it a hassle to put large amounts of text in the body of the email, because I invariably have to go in and fix it. But I'm willing to pay the price.

I'd be very surprised if an author were to get angry because you told them their query writing wasn't as vivid as their writing in the ms. First, that's actually pretty nice -- you're saying her real writing is good. Also, we get so little feedback that we prize whatever we get, even if it's critical. At least I do.

Then again, I'm not a nut.

Dawn Hullender said...

First of all, Trav you ARE a nut >.<, second of all, I relish the agents that request 3-5 sample pages.

Crafting a query letter is incredibly tedious and it makes me nervous, whereas my actual writing occurs when I'm relaxed and the cogs of imagination are spinning wildly.

So to all you agents out there, ask me for sample pages, I'll gladly copy and paste until my fingers fall off. :D

Donna Gambale said...

Query letters can be awfully intimidating because they require more of a marketing creativity than the usual novel-writing creativity. That takes a lot of work for most authors -- and as you saw, not everyone gets it. But the bonus of nailing that query letter is that you truly understand the core of your novel.

And I completely agree that all agents should request the first 15 pages or so with a query. Who wouldn't want instant gratification?

The Rejection Room said...

I understand queries for nonfiction a bit better--after all, they're really just a boiled-down proposal. But is a fiction pitch a boiled-down synopsis? No. Not at all. It's a synopsis, plus a pitch, plus an author bio (in a line or two), plus a "You want to read this because it's so exciting and don't you care about the characters?" sort-of inside view. SO geez. No wonder it's so stressful.

~Jamie said...

I actually don't get that at all. Why wouldn't they all just want the whole book attached? Wouldn't it save all that back and forth?

:) said...

I like the free-ness of e-queries, though sending by mail almost guarantees a response. Electronic systems engender many more unanswered queries.

I also prefer to send a sample; it's an opportunity to hook an agent with one's writing. No one says, "I want to be a query writer when I grow up!" The combustible arrangement of words the queries strive to introduce are our true passion.