I finished querying my second novel last month. Conventional wisdom is not to talk about your querying. You don’t want to sound like you’re complaining or give the impression your work stinks. I know my work is good, and I found the querying process educational. You may have a great story that is just not marketable at the moment. Maybe my results will help someone else and be a reminder of how difficult and fickle an agent search can be. Writing what you love may not be what anyone else loves.
My genre is adult fantasy so I picked agents accordingly. I used both Query Tracker and Agent Query to locate lists of agents that accept my genre. When going down the list, I visited each agent’s website or blog to determine exactly they wanted included with the query letter. I submitted to all agents that take electronic submissions and sent out no snail mail letters. I went through the list in order, sending letters in batches of eight to ten at a time, then waiting for a week or two before sending out more.
(I should probably note that I sent to all agents that accept fantasy. But as fantasy fits into several categories and agents may only be looking for certain categories, it might make my rejection numbers higher. For example: I write epic and the agent might only want urban fantasy or paranormal. I got a lot of rejections saying it wasn’t a right fit which seems to confirm this.)
I finished writing the manuscript in May and used the next four months to edit and revise. Before starting the query process, I posted my query letter on blogs that provide feedback. I sent it to my beta readers for their thoughts. I used the query forum on AQ connect for even more feedback. In total there were twenty-three versions of my letter before I felt it was strong enough to start sending out. I also got comments on the first several chapters of my manuscript from at least twenty beta readers before attempting to query. Thus well prepared, I sent the first letter in August and finished all the agents in December. (Who knows? I may still get more responses.)
I keep detailed track of when I sent the query, what information (chapters and/or synopsis) went with the letter, and the type of response.
Agents queried: 98
Form rejections: 41
No reply: 48
Closed to queries: 1
Personalize rejections (had a personal note that they liked something, but the project wasn’t right for them): 5
It took anywhere from one minute to never to get a response to a query. The average was about a month. As I started out slow with my queries (only five at a time), I didn’t see clear results until September. The query seemed to be doing pretty well. At first, I got a ten percent request rate. Not bad for fantasy during a recession. It encouraged me to send more.
Then we entered later October and requests and responses dried up. I’m not sure whether it was the holidays or just all the uncertainty in publishing right now, but I got almost nothing back in November or December. You’ll notice the number of no response at all is larger than the number of form rejections. Almost all of those were sent in the later batches of queries. Those are the frustrating ones because you can’t be sure they were received or maybe got lost. Does no reply mean no, or I never saw it.
On the plus side: I got two full requests and one partial. The partial request came back after two weeks with where she thought the story fell short. I sent her a follow up and she allowed me to revise and resubmit. Her final rejection was very nice and personalized.
The first full came back promptly after a month, and the agent liked the story but it wasn’t for her. That agency deals mostly with YA so perhaps it wasn’t what she expected from the query letter. She was one of the agents that only take the query letter and no sample chapters.
The last full was out for four months. The agent sent me a form rejection to the full.
So that’s how it went. It was a regular roller coaster of highs and lows. I was as prepared as possible and tried to do everything right. With the odds and numbers against you, luck and timing seems to be a big part of getting an agent. I didn’t find that perfect connection. I’m still sending the manuscript to publishers that accept submissions. (Most of them dig straight into the pages without a query letter needed.)
In the meantime, I’m working on new material and keeping busy revising another novel. They say it takes several manuscripts and a number of years to break into publishing. There’s one sure way to fail and that’s to give up.