April 19, 2009

Agent For A Day

This week I was rejected 295 times. Humbling doesn't begin to describe what the experience was like. And as bizarre as it sounds, I'm thrilled. Let me explain:

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Nathan Bransford held an unusual contest on his blog -- Agent For A Day. He accepted queries for the contest and on Monday he posted 50 of them. Participants in the "contest" then spent the week playing Agent, either rejecting the queries or requesting pages based on the query. The caveat being, you could only request pages from 5 of the queries. And to make things really interesting, there were several queries posted for books that went on to be published.

I played the game and selected the 5 queries I'd like to see pages for if I were really an Agent. It was hard, but not near as hard as I thought it would be. The queries were posted on his blog throughout the day, and to my surprise when Nathan posted Query #12, he posted mine.

The contest ended last night and Nathan is going to post stats on Monday, but I kept a few of my own for my query:

My query (which was posted anonymously) received 331 responses. Six of those were neither requests nor rejections, but just conversation or double posts. So in all, there were 325 real responses. When my query was posted, the formatting was messed up (the only one of the 50 like that!) with weird line breaks. Five of the rejections cited this as the reason for their rejection. So let's just toss those away, meaning there were 320 real responses. (Note: Nathan did fix the formatting after the first few days, but by then about 80% of the responses were already in. A fact that makes the requests I did receive even MORE astounding.)

I received 36 requests for pages. Putting my request/reject percent at just over 11%! I was astounded. Mostly because when this started, I knew next to NOTHING about writing a query. I've written a lot of cover letters in my writing career, but writing a query is a whole other thing. It's a skill and almost an art all its own. The query I posted was more a book blurb than anything else and I wrote it in about 5 minutes. It was for a real work (my recently completed novel) but I had no idea it would be selected from the hundreds of queries Nathan was sent to be part of the special 50. And before I give you the wrong idea, Nathan said himself that he just "clicked around his inbox" to select the 50. As with most things in a writing career, luck was the biggest factor here.

As the responses came in, I tried to organize them into a few pertinent categories. First of all, the "Agents" in this contest were mostly fellow writers, so EXACTLY what value you take from this contest is subjective at best. For instance, there were a LOT of query rejections (not just for mine) because the query was for a book that just wasn't in a genre that the "Agent" was interested in. Obviously (or at least hopefully) this wouldn't happen in real life. I tagged about 85 of the rejections as this type. Which was probably lower than the actual number. That means I had 36 requests out of a possible 235, increasing my request percentage to just over 15%! Unbelieveable.

Other tags I used were DETAIL (not enough in the query - 58), LONG (manuscript too long to consider even if they liked the query - 21), and COMMON (nothing in the query to differentiate the work from others in the same genre - 10).

I can't wait to see the stats tomorrow and see how I did against the other 49 queries posted (and to see if the 5 queries I picked were the actual accepted works or not), but this has been a phenomenal experience. I've already rewritten my query based on the feedback and I'm sure any requests I get when I start sending queries out for real next month will owe a lot to this trial by fire.

Thank you, Nathan! :)


Anonymous said...

I requested your book.
I'll keep my eye out.
Let me know if you want any more beta-readers.

Martin said...

Thanks! I'll keep the offer in mind.

csmith said...

This is going to sound immensely shallow, but I liked your userpic on Nathan's blog (what can I say, architects are at one remove from sanity in general) so followed it here and wanted to tell you that while I did not participate in Agent for a Day, I did enjoy your query.

Having finished the first draft of something recently myself (and now making thick black-out lines through it), it is nice to see people in the same boat getting all that exposure. Well done.

Martin said...

Thanks (on both counts)! You know, it's funny. Right after the contest I completely rewrote my query so it was about three times as long with tons more details in response to the 58 people who said they rejected me because of lack of detail. But you know, on reflection I think it's a sweet little query. Sure, it may need some clarification, but not the complete rewrite I was thinking of going with.

Anonymous said...

Hi Martin.

I would enjoy seeing your new query -or even versions of it as it evolves- if you care to post it here.

There is always so much to learn.

I myself have written about seven versions so far and am still moving on that learning curve.


Martin said...

I was thinking about that. Thing is, the query for Stealing Genius has had a LOT of public exposure now. I'm not so sure I'm crazy about the idea of giving it more, especially if it's the final version of the query I'm going to send to agents. Some of them no doubt having peeked at Nathan's blog.

Let me think about it some more. Maybe what I'll do is post a jpg of it, or share it from somewhere so I have to specifically give people access. I'll let you know.

Martin said...
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