At the end of the day, most of us are going to want to go with something that doesn't need too much work--we have a limited amount of time to get you in shape, you know!--and ideally, we'll also want something we personally like since we'll have to put a lot of our time into it. For free, you know.
I got a lot of submissions last year, so I'm expecting a lot of submissions this year, and if the preliminary entries before the final submission deadline are any indication, I am going to be buried. So I wanted to come up with a system that will help me avoid having to read entries more than once if I am not going to be working with them, and what better way to do that than a nerdy table?
Here's my query table. As I read the queries, I'm giving them 0 to 5 points on each of these categories, with 25 points possible. High points is good, low points is not good.
I'm considering each of these categories equally.
Writing Quality: This basically means I'm looking at whether the writing itself is smooth. If the sentences feel like they flow and the language is easy to read and easy to understand.
- 5 points: Masterfully written, no awkward sentences, easy to follow.
- 4 points: Adequate writing, though language could be improved.
- 3 points: Unclear sometimes, makes its point, but feels awkward.
- 2 points: Frequent clarity issues, poor sentence transitions, feels overworked.
- 1 point: Reads like author struggles with language.
- 0 points: Language is garbled, can't understand the content.
- 5 points: No errors; author clearly knows how to spell, punctuate, use correct grammar.
- 4 points: One or more errors, but might be an isolated incident.
- 3 points: The errors are clearly the norm rather than an occasional glitch.
- 2 points: Frequent errors.
- 1 point: A catastrophic number of errors.
- 0 points: Author fails third grade English.
- 5 points: Perfect setup of characters, conflicts, and stakes, gets me invested.
- 4 points: Might be a little murky, but still strong telling me the story and why I care.
- 3 points: Gets a little lost or doesn't have a clear presentation/vague stakes.
- 2 points: The story isn't at all clear; it's characters that do stuff.
- 1 point: The author says nothing or almost nothing about the book, or says so in a way I can't access.
- 0 points: Isn't actually a query letter--does something else instead of telling me about the book.
- 5 points: The level of detail feels perfect; I'm not overwhelmed with detail, but not left wondering anything vital.
- 4 points: The level of detail is either too much or too little, but it's fixable--might need to ask the author to answer X question in the query or to delete X rambling.
- 3 points: The query needs a whole extra paragraph or needs a whole paragraph deleted.
- 2 points: Misses the mark by a noticeable margin--significantly too much or too little.
- 1 point: Author is treating the query letter like either an elevator pitch (way too little) or a comprehensive synopsis (way too much--may tell the ending).
- 0 points: Spends the entire letter talking about something other than the book, such as their own publishing credentials, their experience, why they wrote the book, or why they think it will sell.
- 5 points: I'm in love, marry me.
- 4 points: I like it--I could dig this, it's neat.
- 3 points: I could definitely see myself reading it for fun.
- 2 points: Really not my usual thing--wouldn't check it out of the library.
- 1 point: A subject, genre, or character I'd avoid on purpose.
- 0 points: You offended me or pissed me off.
Let's look at what my (slightly different) table for the pages looks like:
|Writing Quality||Errors||Character||Effective Intro||Personal||Total|
Writing Quality: The five-point scale is the same as above.
Errors: The five-point scale is the same as above. Yes, I will give you a 4 starting with ONE error. I am a horrible witch. I'm not kidding. Don't sub to me if you can't handle it.
Character: I am a huge character writer, character reader, and character, uh, mentory person. I will connect to character more than anything else in your book, and this is extremely important to me, so I am looking at it as a grading category here.
- 5 points: Immediate understanding of who your characters are and what they're about, with natural personality reveal and good dialogue. Bonus if I want to hang out with them.
- 4 points: I like your characters and their execution. I get a good feel for who they are and why.
- 3 points: There's not a full connection here--maybe I'm watching from a distance, but the characters are still on display and interacting somewhat competently.
- 2 points: The characters are just there being puppeted, or don't feel authentic, or give us no information about themselves as they act.
- 1 point: The characters are caricatures and feel wooden. One dimension and everyone talks alike.
- 0 points: There is no feel for character at all and there's no story-relevant reason for it.
- 5 points: You got me fully invested and reading the entire first chapter. You found the right balance between action, character, and background detail to pull me right in.
- 4 points: You probably have some awkward details about the characters' pasts or current problem, or spent too much time telling me an aside about your fantasy world, but it's quite readable and I read the whole first chapter.
- 3 points: You had an uneven beginning, halting your opening to tell me things or having nothing really important happening. I feel like you started in the wrong place. I may or may not read the whole first chapter.
- 2 points: You aren't ready--you've figured out your details, but not how to tell the story. You haven't figured out yet where your story starts and you're frequently interrupting your action to fill me in, posing your characters awkwardly to make them drop exposition, or rambling about something I'm not invested enough to care about. I didn't finish your pages.
- 1 point: You aren't ready--I can't even follow the action or figure out who's who, and the confusion isn't a consequence of an experimental writing style (because that would get me invested even if I didn't know what was going on).
- 0 points: You apparently turned in a first draft and/or have no idea how to pull readers into a story. You haven't realized yet that readers don't have to humor you; they don't have to be here, so they're not going to wait until it gets good.
So after I have both scores, I put you in a list. A ranked list. Each person who subs to me has a score next to them on my ranked list (e.g., 17/11) and the total of those two numbers will determine where they fall (but I'll be able to see how their query compares with their pages). Last year, I had trouble remembering why I put someone where I did in my ranked list, so now, not only can I assign them a score, but I can jump back to their entry and see what I liked and didn't like about it just by glancing at a number. Obviously some people will have the same numerical score, so when that happens it's just going to be a gut feeling thing (or I might give preference to people who had higher Trajectory scores in the query or higher Effective Intro scores in the pages).
Also, if I'm torn at the end, I can remember without a lot of rereading what each writer's strength is and how they compare.
I wonder if I'll find any 25/25 entries?
Will it be you?