For those of you who don’t know, Sara Megibow is an agent at Nelson Literary Agency who represents
Middle Grade and
She also does (well, did) a weekly twitter program called “10 Queries in 10 Tweets” where she randomly went through her slush pile and talked about why she would accept or reject any given query (while maintaining the author’s anonymity).
December 3rd marked the last of the #10queriesIn10tweets series to be replaced by something new and exciting in the coming year. She is a fountain of eternal query knowledge and advice and if you aren’t following her, you really should be.
With her permission I’ve taken a few of her sessions and compiled a sample “10 Queries” set up so you can get an idea of what she talked about.
#1 =pass. science fiction. Not enough detail. Beware of sounding like this: "and they had many adventures"
#2 = pass. business self help (which we don't rep) and the query states "your next NY Times bestseller." alas
#3 = pass. YA fantasy. concept isn't quite original enough and writing isn't quite strong enough to grab my attention.
#4 = pass. contemp YA. Pitch explains the moral (red flag as no one wants preachy) & writing isn't quite strong enough
#5 = pass. fantasy novel. Writing is weak and word count is 40,000. That's super short for an adult fantasy.
#6 = pass. science fiction for adults. story is interesting, but writing isn't strong enough to stand up to competition
#7 = pass. previously self-pubbed memoir. Some agents do consider self pubbed books if sales # are outstanding.
#8 = pass. speculative fiction. Writing isn't strong enough and query doesn't follow our submit guidelines.
#9 = ACCEPT! WOo HOOO! Romance. Really odd concept, but the writing is very strong and quality writing WINS.
#10 = pass. historical romance. query admits its not complete yet. that's a deal breaker for a debut.
While some of these rejections are unique to Sara and NLA (which I’ll come back to in a moment) there are a lot of things to be learnt from these queries.
First thing’s first: you’re going to get rejected. The Nelson Literary Agency receives something like 36,000 queries in a year, 1200 of which make get an ‘accept’ which is only to receive the first 30 pages of the manuscript. After that, 98 queries were asked for full manuscripts and 7 (this year) were accepted as clients. Look at those odds; don’t go into this expecting to get accepted right away. But also: never lose faith.
Another thing is to edit your manuscript and have someone else edit your manuscript. If the writing in your query letter is weak then they are going to assume that the writing in your manuscript is weak. That’s bad. Go through and edit your manuscript and go through and edit your query letter before you send it out because it would suck to get rejected because of a spelling mistake.
This one pertains mostly to science fiction and fantasy but don’t try to establish your world in a query. In a broader sense: don’t be too wordy. Everyone says that your pitch paragraph is supposed to sound like the back cover of your novel so write your pitch that way. You’re literally trying to sell yourself to this person so you want to sound professional and not ramble.
Don’t be a pretentious douchebag. This ties in with the ‘sounding professional’ bit. If you start going on and on about how amazing your book is and how the person you’re querying won’t understand the nuances of the book, you’re going to come off sounding like a jerk and you need to dial the ego down. The publishing business is humbling and rewarding (so I’ve been told – I’ll let you know when I get there) and no one’s going to want to work with someone who thinks they’re better than everyone else – that’s basic playground rules.
Last one is probably the most important one: do your research. Know who you’re querying (none of this ‘dear agent’ crap) know what they want and how they want it. In other words, you need to follow the submission guidelines that are laid out on the agency’s website. That spells an almost automatic rejection. Check out http://www.agentquery.com and you can search by genre where they clearly label the submission guidelines. And while we’re at it: know your genre. You can play around a little bit but every book fits on a bookshelf so find where yours goes. If you’re having trouble, look at the books around your book and figure it out – that’s also an excellent way to figure out your pitch paragraph.
As a sort of bonus, Ashlyn Macnamara (one of Sara’s clients) talked about her first – and last – query letter. This is perfect example of knowing what you’re talking about and also getting rejected. http://ashlynmacnamara.net/first-query-last-query/
So right now, I’m feeling the negative energy wash through this post so to end it off, here are 5 Accepts that Sara tweeted from the slush pile:
#5 = ACCEPT! historical romance.Fresh and unique story, eloquent beautiful writing and smoking hot characters.
#4 = ACCEPT! commercial fiction. heartbreakingly real and powerful writing. If I cry in under 2 sentences = WOW.
#3 = ACCEPT! science fiction YA. not a totally unique concept but outstanding character description & flawless writing.
#2 = ACCEPT! contemporary thriller YA. haunting writing, complex and interesting story, non-generic heroine.
#1 = ACCEPT. fantasy middle grade. truly unique world building and fantastic, snappy, engaging writing.
Thank you for letting me use these and I wish everyone the best of luck with your querying adventures. The Nelson Literary Agency opens again for submission in January so now’s the time for those last minute touches.
You can find more information about Sara here: http://publishersmarketplace.com/members/SaraMegibow/ and follow her on twitter here: http://twitter.com/saramegibow