I just discovered Adrienne Kress’s delightful blog this morning, and she has posted a list of four questions to ask yourself before you query that can assure you’re in the top 10% of submissions.
From an agent’s point of view, she’s totally right. You look at the numbers, and they can be incredibly discouraging. Yes, agents turn down 99% of what they see. But the chances are that since you’ve gotten this far—that you’re reading an agency blog, that you’re doing research—you’re already at the head of the pack. I say the same thing anytime I speak at writers’ conferences. You wouldn’t believe how much material we get that is so off-base or utterly baffling. Seeing writers show up for conferences or visit our websites and educate themselves on the business of publishing…it’s incredibly encouraging.
Of course, maybe I say this here, but you’ve already queried and gotten a form rejection letter. Does that mean we bundled you in with the people who have no idea what they’re doing? Well, no. The fact of the matter is that sometimes I see a perfectly adequate query letter for a project that sounds a lot like something else I represent. Or I see the right kind of novel for me, but it deals with some topic I can’t stand like parrots or something (note: I have no actual aversion to parrots. It’s just a bad example). Because we do get hundreds of queries a week (that’s really not an exaggeration), we can’t necessarily take the time to differentiate between the queries that were perfectly good but not quite right or the ones by people who seem unacquainted with ideas like sentences and commas.
So what does it mean? I’m such a broken record, but it means keep trying. I’ve always felt that books that deserve to get published do eventually make it through. It may not be an easy road, and it may not be a fast one. You may not even realize until you write your next book that THAT’S the one that is meant to be your debut. But if you keep going, eventually you’ll break through if you’re meant to.