2012: A Year in Queries

This will be my last post of 2012, so let me take the opportunity to say THANK YOU. Seriously. Thank you all for reading and helping this blog continue for another year! I’ll be back in 2013 with more of your brilliant stories to share and more posts about writing, pop culture, and pictures of corgis.

Last year, I decided to choose three months at random to do an average of the queries I received in 2011. This year I did inventory of every month, cutting December off on the 21st because that’s when the office closed for the holidays. (Though, as of today I have 20 queries in my inbox, including two that were sent on Christmas Day. I’ll answer those in January.)

So, because writers love stats (right?), I present… my year in queries!

Note: These stats were compiled from ONLY emailed, unsolicited queries. Or, as the kids call it, the slush pile. Requests I had made at conferences, from blog/Twitter contests, and referrals were not counted among the following totals. Requested revisions for manuscripts I had read in 2011 were also not counted since they fall under solicited submissions. I receive maybe ten queries a year via regular mail, so I didn’t count those either. (Thank you, writers who follow directions and send their queries via email!)

Second Note: I answer every query I receive with the exception of the following (which were also not counted in the totals):

– If the query was addressed to more than one person.
Mass queries only show that a writer has put no thought into who they want representing their work or, in a best-case scenario, is trying to take an easy way out. If you want writing to be your career, take the time to care about it.

– Pre-queries (emails from writers who ask if they can query me.)
I don’t answer these because they are pointless and unprofessional. The query itself determines whether I’ll be interested in reading your book. Asking me if you can ask me to read your book is redundant, so I don’t bother answering. Just query me.

– Query sent as an attachment with nothing in the body of the email.
Do you open unsolicited attachments from complete strangers? Neither do agents.

– Queries not addressed to me.
These could often be an innocent mistake, but if you address me by a different agent’s name, I’m going to assume you meant to query them, not me.

– Unsure whether a self-pubbed author was querying their novel, or if they were just promoting their self-pubbed book.

OK, on to the stats!

January:
Queries Received: 430
Manuscripts Requested: 12
Genres Requested: Contemporary YA (4); YA Mystery (1); YA Fantasy (1); Adult Literary Supernatural/Dark Fairytale (2); Adult Literary Fiction (2); Adult Sci-Fi (1)

February:
Queries Received: 388
Manuscripts Requested: 14
Genres Requested: YA Fantasy (3); Adult Fantasy (1); YA Mystery (1); YA Sci-fi (1); Adult Magican Realism (1); YA Magical Realism (1); YA gothic (1); MG magical realism (1); Adult Dark Mystery (1)

March:
Queries Received: 373
Manuscripts Requested: 4
Genres Requested: YA steampunk (1); YA magical realism; YA paranormal (1); Adult literary fiction (1)

April:
Queries Received: 346
Manuscripts Requested: 5
Genres Requested: YA dark fantasy (1); YA contemporary (2); Adult literary fiction (1); Adult commercial fiction (1)

May:
Queries Received: 344
Manuscripts Requested: 6
Genres Requested: Adult literary fiction (1); YA fantasy (2); YA contemp. (2); Adult sci-fi mystery (1)

June:
Queries Received: 339
Manuscripts Requested: 4
Genres Requested: Adult Dark Fantasy (1); Adult Memoir (1); YA sci-fi (1); Adult horror (1)

July:
Queries Received: 366
Manuscripts Requested: 6
Genres Requested: YA contemporary (3); YA fairytale (1); YA horror (1); YA sci-fi (1)

August:
Queries Received: 330
Manuscripts Requested: 5
Genres Requested: Adult Mystery (2); YA Mystery (2); YA Horror (1)

September:
Queries Received: 298
Manuscripts Requested: 5
Genres Requested: Adult Urban Fantasy (1); Adult Sci-Fi (1); Adult Literary Mystery (2); YA Contemp. (1)

October:
Queries Received: 300
Manuscripts Requested: 1
Genres Requested: Contemporary YA (1)

November:
Queries Received: 248
Manuscripts Requested: 7
Genres Requested: YA thriller (1); YA fantasy (1); YA contemp. (1); Adult Literary Fiction (3); Adult Magical Realism (1)

December (1-21)
Queries Received: 152
Manuscripts Requested: 2
Genres Requested: Women’s Fiction (1); Adult Suspense (1)

Total queries received in 2012: 3,914

Total manuscripts requested from those queries: 71

Most requested genres: YA Contemporary and Adult Literary Fiction

Second most requested genres: Adult Literary Mystery/Suspense and YA Horror

Least requested genres: MG and Adult Memoir

Total clients signed from the 2012 slush pile: 2

Total clients signed in 2012: 7
(1 from Cupid’s Blind Speed Dating Contest contest; 1 from the Midwest Writer’s Conference; 1 referral; and 4 from queries, two of which were R&Rs that had carried over from 2011, but officially signed in early 2012.)

These stats can be a bit daunting for writers whose queries are currently sitting in inboxes or who haven’t yet started querying. Keep in mind that agents receive queries for genres they don’t represent, trends they can’t sell (yep, I still got my fair share of vampire and werewolf romances in 2012!), and books from writers who put no thought into whom they were querying. There are hundreds and hundreds of writers out there who have brilliant books in search for an agent, but when you see numbers that reach almost 4,000 total queries received, remember your competition may not be as fierce as it appears.

But I’ll repeat – there are hundreds and hundreds of excellent writers out there, but agents can’t have a client list that accommodates all of them. We have to reject good writers and good books all the time and trust that there are other agents with more room on their lists to give them proper attention.

To any writers getting ready to query, or re-query, this year – good luck and don’t be scared! Writers tend to ask about how to “avoid the slush pile,” but really the slush pile is just what agents call queries. It’s where we find talent. The slush pile is a crowded place, but it’s not a bad place to be. New agents depend on it to grow their own lists and established agents continue to use it to find new clients. Hope to see you there at some point in 2013… if you think I’m a good fit for you, of course.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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The Year of Self-Publishing

Whether you’re still on the fence with how you feeling about self-publishing, or if you’re 100% for it or 100% against it, it would be hard to argue that 2012 was not the year self-publishing became a legitimate force in the market. This has been brewing for a couple of years (see: Amanda Hocking and John Locke), but 2012 – with a little indie book called 50 Shades of Grey and a “New Adult” sub-genre trying desperately to prove itself – we’ve seen several headlines that have read something like “Former Self-Published Author Lands 6-Figure Deal.”

The thing is, there are plenty of self-published authors who are perfectly happy to remain self-published authors. The headlines we see are about self-published authors becoming traditionally published, and that’s where I think other writers have been getting confused about how self-publishing should work. To the self-published authors who have enjoyed your experience and have no plans to go traditional unless a 6-figure deal lands in your lap, feel free to ignore this post. Or, if you do have plans to get an agent and try for a traditional publisher, just not with the book you self-pubbed, you can ignore this post too.

To the other writers out there who think that “Self-Pub to Traditional Deal” is the norm, pull up a chair.

I have no beef with self-publishing. I find it to be a separate entity from traditional publishing, with some notable titles crossing over from both sides. Mostly, I think the two can co-exist peacefully and separately. (It’s sort of like the Blue-Ray to traditional’s DVD. Each provide a way for you to be entertained. For consumers, having another source to get content is a good thing… made even better when they don’t have to choose and can use both.)

That’s why it’s disheartening to get so many queries for books the authors have already self-published. While agents have had more success with getting self-pubbed books sold to traditional publishers this year, it’s important to keep in mind that all of those books were the exceptions – not the rule.

Turning a self-published book into a traditional book deal still takes:
1) huge sales figures (over 5,000 copies sold at the very least)
2) a healthy online presence
3) glowing reviews from major publications (think Kirkus; not just someone with a book blog or a writer-friend, unless your writer-friend is Stephen King).

If you have all three of these things, chances are agents are going to find you and you don’t need to query. If you have one or two of these things, then query away and hope for the best. If you don’t have any of these things, it’s not the end of the world, but query a different project entirely.

Self-publishing has proven itself to be lucrative and viable, and the stigma of it has drastically lessened. I include myself among those who turned up their noses at it, and I’m proud to say I’ve changed my mind because writers have made it impossible for me not to. (Woo!)

But I’m still wary when I see writers – too many writers – query me with their self-published books. Despite my evolving opinion, the original reasons I didn’t like self-publishing end up rushing back to me. I have to wonder why the writer self-pubbed in the first place. Was it out of frustration with rejection? Did they think a self-pubbed book would get my attention? Or were they misled to believe that self-pubbing before querying is now the norm?

Don’t let success stories change your mind about your own career path. Remember that no one ever writes front-page articles about all of the people who don’t win the lottery. Stay true to what you want out of your writing career, and if you end up changing your mind about the best way to reach your audience, then be smart about how you make that switch. If you read about how a certain self-published book got a traditional book deal, you’ll rarely find it was because the writer queried an agent with that same project before it was ready to be seen.