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!

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QueryTracker logo.As I mentioned in my last post, I’m back in the query trenches. And that means I’m spending way too much time thinking about querying.

So let’s talk about one of my favorite QueryTracker tools: the Data Explorer!

What is the Data Explorer?

The Data Explorer shows every time a QueryTracker user has submitted a query to a specific agent. It shows you their anonymized data: the genre of the book, its approximate length, how it was submitted, when it was submitted, what their response was, and how long it took to get it. And a whole lot of people use QueryTracker. And that means that, while the Data Explorer doesn’t show you every query an agent is getting, you can still see how that agent has responded to hundreds of other queries–in real time!

First thing’s first: this is, unfortunately, a feature you can only use if you have a paid QueryTracker membership. And while it’s not a feature I’d necessarily get a paid membership for, it’s super useful once you’ve made the jump.

So, with that in mind, you can get to the Data Explorer from your Query list. First, add some agents to your query list. Query people, and log those queries! Add agents to your to-query list! I explained how to do some of this in my last post. Once you’ve done that:

  1. Go to “Queries” in the top navigation.
  2. You can choose what agents to show here–the agents you haven’t queried yet? The ones you have? Choose whatever you want to see under “Advanced Search Filters.”
  3. Click this button:

QueryTracker Data Explorer - 3

The thing that looks like a stack of pancakes? That’s the Data Explorer. (The arrow beneath it goes to the Query Timeline, which uses the same data as the Explorer. The Explorer is a spreadsheet and the timeline is a graphical, er, timeline.)

Both are cool, but we’re going to click on the pancakes.

What does the Data Explorer look like?

Behold!

QueryTracker Data Explorer

I can see every single submission that has been logged in QueryTracker. And this is useful data! If I were about to query this particular agent, I could glean a few details:

  • She responds really quickly! Most of those rejections come in in under 20 days.
  • She might in a few days if she wants to request materials. (But not always! Don’t give up hope, me!)
  • She’s apparently  been busy, because she hasn’t responded to any queries at all since May 8. (Again! Don’t give up hope!)

But you know what? I’ve already queried her! Here I am~

Spreadsheet of manuscript submissions and

See that highlighted submission? That’s me. And that’s what makes this extra fun. I can now sign in to QueryTracker, check the explorer, and watch the people who submitted to her before me log their responses. And that means:

  • I can (roughly) tell when she starts responding to queries again. (I took that screenshot last week, for example, and she still hasn’t responded to anyone. So we’re still waiting!)
  • If she goes through her inbox in order (which isn’t a given), I can watch the people ahead of me log their responses.
  • Based on that, I can roughly guess when she might respond to my query.

And if I triangulate that with her agency’s website, that says she tries to respond to all queries, and usually does so within 4 weeks, I can say… Errrr, I probably should anticipate an answer around early June. So I’ve still got several weeks to go.

So… yes. This can make you obsess a little.

The Data Explorer does have some limitations, though.

The biggest drawback to the Explorer is that it’s self-reported data from the people using QueryTracker. It has some limitations:

  • People often forget to choose their book genre, leading to book submissions listed as “Not Specified.” That makes it harder to tell what an agent is requesting.
  • QueryTracker tracks Middle Grade and Young Adult books as their own genre, and you can only categorize your book as one thing. I write YA fantasy, so I have to choose: YA or fantasy? And since everyone else has to choose, I have no idea what an agent is actually requesting. They’re requesting YA! But what genre?! They’re requesting fantasy! But is that adult or YA?! I have no idea!
  • And, of course, people don’t always record their submissions right. People forget to report when they got a rejection. They forget to close out responses for “no response = no” agents. So sometimes you’ll see weird and likely inaccurate results.

So the data isn’t perfect. But it still gives you a general idea of what that agent’s doing.

This isn’t the only data you can get in QueryTracker, mind you.

If you want to get really number-crunchy, the Data Explorer isn’t actually the most useful tool in QueryTracker. There’s a whole other feature in QueryTracker called “Reports” that does stuff like, telling you an agent’s average response rate, or what genres they’re requesting, or whatever. But that’s a separate feature, and something I should talk about another day.

So, yeah. You don’t have to export the Data Explorer data into Excel and do your own number crunching (unless you really want to). But it’s fun for at-a-glance and real-time information.

In conclusion, this is an awesome way to obsess constantly over your queries.

Querying is slooooooooow. But if you have something like the Data Explorer, you can at least get a rough estimate for how long you might have to wait. Watch the responses to other people trickle in! Watch your submission slowwwwwwly creep down the queue! It’s still going to be a multi-month wait, but at least you know where you are in the queue. Kind of. Maybe. Sort of.

Or you can just be obsessive. That’s fun, too.

 

I’m officially back in the query trenches! I’ve got a brand-spanking-new YA fantasy ready to go, and I’d dearly like to get a literary agent for it.

It’s harrowing! It’s nerve-wracking! I’m anxious!

And, well, that’s a lot of emotional energy. I just sent out my first batch, and… hey, it looks like most could respond any time between now and August. And since that’s a long time to be anxious, it’s time to distract myself!

…By writing a post about querying. This might not be the best plan. But screw it, let’s talk about how I find agents to query.

Step #1: QueryTracker is life.

QueryTracker logo.I’ve looked for agents a ton of ways–I’ve used Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents and their website, gone to a ton of websites, searched through forums… But my absolute favorite tool, and the one I use almost exclusively these days, is the QueryTracker website.

It’s glorious. With a free account, you can find agents, track who you’ve applied to, and get basic statistics. (With a paid account, you can track multiple books and get access to the really awesome statistics–like the absolutely glorious data tracker.)

And it’s simple to find agents:

  1. Go to Agents > Search for Agents.
  2. In the right column, under “Advanced Search Features,” find the “Select A Genre” drop-down menu.
  3. Select your genre.
  4. Click “Hide agents who are closed to queries.” (This will be above the Advanced Search area.)

That’s it! A list of agents in your genre will appear on the page.

Step #2: Sorting through the QueryTracker results.

Now, don’t get too excited: you can’t query all of these people.

What are we looking at, and why can’t we query all these people?

You now have a list of agents who might represent your genre. Might. Maybe. But even if they’re all viable agents in your genre, you can only query a subset of them.

First off, an agency may have multiple agents in your genre. This is tricky! Some agencies let you query all their agents (as long as you let each agent reject you before going to the next) and some have a strict policy of “A no from one of us is a no from all of us.” So you’re going to have to choose one person per agency, at least to start–and possibly one person per agency, period.

And that’s assuming that you could query any of the people in that agency. You see, even though QueryTracker gave you a shiny list of potential agents, they still might not be appropriate for your book. An agent might represent fantasy, but they might only be looking for urban fantasy. And if an agent represents multiple age ranges, they might not represent your genre at all–I’ve seen a few agents that are listed under young adult and fantasy, but who only want contemporary young adult and adult fantasy.

So how do you deal with all this?

Research every agency.

Let’s say that you’re looking for YA and your QueryTracker search results include a boatload of agents from Andrea Brown Literary Agency. You now know you have to start with one of them. But who?

  1. In QueryTracker, click on any agent’s name from that agency. It doesn’t matter who.
  2. You’ll end up on that agent’s page. In the far left column you’ll find that agent’s email (if known), the agency’s website link, and some other information.
  3. Click on the agency’s link.
  4. Now you should be at the agency’s website. Every agency website will include a page about the agents and a page about their submission process. Start by finding their list of agents. (For the above-mentioned Andrea Brown Literary Agency, that page is here.)
  5. Read every agent’s bio. What are they interested in? Do any of them actually seem appropriate for your book? Out of all of these agents, who seems like the best fit for you?
    1. Optional: This is also a good time to check out #MSWL, a promising agent’s Twitter account, or your good ol’ friend Google. These might help you learn whether your story is a good fit for them.
  6. Write down the agents who seem most appropriate. But do you have to choose one or can you query one, wait for a rejection, and query the other? Let’s find out!
  7. Read the agency’s submission guidelines. You’ll have to dig for that page, too, but you can usually just look for a “Submissions” button. Here’s Andrea Brown Literary Agency’s submission guidelines.
  8. Now you have decided which agent to query first. You also know how to query them! Return to QueryTracker.
  9. Go back to Agents > Search for Agents. Find the agent you decided on.
  10. To the left of their name (and left of the “Query Status” column), there will be a single, unmarked checkbox. Check that!
  11. This will add this agent to your “My Query List,” which you can view by clicking “Queries” in the top navigation.

Phew! Now you have this agent on your to-query list.

Now do that again. And again. And again.

Step #3: Keep track of your submission guidelines.

Before you actually query someone, it can be helpful to know what to prepare. Submission guidelines are tricky. What do they want? A query? A query and 5 pages? A query and 10 pages? A query, a 2-page synopsis, and the first chapter? A query, a 1-page synopsis, a biography, and… OK, you get the point. It varies.

And if you want to make querying as easy as possible, you probably want to know who wants what ahead of time. There are a few ways to do this.

Option #1: Use QueryTracker

QueryTracker has a few tools to help you track your data.

  1. Go to “Queries” In the top navigation.
  2. You should see a list of all the agents you want to query. (If you don’t, click on the “Advanced Search” tab in the right column and click “Outstanding Queries.”)
  3. You can see who you queried, when you queried, how many days your query has been out, and a ton of other things. For now, find the “Query Details” column.
  4. The second icon in that column (which will be grayed out) is “Add a Note for this Query.” Click on that.

This creates a private note that only you can see. You can track your submission guidelines there (or anything else you want to.)

Option #2: Keep that information on a file on your computer.

I know this is a little low-tech, but I track all my agent research on QueryTracker AND in an Excel file on my computer.

I love my Excel tracker. I write down the agent’s name, what materials they want, and any special notes about what they’re looking for. And since this is Excel, I can see all this information in columns, side-by-side, at a glance.

This is especially fun for keeping track of stuff like “What version of my query I used” and “When the agent should respond by (if ever.)” You can track that stuff in QueryTracker, but only in your private notes. And the stuff in your private notes aren’t visible on your My Queries page, or sortable, and you can’t see them at all unless you open them one at a time. So I use Excel so I can see those extra details without digging.

Step #4: Get your materials ready.

So what do these agents want? You have to make a query letter. But what else? Do you need a synopsis? Do you need a bio? Do you need an ultra-polished, Standard Manuscript Format-formatted version of 5 pages? 10?

Get all that stuff ready.

Step #5: Enjoy querying!

And now you’re good to go. Look at your list, decide who to query in what order (or, hey, go into QueryTracker and assign each agent a Query Priority. It’s under the “Query Details” tab!)

Go back to the submission guidelines for that agent’s agency. Do everything they ask. Send the right materials to the right agent.

Then wait.

And wait.

And wait.

I like to use QueryTracker (or my friendly local Excel file) to track the agency’s estimated response times. Did they say that they respond in 6 weeks, and no response = no? Or  was it “We’ll respond to everything within 3 months”? Write that down.

Then you, too, can settle in for the long haul. And you, too, can write random blog posts to keep your mind–unsuccessfully–off the realization that you’ll be waiting a long time.

So, yes. I guess I’m saying that I’ll probably post a lot more about querying these next few months. You might as well prepare yourself.

I’ve been querying my YA fantasy novel since September 2014, and oh man, it’s been a journey. I’m not quite done, so I can’t talk about stats yet, but I can definitely talk about the random things I’ve learned.

Lesson #1: I hate competitions.

I really, really, really hate competitions.

I’ve participated in PitMad, Pitch Wars, WriteOnCon, and Miss Snark’s First Victim’s Secret Agent. They’re great resources, but I don’t know if I like them.

And really: It’s me, not them. Contests consume me. I find myself hovering over the computer at all hours of the day, stalking the most successful entries and trying, desperately, to figure out what they’re doing right and I’m doing wrong. I get super competitive, I stay up late, I obsess until I have to force myself away from the computer, and then… well, I crash. Because that’s not sustainable. I almost always came away feeling miserable and spent.

These are wonderful resources. But they’re also crazy-stupid stressful. I’ll probably participate in more in the future, but I’ve got to be super careful. I have a lot more success in quieter, more private, less competitive situations… Like, you know, just querying agents directly.

Lesson #2: Fantasizing about success is poison.

When I first started querying, I got super into it. Every time I sent a query I spent hours pouring through the agents’ backlists and dreaming about what would happen if they liked my novel. That giddiness kept me going even when I didn’t feel up to querying.

But every time my emotions went up, they had to come down.

This also might just be me: If I get excited about something, there are only two options left for me. I either maintain that excitement (because all my dreams came true!) or I’m disappointed. And the more excited I am, the more disappointed I have to be.

And if it’s already hard to query, you can darn well bet it isn’t easier for me to depress myself first.

This was especially true whenever I got a full manuscript request. It was tempting to keep myself up at night going, “OMGGGG, I’m one step away from an offer! Most people don’t get this far!” Nope, that sucks, too.

Enthusiasm is poison to me. The best I can manage is a business-like professionalism. “Ah, a full request. Great. Let’s see how it pans out.” That’s a level of emotional involvement I can keep up forever.

Lesson #3: I probably was a little too cautious about querying.

For several months, I queried 10 agents at a time and waited for (almost) all of them to respond before I tried again. I was following some commonly heard advice: Send 10 queries, see how it goes, and then use your response rate to measure whether you’re doing OK or not. So I did that. Forever.

The problem was, this made me read too much into my response rate. I got two full requests in my first 14 queries. That’s really good, right? Then I got nothing for the next 34! That’s nearly 40 queries without even a personalized rejection! That’s awful, right? That’s “There’s something super wrong with your query” levels of bad, right?

Or, er, is it?

Really, numbers don’t mean anything. Queries are random. Some people like stuff, some people don’t. You can’t literally crunch your numbers, calculate a “success rate” and determine the numerical strength of your novel.

I had gotten some requests, so my novel had potential. Eventually I just sucked it up and blew through the rest of my agent list. But by the time I had done so, I had taken already slow process and drawn it out to almost a year.

Lesson #4: Don’t let the querying process keep you away from writing.

It’s really tempting to get deeply, deeply involved in the querying process–to spend hours and hours pouring over your query and triple-quadruple-quintuple checking your first few chapters and getting feedback, feedback, and more feedback! There are contests! (See above.) There’s #MSWL!

And QueryTracker! QueryTracker has stats! You could spend hours pouring over each and every agent you’ve queried, trying to guess where they are in their inbox. Oooooh, they’ve rejected all the queries ahead of mine! Maybe I’ll get an answer soon! Oh, this one’s rejected queries before and after mine! Am I in the “maybe” pile?

And… yeah, that’s just another form of getting my hopes up, isn’t it?

So yeah. If lesson #1 is to be zen about querying, lesson #2 is to query and forget about it. I remind myself to check in 3-4 months if I get a manuscript request, but that’s it. Queries go in the memory drawer, where I don’t have to think about them unless the agent responds one way or another. I have to go back to writing, focus on a new project, and let life go on. Otherwise I will literally lose hours of writing time.

Lesson #5: Querying is how you learn about querying. Do it sooner rather than later.

I waited until I had the best story I had ever written to query. I had kinda-sorta queried agents before, but… not really. I tried once. With one novel. I sent it to 10 agents, shelved it, and never tried again. I wasn’t really trying, because I knew the book wasn’t that good and I wanted to write a better one.

And while that’s not bad–good on me for recognizing that I had a lot to learn!–I also missed out on a chance to learn about querying.

Query letters, synopses, how to find agents, how agents work, what to do when you get a request… These are all things you learn by querying agents. And it’s stressful. And emotional. And often upsetting.

It also gets easier with time.

It’s like all sorts of things: You start out clumsy and confused, you don’t have any idea what you’re doing, and it’s stressful. But by the time I had sent out all my queries, I felt good. I was a pro at this. I knew what to do, what worked, and what didn’t. I hadn’t sold a book, but I had a pretty darn good run.

And I should have queried sooner. Because then I could have learned this all sooner, gotten it out of my system, and had a way easier time with this one.

OK, so before I get into this article, I wanted to do a teeny-tiny little disclaimer. I do have a novel that I’ve been trying to find a home for, so posting something titled “In Praise of the Unpublished Drawer Novel” probably sounds like a cry for help. It’s not! I’ll have more to say about that novel in a few months, but no. No one needs to grab me and shake me and tell me No, it’s not worth it! Don’t give in! I’m still truckin’.

So, with that out of the way, I quite liked this article, and not just because their trunked novel sounds amazing:

In Praise of the Unpublished Drawer Novel ‹ Literary Hub

In the age of self-publication, it’s tempting to publish everything. Because you can! (Almost) no story is off-limits! If you can’t sell something, you can still get your word-baby out there and into readers’ hands!

And that makes me… nervous. I remember how desperately I wanted to be published when I was younger, and oh my goodness gracious, I am so lucky that self-publishing wasn’t a thing then. Because I know I would have been tempted, and I know it would have been a disaster.

Let’s be honest: not all books deserve to be published. My first novels taught me an immense amount about what I wanted to write, what I was good at, and what I needed to work on. I thought my first series was decent when I wrote it, but I never seriously tried to sell it. And looking back on it now, I’m glad–the whole darn thing is clumsy, overwritten, confusing, and nowhere near the level of skill I’m at now.

And that’s okay. It takes a lot of strength to know when something should be shelved in an era where nothing really has to be. But sometimes, keeping “our ugly, unfit child locked in the basement” is the absolute best thing we can do.

OK, so. A few weeks ago, I was terribly worried about book reviews. But then I finished Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman, and discovered that she still very honestly reviews YA books.

So there you have it. It probably doesn’t matter that much if you review books.

So let’s move on to something that actually is a major issue: The fact that agents get so many submissions that they often decide to keep or reject your book based on the first page. Or even the first paragraphs.

This is not new information. This is not even surprising. But a kind reviewer linked me this post from the Author! Author! blog. It is absolutely terrifying. And possibly inspiring. And terrifying.

Author! Author! » The scariest Halloween ever: submitting your first page to a bunch of agents for critique

Let the “Do I do any of those!?” panic begin!

Another year has come and (almost) gone! That means it’s time for that most precious of all New Year’s traditions: Brutal self analysis!

…well, okay. I’ll hold the “brutal.” Let’s just see what I did this year.

Reading!

I read an awful lot this year. I read 41 books, in fact, and that’s pretty darn good for me. Almost all of that was fantasy and most of it was YA.

And yet, bizarrely, my favorite books this year were all MG. I only read The Luck Uglies a month or so ago, and it was seriously the most charming action adventure I’ve read in a while. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making was also exceptional, though I may just be saying that because the villain is a little girl with a massive hat and a tragic backstory.

And yet, if we’re going just on Goodreads ratings, One Summer: America, 1927 and The Gift of Fear were the only other books I 5-starred this year. And they’re nonfiction.

So why have I not mentioned a YA book so far? Tragically, the YA I read this year just didn’t hook me. Some of it was good and some of it was not-so-good, but nothing really gripped me by the heart and refused to let go. If I was forced to choose something, I’d probably go with Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and only because the writing was beautiful enough that I’m still thinking about it half a year later. I really didn’t enjoy the romance, but at this point it has enough brain-burrowing staying power that I may read the sequel anyway.

Oh, yeah. Almost none of those books came out this year. I just read stuff. There isn’t much of a pattern to it.

Short Stories!

In March of this year, I finally decided to give short stories a try. Considering that I had never written one before, I did pretty OK. Here are the stats, courtesy of Duotrope:

  • I wrote 6 short stories…
  • …Which are, together, about 14,761 words.
  • I submitted 15 times…
  • …Which led to 3 acceptances (for 2 pieces)!
  • And all those sales went to semi-pro markets.

That’s not a lot. But, hey! I didn’t write that many (I had a I MUST FOCUS ON NOVEL TIME crisis mid-year) but I sold 1/3 of what I wrote. That is not bad. Considering that I hadn’t published at all before these sales, I should really admit that it’s quite good.

Novels!

Most of my progress this year had to do with Justice Unending, a novel that I have been agonizing over since I finished it in 2013. This year, I:

  • Got 4 new beta readers (and 4 wonderful reviews!)
  • Rewrote the first 1/4 of the novel, changed one entire character, and rewrote several scenes from scratch
  • Edited every word in that poor thing at least twice
  • Wrote a totally new query letter
  • And got a boatload of critique on the query and the first 5 pages.

And now I’m querying it!

I am also a little over 20,000 words into a new novel, a YA steampunk/fantasy. And that breaks my heart, because I put about that many words into an earlier, aborted draft of the same story. I REALLY wish I had gotten more done this year.

So that’s the goal for 2015: I am going to finish the heck out of that thing.

And that’s it! It’s been a busy year. I published my first things ever. I got a wee little bit closer to selling a novel.

So, to all the folks who follow this blog: I hope you had a wonderful 2014. Here’s to an even better 2015!