Thursday, June 3, 2010

Jury Selection and Query Reading

I'm sorry I've been absent all week. It's the last week of school for the kids and got called into jury duty yesterday, and everyone is sick. So basically it's just a normal week and I have no excuse for not blogging. :)

Anyway, jury duty was a bit anticlimactic this time because I didn't get selected to be on the jury. I don't know if jury selection is the same in every state, but where I live they have 24 jurors go into the jury selection process. The lawyers have 1 hour to get that jury from 24 to 6.

They start by asking questions to weed out the people who might be crazy or have biases that would make it difficult for them to judge fairly. It's pretty easy to tell who these people are. When asked if they would have a problem trusting law enforcement testimony they say policemen are all out to get us. Or when they are asked about how they feel about children testifying they say that kids are stupid and unreliable and they don't think they could believe anything a kid says.

Then the prosecution and the defense get to exclude 3 jurors each just because the attorneys think they might be sympathetic to the other side. They could easily make a mistake at this point. They've only had an hour to get to know 24 people. They can't know everything about them. Maybe they excuse jurors who would have been on their side. The first 6 people not to be excluded have to/get to be on the jury.

Some of the people who are excused feel a little rejected. They are competent people. They didn't do anything wrong. But the judge reminded us that it wasn't personal. The lawyers were just doing their best to put together a jury that would be fair to both sides.

I was one of the very last jurors in the room so I knew I wouldn't get picked unless more than half of the people in the front two rows were crazy. So I had plenty of time to contemplate other things, like what it must be like to sort through queries looking for clients.

I think it must be a little like jury selection. The agent or assistant starts with way more authors than they could possibly represent. It's easy to do the first cut. There are many people who don't follow submission guidelines, there are a few crazies, and there are probably some letters that are so poorly written the agent knows the writer couldn't put together coherent novel. I'm guessing none of you fit into this category.

The second round is more difficult. The agent has to read each letter and decide if the the story being offered is something they would like to read AND something they can sell. They have to make guesses. They don't have unlimited time so they have to limit their requests to the works that are most promising. They miss the mark sometimes. They might reject a piece they would have enjoyed and they might request pages they don't care for at all. But they do their best.

Query rejections (and sometimes even partial and full rejections) are done quickly and I think writers need to remember that rejection isn't personal. It doesn't mean the agent hates our ideas, or our writing. It doesn't even mean they didn't like it. It just means that they had a lot of material to get through and our project wasn't the one that stood out.

Have you ever thought about what it must be like to read all those query letters?

22 comments:

Sarah Skilton said...

Great analogy with the jury selection process! I have a small sense of what it's like to read query letters because we occasionally got unsolicited material when I worked in TV production. But it was nothing compared to the volume that a lit agent digs through on a daily basis. I can't imagine how overwhelming that is.

DL Hammons said...

"I OBJECT!"
"Overruled!"

:(

Sandy Shin said...

Great analogy! I have only read a few query letters, but just from those I know I would be a terrible agent. I believe I would be way too picky. (I am the same way with books I read, too.) I agree, however, that it's a difficult job; I don't envy them that a bit.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

You sure used your jury waiting time well. I know the few times I've participated in blogfests or read all the entries in agent contests I've been exhausted by reading that many first pages or pitches in one day. I can't imagine doing it all the time. I've developed a healthy respect for what they do and a growing understanding of why we have to strive for excellence in order to stand out.

Stephanie Thornton said...

I'd never thought of querying being like a jury selection, but I think it's a good analogy. And I did give some thought to what agents have to go through when I was finishing grading this semester. Reading that much would be painful. Like eyeballs falling out of your head painful.

Catherine Denton said...

Wow, what a great word picture. When you put it like that...it doesn't seem as personal.
Winged Writer

Diane said...

Great comparison. I'm glad they confirmed you weren't one of the totally crazy ones.... a little crazy is ok in my book. :O)

Melissa said...

That's an amazing analogy! It definitely put's the whole querying process from the agent's end in perspective. It really makes me consider just how hard it is for them. I think as writers sometimes we forget that an agent has a really tough job, we just take everything so personally (understandable because we poor our hearts and souls into our work) but really, it's not meant as a personal rejection at all.

Great post!

Janet Johnson said...

Love the analogy. I can live with not getting selected as a juror (though I've never even been on jury duty). So maybe I'll think of that when I get my next rejection.

And thanks for stopping by my blog and following! :)

Aubrie said...

I'd probably be one of the crazies with biases!

Slamdunk said...

Ha, I'd be afraid to think about what must be submitted by some folks as a query letter. Good perspective on jury duty. Since I was in law enforcement, I'll always be one of the first folks to get the boot.

Jackee said...

Hard! I guess that's why I wouldn't make a good agent.

Great to have you back--I hope life slows down for you and the summer fun kicks in! :o)

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Great analogy.
I've never been called to jury duty. Ever. Not even one notice. What does this say about my querying chances?

Anita said...

I'd loooove reading queries. For about one week. Then I'd hate it.

Laura Marcella said...

I have thought about what it's like for literary agents, and I have a lot of respect for that profession. I'm sure it's amusing at times reading some of those queries, but it's probably more frustrating than funny!

Loved your jury analogy. Great post!

Cynthia Reese said...

Very good comparison ... but I never feel rejected by not getting selected -- just really, really lucky!

Paul Greci said...

Fun analogy, Natalie. And that paragraph about what is normal,lol. I hope everyone is well soon.

I was selected for jury duty once. The trial lasted four days. Looking back, I'm glad I was selected. It was very educational.

Heather Sunseri said...

Awesome analogy, Natalie. I've never been requested to jury duty. Neither has my husband. Weird, huh? I think weeding through queries is probaby rather daunting. And as the writer, very difficult to not take it personally, but we must try!

Lydia Kang said...

I would love to read the slush pile and the query letters for about a week, to see what it's like. Then I'd probably be glad it wasn't my job!

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

good analogy

Medeia Sharif said...

If I were an agent, on the one hand I'd get excited finding new talent, but I wouldn't enjoy going through the worst of the slush pile to find the gems.

Bekah said...

I saw your page on Trisha's! And you're right : ) I think of it just like I see books at the store or library