statistics last week. This was one of them: “Queries received in 2010: around 10,000. New clients taken on from query (no referral): 0.”
When I read that statistic, I was shocked. If you read Rachelle's blog, did the statistic surprise you too?
Think about it. Those 10,000 queries represent approximately 10,000 writers who have dreams of seeing their book in print, who’ve likely spent months on a manuscript, who are desperately seeking a chance at traditional publication.
Out of 10,000 ideas, surely there had to have been a handful--even just a couple--that showed some promise. But Rachelle didn’t take on any new clients from those queries. Of course she took on new clients through other methods (referrals, conferences, blogging, etc.). But NONE through cold querying.
I can’t help wondering what this would have meant for me. You see, in mid-2008 I cold-queried Rachelle with The Preacher’s Bride. I didn’t have a referral from one of her clients—I didn’t know any of her clients. I’d never met her at a conference—in fact, I’d never even been to a writer’s conference. I hadn't mingled with her in cyberland—at the time I hadn't started blogging.
In other words, I was just another unknown writer and another statistic in her in-box. The truth is, if I’d queried Rachelle in 2010 instead of 2008, things could have been very different for me. My query most likely would have gone unnoticed along with the other 9,999. But that wouldn’t have meant The Preacher’s Bride didn’t hold promise or was unpublishable—because obviously, the book is now in print and recently hit the CBA best seller list.
So what does that say about the query system? Does it really work anymore? Is the system slowly dying?
Of course the system isn’t dead yet. From time to time, I still hear reports of writers landing agents through cold-querying. But if the statistics of gaining an agent through querying are slim and growing narrower, what can writers do to increase their chances of getting an agent?
Seek out new agents through reputable literary agencies.
When I queried Rachelle in 2008, she’d only been an agent for about a year. She was still actively building her client load.
Yes, there is some risk in going with a new agent. They don’t have a big track record of sales. Their influence among publishing houses might be minimal. But all agents have to start somewhere, and newer ones are often more open to debut authors; whereas, established agents have less time or need for new clients and are more choosey.
Realize the query system may not be enough.
Even though Rachelle requested a full as a result of my query, I didn’t gain her attention until I finaled in a nation-wide contest for unpublished authors.
Contest finals can often be a way to give our queries an advantage. A personal connection with an agent at a conference can help too. During those appointments, agents often give writers permission to send in a partial or full, which then bypasses the cold-query pile and gets the agent’s more immediate attention.
Shift to a new way of relating to agents.
Through social media, many agents are more accessible than ever before. Numerous agents hang out on twitter or have blogs. If a writer spends some time building a viable web presence before querying (like commenting on agent blogs or mingling on Twitter), then agents will already be familiar with our names and more likely to take a look at our query over a complete stranger’s.
My Summary: Yes, the query system as we’ve known it may not work well (to put it nicely). But as with all the changes in the industry, we have to be willing to adjust. Writer friends continue to land agents. In fact, a wonderful blogging friend, T. Anne, built a web presence, and after months of perseverance and connecting with agents online, she was offered representation by Rachelle Gardner. She’s celebrating over on her blog today!
So, what do you think about the query system? Do you agree that it’s dying? Has it failed you? And have you felt like a failure as a result? Well, take hope. The query system may not accurately reflect your potential or your story’s possibility. You may just need to look for other ways to seek out an agent.