letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 161
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 0
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: N/A

Including the queries currently in the queue (there are some 400+ still pending review as of this writing), the number of queries received this year has now passed last year’s total. With 3 1/2 months left of the year, this indicates there has been a roughly 30% increase in submissions at the query level. Boggle.

Statistics are all well and good, but they do not tell the whole story (just like many a synopsis). For instance, while submissions have increased, it may not have had the same level of effect on the number of manuscripts requested. Here may be some reasons why….

I have noticed more people are querying:

* Without having a finished and polished manuscript to show
* Before doing sufficient research into what the agent handles or explicitly is not interested in seeing
* Not even remotely following guidelines and supplying the information an agent needs to make an assessment

So, even though the number of queries has risen, the number of successful queries has not. On the agent side of things, this makes it harder to be efficient about responding to queries and tougher on the overall system with respect to pursuing submissions. For writers, this may be increasing the time for responses, or contributing to some agents closing queries or moving to a “no response means no” system simply due to sheer volume. And the real fly in the soup is that the queries that are following guidelines, written by those who are doing their homework and targeting specific agents, are in the same boat as those that do not.

14 responses to “letters from the query wars

  1. Apres le deluge
    As one of the 161 who got the boot this week (ah, a dream fulfilled — to be a statistic!), I’m sorry to hear so many writers — I use that term loosely — can’t even follow the simple guidelines, making it harder on you and on those of us with completed manuscripts, who’ve done our homework, and know how to follow directions.
    Maybe someone can invent software that automatically detects and rejects crappy writing and the clueless….

  2. Pity you do not have a minion, to whom you can configure some kind of auto-forward of rejected emails, who will paste in the form rejection from you. O:(

  3. This is not encouraging considering that NaNoWriMo is close on the horizon. So many new novels and the chances are possibly that there’s that many new queries coming that match all of those observations.
    Thank you for providing information for those trying to approach things in the right way. Every little bit helps. 🙂
    I’ll second the idea of acquiring a minion. 😉

  4. There is a wonderful commentary by one of the CNN columinsts today, speaking about the impact of “the great ego-supporting, self-image programs” of recent years, where children are led to believe they are all special and there are no losers anywhere. His observation, over generalized I admit, is that we have now raised a generation (or a bit more) of people who simply do not understand the idea that work involves working, and that rewards go to those who work hardest, most diligently, and follow the rules of society.
    While this may have absolutely nothing to do with the trends you are observing, it seems like a mighty big coincidence if there isn’t any connection.
    You’ll love it, when I finish it, so just tell me how wonderful these first ten chapters are and I’ll immediately write more. BTW, can you tell me how soon I’ll be getting an advance, because my cell bill is going to be due soon, and it’s uber big this month.
    NaNoWriMo is a wonderful thing, and there will (already are) some good/great authors who will emerge from that. They would likely have emerged anyway, but this might have been the one final push to get them to do what they always wanted to do. In the meantime, the heating system at the office would love you, if only these were submitted on paper. Oh yeah, and if we could burn the stuff instead of being politically correct and recycle it instead.

  5. On the bright side
    On the bright side, if I send a well written query for a completed novel to an agent who reads 161 queries this week after carefully studying her guidelines, my odds of being the best query that week are much better than one out of 161, I would hope.
    On the other hand, if eighty percent of the quality is concentrated in the top twenty percent of the queries, my odds of getting a request for a full manuscript might still be low. The ten or twelve best queries might still be excellent. And you requested zero partials this week.
    I still have a tell mountain to climb after I finish polishing and workshopping my manuscript.

  6. This makes NO sense to me… with the Internet it’s never been easier to research an agent and follow submission guidelines.
    I just don’t get it… our these authors just lazy?

  7. Do you think it might help to put a keyword in the guidelines for people to use?
    I know it doesn’t guarantee that they’ll actually follow the instructions, but by giving priority to queries with the keyword in their letter/email heading, those who’ve at least read the guidelines would be nearer the top of the pile than the numpties who haven’t researched the market at all.

    • +1 for ‘numpties’. (I live in Scotland!)
      Personally, if faced with this sort of problem, I’d consider going with ‘follow these very simple guidelines, and you will get a response to your query; fail to do so, and it will be ditched without response. You’re welcome to requery when you learn to do your homework.’
      Because honestly, if an author cannot get the basics of a query letter down pat, how the heck are they going to work professionally with editors, publishers, publicists, etc.? Agents have the right to expect that their clients demonstrate that they can follow a few simple instructions (tell me what the story is about, tell me the word count, let me know about previous publications, etc.).
      Every other profession expects people to present themselves professionally (whatever that means in context). A query letter is one of the ways writers need to do this.

  8. >>>And the real fly in the soup is that the queries that are following guidelines, written by those who are doing their homework and targeting specific agents, are in the same boat as those that do not.<<
    And yes, I agree this is the sucky part of the system as I have finished my manuscripts and edited them prior to submitting a query. I also carefully research the agents I target. And I also continue writing the next story. BUT it all boils down to the subjectivity/saleablity thing.

  9. You probably don’t have time to work on your website, but maybe someone at Donald Maass does?
    Submissions could be in web form. The form would have check boxes such as “Is the manuscript complete?” It would also have a box for the letter, a box for the synopsis, and a box for the first 5 pages. These boxes would have strict word count limits, so people couldn’t send you more than your limit.
    Subs with wrong answers would get an immediate rejection.
    You could even have a “Do Not Reply” email send out letters to the folks who don’t measure up. It’s not very personable, but it could cut down your workload.

  10. While I would say that the only thing that affects my chances is the quality of my work and my query… what other people do, and do badly, does affect everyone to a degree. If large volumes of inept queries cause an agent to close to queries… that hurts me.

  11. Honestly, I don’t know that changing the Maass website or adding keywords would make finding the guidelines (or abiding them) any easier. I say this because I’ve only run into one agency where I couldn’t easily find the submission guidelines. Which makes me think that people are either being lazy or they are in so much of a hurry, they don’t triple check their submissions.

  12. It is strange. I wouldn’t even consider writing a query until I think it is the best story I could possibly write. But, then again, there is a reason I don’t query much. 🙂
    As for the other two… well, I occasionally miss things but try not to.

  13. Query Question
    I’m probably over-thinking this and the answer is most likely: err on the side of readability, BUT… when pasting your sample pages into the body of your Query E-mail, do you prefer double or single space?

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