View Full Version : Where do you think the failure point is?

07-02-2008, 11:33 PM
Here are the current statistics.

Timeframe: approximately 1 month

Total queries submitted to date: 28

Requests for partials: 2

Partials rejected: 1

Partials pending: 1

Queries rejected: 10

Total queries pending: 16

Pending queries that have aged over 1 week: 9

Pending queries aged less than 1 week: 7

I sent out a batch last night of new queries, and I am waiting
to see what the results are on the remaining 7 that have not
yet received a response, so these stats may change shortly.

E-queries aged over 1 week I consider to drop in probability
of garnering a request for additional materials.

So, while I wait on the remaining fresh 7, and the unlikly
but possible chance that the 9 old queries may yield a positve

If the remaining 7 yield no requests for partials, what do you
think could be done to improve the picture, and where might
the failure point be in this?

(As that would be 2 requests/28 queries. A return rate of 1/14.)

I've thought of a few possibilities.

1. The query letter needs work.

Certainly possible. I've used the same base query letter for
all 28 submissions thus far, though I have experimented with
removing the 'preamble' (2 sentence intro paragraph explaining
the book's genre, and why I am querying particular agent.)

The pending batch of 7 has not been personalized, beyond a name,
and of the 9 I sent out in this fashion, 2 have received rejections.

2. I am targeting the 'wrong markets'.

Also possible. My genre is "literary fiction with commercial
potential", and while a higher percentage of agents will agree
to look at lit fic then say, genres like sci fi or children's
books, it also may mean a lower rate of return, due to factors
such as the diversity of the genre.

I'm submitting to agents who ask for lit fic or commercial
lit fic. When I say 'wrong markets', I mean that it's a
question of finding the right audience, and not due to a
fault in the query letter.

3. Both 1 and 2.

4. Neither, as in, another possibility. What else could it be?

Any thoughts, comments, suggestions, questions, etc, on where
to start looking are appreciated. Sorry if this is a long post,
but thanks for reading, and maybe the stats and your replies will
be insightful to others here that are dealing with the same concerns.

Stacia Kane
07-02-2008, 11:47 PM
Have you posted your query in Share Your Work? Because honestly, although it's still early, that low a percentage of responses makes it seem to me the problem is with the query. That's just a guess, but it's the best one I've got. :)

07-02-2008, 11:49 PM
Also, it's summer and a lot of agent blogs I read say things slow down - in terms of looking at new work - for a couple months. Don't give up yet, this is a slow industry.

07-03-2008, 12:22 AM
I wouldn't call it 'lit fic with commercial potential' personally. To me it doesn't sound like it could fit both markets, but rather that you don't know how to categorize it...or that it's not categorizable (which is the kiss of death for a lot of books). Why not just call it 'fiction' ?

And I second the 'post in SYW'.

07-03-2008, 12:32 AM
I would go with the obvious first. Lay that query up for a solid critique. And yep. I would not mix the terms of lit and commercial--a very confusing analogy.


cate townsend
07-03-2008, 01:26 AM
I would use a broader term to describe the genre (commercial, mainstream), and let the letter speak for itself. I'm in the same situation with having a story that doesn't neatly fit into one genre, and I usually just mention the broadest category that it does fit under. Sometimes, I won't say a genre at all, and write something like "I hear you're looking for stories with X, Y, and Z, so thought you might be interested in my book..." or something similar. I agree with the others. Post your query for feedback, and go from there.

Good luck to you! Keep us posted on your stats.

Karen Duvall
07-03-2008, 02:03 AM
I concur with those who said get a solid crit on the query. That's usually the bugaboo that bars you entry into agent consideration land.

Also, some concepts just don't ignite a spark for some people. Even if an agent seems like they'd be perfect for your manuscript, it may not be a fit as far as they're concerned. This is a subjective business, after all. It's mostly about personal taste and preference.

Good luck! Let us know if you decide to post your query in query hell.


07-03-2008, 02:11 AM
I got a partial request for a query that got a response after a few weeks. Some agents are just very busy and don't have time to read all of their queries right away.

07-03-2008, 02:18 AM
My first thought was, "Gee, 28 queries isn't very many."

I agree, try SYW. I wouldn't even consider giving up until you've gotten at least a hundred rejections. It only takes one agent to change your stats from negative to positive.

07-03-2008, 02:18 AM
Like the above posters have said,

post your query in the Query forum, they do wonders there

good luck and hope you stick around. AW will transform you inside of six months if you give it a chance


07-03-2008, 02:22 AM
2. I am targeting the 'wrong markets'.

Also possible. My genre is "literary fiction with commercial
potential", and while a higher percentage of agents will agree
to look at lit fic then say, genres like sci fi or children's
books, it also may mean a lower rate of return, due to factors
such as the diversity of the genre.

I'm submitting to agents who ask for lit fic or commercial
lit fic. When I say 'wrong markets', I mean that it's a
question of finding the right audience, and not due to a
fault in the query letter.


A friend just came back from a conference and she said the agent panel said the trendy term for this is now bookclub fiction.

*sigh* don't you love publishing?

anyway, perhaps check into that term?

07-03-2008, 06:13 AM
DecemberQuinn -- Yeah, it seems low to me, too, and it's very likely that's where the problem lies -- with the query.

melaniehoo -- I wondered that too (re: slowing down in the summertime). Makes sense. Especially since it's a holiday week.

Irysangel -- I'll consider this. Do you think agents would find that easier to manage, or would they be offput by expecting something that's commercial and receiving something literary? And yeah -- if it's hard to place on the bookshelf at the bookstore, then it will be a hard sell.

triceretops -- If you think it's confusing, then it's likely that it will confuse, or just be offputting to others as well. I'll keep it out of the next letters.

cate townsend -- Thanks, I'll update the stats when I get new info. Your suggestion of leaving out the genre entirely yet still making the comparison to other books the agent has repped is something I could try.

Karen Duvall -- Right, some books are just a matter of taste. That's part of what I meant by option #2 - that it just takes a while to shop and find the right agent, especially if the book is a bit different.

JenWriter -- True, a few weeks is too soon to count the pending queries out entirely.

windyrdg -- You're right. 28 queries isn't many. But if the rate of return is looking a little iffy, I'd like to patch the problem while it's still early in the game.

dgiharris -- Thanks for the support. I've been lurking longer than I've been posting, but yeah, I'm sure 6 months will make a world of difference.

Twizzle -- "bookclub fiction". Heh, it can't hurt to try it. :)

I'll give SYW a try (if I don't chicken out). :) Once I get the thread up, I'll post it here.

Thanks for the comments, guys.

07-03-2008, 08:00 AM
Good luck!

07-03-2008, 05:43 PM
TBH, I would simply say 'fiction' and let them figure out the rest. :) If you have an author that is an influence on your book or you think would share a like audience, you can always refer to that.

07-03-2008, 11:01 PM

07-07-2008, 01:36 AM
What I keep telling myself is that it took a friend of mine 11 years to get published. Over the last year she has become one of the best selling writers for her press.

I'm not saying I would last that long, but it's good to know there is light at the end of the tunnel.

07-07-2008, 01:51 AM

I'll second that. The nature of the game is that you haven't lost until you quit or die. Even if you die, there's always the outside chance of a Confederacy of Dunces scenario.

08-05-2008, 10:35 PM
Agent responses seem to be suffering from dog days lethargy, but I'm beginning to suspect that this is a list issue and a fit issue, based on recent response from the second rejected partial. Nothing is pointing to an issue with the writing thus far.

Let me clarify on "failure point" -- I meant that as a mechanic or engineer searching a machine, looking for the place where it breaks down. Not in the sense of inadequacy or quitting (though I suppose everyone eventually reaches a point where it's no longer cost-effective to continue).

I perceive querying and the process of shopping a manuscript as a large machine -- a flawed one, granted, and inefficient at times, but due to time contraints, a largely impersonal, mechanical process. They reply if they're interested, or send a form rejection, and ergo I've decided not to waste a full day personalising each query letter anymore since it seems to yield little fruit. Thus, the machine.

Form letter are steeped in murky phrases to quell hostilities, something along the lines of, "your manuscript is superb and though we all marvel at the lyricisim of your well-constructed book, we're afraid it doesn't suit our petty needs at this time". I can't use them for statistical purposes to adjust future queries accordingly cos they're pretty well meaningless, other than the significance of receiving a form rejection in of itself.

Reading the tea leaves of partial rejection comments is also beginning to seem just as silly, so. :)

08-06-2008, 06:51 PM
I enjoyed reading your stat breakdown. It mirrors almost exactly my own status ratio-wise, but I'm not at all worried about it. For me it's early days indeed. This business can be slow-moving, plus this is a slow time because people are vacationing. Too, the economy IS making itself felt and publishers are belt-tightening, particularly in fiction areas.

If it cheers you up any, I'm at the three-week mark from the first query batch. Out of the first eleven of 22 sent I've had six no-reply, four rejections and one partial request.

Of the remaining eleven it's so far two rejections and the rest no reply. Several of the agencies I've queried state on their sites that no reply within X time means rejection, so I can write off about half the non-responses as rejects at this time.

I'm not unhappy with these results - the one partial request has given me more than enough steam to keep going a very long time. And 22 queries ain't nuthin' in the scheme of things.

Meantime I rework the query continually, and have got it trimmed down to a very lean, concise letter which I'm much happier with than I was with the previous queries.

08-07-2008, 02:53 AM
Glad the stats are interesting and helpful.

The picture's in flux right now -- I sent out a batch I'm waiting to hear back on. I'll update soon with a new statistics snapshot.

Re: posting my query in SYW, I haven't dismissed doing that, to all the folks who suggested trying that. If it seems appropriate, I may do it in the future. But since the indications are that this is a fit issue, then I figured I'd hold off on soliciting people's time and energy here until it was evident that it was necessary.

08-07-2008, 10:05 AM
Hmmm? Must be we live in parallel universes.

My time frame: Approximately 5 years of queries to land an agent. My data: About 110 queries or conference pitches, roughly 40 requests for partials across two finished novels (one literary thriller/mystery, one historical), roughly 15 requests for fulls most off the partials but some off the queries or pitches without the intermediate partial.

Along the way I never felt close to a "failure point", though my first novel could be considered an abject failure. But the process of that first novel directly and indirectly made my second so much better, the process clearer, the edits more efficient and effective, the language more readable, the characters and plot lines more interesting, my target agents so much more likely to fit.

For that second novel, I had two rounds of queries, each to about 12 agents. The second round yielded 7 requests for partials or fulls right off the query with eventually 5 fulls, one offer and one near offer of representation. My agent took a good six weeks to respond to the query, then another six weeks to request the full, then about two more months to get through the full. So...don't give up on the silent ones, don't think the cycle is anything other than glacial, enjoy it. It's possible, really is. If I, with no writing credentials, no education in anything close to literature or writing, zero connections to anyone in publishing/agenting, and lots of years behind me, can get this far, lots and lots of folks can before reaching their "failure point". My final point: I think the length of my journey to get this far is about at the fat part of the bell shaped curve, not extraordinarily short or long.

Hope this helps. g.

08-07-2008, 04:54 PM
What I keep telling myself is that it took a friend of mine 11 years to get published. Over the last year she has become one of the best selling writers for her press.

I'm not saying I would last that long, but it's good to know there is can be light at the end of the tunnel.

Success is never assured, no matter how long or how hard you try.

I found this posting on another board, and I think it's worth quoting here:

"Rejections are like cigarettes. A few won't kill you; enough of them surely will.

Beware of the "don't give up" mantra. Writing doesn't always have a happy ending. No one offers a guarantee that if you keep at it long enough youi'll become published. The effect of rejections year after year does something to you that you can never completely get back.

I'm not suggesting you don't try- most writers give up too soon after wildly overestimating their own ability."

08-08-2008, 10:08 PM
The failure point? If you are asking that question you are not yet there. When you reach the failure point you don't ask questions, you just quit. Like a metal bar forced to far. It bends, and bends, and bends, and then - catastrophic failure.

One month? I've been at this for ten years and have nothing tangible to show. Hundreds of queries. Of those agents who bother a reply, 99% say "no." And that is pretty close to actual statistics. There are a lot of people on this site who've been doing it even longer.

You are nowhere near the failure point. And neither am I. Yet. But that old quote from W.C. Fields is getting louder:

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. And then quit. There's no sense being a damn fool about it."


08-09-2008, 05:18 PM
The point of failure is when you quit on yourself

08-10-2008, 05:20 AM
You're already thinking there's something wrong and it has only been a month? It's been a few years since I had a novel to query but I remember having to wait months sometimes for responses, and sometimes those responses were partial requests or even requests for fulls. I think each agent has their own way they work and some tend to have faster or slower response rates than others.

08-10-2008, 06:32 AM
Good Gravy Ganymede, you are not even close. Stick around a while longer!

08-12-2008, 12:56 AM
I created this thread for 2 purposes:

1. To logically and mathematically examine the submission statistics and evaluate where there might be a breakdown in the process, if any. Including finding ways to improve the rate of return on my queries.

2. To provide concrete, actual figures for others who are also submitting their work -- so they can see how their experiences relate to mine.

"Failure point" was not meant in reference to giving up, or personal shortcomings. I never implied that, ever.

Just to make sure this is crystal clear:

Failure point refers to the QUERIES. :) Why a query is or is not working.

If it brings in a high enough percentage for partials or fulls, then the query is working.

If it does not yield a high enough percentage of requests, then it is not working.

The logical thing to do when that appears to be the case, is to:

--Re-evaulate the effectiveness of the query. What could be done to improve it? Have people read it, change an element, then send it out and compare the results to the original letter.

--Re-evaluate the mailing list. What agents are the best choices for the manuscript? This sounds like a no-brainer for people that write genre, but if you write cross-genre, certain types of non-fiction, or anything that breaks with current trends, finding the right list of agents to mail to is trickier. A great query to the wrong agents will generate rejections.

--Some other, undetermined issue.

I appreciate everyone's energy and taking the time to issue comments. This a lesson for me -- learning to write posts more clearly, since apparently I was not doing that earlier. :)

08-12-2008, 01:31 AM
Failure point is when you stop writing

08-12-2008, 01:42 AM

Nevermind. (Insert joke about reaching failure point.)

Thanks again to the appropriate posters.

I'll post updated stats soon for anyone who's interested.

08-12-2008, 07:31 PM
Cross-genre is very hard to market to agents, yes. You might actually avoid referring to your book as cross genre, as I've heard that instead of pulling in two small audiences to form a big pool of readers, you're actually only getting the sliver of both that happen to read both genres (boy, did that make sense? wordy!).

And when in doubt, query anyone that asks for 'commercial fiction' and let them figure out the rest.

08-12-2008, 10:06 PM
It makes a lot of sense, Irysangel.

It's a risk. Agents and publishers want books with a high probability of selling well to their customer base. Cross-genre can seem too scary, I imagine. And it's true -- they're in it to operate a business, not run an orphanage for books, even if they feel differently about it on a personal level. I don't blame them too much. Everyone's got to pay the bills.

I took your advice about just calling it "fiction" on the most recent batch of queries I'm waiting to hear back on. These are snail mail queries this time, so it's going to take a while, but so far one partial request, so hey. :) We'll see what happens when agents return from the beach and dump the kids back into school.

Twizzle's suggestion of bookclub fiction seems sensible, too, so I think I may try that in the next sendout. I wasn't too sure of the term at first, but I've thought it over a good bit and it does describe the market well.

08-14-2008, 10:30 PM

I think its very early days,

I first queried every australian agent a year ago and got rejected by every single one (about 20).

I then spent a year re-writing, perfecting the query, building a biog in writing contests and articles in mags and online, re-writing the MS, paid an editor to clean up the first three chapters and did, well...


about 200 or so query emails... (I was in a what the hell kind of mood).

About half rejected me, 12 requests for fulls and partials, one definate offer and one maybe. the definate offer has agreed to wait till my other fulls and partials have answered before I decide. All in less than a month. I realise now that many other writers to a few wait then a few more, with hindsight this is smart. But I did spend a lot of time on Query mark two, got profressional feedback before pitching. so it wasn't a complete shot in the dark.

The important thing is research querys thoroughly and write one sit on it, read it again and hone it down. make sure ur hook line is smokin', your one to two paragraph story summary is engaging, mention word count genre, willingness to edit, cull and change, and thank them for their time, all in under one page...

good luck

08-18-2008, 11:07 PM
My stats seem to be pretty close to yours. I've spent time in query hell over the past month and I think I've finally got a letter I'm happy with. Most of the rejections on my stats come from earlier versions of my letter. Most of the pending ones are with the new improved letter, so we'll see how that goes. I'm getting the idea that a lot of agents are on vacation right now so it's a waiting game.


Queries sent: 25

Partials requested: 3

Partials rejected: 1

Partials pending: 2

Queries rejected: 13

Queries pending: 10

08-19-2008, 09:47 PM

No way. I'm coming back. Think of the PR hook! "Vampire pens novel. Midnight signings planned. Um, no live morning shows, but maybe Oprah would consider an evening taping."

08-21-2008, 10:38 PM

You've got guts. It's great that you got positive responses and a possible agent from that. 200? Wow. I don't know about a batch that large, but I think I'm ready now to roll out a bigger batch the next time around.


Yeah, that seems to be the consensus of a lot of folks on this board -- that summer's slowed everything way down. I bet we'll see things pick up in a couple of weeks. I may end up in query hell, too. But I came up with a new, improved letter that I'll test in the marketplace and see what happens.

New stats, for the folks playing along at home:

Timeframe: approximately 2 1/2 months

Total queries submitted to date: 41

Requests for partials: 3

Partials rejected: 2

Partials pending: 1

Queries rejected: 18

Total queries pending: 20

Pending queries that have aged over 1 week: all

Pending queries aged less than 1 week: none

Not a lot of news -- but this is a bit of apples to oranges because most of the new queries were snail, not email. So the 1 week thing isn't as applicable, since snail mail will automatically have a longer turnaround time.

Lots of pending queries, but I'm not surprised.

I'll roll out the new query after August and the Olympics are over.