How many queries should you submit?

I was asked this question frequently this week, after my story circulated in the media.

I suppose the answer is, keep going, ‘until you find representation,’ or ‘until you give up.’ I tried the contest route. For me, that worked. If it hadn’t, I might have considered e-publishing, like my friend Simon Royle. Or I might have given up altogether. Hard to say now.

But I certainly wasn’t willing to walk away on a considerable investment of time without trying every single avenue I could think of.

The competition is stiff, more so now than ever. I’ve posted statistics on this blog in the past about how many queries most agents get in the course of a week, month, and year. (10,000 to 36,000 seems to be the annual range.)

Yes, there are stories of authors who found representation easily, and of authors who have been the subject of auctions and landed multi-book deals and seven figure advances, but they’re exceptional.

It makes the hill steeper than it used to be. That’s going to get worse, I’m afraid, not better, until publishers adapt and some stability returns to the marketplace.

I made major revisions to The Beggar’s Opera probably as many as seventy times. The Beggar’s Opera was not the same novel at the end of the querying process as it was in the beginning. And when it’s published, it won’t be the same as the one Peter Robinson read, either. That’s part of this business and a hard one to accept: your work will change. Repeatedly.

I didn’t send out the same old query and the same old manuscript over and over again hoping for a different result: that’s the definition of insanity.

It was much more organic than that. I rewrote the query several times (I cringe at the first ones I sent out). I revised the manuscript almost every week, sometimes every day, changing it to respond to what I was hearing (or not hearing), and then I tried again. 

And I learned a ton about writing along the way.

By the way, to improve your chances of getting feedback from the agents you query, you can use a neat little tool called QueryTracker. It allows you to look at any particular agent’s statistics based on input from thousands of authors.  It will help you to determine how likely an agent is to respond at all, to respond with useful feedback, and to respond within a reasonable time.

This entry was posted in Dealing with rejection, Querying, Revisions and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to How many queries should you submit?

  1. I went the “divide and conquer” route. I approached a top agent and a small publisher. Both were interested and both took forever to commit. The small publisher, the natural home for my book, Acorn Press, made an offer first. So I went — and stay — agentless. I have yet to come to terms with that. My “small” publisher has been tremendously supportive — putting dollars into publicity, etc.

    I do not consider my writing a hobby. It is the core of who I have always been. I wouldn’t mind if I could make a living from it, but the fact is, I don ‘t need to. I could retire and what I make from writing could be the icing on the pension cake (with marzipan, please.)

    I recognize that mine is very different from your situation. I’m glad it has worked out the way you hoped. I can only admire your tenacity in holding out through all those rejections and keeping your spirit up, along with your faith in your work.


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