I just thought I would clear up some misconceptions people might have about querying and how it works at an agency. I can only speak to the way it works at my agency, but maybe it will be illuminating for someone.
We have an email address for submissions, and we start at the oldest email and work our way up to the latest, although we occasionally just skim through to see if there's something that catches our eye.
Generally, I at least read the first few pages of every submission, regardless of how stellar the query letter is. Exceptions are:
1. If English clearly isn't the author's first language. Their best bet is to try to get published in their own country, and then the book can eventually be professionally translated into English.
2. If the query letter is novella length. At that point, I've already spent more time than I would like on that submission and I haven't even gotten to the manuscript yet! And usually when the query letter is that long, I finish it without a clue what their book is about.
Also, I'm only an intern, and we are only allowed to respond with a form rejection letter. There are many times when I would like to give more specific feedback, but I just can't. Anything I say is as a representative of the agency, but not as an actual employee. So don't be offended by the form rejection letter. A lot of agencies don't respond at all, and we really do look at every submission.
We also get snail mail submissions, and there's nothing wrong with that, but to me, it just seems like a waste of money between the paper, printer ink, and cost of postage. It's much easier for us to respond to email queries.
So, what happens if I like the first few pages? I'll keep reading the full partial, and reevaluate at that point. That's when I ask myself, do I really want to keep reading this? Am I dying to know what happens? Am I invested in these characters? If the answer is no, I send the rejection. If the answer is yes, I request the full.
Then, the full may sit in my maybe pile for awhile before I get to it. I have many other duties as an intern: filing, reading other queries, preparing mailings, etc. A lot of the reading of full manuscripts happens when I'm not in the office. And I'm not even getting paid! I want to read your manuscripts, but it takes time.
But even if I request the full manuscript, two things may happen.
1. I may not finish it. I may get to a point where the plot takes a turn, or it really starts to lag, or characters become inconsistent. I'll send a rejection at that point.
2. Another possibility is that I finish the full.
At this point, there's three possibilities:
1. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't anything special. Form rejection.
2. I liked it a lot, but I'm not quite sure if it has that special something. I'll usually start reading another full, and if I'm more excited about that one, I'll probably reject the first one. At the end of the day, I have to be really selective as to what I pass on to the agents.
3. I love it, and I want to read the sequel, and I'm so excited about the idea of it someday getting published.
If I really love it, then I'll write a reader's report. I'll start the report with a summary much like the jacket copy on a book. Then I'll write up what works and what doesn't. I'll write about the character development, exciting plot points, similarities to other books, and its potential to be published, among other things. Then I'll send that reader's report and the full manuscript to one of the agents.
Then I have to wait for them to get around to reading it. And the thing is, EVEN if I love it, and EVEN if I write the report, the agents might still pass on it. In fact, they probably will. They're very selective and with good reason. Taking on a new client is a big deal, and it takes away from the amount of time they have to spend on their existing clients.
So I hope that helped someone, somewhere. Time to go bury my head back in the slush pile.