Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tools of the Trade

After months of procrastination, I'm finally back to working on agent submissions (queries) for Double-blind. Researching and querying agents is way, way less fun than actually writing. But I want to give it my best effort, want give myself the best chance of finding representation. I also want to have a definitive end date for this project -- so I can move on to the next one. And I won't feel like I've hit that date until I've sent out a healthy amount of queries and gotten rejections on them.

The odds are daunting. Agents receive hundreds or thousands of queries a month, and reject 99.5% of them, usually with a form letter. Now, the quality of the query letters and sample pages has a lot to do with it, of course. But I think another reason why the rejection rates are so high is that everyone is out there doing the same thing -- sending a barrage of letters out to every agent who's ever sold the written word.

There's got to be a better way. I'm a strong believer in metrics, benchmarking, and targeted effort. In the clinical trials industry (my day job), patient recruitment is one of our biggest challenges. Time and time again, companies throw countless hours and millions of dollars into blanket recruitment strategy, without targeting the right geographical area and the right research sites with the right patient population. It's the old 80/20 rule again: 20 percent of your research sites will generate 80 percent of the results. So you should focus all your effort on those 20 percent. A cottage industry has sprung up to provide clinical trial data so companies can take advantage of this. And it's making a difference.

I'm guessing the same goes for querying agents. I bet it's less about your credentials and how perfect your query letter is, than it's about hitting the right agent at the perfect time with exactly what he's looking for. And for that, you need data. Enter QueryTracker.net

The concept of QueryTracker is simple -- and genius. The website offers a comprehensive list of agents/agencies, along with a nice tracking system to track your submissions. Now, the tracking system itself is no big deal, nothing you couldn't do in Excel. The big deal is the data they keep on the agents. By making the tracking system free, the service is able to collect a boatload of data about the query submission process. You can get a decent amount of this information for free, but if you pay 25 bucks for the premium service (money well spent, I think) you get access to a treasure trove -- agent genre/word count preferences, turnaround times, even the month they're most likely to request a partial manuscript!

Let me give you an example. Before I joined the service, I queried an agent who looked promising and seemed to represent the genre my book is in. Once I joined QueryTracker, I looked at his stats and saw that out of nearly 900 queries, he only responded to about 100, and rejected all but 5 of them. He requested partial manuscripts for those 5, and offered representation for exactly zero. And none of the partials he requested where anywhere near my genre or word count. Now, his rejection stats, while depressing, are normal. But his response rate is not. Most agents at least eventually respond with a form rejection. So why take the time to query an agent who's never shown interest in my genre, and who doesn't typically respond at all?

Obviously, I need to focus my efforts elsewhere. And I'm hoping QueryTracker will help me do just that. I'll keep you posted.


  1. Guess you'll have to slip in under that remaining 0.5% who will find representation!

  2. Why is the font in this post 10 times larger than the font in your other posts?