Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Carlie Webber's 60 Queries and What We Learn From Them

During Write On Con, agent Carlie Webber wrote a "60 Queries in 60 Minutes" post to give us all a little peek into her slushpile. It's a wonderful opportunity to see why queries get rejected, and it was an extremely informative post.

I'll let you go peruse the list, if you'd like, but I've crunched some numbers here that might brighten your day (or make you cry... but let's pretend it's the first thing, yes?)

First of all, I need to point out that she actually shared sixty-two queries with us. Her numbering got fumbled in the middle and we got bonus insight. SCORE. Of those sixty-two queries, only nine made it to the Sample Pages round.


That's around 14% of her slushpile made it to sample pages. That's not the people who get upgraded to a partial or full or even get an offer of representation. That's who made it past her inbox. Okay. So let's think on that and be intimidated for a moment...

Now on to the better news. Of those fifty-three who got form rejections right off the bat, eight were rejected for not following the most basic rules. They didn't submit a query letter because they "didn't feel like writing one," or they queried an entire series at once, stuff like that. That means about 13% of her inbox that day was people flat-out not following the rules of querying.

Another twenty-three (37%!) didn't do their research. And remember, this is just a query, not the actual novel. So we aren't talking about actual research, we're talking about easy research. Stuff like word counts (YA fantasy at 212K?!?), what publishers are looking for, what agents are looking for, or even how to write a query. Learn how to write a query letter. It's important. As important as writing your novel.

Don't let yourself be the person who writes a killer novel but then gets rejected because you didn't realize you shouldn't have rhetorical questions in your query letter. 

Lastly, and most heartbreakingly of all, are those who were rejected though there was nothing overtly "wrong" with their query. Twenty-two queries, or 36%, were sent form rejections for being "not compelling enough" or having "not enough spark." Lack of connection, lack of focus, lack of an obvious plot in the query. All these things were things that the author just probably has no idea they are doing wrong. On the upside, almost half of these were things that Carlie said would more than likely appeal to other agents and editors and she felt bad about rejecting them.

So here's what we learn from all this:

- You can make your chances better by following the rules. Yes. You. You must follow the rules. All of them.

- No seriously. Follow the rules. A full HALF of queries were rejected for not following the rules.

- Make your characters compelling. And your story. And your setting. And when you're done with that, make sure those compelling characters and storylines and settings shine through in your query.

- Sometimes, there's nothing wrong with you or your work. It just isn't a good fit. Keep working. You'll get there.

And that's what I learned from Carlie Webber's "602 Queries in 60 Minutes." What do you think? What did you take away from this post?


  1. Ooh, this is good. I kept seeing this post in the blog queue as “scheduled” and I had to force myself to wait until you published it before I read it, because I was really curious to see what it was about. (I try not to read the other MMWs stuff before it’s published on the blog because I know it may not be their best until the publish date!)

    For me, I feel like this is very good news. I’ve spent quite a lot of time studying the art of querying (have you read “From the Query to the Call” by Elana Johnson? Excellent!) and I haven’t even finished writing my first book yet. So I think that when it’s time for me to jump in, I’ll have pretty decent chances, as long as I aim well (i.e., query agents who will be looking for my kind of story).

    Now I have even more insider info to help me out. Thanks so much Gina!

    1. I have not read that book, but I did take Elana's query-writing class at Storymakers and it was AWESOME. I took so many notes, it was so helpful. She really is a query rock star.

      I felt like it was good news, too. I'm querying right now, and when I didn't get any requests, I knew I wasn't breaking the rules. I was able to pull my query and revise it, making it stronger. But it was so reassuring to know I hadn't done anything "dumb" in my query letter. I was part of that 37% that just lacked *something*.

  2. This was an awesome summary. Shared! Good luck with the querying, too!

    1. Thanks! I love that these agents are so willing to let us have a peek into their slushpile!

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Gina! Definitely helpful to assess where I've been in the pile.

    1. It definitely made me feel smug and superior to know that I'm at least smarter than the half who just aren't following any of the rules. It's like a Disney Fastpass for querying.

  4. Great post, love peeking into the slushpile as well.

  5. Always good to get a look behind the scenes. Thank you for sharing this. It's so easy to think - oh, I'm so great, they'll love my work - and then not pay attention to the requirements. :-(



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