Query Stats: February 2017

In February, a short month, I saw a slow down in my query inbox. I received 402 queries for the month. Here's hoping you guys flood me in March!

The tweaks to my submission guidelines obviously helped, because so far there's been a much better adherence to them this month than last (reminder: I won't open attachments in a query). 

Total queries: 402.
Number of responses sent so far: All
Total requests: 8 (all YA: 4 science fiction, 4 fantasy)

Genre Breakdowns
TOTAL YA: 183
2 adventure
31 contemporary
3 dystopian
65 fantasy
7 historical
5 historical fantasy
1 horror
1 magical realism
1 mystery
6 paranormal
3 retelling
1 romance
51 science fiction
1 suspense
4 thriller

TOTAL MG: 80
4 adventure
12 contemporary
35 fantasy
1 graphic novel
7 historical
6 magical realism
2 mystery
1 non-fiction
1 retelling
11 science fiction

TOTAL ADULT FICTION: 139
1 adventure

38 contemporary
17 fantasy
13 historical
1 magical realism
3 mystery
4 non-fiction
5 paranormal
3 retelling
6 romance
32 science fiction
3 suspense
10 thriller
3 that defy description. I'm not kidding. No genre was given, and all my years in the publishing industry could not help me decipher what these books were supposed to be.

TOTAL OUTSIDE MY GENRES: 7
Non-fiction, graphic novels, short stories, picture books, etc. 

TOTAL QUERIES THAT DID NOT FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES: 14

TOTAL REPEAT QUERIES (SAME PROJECT, SAME AUTHOR): 3. Don't do this, guys. A pass is a pass. Don't query the same project again next month.

TOTAL CLIENTS SIGNED: 0

I'm officially caught up on queries from February! If you sent a query anytime prior to March 1st and have not yet received a response, please resend. This pertains to queries only. I'm still reading requested materials dating make to January. Which...is a lot of reading, so excuse me while I get back to it!

How Will I Know?

I've been reading queries and submissions for years, and yet when I first started accepting queries as an agent a couple of weeks ago I felt nervous. How will I know if a manuscript is good enough to request? 

Turns out I shouldn't have worried. When a manuscript is good enough to request, I just know. Which probably isn't all that helpful for writers, because that just comes down to the ineffable "it factor" or matter of taste. 

I'm going to do some straight talking right now, which is: most writers have terrible query letters. Not for nothing are there so many resources about how to craft a good query (I'll link to some below). That's because writing a query is hard and requires a totally different skill set than writing a novel. 

It would make my life easier if I got nothing but top-quality query letters. And if you're reading this post you should definitely take the time to do some research and make your query as good as it can possibly be. But given that queries are an art form that so many struggle to perfect, my submission guidelines also request the first chapter of your manuscript pasted in the body of your email. 

I do make it a point to read the entire sample, but my decision is made at the end of the first paragraph. I know that must sound outrageous. How can I judge an entire manuscript on a handful of sentences? Well, you'd be surprised. That opening paragraph will likely introduce me to the voice and the protagonist at the very least, and those things alone are enough to make or break my desire to read more. With every manuscript I've requested so far, I knew I was going to make that request at the end of the first few sentences. 

This also means that I know immediately if I'm going to send a rejection. You only have to lose me once, and then I'm gone. 

There are, occasionally, queries that don't fall into either category. I read these queries, I read the sample chapter all the way to the end. And I still don't know what to do. Those queries get starred and I open them back up every couple of days and try to determine what to do. Usually these queries have something but not everything. Maybe the writing is incredible, but the premise is meh. Or maybe the premise is amazing but the writing...isn't well-executed. Or maybe it's solid all around and I know it, but I'm just not as excited about it as I think I should be. Something is preventing me from pulling the trigger, so the query languishes in my inbox while I try to identify the problem and whether or not I can solve it or even if I want to. Publishing wisdom says "If it's a maybe, it's a no." That's a hard pill to swallow, for writers and for me, too. But I do find that most queries move from limbos to rejections eventually. 

I appreciate the weight of sitting on this side of the desk. Every query I receive represents someone's time and effort and labor of love. I know that I make decisions in a matter of moments that either reward or refute the painstaking work authors have put in for months, or even years.  This is why you cannot, cannot, cannot allow rejections to discourage you. Keep writing. Keep querying. And someday an agent is going to open up your query and just know...



Query Resources
Pub(lishing) Crawl has lots of posts about the art of writing a successful query letter, including the podcast episodes where my co-host JJ and I critique queries live.

LIterary Agents Bridget Smith and Jennifer Udden co-host the podcast Shipping and Handling, and do a live query critique in one episode and often drop hints about querying in general throughout their archives. 

Search the Twitter hashtag #querytip for tons of advice from agents and industry professionals.

Of course, Query Shark is the expert. Be ready for the brutal, unvarnished truth. It will make your queries better. 
 

Query Stats: January 2017

I became an agent this year and opened to queries on January 13th. I was expecting queries to roll in slowly and instead what I got was an avalanche. In two and a half weeks I received a total of 445* queries! I'm overwhelmed in the best possible way.

Here's the final breakdown!

Total queries: 445
Number of responses sent so far: All
Total requests: 15 (4 partial, 11 full) 

Genre Breakdowns
TOTAL YA: 231
68 contemporary
67 fantasy
12 historical
6 horror
7 paranormal
4 magical realism
58 science-fiction
8 thriller
1 steampunk

TOTAL MG: 72
27 contemporary
4 paranormal
18 fantasy
4 historical
3 mystery
16 science-fiction

TOTAL ADULT FICTION: 129
3 New Adult
5 mystery
6 thriller
13 historical
11 fantasy
6 romance
67 contemporary
18 science-fiction

TOTAL OUTSIDE MY GENRES: 13
Non-fiction, picture books, etc. 

TOTAL QUERIES THAT DID NOT FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES: 39

TOTAL CLIENTS SIGNED: 2!

I am so thrilled to be working with Kayti Nika Raet on her YA fantasy. Her book absolutely consumed me (I snuck out of my daughter's 3rd birthday party to hide in the bathroom and read it because I could not put it down) and I'm pumped for the road ahead!

I am also beyond excited to be workings with Adrienne Proctor in her YA fantasy, which has the most compelling voice I've read in a long, long time. I can't wait to share this book with the world!



*My original post stated I received 476 queries. The final number is lower, as I realized that some were duplicate queries sent twice, and some weren't queries at all but either follow ups to requests that I sent, or other, unrelated emails (that were sent straight to the trash). The final official tally is 443 queries received and answered for the month of January!


NOTE: many requested MSs are still outstanding. I'm caught up on answering queries through January, but still have a large reading pile to get through!
 

Queries: Common Mistakes

Writing a successful query is different--and, I'd argue, harder--than writing a book. It requires a certain distance. Over the course of my ten years in the publishing industry I've read thousands of queries, and nearly all of the queries I rejected suffered from one or more of the following:

Not Enough Information
These queries are too short, too vague, too abstract. Queries need to deliver concrete information about characters, stakes, and plot. Be specific. Writers often mistakenly believe that going broad in a query letter is the best way to attract interest; it isn't. 

Too Much Information
I see this a lot (though not exclusively) with genre fiction, particularly Science-Fiction and Fantasy, when writers try to cram in too much unique vocabulary or vernacular. The world-building in your query should be limited to what is easily identifiable and understood in context, otherwise it quickly becomes word salad. Dropping too many character names is another way writers give too much information. It's difficult to track more than three characters in a query letter without getting overwhelmed. Limit your query to the characters and story lines that are essential. 

Everything But The Story
A query letter has a very specific purpose, which is to tell your story as succinctly and engagingly as possible. A query letter is not the place to discuss the larger themes of your work, the applications of your work, the special snowflake-ness of your work. Often times queries tell me everything except the story, and the story is the only thing I care about. Don't waste time telling me what your story is about when you should just get right to it and tell me the actual story.
 


If you're looking for more resources on how to craft a successful query, recently on the Pub(lishing) Crawl podcast,  JJ and I discussed the Anatomy of a Query Letter and did a live Query Critique.