Let me state first the smaller process I go through when reading submissions.
1. I read all initial queries at one time and answer them immediately.
2. With requested material, I read ALL of the projects in my stack at one time and make a few notes on them as to what I thought.
3. I answer all of those requested ones at one time. I do this because sometimes I have the same comment for multiple projects. I can often use much of the same comment for each such as the writing style was forced and not natural, the techniques the author used seemed out of place and so forth.
4. With all of the submissions, I am logging them into my database recording the author, the title of the piece, genre, date in, date out and comment.
Step 1 - The Initial Query
At this point, you have fired off that initial query letter to the agent(s) of your dream. In most cases, the agents might simply ask for a query letter but in some cases, there might be a request for a small sample of the writing. When I say small, it is probably not more than the first three chapters. Here at Greyhaus, you can submit one of two ways - snail mail and e-query. In the case of an e-query I ask for only a query letter or you can simply use the form I have on my website. If it is snail mail, I ask for the first three pages and a 3-5 page synopsis.
Why so little at this point? I am simply looking at the premise of the story, much of the same way you decide on books based on the blurbs on the cover. In this case, I am looking to see if the story is something that A) I represent; B) is marketable; and C) if it sounds unique enough or appealing to what I want. Obviously with the snail mail queries, I will spend more time with the synopsis. Again, I am looking for the story concept to see if there is some potential. This step is just like making a face to face pitch with an agent at a conference.
Step 2 - Request for more material
Hopefully you have made it this far. In this case, now that I have more material, I start to look at the voice of the story and the actual writing. For me, I most often ask for just the first three chapters of a story. There are times that I ask for a full of a project, but this is because I saw something that truly stood out, or I have an editor who is looking for just such a project.
As I read through the partial, I am looking at several things. First of all, does the story hook me in terms of initial character and plot development. This might be a unique voice, an interesting quirk...just something. Secondly, I am looking at the writer's knowledge of the craft. Does the writing appear natural and flow off of the page, or does it look like the writer is still at the beginning stages of learning how to use those techniques.
Because I have only asked for a partial, I am also going to rely heavily on the synopsis. Let's assume I like those initial pages. Now I review the synopsis to see how the story is going to play out. A lot of times, the first chapters are great, but the story falls apart because there is nothing to sustain the story. I also look at the synopsis if the initial query sounded good, but maybe those opening pages were not so hot. Maybe the person just didn't know the right place to start.
Essentially, this is where I am really dissecting the writing to see if it is worth the effort to proceed.
Step 3 - The full manuscript
So, you hooked me on the first three, or maybe the initial query was so amazing, I just moved to this step. Now, I am going to request the full project. This is where the real challenge comes. I start back at the beginning of the story to check for three things. 1) Does the story still have it to hook me a second time. There are times when something sounds great the first time and then on a second read, you realize you just missed something that doesn't work. 2) Does the story do everything that the synopsis said it would do. Remember I looked at the story. There are times that the story doesn't follow that initial synopsis. 3) Can you keep me reading. This is always a good sign. You know the feeling yourself. When you start reading a book and simply cannot put it down. That is what I am looking for.
Step 4 - The consultation
With larger agencies with multiple agents, they may start this process sooner. For me, because it is just me, there are times that I might turn to agents in other agencies, or writers that I work with to bounce ideas off of them. In simple terms, "tell me what you think." A lot of agencies and publishers use this concept as well when they have outside readers review the projects. It becomes just another set of eyes.
Step 5 - The call (or follow-up email)
Now you have me hooked. I like the project, but I am still not ready to offer representation. At this point, it goes back to the comment I have said here over and over again. Agents are representing writers and not simply a piece of writing. At this point, I often will ask authors several questions. Again, I might do this in a phone conversation (especially if I really like the story) or via email.
- What other stories do you have so far?
- What projects do you have in a work in progress phase?
- Where do you see your writing going as a career?
- Where do you see this project going? In other words, if you were to send it to a publisher, who would you send it to?
- Where have you sent this project to?
When I do call, which might be after that follow-up email, now I want to talk to the writer as a person. This gives us each a chance to hear personalities and to truly see if we can work together. Yes, there are times when we talk to each other and this is simply not going to work. It happens.
Hopefully, after all of this, you get to hear the comment, "I would really like to offer you representation." That is what you were hoping for, right?
I think the one thing to remember here is that we are not just sending out a form letter and not reading your work. We are. We really do want to find the next great author.