Closet Mad Scientist

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Today I’m unveiling the results of my top secret query experiment! In which I set out to prove a point to myself (and confirm some suspicions based on my and other writers’ experiences). It’s no surprise (to me anyway) that I find the query process a little scientific. So I wanted to conduct an experiment, the result of which might save myself (and perhaps others) a whole lot of time in the future.

The Research: I ran around the internet trying to truncate my list of over 100 agents to get the ones I thought would be the best fit for the story I was sending out. (Hours scouring over client lists and reading bios, blogs, interviews, and sometimes twitter feeds.)

The Theory: I set out to prove that “the more Nos you get, the more Nos you’re likely to get.” Going against the popular, “the more queries you send out, the higher your chances of getting of a Yes.” People always tell artists, “Keep going to auditions, sending out letters, and knocking on doors” because “You only need ONE yes.” And that is true. HOWever, if you send out 25 queries and NONE of those agents will give you the time of day (assuming you’ve done your research), then you are wasting your time sending out more. (That’s right, I said it.)

Psuedo-Complications: To say there were a lot of variables is an understatement. People have different personalities, tastes, work loads, client lists, commitments, etc. However, in the end, I realize the variables don’t matter. Most writers send out more than one query. I think multiple queries circumvents this issue.

The Test: I sent out a total of 77 queries. (Not all at once!) To some people that may not be a lot, and I by no means exhausted my list. But combine this with past rejections (both mine and others) and I believed I had enough data for this experiment.

My Results: My first round of queries included 31 agents. I got 23 rejections in a week, 25 after 10 days. It was brutal, seriously, I wanted to die. (Like in all my years of querying…this has never EVER happened.) But I had an experiment to do. I went back through the list and ended up with 15 more rejections for a total of 38 rejections to date. (I’m assuming most agents just threw me in the virtual trash can.)

Non-Supporting Results: Now, this when you have a choice to make: move on or revise and keep going. After all Kathryn Stockett (author of The Help) got 60 straight rejections in a roll with no positive nothings (and some very negative somethings) along the way before the 61st agent said “Yes.” If she had moved on after even 50, the world would have been deprived of the wonderful story she wanted to tell…maybe.

Side Note: It took her five years from start to finish. Maybe if she had moved on, she could have gotten something else published and then turned around and gotten The Help published, too. (And possibly even in the same time frame.) We’ll never know. I admire her drive, I do, but there’s no way I’m working on something for that long. My brain would rebel against me and jump off a bridge. I can barely survive 3 weeks of rejection. I couldn’t survive 3 years. Maybe my query just wasn’t good enough. Maybe my sample pages were really that bad. Maybe they didn’t even read it (and unfortunately I have a friend who used to be an agent that confirmed my suspicion that this does indeed happen). It doesn’t matter. I’m never sending out more than 25 queries again. I don’t see the point. I have way too many other stories in my head. To commit to one project for 5 years would be tortuous.

Supporting Results: I know a writer that once worked on the same novel for 8 years. They’re not a terrible writer and they didn’t write a terrible book. But they sent out more than 150 queries. Their efforts resulted in one partial request. And one full request that garnered an unhelpful neutral rejection. Nothing else. In 8 years.

In Conclusion: The point I’m trying to make is this: If you do your research and narrow your list down to the best contenders, you really can tell from a few responses if what you’re doing is working or not. If they all say no, change something or move on. Changing your query and parts of your story to make it better is a great way to move forward. This is what Stockett did. She didn’t send the same letter and sample pages out. She made them better and tried again with a new batch of agents. Personally, I prefer to scrap it, cut my losses, and move forward with something else. But this is partly due to the fact that I’m assuming they’re rejecting my story, not my specific query or sample pages. This is flawed, I’m sure, but I really don’t know how to stop taking it personally.

Parting Words: It’s my belief that every time you fall and get back up again, it makes you stronger and improves your chances or success. Whether you go out with a new query, a stronger story, a new story, a new genre, whatever, it doesn’t matter, just get back out there. And I want to add…many independent publishers and even some divisions of larger publishing houses take unagented submissions. So when you’re going back out there in the acrid wilderness that is the publishing world, don’t forget about the indie pubs! It’s always a worth a try. In closing, I wish to leave you with this quote I had on my calendar two months ago: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is to always try just one more time.” (Thomas Edison) 

16 Responses to Closet Mad Scientist

  1. This is an interesting observation, but like you said there are many variables. In your experiment did you use the same query letter each time? Have you had a critique done on your letter? I'm just wondering because I hate the idea of giving up, but I do realize it also takes wisdom to know when to move on. Another thing too, is timing. A writer may have a great story, but the market may be fluctuating in a different genre making that author's story a difficult sell. Would you ever consider self-publishing? I’ve heard of authors getting the attention of publishing houses after they self-published a successful book.

  2. Hmm, very interesting! My experiences have been a little odd – the first publisher I submitted to required a query letter and partial, and I got rejected (with a couple lines telling me why). Next up I submitted to my publisher (Carnal Desires/Double Dragon), who doesn't require a query letter and wants the full manuscript. So far, all my books have been published through them, but I am planning on submitting to other publishers one day for projects I think would benefit from a publisher that focuses on more specific genres and sub-genres. I'm going to need a query for some of them (and in one case, I'll be querying agents for the first time, eek!), so I'm trying to mentally prep myself for the process! Thanks for the insights!

  3. I still plan to fight some for my rejected stories, because I do hate to give up completely. I don't tend to get a lot of feedback on my queries, but I do have other people look at them before I send them out. I didn't have any better results with a different letter. I got fewer physical rejections, but had a lot more agents passing via no response. I don't know all that much about self-publishing, but I'm trying to keep an open mind to everything. I'm waiting to figure out what kind of changes, if any, I want to make to that story before I try anything else.

  4. Good luck on the new ventures when you get there! I've sent out queries for five books now. If being honest helps someone out at least a little bit or saves them a little bit of grief in the process, it's all worth it. I've learned something every time I sent stuff out. As the saying goes, when I first started, I wish I knew half the stuff I know now. Five years ago, I only knew of one publisher that would take unagented submissions for fantasy. I just started sending stuff to publishers. Slowly, with a story I love, but won't get upset over it getting rejected, so I can familiarize myself with the process and get comfortable with it.

  5. Unfortuantely, I have no experience to share when it comes to query letters because I'm not at that stage in my writing…yet. But I often check out the query letters posted by blogger and writer Matthew MacNish over at the TQQQE. You may already know Matthew, if not, he gives excellent and honest feedback on query letters. As for self-publishing, I know many people who have been successful with it, and those are usually the people willing to put in the time for it.Also, I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to feature you and your blog on my site next week as part of the 3ups bloghop. You've got a great site and I'd like to get people over here if I can. (:

  6. I've never been to Matthew's blog! Thanks for recommending it, it looks like a great place to hang out. I don't mind being featured at all! That would be great. Thank you! 🙂

  7. Interesting. I have the same question as Elise – did you change the letter or anything after the first round? There are tons of variables. I've had 3 MSs in the query trenches and different experiences:If 100 queries come back only w/ rejects (actually even 50), I'd put it aside and think about it for awhile because something's probably wrong with the MS or idea. Of course, there are those hidden golden eggs out there, but usually that's probably not the case. Even with only a couple requests (which come back rejected), I'd put that MS down for think time. When full requests finally come in, some agents (not all) do give comments and it's easier to see if and where the weaknesses are.But all this time, a person works on a new story anyway. The waiting times (as you probably know) can be SO long. Months upon months. As a writer, we want to write, not sit around. So while one story (maybe 2) are out, there's another in the making. I've spent 3-4 years on MS #2 (changing it as I grow as a writer) and still plan on reworking it, but meanwhile other things are running. 🙂 As to the rejections, the skin thickens with time. I just hate those non-responders. They're even starting that with fulls now. Those I feel cheated with.

  8. I did make small changes to the query, but I have completely overhauled queries in the past. I've only gotten helpful rejections once, three, for the second book I queried. I was ecstatic, you would have thought they were offering me representation. Lol! One thing I've never done is work on something else while I'm querying. I'm determined to change that this time. We need a distraction when we're querying! It always makes me so sad when I hear of people getting forms or no responses from fulls. That would just drive me crazy. I really wish they wouldn't do that. I'm still waiting for this thick skin people keep talking about. Lol! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  9. Wow you went right to town. That's the best thing to do though as you learn a lot in the process and if a no comes at least hopefully one can take that feedback and make it a yes in the future.

  10. Wow! Thank yo for doing so much work in the name of science and for sharing your results with us!Found you through Elise's 3Up of you, BTW. Nice to meet you!

  11. Great post Krystal Jane. I've been sending out batches and adjusting query each batch. The more I hang out on the net, the more I learn. And to ease the waiting, I've thrown myself into the next WIP.S

  12. I didn't have a story to work on last time! Never going to let that happen again. Lol! We need to keep our minds occupied with something productive while we're sending stuff out into the world for sure. This is definitely a learning process. Good luck with the queries!

Hi! ^_^