Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Query Statistics

I took a little extra time when reading queries the other day and actually tracked what I was reading, because from the feedback I’m getting from you, you always like a little peek into what we do with our queries.

At the time I sat down to track and read my equeries I had about 201 in my in-box. These were both unsolicited queries and requested proposals. The oldest was three and a half weeks old (those were requested proposals); the newest were obviously coming in as I was reading. I read and tracked the queries on a weekend. It took me roughly two hours to get through 62 queries. None of those queries were requested and none of that reading time included requested material. When reading through queries I often jump around. I did start with the oldest query in my in-box, and it was 13 days old. Again, I do have older material in there, but those are requested proposals. The newest had come in just minutes before I sat down to read.

I’ve also noticed with the new year that my incoming query numbers have risen sharply. I’m now receiving anywhere between 30 and 50 equeries every day, seven days a week. Keep in mind, none of these include the giant stack of snail mail queries I have sitting in my office. I’m actually a little dismayed to read this and look at my tracking statistics. That means that to simply keep up with queries (and that doesn’t include requested proposals or fulls) I have to have about one hour of every day dedicated to reading queries. Sigh. Realization hits that I will never, ever catch up.

Okay, on to the numbers. . .

Queries Rejected: 56
Requested Proposals: 6
One pre-query query in which I replied by sending out submission guidelines: 1
Queries not written in the body of the email, but instead attached (which I don’t recommend): 2
Queries that included an unsolicited manuscript attachment: 2
Queries addressed generally to “dear agent” or another such address: 2
Queries in which unsolicited attachments of some kind were included, but which I didn’t read: 5
Rejected queries that for some reason or another I gave personal feedback for: 9**

I didn’t create as many categories this time as I often do because I thought instead about the queries I was reading and how I was reading them, and here are a few things I noticed.

99% of the time, whether requesting more or rejecting a query, I do not read the entire thing. In other words, I skim. I find the material that’s going to grab my attention and I head straight for that. In other words, I usually skip over the part addressing me and only notice it if you’ve called me Jennifer, Dear Agent, Dear Sirs, or some other incorrect name. I only read the blurb until I feel that you’ve sufficiently caught my attention or lost me, and I look for a bio to see what kind of experience you might have, if any.

If I’m on the fence about asking to see more and you tell me it’s your first novel, I will usually reject it. If I love the blurb I couldn't care less if it’s your first or 101st novel. I’ll request more.

The minute the blurb gets too long and drawn out, you’ve lost me. I have a short attention span and want the heart of the book given to me quickly.

A number of queries were rejected because the grammar was so horrible I could barely slog through it. That being said, an occasional grammar or spelling error doesn’t bother me at all.

Voice is everything. If I loved your voice I requested material no matter what the blurb said. If the hook was really great, but the voice stunk, I would sometimes request material with hesitation. Sometimes I would just reject.

Oftentimes I’ll start to read a query, realize I don’t have the attention span or patience for it, and come back to it later. Almost every query in my in-box gets scanned once, put on hold, and read more carefully later. There are exceptions to every rule, of course. If a query grabs me and I feel I love the blurb and voice I’ll request the book immediately. If the book is far outside of what I represent or just doesn’t and won’t interest me no matter what, I’ll reject it immediately. However, that does not mean you should ever read anything into a speedy rejection. Sometimes it just means that you sent in your book at a time when I was reading queries and I was able to get to it right away.

Nonfiction is easier to judge quickly.

I still have 141 queries in my in-box and the oldest is two and a half weeks old. The newest just came in.

**A side note on the queries that received personal feedback. Most of them received feedback for very specific reasons. Some had such a terrible format that I suggested the author go back and rework the query before approaching other agents, while others were querying me outside of the genres in which I represent.



Liana Brooks said...

You aren't the only agent who has mentioned a jump in query numbers this year. I wonder if blogging has anything to do with the jump. Since you're available and accessible online, and because it's easy to find information on what you like and what earns an auto-reject, maybe author's feel safer querying you.

That said, thank you for the information. Writing a query letter can be daunting, it's good to have some parameters to work with.

Anita said...

Great info---thanks for your hard work!

Anonymous said...

The jump in numbers is interesting. I'm curious if that has anything to do with the economy, with so many folks unemployed, and having time to pursue things like writing. It could also just be exposure. The list of regularly blogging agents is fairly short from what I have seen over the past few years. One thing you said Jessica, that makes me curious. If you get a query you are on the fence about, why do you typically reject if it's a first novel? Is this an expediency thing?

I understand that you have to make some quick, and frequently hard choices in the query reading process, otherwise you just keep getting further behind. I also suspect that you realize you might pass up on things that you would like if you got to the pages. I certainly don't envy the process. You have one to two minutes to decide if you want to invest the little time you have in reading more material. You've done this for long enough to have a good sense of things. Still, what is your reasoning behind rejecting 'on the fence' queries based on first time novel?

J Duncan

Bonnie R. Paulson said...

This is very helpful, as I am one of the ones who queried you almost two weeks ago. I am crossing my fingers you are holding the query to look over again since I have not received a rejection. : )
Also, am in love with the blog... addicted, addicted, addicted.
That being said, I feel that through your blog I have been given a glimpse into what kind of an agent I would like representing me. And while I "get" it's a business, I am old-school and believe morals and relationships are integral in a successful partnership. Your blog has given me an opportunity to identify what I would want in an agent, rather than just query from a list available of agents on the market.

Anonymous said...

The stats make it clear for this writer: make that hook and novel blurb shine!

Thanks again for the insightful post. I am always amazed at what an agent has to do every day.

Angela Ackerman said...

I've heard over and over from agents and editors that queries are on the rise this year. The natural question is if this is a reflection of the economy, and the squeeze on everyone to make money.

It would be interesting to know if the quality of submissions is approximately the same, higher or lower than before the jump.

Anonymous said...

What's strange is I've always heard that many publishers prefer to take a chance on an unknown or debut author cuz they can not only "get them cheap," but there's always the chance they can be the next bestseller.

Authors tell me that it's often easier for a fresh new face to get an agent than a mid-list author with an average track record of sales. Can you explain?

AIT said...

At first, I despaired about the 'first novel' comment, since I'm querying, you guessed it, my first novel. Advice to new authors often suggests adding "this is my first novel" since there are no credits. So my first reaction was to delete that line and simply say nothing.

Then, I paused. Jessica said she looks at that if she's on the fence...frankly, I'd much rather have her over the fence in the meadow of adored queries. I shouldn't be obsessing over that one statement, but should make sure my blurb is great. Miss Snark said it: make your writing brilliant, and little else matters.

Still, would you suggest the "this is my first novel" line, Jessica?

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

I've addressed the first novel issue in other posts. For me, if I'm on the fence, saying it's a first novel can push me to reject only because so few first novels are truly publishable. Is that fair? No, but at some point I have to base my decisions on something and this could be that something. Not all agents feel that way though.

Anon 11:08 I think I've discussed published or mid-list authors trying to revive a career in an earlier post this year. Do a quick search and I think you'll find the answer. Ultimately though it's because an unpublished author isn't working against numbers. There's no track record to fight.

I find the quality of my submissions gets better and better as each year goes by. I suspect that has more to do with my reputation then it does submissions. In other words, as I become a stronger and better agent I move to the top of the list.


Robena Grant said...

Thanks for sharing your query statistics, I've learned so much from your blog. Today I'm re-shaping a query you commented on in one of your contests, here's hoping this time I get it right.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Jessica. Interesting about the voice; I think I may have been shooting for a little too "professional" in my queries.

I wonder if the increase in queries shows SOME hopeful optimism about the economy. Or if it was just the calendar page turning to 2009l.

Wes said...

"Voice is everything. If I loved your voice I requested material no matter what the blurb said."

I'm stumped on this one. The voice in my novel is raw, earthy, and uses the vernacular of the 19th century frontier. Can this be shown in a query without an agent thinking it is an unprofessional gimmick?

BTW, "stumped" is a 19th century colloquialism referring to wagons being stopped by tree stumps where a forest had been cleared.

Anonymous said...

On a bad day, yes, that statment could strike me with paralysis. In general, though, I'm trying to have fun thinking about promotion. I LOVED Cynthia Liu's online launch party and got a bit inspired by it, thinking about me trying to do a video! Here's how I'm trying to see it. I have always been limited in my creativity--it's all words, words, words. Which I love! But I do tend to stay a bit narrow, away from visual arts and any tactile, 3-d crafts. This feels like a place, a reason, to stretch my boundaries a bit--if my writing isn't worth it, then what is? If that makes any sense! And, yes, I want to keep pushing myself on the writing itself, too, but sometimes thinking as though it'll really, truly, get out there acts as an additional motivator to get back to the computer and work!

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


I think it's very possible to make the voice come through in your blurb without using the same language you might use in your book. I see historical submissions all the time where I can literally hear the author's voice and this has nothing to do with time period.


Anonymous said...

I've just reread all of your older posts on voice and it seems that there's a confusion regarding just what we mean when we talk about voice. When I think of voice, I think of something beyond the unique sort of dialogue we strive to give to each character. It's the narrative that I believed contained an author's voice. If you're writing in first person, the so-called narrative is essentially the same as dialogue coming from your POV character/narrator. With third person, it can be many things. If a tight or personal third person, it needs to be the voice of that POV character. If omniscient, it's truly the author's voice.
My questions are: Has the omniscient POV gone out of vogue? Is it preferable to write from only one third person POV (rather than several)? And, for anyone out there, how do you go about creating different voices for entirely different POV characters who are the protagonists of different series? If your voice is your own, won't your POV characters' voices all sound essentially the same?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for discussing this (and for all you do for us). I apologize if you've already done this, but could you share with us--perhaps on another day--some examples of queries that contain what you find to be that wonderful sort of voice?

Sookie said...

On the flip side all those queries point to your popularity. Hang in there.

And thanks for the 411 on rejection reasons, Jennifer—er—Jessica. (Couldn't resist.)

Quick question, please. The other night a published author advised me not to worry about easing into the query—dive into the nitty-gritty so to speak. With today’s post, I suspect you agree since it appears you skim nonessential data. However, on previous posts where your author’s queries where publicized, you mentioned the asset of flattery. The big question is; where is the optimal place for that flattery? Thanks in advance.

Confucius says; man who eats many prunes get good run for money.

About Me said...

Interesting to hear about query stats. My gosh, where are all these new writers coming from? :)

Anonymous said...

Is Kim's backlog similar? I emailed her a query just before Thanksgiving (terrible timing, I know). By mid-January I hadn't heard anything, so I sent a follow-up email that included the original query.

I've received no response, and I'm not sure what to do. Send a snail mail query? Call the office? Keep emailing? Query Jessica?

I've since finished another book, and intend to finish another in the next month or two. These things are going to start piling up...

Wes said...

Thanks for the feedback on using voice in a query.

Anonymous 12:25,
There is at least one wildly successful bestseller (NYT and Oprah's list) that has an omniscient POV much of the time, THE STORY OF EDWARD SAWTELLE. It also has a dog's POV at times, which doesn't seem strange to me at all.

The author, David Wroblewski, is local (to me), and I had the pleasure of hearing him read his opening chapter. Not having read his book, it took me a while to catch his POV, and then to realize he was going against other trends by using much backstory and exposition with almost no dialogue in his opening. The conclusion I came away with was, when you're hot, you're hot. When you're not, you're not, to quote an old song.

I've since bought the book and read about 170 pages. The author creates a tidy little world that a reader can settle into much as one can immerse oneself in some of Michener's books. I haven't hit the heavy drama and conflict yet, so the pace is somewhat slow, but not unpleasant.

Robena Grant said...

Hi Anon 12:25:

I have this on my computer from author Kathleen Ramsland:

Character voice: it's their life attitude that makes each voice distinct.

If you put yourself into the worldview of the protagonist you've created (rather than your own worldview or attitude) and write purely from that view, there will be distinctions between your protagonists in the series. I think. : ) Anyone else?

Anonymous said...

I will be the first to admit that I am by no means a schooled author. I just sit down to write and do not worry about anything other than telling the story. And to me, this is voice. The way I am telling the story, both the dialogue and the narrative. Two different people can tell the same story but it will inevitably sound different, because we as people are all different.
I think that at the end of the day, a great story teller, has a great voice.

Anonymous said...

To Robena Grant and Wes from Anon 12:25,
Thank you both so much for your comments. Robena, I will try the worldview approach, it makes so much sense and I can see that it will get me inside the head and heart of my character (and help me define who she is). Wes, I will look for that book. I haven't read anything current using the omniscient POV, only things written either years ago or by authors who began their series years ago and stayed with the approach with which they'd started.
It's interesting (to me) that before I realized anyone had responded to my questions, I began writing, trying to become or see this new character I'm trying to create, and I was just beginning to feel she was someone other than me, though probably someone I'd LIKE to be. And, I found myself wanting to slip into omniscient from my usual personal/limited 3-p POV and thinking I "shouldn't". Maybe, like the author of The Story of Edward Sawtelle, my author's voice wants to use omniscient, at least occasionally, and I should stop fighting what comes naturally to me.

Thanks again!

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

I think Juliana Stone said it best. Yes, the voices of your characters must be distinct and their own, but at the same time each author has his/her own voice and how you create those characters, build your plots and tell your stories and the stories of your characters are all part of your voice.


Debra Lynn Shelton said...

Jessica, I don't know how you do it - how you read all those queries, partials, fulls, write posts on your blog, plus everything else you do. I'm sure cloning can't be perfected soon enough for you!

Anonymous said...

You're guidelines say a query with no attachments, but I've seen advice that says to include the first 5 pages of the manuscript with a standard query - included in the body of the email at the end, not as an attachment. Would that be an automatic rejection from you? In general, is it sound advice to include 5 pages (unless the guidelines say query ONLY)?



Anonymous said...

Dear Agent Jennifer:

The solution is quite simple: throw away all s-mail unopened and delete most of the e-mails, also unopened. None of it is worth bothering with anyway, and that will lighten your load considerably.

I am not an agent but I get thousands of spam pieces every day, and that system really works. Just say Delete.

Anonymous said...

um, the agents name is Jessica, not Jennifer. That would be an automatic delete I'm sure.

Swapna Raghu Sanand said...

Hi Jessica,

I was feeling quite ashamed after reading your post. This is coz last year I had submitted a mystery manuscript proposal i felt strong and confident about.

The funny thing is the moment you asked me to submit the manuscript, I lost my confidence to do that. I felt worried, happy, overwhelmed and full of bliss. But I couldnt proceed on sending that manuscript because i was brimming with these rapturous emotions. I kept putting it off for a 'better' time and now after reading your blog, I am feeling a little ashamed of myself.

I want to send you that manuscript, i really do but I don't know how you feel about me doing that a year afer you asked me for the submission. I am sure there are others like me who've faced similar dilemmas.What would you say?

Whatever you think, I want to say, thanks a ton for inspiring me and for making me believe in myself again.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be better to give those without formatting issues or writers whose genres you represent the personal feedback?

Why give those who cannot follow instructions the feedback to improve?

Would be nice if you gave the occasional personal touch to a rejection for someone who has more potential than the "non-formatting, I can't follow submission guidelines" fools.

Thanks. Keep up the blog. Very informative.

V. G. Clearwater said...

There's no way any agent who gets a ton of query letters can give a personal touch to all of them. If an agent wants to try to save other agents from having to deal with horrible query letters by a touch of honesty that takes 5 seconds, good for them. But giving personal critique to decent but not accepted queries all the time? What a waste! If you get a couple rejections...the smart gal/guy votes that his query might be on the suck-side.

That being said, I'm not sure if my query is on the suck-side as I sent it out last month with no answer. I do believe my email was swallowed whole by the inner-tubes of the internet.

I'll re-send in hopes it gets through and will stand in line for my flogging if I've double-dipped and wasted your time Ms. Faust.

Best of luck to all,

Anonymous said...

"Wouldn't it be better to give those without formatting issues or writers whose genres you represent the personal feedback?

Why give those who cannot follow instructions the feedback to improve?"

I second that motion! Can't this be handled by an assistant? Talk about a waste of your time!

Anonymous said...

I put a third on the motion to give the personal touches to those who can follow the instructions.

Instead of giving the people who cannot follow the rules the comment of "Sorry, not my genre." or "Fix your formatting." give it to someone who might need a "Tighten up your blurb." or "Might need some pub creds first.".....come on, Faust.