Posted tagged ‘querying’

Obelus query status

October 19, 2020

A friend once kept an account of the submission status of his novel on his blog, culminating in his publishing success, and I thought I might do something similar with Obelus.

I’ve mentioned before that I truly think submitting a novel — to agents and to publishers — is a numbers game, and success is more likely to be achieved through volume rather than precision. I think the factors in success are so variable that even the best written query, adhering exactly to a site’s submission requirements, can meet with rejection unless it reaches the right agent in the right mood on the right day. Something that might seem appealing on a Monday morning could get dismissed on a Friday afternoon. I realize that literary agents are professionals, and for the most part I don’t think they are capricious, and I’m sure they know their markets, but they’re human too.

I’ve visited hundreds of agent websites and studied their wish lists, and in my observation these are imprecise, suggesting an agent will just “know it when they see it.” Sure, many agents say, for example, that they are only interested in women’s literature or young adult novels. That’s precise enuf for me to know not to send my query. (What of a young-adult novelist? Is it clear what type of YA novel the agent is looking for?) But when the agent lists “literary fiction” as their field, just what does that mean?

Not much, and so volume approach.

To date I’ve sent 77 queries to agents, mostly by email though a handful were submitted via a given site’s online submission manager. I didn’t do a tally, but I think most of these have said they won’t respond unless interested. Several state that if there is no response within a specified number of days, the query was rejected, which amounts to the same thing. One said to expect a response in six months. Others have spans of a few weeks to a few months. It’s because of this that I’m not doing the conventional method of picking my “top ten” targets and waiting until I have a response from each before moving on to my next ten. I just don’t seen how that would be efficient given the variables.

In some cases, the agent will list their clients so that you can get an idea of what they like, but in nearly all of those cases, I’m unfamiliar with the authors or the list is of the last ten years of Pulitzer Prize winners. In a couple of cases the agent has asked for my “platform” and “marketing plan,” which I can see might make sense for nonfiction, but for reclusive, antisocial fiction writers, not so much. (I can’t ever see myself as an “influencer.”)

Of the 77 submissions, I have received 15 rejections. Most of those were automated and most came within days. As unpleasant as a rejection email is, I think it’s better than not getting any response at all. I have received two personalized rejections, including one that offered some praise and went into detail about why it was declined, even welcoming further submissions.

I think I’m about halfway through the potential agents listed in Duotrope. It’s a painstaking process, and on a good day, I can get about a half dozen submissions made. I expect a couple more months of this, all the while refining my query letter.

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Here’s a random picture of some round rocks:

An anniversary, of a sort

March 31, 2008

Today marks an anniversary for me. Exactly one year ago today I sent the very first query to an agent for Finnegans Festive. So I’ve been shopping it around in fits and starts for a solid orbit around our sun (in a leap year, no less).

It took me nearly a month to send my second query, and if I remember correctly, I was under the illusion that you had to get a negative response from agent A before you could send a query to agent B. (I am now disillusioned.) In fact, in April of last year, I sent my query to eight agencies. In May I only tried one agent. Then three months of inactivity passed for some inexplicable reason.

I started sending out queries again in August, with a total of seven going out over the email universe. (I’m pretty sure I decided to stick with emailing rather than snail mail by this point. I’m not averse to snail mail for queries, but the production and expense are a bit more, and there are so many email-able agents out there that I don’t think I’m missing any good opportunities.)

In September my pace dropped to only six, and in October I only sent one, and that was at the end of the month. November was not much better with only two attempts going out. (I think at this time I was reading a certain agent’s blog and getting a lot of what I consider poor advice about querying. I don’t read that blog any longer.)

Maintaining the pattern, I increased my output in December by one for a total of three queries. January was merely a repeat, with only three queries again. In February and March of this year, though, I stepped up and got out ten, five in each month.

I think this pace is pretty pathetic. If my math is correct, I’ve sent a paltry forty-two queries for this novel in an entire year. I didn’t even sustain one a week on average. I really should do better than that.

Given all of the directly contradictory advice that is spewed about querying and the market for novels, I’m convinced no one has the right answer. Something may work in one situation and not in any other. (I read one blog in which writers described their success rates with different types of queries. They found that the businesslike, to-the-point letter without an opening pitch in it was more successful in getting interested responses. Another blog purports that without the barbed hook of an opening pitch, a query doesn’t have a chance.) All of this leads me to believe that if my story is at all good (and, obviously, I think it is or I wouldn’t be sending it out), then success will really be a matter of mathematics. Eventually, the query will reach the agent who finds it appealing and worth representing. The more I send, the more likely this connection becomes.

Of those forty-two queries, five have resulted in requests for partials. That’s a better than ten percent success ratio. (Three of those have since been declined, but two remain with agents.) I take that as confirmation that my story is worthy and the effort is worthwhile.