Midwest Writers’ Workshop- Query Math
Hi, all! I returned from the MWW conference just last night with tons of notes on some awesome things. One of the most helpful sessions was John Cusick’s “Amazing First Lines.” During that hour-long session on yes, just first lines, he also discussed some basic “query math,” which I found very interesting.
Mr. Cusick stated that .002% of the queries he receives result in signing a new client. This sounds about on par with the stats I’ve seen from other agents. The competition is that tough. But really, I’d rather not think of it as competition. It’s not like if author X gets signed, it makes it less likely for me to sign with an agent. (In very specific cases, if an agent has already signed a certain kind of book, he or she may not want another too similar to that first one, though.) The way I see it, that stat doesn’t really mean there are that many other writers for me to beat in the race for an agent. A signed author’s success doesn’t undermine my own chances of success in finding an agent. What that .002% really means is it’s tough to write a good book and it’s even tougher for someone to love that book enough to put in a ton of work just on the chance that the story will sell.
Think about the books you’ve read and loved this past year. Sure, some were fun, some were great, some were incredible. How many of them were you crazy enough about to risk your salary on whether or not you could sell them?
As an editor, ex-agent-intern, and querying writer, here are some things I’d recommend doing to get those stats more in your favor:
- Don’t think of filters and gatekeepers as people keeping us out. They aren’t. They’re looking for us. Think of them as a part of the process meant to sharpen our skills. Because we need those skills, and we WANT those skills.
- Don’t be discouraged by how much work it takes. Most professions take years of deliberate skill building, and even then most people start at the bottom and have to prove their determination and passion for the job. Talk to a lawyer about how long it took him/her to get to a similar place. Three years in the query trenches? In comparison, that’s not bad at all.
- Realize the work can be fun. We’re writing! Sometimes I have to remind myself it’s not manual labor outdoors in August; we’re shaping a world and creating characters. Love it. It’s awesome.
- Follow directions. A huge portion of the queries I read were for things we didn’t represent– paranormal nonfiction, for example. A lot of the queries weren’t even real queries– rave reviews from friends or librarians won’t help us sign with an agent, especially not if the query doesn’t pitch the book itself. Use 90% of the query to tell about the story, not about you (for fiction. I stay out of NF for the most part.)
- Be intentional with your time on social media. Follow content producers in areas you want to learn about, and interact meaningfully. There’s a big difference between scrolling and chatting for hours, and listening/interacting while learning. Most importantly, realize that social media won’t get your book written. Set a time limit and get back to writing that brilliant zombie-fae space opera.
- Write a good book. Nothing else can beat this. Write a good book, and start a new one that’s even better. Make it a great book. Move on to the next and make it as awesome as you can. Because that’s the whole point- we’re not writing to get an agent, and our careers aren’t on hold until we find one. We’re writing to write. We’re already doing it.
Keep writing, keep learning, and it will happen. You’ll be in that .002%.