Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On queries, part 1: what's in a name?

Let's talk queries!

Vicky asked in the comments on my previous post how many queries I get in a day. (Hi, Vicky!) The short answer is that it varies widely: some days I'll get upwards of 100 queries in a 24-hour period, and other days it'll be more like ten. I haven't counted, but from the looks of my inbox I've gotten about 20 or 30 in the past day or so.

It won't surprise anyone to learn that the queries themselves vary tremendously in terms of quality. After almost six years (!!!) of reading submissions, I can usually tell in less than a minute whether something is worth a closer look. What IS interesting is that the higher-quality stuff seems to come in waves: I go several weeks sometimes without requesting a full manuscript, and then a day arrives when I'll get three or four or five really terrific looking projects. It never rains, etc.

So let's talk a little bit about what makes a good query. There's a lot to say on the subject, so I'm planning to spread this out over a number of posts.

Let's start with the very first thing I notice: the salutation.

Did the author address me by name? (I prefer "Dear Ms. Miller-Callihan" for the initial query, though I'm considerably less formal in my day-to-day interactions with clients I've signed. And if there's no salutation at all, I've been known to delete the email without responding, if it doesn't immediately wow me.)

Did they spell my name right? (This sounds very petty, but wouldn't YOU want someone to spell your name correctly?)

Did they even GET my name right? (I think this is a mail-merge problem, but once a month or so I'll get a query that's addressed to another literary agent, someone that's not even part of my agency.)

I'm under no illusions that my name is easy to spell. Think of it like the SATs: there are points awarded just for that.

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