letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 134
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 0
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: n/a

350+ queries still pending….

Recently someone asked rather curiously what percentage of queries that I receive per week are dead in the water before they even get off the ground (mixing mediums a bit there). I’m not sure it’s quite that simple, though there are a handful every week that are genres I don’t represent (for example: nonfiction, poetry, children’s picture books) or where the entire query is less than 4 or 5 lines long (with no pages or synopsis). Overall, though, I do my best to give everything a fair read. But with that person’s question in mind, I tracked a few more things this week…..

So, now some extra! stats!

# of queries that neglected to include the first five pages: 16, which is roughly 12%

In the case of these queries, I still take a look, but, for the most part, these don’t pass muster. Unless the idea knocks me down and steals my lunch money, I’ll pass. I’m not blown away by them that often. And too frequently these also fall into other categories, such as the aforementioned genres I don’t represent. Conversely, there are people who send *way* more than five pages, often accompanied by phrases like “I’ve taken the liberty” (which as you might guess doesn’t get them any extra points).

# of queries that were attachment only (with no accompanying text): 3

Sometimes (depending on how buried I am) I will respond to these and send a link to our submission guidelines which clearly state no attachments and mention the first five pages and synopsis. I am then puzzled to receive replies still lacking those pages and synopsis.

# of queries shorter than five lines total: 2

# of emails with no query, just pages and synopsis (not even a salutation of any kind): 6

# of people who apologized for the formatting in their query: 5

# of people who trashed the genre they were writing in: 7 (this really gets on my nerves)

# that were in genres I simply don’t represent: 8 (I think I usually get a lot more of those in a week)

# that were just plain weird: 9 (we’re talking really strange LSD-land stuff or author has been drinking so much political/religious/gender/racial-related koolaid the novel is drowning in it)

winners in the really long manuscript category: 190K fantasy (at least it was epic), 189K author listed 3 different genres, 250K YA (wow, that’s a doorstop)

Doing this really slows down the pace of reviewing queries and responding so I don’t think I’m going to keep this close track that often. But I might do it once in a while just out of curiosity. Should I go this route again, what type of stat would be interesting to see?

30 responses to “letters from the query wars

  1. # of people who trashed the genre they were writing in
    People do that? Like, “Here’s a fantasy novel I wrote even though fantasy sucks but people seem to love it”? I don’t get that. For one, why write a genre you don’t like? And more to the point, if said agent represents that genre, wouldn’t you assume that the agent enjoys that genre?

    • I don’t get it either.
      Sometimes they even denigrate specific books and authors. Which have on occasion been represented by my agency. Or could even be personal favorites otherwise.
      Sometimes they say something like “here’s all the things wrong with the genre but in this novel they’ve been fixed.”

      • I don’t know, I get a lot of ideas from books where I think a scene should have been done differently, and I think, “Hey. I’m an author. I can do that!”

      When I first made my rounds of agents (back in the late 80’s) I made a couple of these types of errors. I know better now, but every time I run across one I *still* cringe 😀
      I’d love to see a “misspelled my name” stat sometime, just because I’m curious how many people shotgun their submissions rather than research the agent (and that seems like it would be a good indicator).
      Kimberly Unger

  2. I find this stuff fascinating (in a “look, it’s a car wreck” kind of way), but what I’d really like to know is how many of each genre, how many fit your guidelines but still weren’t good enough, what (if anything) made you stop and take notice in a good way.

  3. Query or content more important?
    I’d like to know whether the rejections are based more on the quality of the query letter or the quality and/or content of the synopsis and first five pages of the work.

  4. I’m curious whether you always read all three of the query, pages, and synopsis, or whether you only read the pages/synopsis if you liked the query. A lot of writers prefer agents that request pages along with their query because they think their query letter is terrible but their pages are great, so they’re hoping good pages will make up for their bad query letter. But my theory is that if the query letter is bad, the agent doesn’t even get as far as reading the pages.

  5. I find this fascinating yet unbelievable. Surely someone who has taken the trouble to write a whole book, should have sense enough to actually follow the guidelines.
    Bad query I can understand, but to not comprehend or ignore simple instructions sounds incredibly stupid, considering they might be passing on a great agent by doing it.
    On a more selfish side, it gives me hope that thanks to people like that, those of us who actually bother to carefully check and double check the guidelines, might have a slightly higher chance of consideration.

  6. I actually enjoy any and all of these…since it’s yet another list to check when I’m putting something together.
    For one you didn’t specifically mention, I guess I’d be curious how many times you finish reading and then say to yourself…”There might be a really good idea here, but this author isn’t a person who can execute it (assuming they haven’t already executed and buried the idea in the first five pages).

  7. Trashed Genre
    This seems really wierd to me. Any examples you can share?
    Presumably you mean something a little more subtle than ” is yet another yawn-inspiring YA vampire romance…”?

  8. This is great, in a “let’s slow down and look at the literary car wreck” kind of way. I’m always amazed at how many times people fail to do the bare minimum of required hoop-jumping for submission that ends up shooting their chances in the head, before an agent/editor/whoever even gets a chance to read the material itself.
    As horrible as it sounds, every time I hear something like this it cheers me up. Lets me know that not everybody is as dedicated to the preparation as I am, and my chances grow a little brighter.
    Thank you for sharing this. I’d love it if all the updates from the query wars followed this format.
    And trust me, I know how this sounds. Ah, well.

  9. I’d be curious to know a more general stat: # of queries that didn’t meet submission guidelines.

  10. I’d like to know how many queries got your attention but the sample pages weren’t up to snuff… and conversely, how many queries were “myeh” but the sample pages wowed you. (I’m guessing you don’t see many of the latter, or you’d have more partial requests.)

  11. I’m with 02:17 Anonymous. I’d be interested in hearing how many got put in the almost-but-not-quite pile and particularly interested in why. I’m not sure if that’s the sort of thing you could do while preserving anonymity of the queriers, but I think it would be useful info to have.

  12. Interesting, as always.
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  13. I would love to know how many queries were beautifully written, and the writer had obviously taken time to research you and read your submission guidelines carefully. Does such a query prompt you to take a look at the MS every time? I’m assuming that this fictional conscientious writer has taken care to research the kind of books you represent, so that you wouldn’t pass on the basis of the genre. Is there anything that would still make you pass on the MS in this scenario?

  14. So what is LSD-land weird and what is just fresh new fantasy weird? O.o

  15. First Timers
    I’d like to see a stat for how many queries you receive from first time writers querying for their first manuscript.
    On that note, are queries from unpublished writers considered any less? How about queries from writers without a degree?

  16. what stat I’d like to know
    I’d like to know how many had decent writing, decent idea, but were rejected because they lacked the “wow” factor.
    I’d also be curious how many you referred to another agent, if you liked it alot, but it just wasn’t for you.
    Finally, I’d be curious about how many were rejected even though you liked the writing, and the general story, but it seemed too overdone (like you just wouldn’t be able to sell it in this market)?
    And this may be too much for you ever to analyze, but we writers are always curious. Agents keep saying they reject stuff based on things like personal taste, etc., but sometimes its nice to get a better sense of how much stuff is rejected not because it’s bad, but because it’s not right for this person right now.

  17. Fascinating Query Stats
    Wow! Fascinating to me. By a rough comparison of the 134 queries you reviewed over the numbers of queries that had glaring mistakes (assuming there are separate queries) that would roughly mean that 56 of the 134 queries were effectively DOA. So that’s about 40%
    So the other 60% get through the first hoop and they they in turn are just not written well enough (or are not marketable enough) In many ways, you are like a prospector, who pans for gold; most times you find nothing, but you find some “gold” often enough to make it worthwhile. It must be pretty gratifying for you when you do find something that works.

  18. These kinds of breakdowns are always great for us hopefuls.
    As other people have mentioned, a genre breakdown would be very interesting. I’ve seen it on another agent blog and it’s illuminating to know exactly what kind of presence I’m facing. If you did a couple of these, I might begin to see that once I submit, I’ll be rubbing shoulders with 20 other YA novels.
    A word count breakdown might be useful as well, like X number of sub-60000, X number of 60000-90000, X number of 90000-120000, X number of 120001+. Or however you think might be best.

  19. “I don’t think I’m going to keep this close track that often”
    I can totally understand that but personally, its a compelling list. Might be an interesting “zenning out” activity, I don’t know, but if you continue to make lists like this from time to time, I’d definitely enjoyed it.

  20. Ditto on the genre breakdowns.
    And if you can speak about any obvious trends in queries, such as lots of fallen angels, or zombies, etc.

  21. Thanks!
    Thanks so much for the breakdown. I find all the stats so helpful. The other suggestions have been great. What are the stats if you DO ask for a partial or manuscript? Do you usually sign those people? If I can count you only ask for a few a month.

  22. Personally, I find these posts fascinating!

  23. Definite fan
    I really like the break down, it feels a bit like looking over your shoulder (hopefully, without bogging you down all too much).
    I think I’d be a little put off by a hardcore break down (like Sandmason and others have described), As it stands, it feels like a fun, casual look…
    making it too detailed would be something I’d want to know, personally, but in respect to you it would just seem like I was wasting your time in a one-off activity.

  24. Just wondering
    When going through the enormous stack of queries, do you start with the earliest ones or the ones that just arrived in your inbox?

  25. I have no idea why, but I find these stats fascinating. Thanks for taking the time.
    sally apokedak

  26. Query Wars Stats recommendation
    I’d like to see how many queries followed your guidelines, had a good hook, but just didn’t grab you and kiss you.

  27. Query Wars
    I’m glad I found these posts because although some of these mistakes seem so obvious in hindsight I have to admit I made several of them when I first began querying.
    I was so excited to have finished my book (as a novice I didn’t realize that the second draft was not actually a finished novel) that I jumped right in to the query pool and started shooting off letter half cocked. I figured the book was so good all I had to do was get one person to read it.
    Since then I have learned a lot and even ended up receiving a few requests for partials, but it turned out my MS was far too long so I have put the query process on hold while I edit for length.
    In the meantime (I hope it’s okay to post a link here) any other novice authors who have been frustrated or just stumped by the query process should check out my blog at theqqqe.blogspot.com/2010/03/welcome-post.html (this comment system won’t allow hyperlinks for some reason, sorry). It’s only a novice writer and blogger’s feeble attempt at catharsis but it might make you laugh (or cry) and you might even learn something.

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