I found this to be funny and informative. I hope you do too. The full article is at the above link. Coming at you from Writer’s Digest.
As an agent of more than five years with the Irene Goodman Agency, I am oftentimes approached at writing retreats, conferences, children’s birthday parties, nail salons, shooting ranges and quinceañeras, and asked a variety of questions about my take on the inner workings of the publishing industry. I have no problem straight-shooting the goods in those moments (“Honestly, Father McKenna? I think a young adult series based on Fifty Shades of Grey is a terrible idea …”) and in fact quite enjoy the discourse.
Earlier this year, Writer’s Digest reached out and invited writers everywhere to anonymously—without fear of judgment or need to be overly polite—submit the questions they’d always secretly wanted to ask a literary agent, but had been afraid to voice. When WD then approached me and asked if I’d be willing to answer a selection of those questions in print—and to do so with a level of candor that writers would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere—I applauded their creativity and immediately grabbed my thinking cap (read: flask) and dove in.
by Barbara Poelle
I found the questions to be insightful, and I hope I did the responses justice. If not, I am not Barbara Poelle—I am Enid Snarklefritz and I have anger management issues.
A few ground rules heading in (imagine a bespectacled man in an ill-fitting brown suit standing over me and dictating in a nasally voice): These answers are mine and mine alone, and I do not presume to speak for the industry at large (or for WD). Take what you’re about to read in the spirit in which it’s intended: as one agent’s honest take on the subjects at hand. Nothing you read here is meant to be direction on how to embark, sustain or engage in a publishing career, nor should you assume there is any specific path to success based upon my responses. There are lots of ways to skin a thunder lizard. (That last part is me, not the guy in the suit.)
So let us begin to see what you can learn when you … Ask an Agent Anything!
Dear Agent: A lot of agencies’ websites say they read every query. But I could say the same thing about all the junk mail I receive. How much time do you really spend looking at each query—as in, average seconds per query letter? Give it to me straight. I can take it.
This reminds me of the time I got curious and ordered my sister to hit me as hard as she could, to see if I could take it. She looks like Reese Witherspoon and weighs maybe 101 pounds soaking wet with rocks in her pockets, but she went ahead and cranked me a teeth-rattler on the arm that I feel fairly certain created some sort of embolism that is just waiting to travel to my brain like a gift that keeps on giving.
That is a preface to say: Ground yourself; this one might be a molar-shaker.
Sometimes it really is only, say, four seconds; a first line can close it down for me (e.g., the one I got that opened with, “What if it was your job to kill babies?”). Often the deal breaker is elsewhere in the first paragraph, when I see yet another Hezbollah/North Korea/China terrorist thriller plot, or an estranged daughter coming back to the small town to deal with her ailing mother, expose family secrets and rekindle love with her high school flame. Or sometimes it’s at a point later in a query when I am insulted, belittled or offended (yup, those happen too).
In general, I just stop the second I realize the story is just not for me. But average time per query aside, I can assure you this: I do look at ’em all.