Agency Lessons: I'd love to read for a living

Once upon a time, a young(ish) lady dreamed of being a literary agent. "How cool would it be to read books for a living," she told the fairy while brushing her pet unicorn. And then she woke up.

Ha, who has time to read? Although, in reality, I do have to read in the genres I represent or how else will I know what's out there. This was brought home by a post yesterday over on Query Shark. I love Janet Reid. She tells it like it is. Here's what she said in a query critique comment:

Remember, I'm not sitting on my sofa with a cup of tea, savoring your query. I'm not reading this like I read a novel. I'm sitting at my desk, I've got ten minutes before a scheduled phone call and I’m trying to find the queries that entice me to read on. In other words, I'm reading fast and mostly skimming. Whether you think this is a good idea, or fair is immaterial. It's reality and  a smart query writer will write to his/her audience.

The part that really stood out to me is the last two lines. I wish I had a nickle for every writer who's ever said, "If you would just keep reading, it gets really good on page fifteen." If I did, I might be rich, but I'm still not sticking around until page 15 if pages 1-14 didn't capture my attention.

In order to get through the sheer quantity of material that comes my way, I have to skim. I have to browse; I have to read for the standout. It might not be fair, but unless writers are willing to wait 12 months to hear back on every query letter, it is the reality. But this isn't supposed to be a "whoa is me, I'm so busy" kind of post. It's about you.

So what does this mean for the querying writer? Every part of your submission package has to sparkle and shine. Every. Single. Part. It's not good enough to have a so-so query that leads into an amazing first page. Or an okay first page that sets the stage for a stellar first five.  If the query isn't rock star quality, the agent you query probably isn't reading the first five pages, even if they were requested as part of the submission. 

That's a lot of pressure. Trust me, I get it. I've been at hair pulling levels of stress over a single line in my query letter writing history. It sucks, but there's nothing you can do about it other than writing an amazing query letter for a truly spectacular novel. Easy, right?