Saturday, February 16, 2008

Query stats for you numbers nerds

Since you seem to like these things:
queries read yesterday and this morning (so far): 96
partial manuscripts requested in past 48 hours: 4
full manuscripts requested in past 48 hours: 1 (paranormal romance)
Yes, I am requesting a lot of partials. That's because I have the luxury of doing so right now while my client load is non-existent light. I'm also allowing myself to get a feel for just what grabs me. It's part of the learning process of becoming an agent. Agents who have been in the business a lot longer than I have been already know their own tastes, and know what works for them and what doesn't. They also have full client loads. By necessity, they must be far more selective about what they read and how best to use their time.

As I grow more into this position, I'll no doubt do the same thing. But for now, I'm asking to see a lot of partials.

I'm also impressed by the number of really excellent query letters I'm seeing! Short, succinct and compelling. Particularly from those folks who identify as former Clarion and/or Odyssey students.

Some of the worst query letters I'm seeing are, surprisingly, from MFAs. They're long and tedious and a little wind-baggy, telling me more about the writer's background and education than they do about the book they're hoping to get me to read. I wonder: do most MFA programs only focus on the craft and not the business of writing? Anyone?

Anyway, back to the in-box!

14 comments:

clara said...

Thanks so much for updating us on your slush pile progress! Love the blog, btw.

I sent you a query 2/13. Are you still wading through that file?

(Don't forget to take a break!)

kyler said...

Colleen, this is so much fun. Your blog is my new favorite and I'm laughing out loud. Also, never had the experience of following, day by day, the process of an agent I've queried! It's almost like watching a horse race. I'm so glad I don't have an MFA. My novel disses too much education anyway. Maybe you'll get to see it! (if you're lucky!)

psamphire said...

I started an MFA program at Vermont College last year, and although I gave it up after one semester, it was fairly clear to me that the whole idea of there being a 'commercial' side to writing was seen as being a bit dirty. Certainly, nothing was scheduled in the program regarding how to write queries or synopses, even though pretty much every student in my class wanted to find out, and it was made clear that that wasn't what the MFA was about. Needless to say, I did not agree with this policy...

Skye said...

It's so cool to watch this process since it's usually so opaque. Do you read a batch and then request-n-reject in a series of emails, or read one query and respond before moving on to the next? Like Clara, I'd love you to annotate your stats with dates. I feel like I'm reading over your shoulder. Hope I'm not breathing down your neck!

La Gringa said...

Actually, I got the idea of posting the stats from another agent, the most excellent Jennifer Jackson, who has been agenting for about fifteen years now.

She also has a superb blog where she gives great advice on getting published.

tcastleb said...

I think it's definitely true that MFA's (not necessarily all of them, but I've heard the rumor too) focus on the writing and theory, and not the business of or how to sell said writing. Those of us that went to Clarion, Odyssey and Seton Hill's Writing Popular Fiction program got tons of info on how to write as well as how to sell, how to get agents, and how to write query letters and all that good stuff. It might also be a different mind-set between literary and genre writers. The programs I mentioned also bring in pro authors and agents and editors for the students to learn from.

bottle-of-shine said...

This whole process is really fascinating. I'm nowhere near educated enough about these sort of things, so I'm really glad you're sharing them. Thank you! :D

Rae L. said...

Very much appreciating the query stats. I have to agree your blog is my new fave. I'm learning so much and having a blast at the same time. :-)

S. E. Ward said...

Going to nth the whole, "Stats are awesome!" sentiment. I know that agent rosters are usually as tight as a corset on a Victorian debutante. It's nifty to not only see the actual numbers, but see them from the start. It really gives a fresh perspective on the whole querying process.

Just out of (wholly selfish) curiosity, about how long does it take you to read and review a requested partial? I've been on the edge of my seat since Thursday. (Er, did it arrive? The email gods are seldom kind to me. They once ate an entire ms.)

Nathan said...

I've been lurking here periodically for about a year. I've been following regularly since Scalzi linked you a few days ago.

I'm loving watching the progress and vote with those who like the stats.

Christopher Barzak said...

I think a lot of MFA programs don't teach the business side of writing, because it's labeled as "business", which isn't writing itself, so they feel it's outside of the nature of the discipline on which they're focusing. However, I'm applying for a position teaching fiction writing in an MFA program for next year, and if I'm hired, one way that I plan to bring the "business" side of writing into my classrooms is to show that there actually is a writing aspect to the business--how to write a query letter, a synopsis, how to work with an editor on--gasp!--revision, discussion on how to gauge what a good editorial relationship is for you as a writer. These are all writing concerns, too, and to ignore them completely and entirely is wrong-headed. Some MFA programs do teach these things, but not enough of them yet.

I don't have an MFA, I have an MA. I learned these things from experience and intuition, not from classrooms. I do think they can be discussed, at the very least, in classroom settings, especially if you provide a sort of apprenticeship aspect to a writing education.

La Gringa said...

Chris, will you marry me? ;-)

Gwenda said...

I will agree with those who've said that MFAs focus more on craft -- and they should. Anyone with an internet connection can learn how and who to query.

I was talking to one of the faculty members at Vermont about this, and, really, to an extent these programs are where apprenticeships are done now. In the olden days of publishing, I think editors used to be willing to develop writers; now there's no luxury to do that. Patrick clearly had a different experience than I'm having, but there actually is a business panel at least once every residency at Vermont and lots of people there are getting read, getting agents and getting sold off queries (the faculty are also really good about helping people -- after they've graduated). I'm personally grateful that's all the business side amounts to, because I get that elsewhere. (Oh, and one of my friends has completed two commercial projects for Simon and Schuster for credit while in the program, with no nose-looking-down at all.)

I couldn't be a bigger fan of the Vermont College program and I don't want anyone taking away a negative impression of it. Anyway, I don't think all MFA programs are the same and, ultimately, their place is to help you develop your writing and earn the credentials to allow you to teach if you want to do that (if you can get a job!). The quality of the writing is what gets you published, etc. Vermont College MFA children/teen writing probably has a higher proportion of professional writers as students than any program in the country, and the graduates seem to do very well for themselves.

tsrosenberg said...

I linked to your query letter post the other day, and I'm already getting referrals from people searching Google for '"colleen lindsay" rejection'. :)