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How Do I Know I'm Ready to Send Out My Query Letter?

How Do I Know I'm Ready to Send Out My Query Letter to Agents?

If you've never written a query letter before, give yourself one solid month to write and re-write a stellar query letter.

Yeah, that's an entire month. Trust us.

It can take as long as a week, just to figure out the best hook that summarizes your three-hundred page masterpiece into a single concise sentence. It will take another week to draft your two-hundred word mini-synopsis. And it will take you several weeks to cajole everyone you know to read your query and give you honest feedback.

Notice we said honest feedback. Not just polite compliments.

So, if you've spent one month writing and rewriting your query, and getting feedback from more people than just your grandma, and you've read and re-read our AQ Guide: How To Write A Query, you're probably ready to send it out.

But by far, the best way to gauge if your query is ready, is by the response (or no response) your receive.

So here's the bottom-line: If you send out your query to your first batch of 10 agents, your requests for partials should go something like this:

50% success rate for all hot genres:

If you're querying a novel in a "hot" genre, AND your query is effective, you should have a 50% success rate. 50% of the agents should request to see more. That's 1 out of 2 agents.

So what's a hot genre these days? Young adult (YA) and middle grade (MG), but especially YA for girls and MG for boys. Romance and mysteries are always hot, but their respective sub-genres go in and out of favor. Graphic novels are "in" right now. High-concept commercial fiction (this never goes out of favor). And we've heard a lot of murmurs about serious women's fiction and steampunk; agents are on the lookout.

30% success rate for all literary genres

Everyone wants to represent the next WATER FOR ELEPHANTS--a well-received, well-reviewed, well-written book that also happens to be a best-seller. Almost every agent is on the lookout for that gem. So, it's pretty easy to get at least a request for a partial (getting an offer of rep is a different story, so forget that for a moment). If you're sending out a query for literary fiction, especially one with a commercial bent, you should have a 30% success rate. That's 1 out of 3 agents should request to read more.

Same with historical fiction, accessible but well-written commercial fiction, family saga, narrative nonfiction, and memoir.

20% success rate for thrillers/suspense, horror, hard-core science fiction for a male audience, and fantasy with elves and wizards.

The market for traditional genre fiction has been saturated, especially for the type of fiction that was popular a decade ago. Also, genre fiction geared towards a male audience is a harder sell because women are the readers nowadays. That's why there's been an explosion of fantasy and science fiction with female "kick-butt" heroines, and thrillers and mysteries with female lead detectives.

So if you're writing traditional genre fiction geared towards men, then you're going to have a harder time. But a good query should still garner the attention of at least 1 out of five agents.

Generally, any success rate lower than 1 out of 5 agents requesting to see more means it's a sign that your query needs SERIOUS help.


Paul Dillon
Apr 08 2011 04:03 PM
This is useful. I like the success ratio stats.