A Penny for Your Thoughts: Queries from 2011

by Dawn

As 2011 is officially over, I thought it would be a good idea to share my observations on the query process.  Specifically in regard to Red Sofa Literary.

In the world of publishing, any agent will confirm that our representative categories are often ignored.  So much that it takes a special dose of patience to avoid being frustrated. Sadly the assumption that our clearly stated submission guidelines will be honored is sometimes too much to ask. 

Observation #1
Here are some of the many categories of book queries received at Red Sofa – that fell outside my representative categories:

College Reference
Religion/Spiritual (a ridiculous amount)
Genre Fiction (of all types)
General Fiction

If you take a glance at my agency categories, it’ll be evident I don’t represent books of this nature.

THE LESSON:  Go to any agent’s website and consult his/her representative categories before sending a query. Definitely use the print guides, but take an extra step of visiting agency websites, in order to save time and frustration.

Observation #2
Frequency of memoir and fiction queries for Red Sofa in 2011 = 25.8%

Here’s a story: Let’s say you open a coffee shop.  The only thing you will be selling is black coffee and Americanos. Those are the only items available on the menu. Before opening, you’ve of course ensured all print and marketing materials state clearly those are the only options. Assuredly customers will understand this. Right?

Now imagine 25% of your customers attempt to order ham sandwiches and ice cream (every day), despite these items not being available. Despite the clear communication before and after opening the coffee shop. In summary, people ignore the menu.

THE LESSON: Take this “caffeinated” situation and compare it to publishing.  When agency categories are ignored, both the author and agency will walk away unhappy. The most efficient use of one’s time is to explicitly follow the submission guidelines of agents queried. Hopefully this will result in a more successful query process.

Observation #3
Does your memoir really need to be published? Specifically with a large commercial publisher. 

I have to say that with all the memoir queries received, the plethora of material is beyond depressing. Books on cancer, abuse, bad parents, death, the end of the world, mental illness, failed relationships, other world dimensions, hopelessness and more came across my desk. 

Anyone who knows me well will state that I don’t expect happy, Hollywood-like books or endings to books. But I do have to draw the line with the utterly depressive nature of today’s memoirs found in the query pile.  I madly, truly believe we do NOT need any more books with topics of this nature – unless they are innovative, different, or set a new standard.  And of course queried to agents who are actively seeking memoirs. . .

THE LESSON: As Neil Genzlinger wrote in his editorial, “The Problem With Memoirs,” on Jan. 28, 2011 (for the NY Times) “That’s what makes a good memoir — it’s not a regurgitation of ordinariness or ordeal, not a dart thrown desperately at a trendy topic, but a shared discovery.

Maybe that’s a good rule of thumb: If you didn’t feel you were discovering something as you wrote your memoir, don’t publish it. Instead hit the delete key, and then go congratulate yourself for having lived a perfectly good, undistinguished life. There’s no shame in that. “


Overall I’m hoping this will encourage more than discourage. I’m constantly reminding aspiring authors that all of us are part of the book publishing process. That it’s better shared, than going about alone. The only thing those of us in publishing ask is that basic submission guidelines are followed.  

We all know that writing requires a special commitment and passion for words. So please try to appreciate (and treasure) the overall experience of writing a book, whether you’re published or not. That should be the most basic expectation when all is said and done.

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