October 2nd, 2009


letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 203
# of partial/full manuscripts requested: 1
genre of partial/full manuscripts requested: fantasy

Though it might not be apparent from this weekly posting, I'm actually not a big fan of statistics. There are so frequently other variables to take into account. For example, looking at the numbers above one might think an author had only 1/2 of 1% chance of garnering a request based on a query. Which is, well, technically true (this week). But there a host of other factors. Does the book fall into a category the agent is interested in representing (or, even reading)? Did the query contain the information needed to actually make a decision possible? (Too amazed at queries that actually say barely anything about the book and also don't include the first five pages as per our submission guidelines.) Did the query convey an impression of a professional author (e.g. spell-checking and at least a vague attention to grammar would be a plus)? It hardly seems fair that these queries should count but they do mean that good queries actually have a higher chance than it at first seems on the surface.

Lately, I've noticed some people including statistics in queries. And, as an agent assessing a work, I find them particularly useless. Sure, one needs to have a readership for one's story, but, again, there seem to be factors not taken into consideration.

These queries say things like x% of people in the U.S. are women and my book is about women therefore I will have an audience of x% of people in the U.S.; or, x% of people have an alcoholic / cancer victim / popular over-diagnosed disease of this year / etc. in their immediate family; or x% of people are of this or that racial ethnicity, religious persuasion, have this or that alternative lifestyle, etc. and so forth. Or x% of people in the world are secretly paranormal magical creatures, and therefore.... Well, you get the idea.

Many of the queries that cite these statistics seem to make an odd assumption. And this is that everyone of whatever vector they've chosen is a reader. Would that it were so. These queries do not take into account how things like literacy rates or capacity for leisure income being spent on books (particularly in this economy) impact any of these groups. Did you know there are people who can't even conceive of the notion of reading for pleasure? Seriously.

But most of all, the implicit assumption here doesn't address the fact that the story itself still needs to be well-written and have a hook of its own. The statistical group on its own just isn't sufficient. If it's simply treated as marketable window-dressing, it doesn't belong there. Would I read a book with a strong cultural basis? Yes. Western, Middle-Eastern, Asian, Slavic, etc. I'm all for it. Do I represent authors who have novels with characters that are living alternative lifestyles? Why, yes, I do. But whatever flavor or texture the world in the book might have, it's the story that carries the day.

Just out of curiosity: Is there a statistic that would make you pick up a book and read it based on that alone?