The Contradictory World of Querying Agents

It’s fun to complain, isn’t it? Let’s complain about querying!

Querying is complicated! Querying is messy! And every time I query, I am simultaneously delighted that I seem to be doing OK and terrified that I’m doing everything wrong. And both might be true!

Nothing makes sense. Everything is anxiety-inducing. This post has no point!

Let’s get to it anyway!

Response rates are super important!

Everyone loves response rates. Heck, QueryTracker only tracks two statistics on your “Queries > My Stats” tab, and response rate’s one of ’em. It is:

Total Number of Agents Who Asked for Any Material / The Total Number of Agents You Queried

Multiply that by 100, slap a percent sign on it, and bam! You’ve got a response rate!

And what’s a “good” request rate? Answers vary! A common piece of advice is to start your querying journey by sending out 10 queries and waiting to see if you get at least one response before querying more–because 10% is a good request rate, and if you have at least that, your query is probably OK.

And is it a useful statistic? Yes! Kind of! Sometimes! With caveats!

Because if you’re getting requests, but you’re not around 10%, it’s nearly impossible to tell what that means.

  • Something may be wrong. Maybe you need to strengthen your query or your first chapter.
  • Or maybe you’re approaching the wrong agents?
  • Or maybe it’s OK! Honestly, if you’re getting requests, you’re doing OK. If you’re getting enough (which is subjective) and some of them seem to be branching into full requests, then sitting there going “Oh god, is 7% high enough? Am I doing everything wrong?!” is probably counterproductive.

(That might or might not be where I am right now. Cough.)

Request rates are only completely clear-cut in one situation: if you get no requests after many queries. If you can go 10 or 20 queries without a single peep of any sort… Yeah, it’s probably worth looking at your query letter.

Otherwise, everything is fuzzy. Especially since…

Agents make decisions based on personal sales and client information that you can’t possibly know!

Of course, if you go by the theory that a good request rate means you have a good book, you’re assuming that if your book is good–truly, unambiguously good–then every agent will want it.

And yet agents often make choices based on things you have absolutely no control over: what books their clients are working on. What sales they just made. What sales the editors they worked with just made. What seems to be in vogue right now (which is based on books that were sold and published a few years ago.) What seems to be on the horizon. You don’t have any power over that.

And they have quirks! Have you checked out the Manuscript Wishlist at #MSWL? The glut of authors and books out there means that agents can have really, really specific requests!

So maybe you have a remarkable book that’s topical, marketable, and interesting. That should get you some requests. And yet, somehow, you can also truly be all these things and not have a really amazingly high request rate. Because of luck. Because the topic isn’t quite what they have in mind, or they’re selling too much of this, or it’s too similar to something else they’re representing, or…

But it only takes one to say “yes”!

In the end, it really only takes one agent to say “yes.” You could send out 90 queries, have an abysmal request rate, and… if you get one request from one agent who falls in love with your story, then it doesn’t matter. You still get an agent. You still did it. It could happen, even if your request rate isn’t mind-blowingly high.

So you don’t need a lot of requests. It helps, and it’s a good sign, of course. And it’s much better to be getting lots of requests, lots of interest, and lots of potential leads–because goodness knows you can get a lot of full requests and still get absolutely no offers of representation.

Ultimately, querying is hard and you will never know anything.

Nothing means anything! Good numbers are good! Bad numbers may be bad! Middling numbers might mean anything! Anything short of unambigous and immediate success is impossible to gauge!

If you have a high request rate, you can safely say that you  have a great idea, a great query, and a powerful first chapter. Go you!

But if you have an okayish one, it’s… easy to beat yourself up. It might be OK but not amazing, and it may be getting requests, but maybe not enough… And maybe your query could be better, and maybe it’s OK, and maybe you just have to keep trying. Because who knows?

Even if, ironically, querying lots of agents means your request rate lowers. At least until you get more requests. Sigh.

In short, querying is a roller coaster and I never know if I’m doing an abysmal job or an OK one.

Fun times!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s