Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Other Side of the Query

After yesterday's post, I got several emails offline from writers expressing the same frustration as the writer I'd talked about--although they were more cautious about expressing their annoyance toward agents directly.

I know I've talked about this before, but it probably bears repeating.

Agents are business entrepreneurs. They cull through the slush pile looking for pearls, which they can then present to the editors they believe might have an interest in them.

I just checked Kristin Nelson's blog here to see if she had published her statistics for 2007 yet. She had.

Here are the ones I was looking for from her post of 12/19/07:

30,000--estimated number of queries read and responded to (and yes, that is up from last year)

74--full manuscripts requested

8--number of new clients

22--books sold

Just think about those numbers for a moment. She read 30,000 queries, asked to see 74 fulls and ended up signing eight new clients. That is simply staggering. That means that, even if she took a two-week vacation, she read 600 queries every week.

That's six hundred queries every week to get one client about every six to seven weeks.

And writers are wanting feedback???? Let's assume she took five minutes to scribble notes on each of those 29,926 queries she rejected. That's 2,494 hours taken away from her real job--and her clients. That's 312 days. Guess what? There are only 260 weekdays in a year (and that's without taking any holidays into account).

I can hear someone muttering it now. She doesn't have to actually scribble a note. She could create a form letter with a list of reasons and just go down it, checking them off. It would take less than a minute.

Disregarding the fact that this would still take 62 days, every good-natured agent who has ever tried to do something like this quickly stopped. Why? Here are just some of the reasons:

  • Some writers see this as an invitation to open a dialogue, writing back--or worse--phoning to discuss the feedback. Feedback which the agent has long since forgotten.
  • Some writers see this as an invitation to edit and resubmit the query. If an agent wants to see something again, s/he will ask for it.
  • Some writers want to argue. A few can become abusive. The whack jobs can even become stalkers.

What some agents do instead is blog. People like Kirstin Nelson, Nathan Bransford and Jacky Sach (of my own agency BookEnds) provide feedback and answer questions on line. Take a look at the list of agents to the right of this blog. Visit their sites and pay attention to what they say.

I can also tell you what I did.

To begin with, I did not send out a barrage of letters all at once. I sent no more than six letters to carefully selected agents. Because I was impatient (and because Miss Snark was and is my god), I sent six pages of manuscript with every query. If I got six rejections, I figured something needed to change, and I sought feedback--from critique partners, from chapter members, and from published authors before sending out the next batch of queries.

Remember that quote often attributed to Einstein: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

If you want to read about my first critique from a published author, go here. I've told the story before on this blog. It isn't a pretty tale.

To make things worse, I hadn't yet gone looking for any critique partners. All I had was feedback from my family and friends. They were all literate and big readers. They'd pumped me up so high, I thought I was gold. I knew my writing was good, and my punctuation, spelling and syntax were excellent.

What I'd forgotten was that I also needed to tell a compelling story. No matter how well you write, the story--not the backstory
--is the thing. Catherine taught me that.

It was brutal, but I needed it. I'd lost perspective. I was like the Emperor with no clothes. I had begun to believe my own press. And Catherine was kind enough to bring me back to reality.

If you ended 2007 with more than twenty-five form rejection letters for one manuscript, think about doing something different in 2008. Remember Einstein.

Take a class, join a professional organization, find critique partners, seek feedback from the published authors in your chapter . . . the list goes on and on.

And let me know how it works out for you.

Here's to a successful 2008.


John Arkwright said...


Where does one find decent critique partners? I have spent plenty of time on the internet, but have not found anything promising.

Maya Reynolds said...

John: I'll address this in my post for tonight. It will take too much room here.

Heather B. Moore said...

This post is so true, Maya. I wrote my first book and started sending queries in 2001. Of course they all came back rejections. In 2002, I joined a writers chapter and attended the monthly meetings. In 2003, I found a critique group within that chapter. We constantly stay on top of the market and share leads with each other. Now, 5 years later, as a collective group we've released 11 novels.