Saturday, June 05, 2010

Who Really Reads Your Manuscript?

A young intern blogs at Bookends Literary Agency about her passion and responsibilities.

Call them interns, call them editorial assistants, call them temporaries from the local agency. No matter what you call them, they are probably the ones reading your book query at a literary agency with multiple agents. No, I'm not about to bash those people, but I do want you to realize that the person you saw speaking at a conference, the person whose blog you quickly open each week, most likely is not the person reading that query you choreographed until three in the morning.

I've known two editorial assistants. This is the blog of an intern who works for Bookends. They get paid little if any, some working for college credit. Most are in college or fresh out of college. None of them are published. They open the mail.

It's a slap in the face to many writers, to think they wrote for two years on a novel only to have a nineteen-year-old decide to reject it. But like any business, someone has to be the face you first greet at the door, and they don't put their top dogs out front like that.

Before you get upset, let's look at the fact of the situation:

1. Well-known agents or agents at an agency receive too many queries to read them all. That's not all they do. As a matter of fact, if you had an agent, you'd hope she/he didn't spend most their day reading the deluge of queries. I know. You're still seeking your agent, so you'd prefer they spend some amount of time taking you seriously. However, an agent has to work with existing clients and continue to sell work to publishers not to mention groom best-seller careers. If their stable is full, they can't justify the time to read new queries. After all, read the stats on how many books get published these days. How many rejections take place to every contract? Agents are human with real limitations, too.

2. Editorial assistants and interns are book enthusiasts, usually majoring or graduated in creative writing, English, journalism or publishing. More than likely, they have been exposed to the publishing industry more than you have. They're practically experts compared to us. They are scowering for something really great, pining to play a role in discovering someone good. Let's give them a bit of credit for their prowess.

3. Your goal as a writer is to capture the attention of readers. Here you have readers who work for agents, love reading, adore books, and are still excited and fresh enough to WANT to read your query. Sure, like anyone reading dozens of pieces per day, they learn to scan and discard. However, they probably give you more benefit of the doubt as they put themselves in your shoes, wanting as much as you to be published one day. It's a great test to present to these people. If you enthuse them, then you just might be marketable at Barnes & Noble.

On one hand, you'd like to know that the well-known name you saw at a writer's conference is hanging on your every word. On the other hand, the agent's editorial assistant might be more open-minded to what you have to offer. Do you have access to book lovers in the 18-25-year-old range? Run your query and opening chapters by them. I know if I were a writing teacher these days, I'd open my doors to draft queries and let my students dissect them. Not only would the writers gain insightful feedback, but the students also would learn how to pitch their future masterpieces.

Lesson: Write your query to entice anyone to want to know more.


Karen Lange said...

I've wondered about this; thanks for the insight and advice. Have a great weekend:)

Diane said...

Good info, thanks for sharing! :O)

Malcolm R. Campbell said...

On the plus side, if we've managed to capture the attention of that young reader, then maybe our book really will find a wide audience.


T. Powell Coltrin said...

This truly doesn't bother me. I think that age group and educational background is a super audience. I am thinking they would not be there if...they didn't like to read. Thanks for the information.

Anthony J. Langford said...

Oh my God, I'm so depressed.. This was me. Two years on my book.

Kind of explains things.. I sent out 90 queries over a 12 month period for a YA novel..I'm still hoping for a few more responses, but I only heard back from approximately half. How on earth do people get published this way?

I'd love to know how many ARE published this way, and how many are recommended to the agent, etc. We all know contacts are the best way to get in. We hear about them all the time.

Maybe I'll start sleeping in publishers doorways.


Jonathon Arntson said...

Excellent article, and a mind-opening one. I am not bothered by this hierarchy within the publishing industry. I have a critique partner who is an editorial assistant and she is an expert compared to me. Her input is priceless, I'd be comfortable with anyone of her caliber reading my query letters.