Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Does the Query Process Work?

Nathan Bransford has started an experiment to see how effective the querying process is.

Bransford writes a blog from his perspective as a literary agent for Curtis Brown Ltd. (I think it’s the second best agent-run blog for writers. QueryShark is number one. Both help writers understand why agents make the decisions they do.)

First, some background: Most authors are published via agent representation. Agents often pick which authors to represent based upon a process that begins with a query letters that the writer sends describing their manuscript. (I use words like “most” and “often” because there are exceptions.)

If the agents don’t like the query, the process ends. The author does not get an agent. The book likely goes unpublished.

On Thursday, Bransford asked his readers if they thought the query process worked. Does it weed out the right people? Does it help good writers find the right agents?

Some said “yes;” others, “no.” My feelings tend to coincide with that of L.T. Host, who commented, “I think there’s probably a better way. I just have no clue what that could be.”

Now that everyone has had a chance to give their opinion, Bransford has arranged for an experiment that will give us quantifiable information.

He will take five queries and the first 30 pages of their corresponding manuscripts and post them on his blog. Then, he will ask his readership to rank the queries along with their pages. Finally, we will see if there is a large discrepancy between the quality of the queries and the actual text.

(In case you haven’t guessed, I’m writing about this contest partly because it coincides with my comments on the query process yesterday.)

On an unrelated note, Robert Swartwood is holding a hint fiction contest. Hint fiction employs the same principle as the Hemingway Challenge. Writers use no more than 25 words to hint at a larger story. Here are some examples. The deadline is midnight April 30. Winners get some stuff.

Last year, Swartwood’s contest was judged by Stewart O’Nan. This year — James Frey. Yes, that James Frey.

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com

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