The query letter. It’s something that strikes fear in the heartiest of us. Asking a stranger if they want to review the book of your heart just seems to invite rejection.
But if you want to publish traditionally, it’s almost a given that you need an agent. I wanted to shed some light on the statistics of querying.
About a year ago on Twitter, I asked authors to tell me how many queries it took to sign with their agent. Each numbered response refers to a different author.
#1 – 9 queries before shelving (putting the book away), 50+ before shelving, 5 to sign with 1st agent, 20+ for 2nd agent
#2 – 2 queries before shelving, 44 before shelving, 8 queries w/ 6 offers
#3 – 15-20 queries to sign
#4 – 70 to sign with 1st agent (2 MSs), 10 for 2nd
#5 – 4 books over 3+ years, over 300 queries in total
#6 – 82 queries to sign with 1st agent, 30 for 2nd.
#7 – 67 queries to sign with 1st agent, 17 for 2nd, and 40+ for 3rd.
#8 – 10 queries to sign
#9 – 40 queries to sign with 1st agent, 30 for 2nd, and 6 for 3rd.
#10 – 50-60 before shelving, 36 before shelving, 16 queries to sign.
#11 – 160 for 3 different projects
#12 – 85 before shelving, 12 queries to sign
#13 – 400+ for three different projects.
#14 – 90+ queries to sign
#15 – 42 queries before shelving, 20 queries for 1st agent, 1 query for 2nd
This is a very informal, nonscientific poll. But most of these results came in about 15 minutes of my initial question on Twitter. And it tells me a couple of things:
You MUST have a thick skin because if you’re like most, you’re going to live with a significant amount of rejection. If you want an agent, you MUST persevere through this.
Only two out of thirteen signed with fewer than 20 queries in one querying process. Three had two query processes—for two different agents—with over 70+ queries for the first round, and significantly fewer for round two. Seven queried three or more times, either for different projects or for multiple agents.
This tells me that second processes took fewer queries, because we learn from it! (I know this from experience, my own process is #7, and for me this doesn’t count the 50+ queries I sent for picture book projects before switching over to write YA and MG).
If you’re querying, you’ve got to take the personal out of it. This is a business and you must realize that there are lots of different reasons why an agent would decline your work, and it’s not always because the work wasn’t good enough.
Note: all of these authors who went through this more than once, went back and revised, and tried again.
Perseverance. It’s one of my favorite words, and one that I use a lot when I talk to people about querying.
I also want to note that there are many reasons why authors and agents part ways, it’s not something discussed much, but it’s something that happens, as is evident from this poll–it’s why a second agent is sometimes needed.
I critique queries and query packages as @QueryGodmother. I’ll be giving a workshop on querying with my agent Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency at the New England SCBWI conference in Springfield, MA this weekend, April 24-26, 2015. Say hi if you stop by!