Slogging my way through queries over the weekend. Since I twittered (tweeted?) about the overwhelming quantity, most people are suggesting I get some help with them, which is not a bad idea, but problematic because I am such a total control freak. If you’ve been reading this you know that I am an optimist, and so the query-filled in-box, as much work as it represents, also always feels full of possibility. Over the years, I have found such great projects in what used to be known as slush, and even with a very full client list I find I can’t take the plunge and ask people not to send. Here, off the top of my head, are a few published titles–jewels, all of them–which were sent to me unsolicited. The fun in selling them was heightened by the fact that discovering them felt like a true mitzvah. So as not to play favorites, I’m only listing ones from earlier in my career and a few whose publication is upcoming, but there are many, many more.

HER INFINITE VARIETY by Pamela Rafael Berkman
TRUTH by Jacqueline Sheehan
DIARY OF A VIAGRA FIEND by Jayson Gallaway
YOU ARE A DOG by Terry Bain
CARTER FINALLY GETS IT by Brent Crawford (upcoming from Hyperion)
ONE SCREAM AWAY by Kate Brady (upcoming from Grand Central)

And I’m in the midst of making a deal right now for someone else who e-mailed me cold. I’ll report this later because it’s been such a fun and exciting journey with her.

Most of the projects I’ve listed above are memoir and fiction. The nonfiction I do for the most part is how-to/lifestyle/humor by people who have good platforms and those are mostly from referral or that I read about/hear about somewhere and go after. But it’s very good business to find memoir and fiction from new writers because building a list as an agent (just to let you in on my personal business plan) is about selling enough fiction to build a good backlist. You want to sell the frontlist splashy nonfiction but many of those books are one-offs. To maintain a list, you also want to find those writers of fiction and memoir who will write book after book and make good royalties on them over time. So my goal every year, for what it’s worth, is to sign 3-5 first novels a year and these mostly come from the slush pile.

Please comment and let me know your slush pile success story. For the purposes of this post, I’m only listing first time authors who came in over the transom without referrals, but I love all my authors unreservedly, of course.

Jenny's posts

18 Responses to queries

  1. readme38 says:

    Well, I am currently in your email pile, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed! I love that you want to champion as-yet-unpublished writers. That’s one reason why I queried you. 🙂

  2. Heather says:

    You could find an intern who just looks to make sure the query follows your guidelines and is one of the genres you rep. Just a weeding through, so to speak.

    But I, too, am in your “slush” pile, and love that you are actively looking for debut authors. That’s as cool as it is smart.

  3. terripatrick says:

    How exciting! An overloaded inbox of potential! Congrats!

    Great points about fiction vs non-fiction. I’m also in your slush pile inbox, for a memoir. I’m not usual – and have two more planned – but my first love is crafting story, living with the characters within the world I create. It’s so fun to play god.

    I’ve had lots of good stuff, over years, as a writer who submits to a slush pile. I carefully selected, what slushpile to enter, but my objective is to connect with readers and the first ones – are agents and editors.

    Think of your time, combing through your queries, as the chance to be a mentor. But also limit it to the hours and time you want to spend. You’re an awesome agent today, because you take care of your clients. You choose the stories, you feel, will shine.

    Your clients are blessed. The rest of us are still on the journey.

    Please keep sharing your insights, and the excitement, of this wacky world of publishing!

  4. Jennifer says:

    What if you were to treat your inbox like a video game with the Universe designed to further develop your intuitive skills for sensing and tapping into what is Ripe, Juicy, Luscious, and ready for market? What if you trust your already well developed skills so that when you sit down at your keyboard, fresh and alert, you can scan through your email list of queries and pick the juiciest right off the top? What if you get so comfortable doing this that you cheerfully let go of the chaff unexamined, because you know you have skimmed out the wheat? …Just to mix up the harvesting metaphors. God forbid you have to bite every apple to get the best. And as your harvest sells, then you hire the young pups who are willing to bite fruit. Much more fun to cultivate taste than do all the heavy lifting at this stage of the game.

  5. Terry says:

    Thanks, Jenny. Biggest, slushiest hugs.

    twitter | dog | cat

  6. Terry says:

    You know what? I really love it when book titles link to purchase pages. So, a bundle of amazon links for the books above:

    HER INFINITE VARIETY by Pamela Rafael Berkman
    SONGS OF THE GORILLA NATION by Dawn Prince Hughes
    TRUTH by Jacqueline Sheehan
    DIARY OF A VIAGRA FIEND by Jayson Gallaway
    YOU ARE A DOG by Terry Bain
    CARTER FINALLY GETS IT by Brent Crawford (upcoming from Hyperion)
    ONE SCREAM AWAY by Kate Brady (upcoming from Grand Central)

  7. Kelley Nyrae says:

    Congrats on starting your own agency, Jenny and thanks for starting the blog. As an author, I love getting insight on an agent and their likes and dislikes.

    I’m not currently in your slush pile but considering I plan to be there in the near future, I love knowing that you’re excited about new authors. Even though I am already published, I’m still the new kid on the block. Stories of new authors making it is inspiring.

  8. stephhale says:

    OMG, I can’t believe you are blogging! That’s so awesome.
    ps- I love you too! 😉

  9. Sarah Bain says:

    Hey you, just know that I LOVE that you have a blog. I can at the very least keep up with you and feel more connected and send writers your way. And who knows someday, perhaps, I’ll end up with a happy book or at the very least a book that you can’t put down! 🙂

  10. Bradley Wind says:

    Not sure if it's a "full fledged" success story, but I sat on Janklow&Nesbit's(Lynn's) slush for about six months until she passed me on to Luke (who then signed me but must've been busy that year because he only submitted to a handful – all passed on it.) Still I felt like a success for a while with that book. Your blogs about Will and Frank (and several other recent sources)have me thinking differently about self-publishing…although I still feel lame even just considering it.

  11. E. J. Tonks says:

    *sigh* what a breath of fresh air this was to read! With so much anti-first novelist rhetoric out there, it’s nice to hear that even the slushies have a shot! 🙂

  12. Stephanie says:

    Thank you so much for this…it gives a lot of hope for us unpublished writers!!!

    I’m in your slush pile too!

  13. jimnduncan says:

    You just need to find an intern who has similar and like-minded control issues, as well as understands what you like. No small task mind you, but I’ve certainly read from other agent blogs about how much they love the fabulous intern/assistant.

    I am also curious, though perhaps I just missed it in the earlier blogs. Why did you decide to go out on your own?

  14. Amanda Ashby says:

    Great post, Jenny!!!!

    I came through your slush pile and your reply to my query was so fast that I was sure it was going to be one of those automatic notes saying that you’d gone on vacation for a week/month/year and to please not bother you again. Instead it was a request for a full which you then went onto sell, proving that you truly are the best agent ever!!!

  15. Suzan says:

    Hello Jenny!
    I don’t have a “slush” success story, yet. I’m still new at this. You were one of my first agent queries. I do enjoy your blog, though and hope you find some of of those jewels you spoke of in your growing pile. Have fun on your search and congrats on going out on your own!

  16. Thank you, I love to hear slushy success stories! Especially as I am about to start submitting my book proposal to agents and expect to be sitting at the bottom of quite a few slush piles very soon. To hear there is hope… hooray!

    And congrats on the new agency! I have no doubt it will be a smashing success.

  17. Congratulations on starting your new agency! I am impressed by your work ethic and your optimistic attitude about the “slush pile”–which I’m not in yet, though I expect to be very soon. 😉

  18. Hoardmeister says:

    Dahling –

    My first published novel was pulled out of the slush pile by a perspicacious editor at the now defunct imprint Avonova. She signed me for a series, of which I wrote two, and then she was fired…oh, well, that’s the way the parchment crumbles. I shall never forget the immense thrill of holding my book in my hands for the first time, standing in the lobby and reading it cover to cover as if someone else had written it.