Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011: A Year in Queries

Hi everyone. Hope you all enjoyed the holidays! I'm squeezing in one more post in 2011. This year was my first *full* year of being an agent, so I thought the best way to commemorate this was with data collecting and spreadsheets. At the beginning of the year, I decided to choose three months at random and do a tally of every query I received. I'll spare you from the VERY SCIENTIFIC (not really) charts and day-to-day totals, and just give a brief overview.

(Note: These results are from emailed queries only. Thankfully, I don't receive many snail mail queries, and hope this stays true in 2012.)

In January 2011, I received a total of 442 queries. This is probably the most number of queries I received within a single month all year. January is a big query month. You have everyone who made it their New Year's resolution to get an agent, you have the NaNoWriMo writers who took December to revise, and you have your usual queriers who just felt like querying.

Contrary to popular belief, January queries are not automatically bad, rushed, or even unwanted. I ended up requesting two manuscripts sent on the same day that month, and that day was January 1. Despite the optimistic start to the year, of those 442 queries, I requested a total of 8 manuscripts. Which means 434 people received a form rejection.

The next month I tallied was July. This is a slow month for obvious reasons. It's the middle of summer. Writers are busy writing what they're going to query, or they are vacation. Also, many agencies close to queries beginning in July, so it's probably easier for writers to just resume duties in the fall. In July, I received a total of 388 queries, again including a post-holiday day of requesting two manuscripts in one day's batch. Of the 388, I requested 11 manuscripts and sent 377 form rejections.

Finally, November - the last complete month of the year, work-wise. I received a total of 363 queries, the lowest total, but requested 12 manuscripts. November was also the month in which I received the highest number of queries in one day: 34. The lowest number I've received in one day's batch was 7 (occurring once each month).

Random observation: Tuesdays and Wednesday are the biggest query days, while Saturday and Sunday are the slowest.

Using these samples, I'd say I average about 400 queries a month (4,800 per year) and request about 10 manuscripts per month just from the slush pile. This figure does not include any revisions I had asked for from previous months, contest winners, or requests from conferences. In case you're wondering whether the requests were fulls vs. partials, I honestly didn't keep track. But! I'd say 8 times out of 10 I request the full. It saves time in the long run and I can always stop reading if it comes apart. I request partials sometimes - most often if I'm on the fence about a particular premise (but was intrigued by writing), or if I love a premise (but not sure how the writing will be). Full disclosure: I may go back to requesting mostly partials due to an out-of-control reading pile that accrued around November.

To give you a picture of how many requests result in an offer of representation, out of the 100+ manuscripts I requested in 2011, I took on a total of 4 new clients, only 3 of whom came from unsolicited queries. (Admittedly I had offered on two others but lost them in a battle.) I officially started building my list in April 2010, and eager as I was to find clients, I took on a total of 8 out of a similar - though slightly lower - number of queries and requests.

For those who may not know, my *other* full time job at Curtis Brown is working in the foreign rights department. I love working in this department, but sometimes this means I end up passing on projects I really really like - but don't love - just because I know my time is divided right now. I wouldn't be able to give that person adequate attention. So, I keep my roster of authors purposely small so that I'm able to give proper time and care to my clients equally. By the end of 2012 I hope to raise my number of clients to an even 20. I won't make it an official goal; I just think it'll be nice. Obviously I'll have to receive worthwhile submissions. Hint, hint... :)

While I chose these months at random (beginning, middle, end), the interesting thing I noticed in 2011 queries was that as the number of queries received decreased, the number of requested manuscripts increased. I take this to mean that more writers are doing research before they send. Rather than submitting blindly, more people are taking the time to realize I might not be for them. Meanwhile, those who do query me know exactly what I'm looking for or know why I'd be interested in their story. I hope this, too, remains true for 2012. Though, as you noticed, my reading pile got bigger and bigger at the end of the year. But, I'd rather take the time to read 20 amazing manuscripts than take a few hours sorting through a folder of lackluster premises, genres I don't represent, or (worse) vampires.

So that was 2011 in a nutshell. As I begin Year #2 of being an agent, and I add more clients and book deals to my belt o' publishing, I can only hope that one day I'll look back and say "remember when I only received 100 queries a week?" Until then, thanks readers & writers for making my first full year as an agent pretty darn great.

See you in 2012, friends! Happy New Year!

15 comments:

  1. Addendum to this post: From December 22 to December 28, I've received 50 queries (and I'm not even back to work yet). Something tells me December didn't follow the "fewer queries, more requests" theory. Ah, randomness of publishing!

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  2. Wow, thanks for the inside peek into just how busy your inbox is. I hope your theory regarding authors doing their research before querying proves true in 2012 and for the rest of your agenting career. ;-)

    I keep several spreadsheets related to writing, and I have to confess to a certain nerdish glee whenever I have the opportunity to set up a new project or update a current file.

    There is one spreadsheet, however, I would love to close and never re-open for the duration of my writing career. Queries anyone?

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  3. What an interesting and valuable post. My intention for the year is to create a professional query and send several out, but not on a Tuesday or Wednesday in January, July, or December. Thanks.

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  4. Happy new year, Sarah! Thanks for being awesome.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this, Sarah! It will be an eye-opener for many--have already passed on the link. Happy New Year to you!

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  6. Oh, can I feel honored I'm one of four? Because I do. Thank you for doing this. :)

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  7. I love hearing the statistics! Thanks for sharing. :)

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  8. Sarah,

    Thank you for this dose of reality. In some strange way--it does soften the blow. :-) Happy new year and many blessings in 2012.

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  9. That was really interesting! Thanks for sharing. :)

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  10. Sarah - I have been quite curious about "your side" of the desk in the query process. It gave me a much better idea what agents go through to find those few stellar authors. Thanks for your commitment to great stories! All the best in 2012. :)

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  11. It's always refreshing to know the pure numbers/ratios of the game :)

    So, out of pure, morbid curiosity, how many requested manuscripts are on your desk right now, and do you try to read them in the order they were received, or do you start with the one that most sparked your interest?

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  12. What interesting statistics; teaches us to make sure our queries are up to snuff and targeted to the right agents. I wonder what percentage of these queries were totally out of the ball-park (ie. look miss agent, I know you will make money on this book, etc lol). Thank you for sharing, Happy New Year.

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  13. @1000th.monkey - There are currently 30 manuscripts on my desk (well, e-reader) - including requested material from queries, contest winners, and requested revisions. I always read them in the order they're received, but I give the revisions & contest winners priority. And of course, clients' work always comes before anything else.

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  14. At the risk of regurgitating repetition, this little peek through the window into the responsibilities of a literary agent was fascinating and eye-opening. Thanks so much! Good luck with queries this year.

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