Is it all about the writing?

In October, I asked: Can you find an agent by cold-querying? On New Year ’s Day, agent Rachelle Gardner posted her query statistics for 2010, in which she revealed she received over 10,000 query letters, but signed none of those authors. On Monday, Jody Hedlund asked a question on her blog: Is the Query System Dying?

I’m no longer involved in querying, but I read Jody’s post and comments with interest.

Wait! Do I know you?

A few had tales of the cold query system working for them, though most of those acknowledged that was years ago. Some said they got their agent’s attention through referral. Many said they first developed a relationship of sorts with the agent who eventually offered them representation.

To do that, they did things like commenting on the agent’s blog and following and interacting with them on Twitter, but the most often mentioned method was meeting their future agent at conferences and seminars, possibly more than once. The object was to cement your name in that agent’s memory and to garner that “golden ticket” allowing you to send REQUESTED material. But, as the writer of another comment pointed out, that’s not fair to those who can’t attend these conferences and seminars for whatever reason. And it’s not.

Repeatedly, I heard it’s all about the writing. I followed all the agents’ rules, polished my query letter until my fingers bled, selected agents who said they were interested in books like mine—and got nowhere. I was frustrated because I knew my writing was good. I knew readers would enjoy my book. It’s demoralizing to think my query might not have even been considered.

I had believed a lie. Finding an agent to represent your novel is not all about the writing. It’s about what the publishers are buying. It’s not all about the writing. It’s about having a connection with that agent. Yes, in the end you have to write well. Or sort of. You have to have a great story, at least.  But none of those agents I carefully selected knew me from Eve. Was my query even in contention?

Those of you still seeking an agent, take note. If you have no “in” and no ability or opportunity to physically connect with the agents, you may have a very long struggle ahead of you. I wish you well.

Your turn: This is my opinion of the query game system. How do you see it?


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42 thoughts on “Is it all about the writing?

    1. I have not used the service, but WEbook did share a story about a young author from Louisiana (?) who found an agent and GOT a publishing deal through the service.

      I’m sure they still have the link posted somewhere on the site.

      They list all the agents with genres on the site, so you could see if any look like a good fit.

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  1. But don’t forget, Linda, that I also mentioned in my post that I think writers should be on the lookout for newer agents. Chuck Sambuchino over at Writer’s Guide to Literary Agents keeps really good tabs on new agents and usually does a post highlighting a new one from time to time. It would be worth it for writers who are querying to take a look at those newer ones.

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    1. Thank you for stopping by, Jody. I do hope my readers clicked over to read your post. You bring up a good point. I’m sure agents like Rachelle have full client lists. If you don’t have “connections” I’d agree that new agents are the best bet.

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  2. It definitely seems like a difficult task, but I’ve seen it happen three times to friends, so it can be done. I think it’s more like though with the less well known agents–the ones that are still building their client list.

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    1. Were they all YA writers, Candi? I didn’t mean to imply cold-querying never works. It’s definitely easier to get results from a cold query to a new agent when you’re writing in a hot genre. And like you and Jody said, it’s easier with new agents. I’ll update my bleak pov in Friday’s post. 🙂

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  3. The statistics are disheartening, but I’m still trudging onward and getting ready to query agents. I’ve had great experiences querying/working with editors/publications on my short stories and poetry, so I guess I’ve become somewhat of a traditional gal 😉 I know this world of book publishing is a completely different animal, though, so we’ll see how things go.

    I wish you well in return…different ways of getting there, but, hopefully, successes all around~

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  4. I know…. I feel so discouraged just thinking about it… I live in Brazil and I’m saving money to go to New York for the RWA Conference in June, but of course I can’t fly to the US more than once a year (maybe even less than that). And yet I see the same trend: most people tend to find their agents through conferences.
    Which, again, is hardly a solution. With people writing about these stats this much, chances are conferences will get more crowded and more frequent, which will lead to “requested material” piles almost as big as slush. It’s not impossible that agents will actually stop requesting material at conferences once that happens. And then what?
    It’s clear the industry is changing. I just wish I knew where it’s going…

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    1. I hope you make excellent connections at the conference, Gabriela. Do your homework, find out as much about the agents who’ll be there as you can and make sure you get time with the ones you think will be a best fit for you. Romance is always a hot genre, so I doubt it will be a long time before agents start turning away all romance queries. Best of luck to you. 🙂

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