I am going to start off by saying, I have never worked in a hospital or on a battlefield or at a vet's office or even played Operation (well, I had a set when I was little but it only worked half the time and it was always missing Tennis Elbow).
But I wanted to talk about how I deal with the constant influx of queries, and the metaphor that comes to mind is "triage."
Once I was in an emergency room, and I saw a triage chart. I remember asking what it was all about, and the nurse explained that it the system that dictates how they decide who to treat first in a hospital. Let's say there is a disaster and dozens of people are brought in at once. The victims have to be prioritized and sorted into groups to allow the doctors to do their jobs most efficiently and allocate resources appropriately.
If a person is dead, he does not need help. MORGUE
If a person has something very tiny wrong with them, they can
wait - but in a crisis it'd be advantageous to just patch them up and get them the hell out of the emergency room quickly so that more people can be admitted, or so they themselves could help. MINOR
If a person is in severe pain with a complicated problem, or is definitely terminal, but the pain can be managed by use of a painkiller, then it behooves the hospital to give them the painkiller, make them comfortable and move on, and come back to that person later when they have the time and manpower to solve the issue. DELAYED
If a person is dying, and they must be treated RIGHT NOW to live, then it can't wait. IMMEDIATE
"So what the heck does this have to do with MY QUERY, Jennifer? ARE YOU SUGGESTING THAT I SEND IT TO THE MORGUE!?
Shhhh, honey. It's OK. It's only a metaphor. You know how I always say that I look at submissions "In the order received"? That is true. HOWEVER...
Think of me as that nurse, sorting through slush pile. Managing the query inbox is essentially like figuring out how to tag items.
: First I look at the pile (inbox) as a whole and quickly assess what I can delete immediately. These are queries that do not follow guidelines, and/or are for types of books I simply do not rep. I can sort them at a glance.
These are quick passes. With a quick read of the query and pages, I can tell that this is not resonating with me. I need to get it out of the inbox as fast as possible. (How fast this is entirely depends on how much I have stacked up, but response time goes from about one day to about 4 weeks.)
These are queries that seem really cool, or the author comes recommended, but I have to give them more thought. I will generally star and hold onto the queries a bit and re-read after a bit of time has passed. If I am still unsure, I'll request fulls for these queries, both so I can read more and because that buys me time. (Response times vary but at the moment are anywhere from 3-6 months - though I actually hope to remedy this soon and make it faster, as I think am catching up.)
These are queries from VERY
well published authors, or there is some sort of a deadline that makes it hot, such as somebody who has a publishing contract in hand. Also, if I have a full that receives an offer of rep from another party, they will get bumped to this category. ("Immediate" is relative, but, it typically means about a week.)
ETA: TO CLARIFY:
Just because something is "immediate"
does NOT mean that it is a Yes. In fact, much like how the red-zone people in our hospital scenario often don't make it, if I have to make a quick decision on a manuscript, the decision will often be No. It will ONLY be a Yes if I love it enough to go down fighting for it, because I probably won't get the opportunity to ask for revisions or anything else before signing the person. "Delayed"
manuscripts are a bit more likely to make it out of the hospital alive, because if I like it but it needs some work, I'll have the time to think about it, write a revision letter, chat with the author, etc.
Naturally, there is another triage situation that goes on with client manuscripts (books that need a major edit might take longer than books that have already been revised, etc.) AND
with daily regular emails (ads get sent to the morgue immediately - yes or no answers pretty much get dealt with immediately - answers that require more thought get starred and dealt with later). And I am sure that anyone who gets 100+ emails a day for their job can probably relate to that.
So does that make things simpler, or more confusing?