A peek into what goes on in an agent's mind as he or she reads submissions is a very valuable thing, which is why the team here at Operation Awesome wanted to give Pass Or Pages a try. We hoped everyone participating and watching would get something out of it that would help in their writing, whether it be how to craft a compelling query letter, or something they could do to improve their first page. As a contest organizer and observer, here's what I learned:
- It takes guts to enter something like this, where your work will be made public. People were willing to take the chance, however, because they were willing to do something that would improve their work. That's an admirable trait.
- Agents read queries quickly, and make judgements on them quickly, too. This is not because they are jerks, but because they get so many queries a day that they HAVE TO. Do you want an agent who spends most of their time on their clients, or reading queries?
- Sentences we think are clever, they've seen over and over again because of the sheer volume of queries they read. Getting several different opinions on your query letter will help you avoid clichés.
- Characters are not what make a query stand out--plot is. The flip side is that what makes a book memorable is usually the characters! I think this is why people often emphasize their unique characters in the query letter. Do things in the proper order: Get an agent interested in your plot via the query letter. THEN put memorable characters in the book so that interest turns to love!
- Personal taste counts for so much. One agent might not like your writing style, but another will love it. This is why people advise writers to query widely. The wider you cast your net, the more likely you are to find people who love your writing.
- Some agents are sticklers about things like word counts. Some are not. Some agents don't mind graphic violence. Others are turned off by it. Researching agents' preferences is worth your time!
We hope you out there in reader-land found something useful from this round of Pass Or Pages. We'll host another one, with a different category and genre, sometime in the spring. Follow us on Twitter (@OpAwesome6) so you don't miss out!
Even though I don't write in the chosen genre, I learned a lot.
It really amazing how small things can tick off an agent, and how two agents can have completely different opinions about a query/sample. When people say subjectivity plays a big deal in decision-making, they aren't kidding. But the passes also highlight how vague queries are not interesting, and as you mentioned, one needs to show the plot along with great characters.
I'm looking forward to the next Pass or Pages.
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