Pub Rants

24,000 Queries A Year

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STATUS: I have a bad head cold, and I’m so ready for it to be over. Usually I read in the evenings but since I’ve been so tired, I’m asleep by 8 p.m.. Ah, the crazy, wild life of a literary agent.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHY DON’T YOU DO RIGHT? By Sinéad O’Connor

And I’m going to blame my bad cold for not being particularly clear in yesterday’s post. It sounded like I have several different form query rejection letters and it’s only for #4 that you get the “although your work sounds intriguing” line.

Nope. I don’t have five different form letters. We can’t. Time-wise it’s just not feasible in terms of responding to 500+ queries a week in a prompt fashion. We can’t expend extra time by toggling through five different letter versions in order to send out the “right” one for any particular query. You guys know this because you read it on every agent blog currently in existence. Our time is spent on current clients and for authors with projects who will actually become our clients. The volume is too overwhelming for anything else.

Think about it. 500 queries a week multiplied by approximately 48 weeks in a year is 24,000 queries.

And out of that, how many new clients does an agent take on?

For me, in a good year, I take on 4 or 5 new clients—and I’m actively looking. Really looking. Like attending conferences, reading lots of partials, and really making myself available to writers kind of looking.

So you can see that sifting through 24,000 queries for 5 clients isn’t overwhelmingly productive.

That means one letter for all queries period. I include the intriguing line because some of the queries we do receive really are intriguing and will totally float another agent’s boat. For the others that don’t really fit into #4, well, we think it’s polite to use that line because our goal isn’t to crush aspiring writers…

We literally don’t have time for anything else.

36 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    Wow, what a bummer. I read yesterday’s post to mean that the “intriguing” part really meant something. Even printed it out to show my husband.

    Woe is me, woe is me………..

  2. Bill Peschel said:

    Whoa! Even if 90 percent of the stuff is rubbish, that still leaves 2,400 to consider.

    Even 95% leaves you with 1,200 possibilities.

    It’s a tough road to climb.

  3. Anonymous said:

    4 or 5 out of 24,000!!!!

    Sounds like I’d have a better chance of being struck by lightning!

  4. katiesandwich said:

    4 or 5 out of 24,000. It doesn’t surprise me; it just makes me realize once more what an idiot I am for choosing such a crazy career. I definitely am curious how many of these queries are stupid, i.e. from people who know nothing about writing and have just decided to up and write a novel some day, from those who say “fiction novel,” or from those whose genre you don’t rep, etc. I know you don’t have time to figure up the answer and tell me. I’m just saying that I’m curious.

  5. Jana DeLeon said:

    katie – when I first started writing, I attended a writer’s conference with approx 20+ attendees. I was a bit overwhelmed with the number (it being my first conference), and I hadn’t realized how many people were writers. A well-respected, award-winning author leaned over an whispered in my ear, “Take a good look. Out of all of them only 10% have the talent it takes to become published, of that 10%, only 1-2% will bother to see it to fruition.”

    The longer I’ve been around the industry, the more I realize how true her words were.

    Do not be discouraged, there are not really 24,000 people competing for slots, there are only 240 or so.

  6. LadyBronco said:

    Wow! I cannot believe how may “wannabes” there are of us out there!
    The pure amount of numbers alone is more than a little intimidating for an aspiring author to actually “see” how much competition there is out there.

  7. An Aspiring Writer said:

    I understand entirely, though I am still stunned at the vast numbers of would-be writers out here.

    I work in children’s theater. I sit at the audition table and listen to 80 kids, one at a time, pour their little hearts out in one-minute versions of “Tomorrow” and “Zip-a-Dee Doo Dah.” Most of them work hard on their audition pieces, a great many of them just don’t have what it takes, and to give attention to those who need closer scrutiny, there is a big ‘no’ pile made the first pass. An encouraging ‘no’ letter is sent because, as Kristin said, it’s not our job to crush their dreams. But it is our job to focus on those who are the most promising.

  8. Maya said:

    There’s a statistic floating around the industry that 81% of the entire population believes they can “write a book.”

    Very few of them will actually do it. Of those, fewer yet will do it well.

  9. Kim said:

    I think most of the wannabes assume it’s a case of write, put in an envelope, mail to publisher and VOILA! A book. And it is, if you want to do the PublishAmerica route **shudders**. Research is minimal at best, plotting is tired and cliched, characters are stock.

    The ones who make it are the ones who treat it for what it is – a craft. They do the rough draft to final copy and everything in between. They polish and polish, research their market, etc. They don’t give up after one rejection.

    What’s amazing is the patience of editors and agents who wade through all of the garbage to find the one gem (cliche, I know, but it’s early here on the east coast and I’ve not yet had my coffee).

  10. katiesandwich said:


    Wow! To be spoken to by a published author. I feel special now. I completely see your point about the conference. At the last conference I went to, there was an “open mike” session, where authors had about four minutes to read some of their work aloud. I never realized four minutes could be so long! There were about fifteen people in the session I was in, and only two of them didn’t put me to sleep in the first ten seconds. (Well, three if you count me; hard to fall asleep and read aloud at the same time!)

  11. sharman said:

    With all due respect & speaking as someone who just got an email with the intriguing comment, I think it’s better not to put something in a letter that’s just not true (at least in many cases), even if you have good intentions. It comes across as very insincere (almost patronizing), & I’m sure that’s not your intention. I’m just glad someone read my query. Or did they? See what I mean about problem with saying something that’s not true? 8>).

    P.S. Thanks for the blog. It really helps to understand things from the other side.

  12. Jana DeLeon said:

    lol, Katie – published authors are actually very accessible, I’ve always found. Unless we’re on deadline (and come next week, I will probably be invisible) If you have a local RWA group, please consider joining even if you’re not writing romance. It’s the best place for an education on writing technique and to learn about the industry. I was fortunate enough that a published author took me under her wing (and still has me there – thank God), or I wouldn’t know half of what I do.

  13. Ryan Field said:

    What’s really scary is that so many people believe they write well and waste everyone’s time and energy. So sad for the one’s with true talent, who’ve worked hard and studied the craft of novel writing in order to entertain readers.

  14. Maprilynne said:

    I read a book a while back from one of the people in my writing group and it was TERRIBLE!!! Really, really, terrible. But this woman is convinced . . . 100% convinced . . . that she had written the greatest fantasy in the world. That it is original and has a plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and most importantly, a protagonist who is fanscinatingly bold and daring.
    The truth is her idea has been done to death, the plot is so circular I could have synopsized the last half without reading it, and her protagonist is competely lame. When I tried to point some of these things out (nicely but honestly) she just kept saying, “Well, but don’t you think . . .?” and arguing with me. (Now I’ve been in the arguing group before, when I very first started out. I’ve finally moved beyond that:)) But this woman just doesn’t understand why she keeps getting rejections.
    I know. It’s cause it sucks.
    But I think this woman represent Everyauthor. I think she is much more the rule than the exception. We all think our babies are perfect . . . at least in the beginning.
    I just hope I am more the exception than the rule.*Big Grin* But don’t we all?


  15. Maprilynne said:

    I had to comment one more time because the word verification for this comment is “itryrg”
    Anyone else seeing the “I try” in there.:)

  16. Janny said:

    Whenever I get overwhelmed by sheer numbers like this, I remember a comment by a good friend and great author: “Yes, the big publishers get thousands of submissions a year…but just remember, about half of those are written in crayon.” 🙂

    More kudos yet to Kristin and those like her, who truly ARE trying to find the next truly great book and great author, and who have to WADE through all that crayon to get to it!


  17. Lexie Ward said:

    jana deleon,(in reference to your first post) what you say is so true. Even among those who truly do have talent, there are only a handful with the perserverence to actually finish a book and then keep knocking on doors til they get an answer. I’ll bet a lot of queries come from authors who haven’t even finished a novel yet.

  18. Lexie Ward said:


    A couple of friends and I started a little writers group a few years back. Two of us were open to criticism about our work. One of us wasn’t. She was the queen of the “first fifty pages.” She actually wasn’t a bad writer; just a little wordy and prone to give out too much information–a hurdle that most writers have had to cross at one time or another. But you couldn’t say one thing to her without hurting her feelings.

    Now, years later, the second friend and I are moving toward our publishing goals. We’ve still got some distance to cover, but we are MOVING. The Queen of the Fifty Pages? She is in exactly the same place as she was before, with her “baby” sitting in a drawer somewhere gathering dust.

    I think a lot of aspiring writers are in this group.

  19. S William said:

    I agree with Sharman. You don’t offer a starving man a vfeast of crumbs. Better to just move on politely. There are other ways to be polite and encouraging without pretending like you were truly interested. Close only countes in horseshoes, hand grenades and slow dancing.

  20. S William said:

    I know some of you are amazed by the amount of bad writing and writers out there. I might have been 10 years ago, but after watching American Idol, nothing surprises me anymore.

    I, for one, am a bad gardener. I admit it. It’s out in the open. I suck at gardening. But…but, I like to do it. No, I love gardening and landscaping. And, after 7 years I am getting better.

    Whoa, the poor plants! I have killed so many, except, of course, for the weeds. That stand and taunt while the gardens of others wave at me, weed free.

    People write, and garden, for different reasons. Some write for fame. Some for money. Some for attention. Some out of arrogance. But most write because deep down inside they love to write.

    I love to garden. When friends and neighbors see the train wreck in my lawn, they say, “Getting better!”

    I guess each of us has to stand in front of the mirror and answer the question: what is controlling me? I don’t worry about fame or money when I garden. I garden out of love.

    But if I gardened for money or fame, it would control me. And I would begin to hate it. And I would become obsessed with others, and what they thought and did with their own work.

    Hang in their, constant writer. Fall in love with the writing, even if you’re bad. And please, oh, please, forget about money, fame, or getting published.

    Make a book. Set it free. It might fly. It might not. My children have books that their dad wrote. My grandchildren will have these books as well. To you they might be bad and unpublished, but to my children they are one dash of love, and one dash of my soul that will live forever.

  21. Termagant 2 said:

    Maprilynne, this is why my local writing group put together rules about crits: the author cannot reply to anything verbally, except a short question for clarification.

    This would rule out both the “don’t you think” questions and the hurt feelings. Also, our crit group tends to number between fifteen and twenty-five people on any given evening. This makes the chances better that there will be some commonality in the crit. If we see the same comment more than three or four times, we might tend to get the drift.

    My $0.02,
    verification word is fzytwg, which obviously means FIZZY TWIG, whose meaning is understood by a very small percentage of writers…

  22. Tawna Fenske said:

    What Kim said about most people assuming the process is simple is spot on! I think Kristin’s post should be required reading for all friends/family members of aspiring authors. I know many of us would appreciate having fewer people asking in that confused-yet-pitying tone, “why isn’t your book out yet?

    I had a manuscript under consideration with Silhouette Bombshell for 17 months before they offered me a contract. About 6 months after that, they set a publication date for February 2007, and then 9 months after that, I got the call from my editor that Silhouette was canceling the line in January 2007. Despite the obvious setbacks there, I feel pretty damn lucky. Those of us who’ve been playing this game for awhile understand the publishing process is painfully slow and incredibly difficult to break into, so I recognize the fact that I was extremely fortunate to make it as far as I did. I still feel glad to have met with some successes along the way these last 4 or 5 years and I’m confident there’s more in store for me if I just persevere.

    But I’m sure if you ask many of my well-intentioned (but somewhat uninformed) friends about the situation, they’d think my writing career so far has been a dismal failure 🙂

    It’s all about perspective, I suppose. Thank you, Kristin, for providing that!


  23. Missy Lyons said:

    I think that is an amazing amount of work to have to sift through to find good work.

    So how far do you decide to read before you put it down and start on another work? Do you give it one paragraph to catch your attention, or a page, or do you use the synopsis?

    I usually give abook 20 pages before I throw it across the room, but I doubt you have time for that.

  24. Levi said:

    Anyone want to crunch the numbers and figure out the percentage of queries that actually end in representations? My simple brain isn’t up to the challenge at the moment.

    I’d also be interested in hearing how many queries are actually decent and not just the “Do you represent erotic horror screenplays?” type.

  25. Mari Mancusi said:

    I remember going to the national Romance Writers of America conference in 2004 in Dallas. When I walked into that conference and saw 3,000 women who all wanted the same thing as me – well I was just so overwhelmed and depressed that I went home saying, “What a fool I was to think that **I** could be a published author.”

    Less than a month later Dorchester called with an offer on my book. I’ve since sold seven more to both Dorchester and Berkley in 2 years. And I recently became one of Kristin’s lucky 4-5 new authors so I know even more good things are in my future. 🙂

    I have so many author peers who were unpublished when I first got into RWA. We struggled. We got rejected. We thought it would never happen to us. But it did. And it could happen to you, too.

    Anyway, I guess my point is don’t be discouraged by the numbers. Just write a good book, edit the heck out of it with good critique partners, and send it out into the world. New books by new authors are bought everyday. Why not yours?

    The only REAL secret to publication is perseverence. 🙂


  26. Anonymous said:

    Well said, S William. No one is fabulous right out of the gate — it takes hard work and perseverance.

    Keep gardening!


  27. Maprilynne said:

    Congrats on your gardening, s williams. IU suck at gardening too. And I am sure I suck more htan you do.:)
    The thing is, you recognize that you are not the world’s greatest gardener and you are *working* to get better.
    I have no problem with people writing for the love of writing. Even though I am trying to get published, ultimately that’s why I write. But people who write because they love it and think they are the greatest writer in the world even though they royally suck–that’s what drives me crazy.
    I am not the best writer in the world, not even close.:)

  28. Dave Kuzminski said:

    My wife hates it when I plant something. My rule is dig a hole, stick the plant in, spit on it, and tell it to grow. Then I leave it alone. My record is very good. About 90% of what I’ve planted is still growing. Some of it beyond where I intended. Oh, well….

  29. j h woodyatt said:

    You wouldn’t have to wade through 24,000 queries a year, just to find four or five new clients in the whole lot, if you didn’t try so hard not to crush the spirits of some of those aspiring writers.

  30. Simon Haynes said:

    Many of those aspiring writers just need another 3-5 years practice. Why discourage them?
    A lot of published authors only get picked up when they shop their third, fourth, fifth novels, and none would make it if agents were advising them to give up because their first manuscript was unpublishable.

  31. Simon Haynes said:

    Found a good article called ‘on the survival of rats in the slushpile’ today (download here) – I’m reading part 5 at the moment and it really ties in with the discussion here.