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)