Monday, June 13, 2016

Sadistics from the query trenches

(contest results tomorrow-6.14.16)

This rundown was sent to me by a blog reader:

Statistics from the query trenches, February-June 2016:

328 queries sent (mostly US/UK agencies, a few Canadian)

8 still active - 3 partials, 3 fulls, 1 r&r, 1 "if you can't find an agent with the manuscript as is and are interested in doing a major revision, I'm happy to discuss." [This agent, by the way, actually
phoned me. On the phone! Like old school. Amusingly, I was on a train in Switzerland at the time.]

120 - actual rejections (includes a few partial/full rejections)
200 - NORMANs

The NORMANs broken down by category:
60 "if you don't hear back by [date], it's a no"
26 "if you don't hear back, it's a no"
114 simply didn't respond (3+ months)

Mentioned in dispatches: Fine Print Literary Management, three of whose agents were queried sequentially, all of whom responded within two weeks (though one of those rejections was covered in paw prints as if a cat had been frantically pushing it aside to get to the tuna beneath).

Take-home lessons:
a) SOME cats don't understand how bribery works.
b) I am a masochist, but by golly, no one's going to tell me I didn't query enough.
c) I guess those 128 are the place to start if/when I have to go through this all over again.
d) 60% NORMAN?! Is this NORMAL?!

(No problem if this isn't suitable for the blog - I just thought it might be interesting. Or horrifying. Or, most likely, both.)

Horrifying indeed.
30% of the agents you queried couldn't be bothered to reply.
Frankly, I'm embarrassed for my colleagues.

Does this match up with what other querying blog readers are finding?


Lucie Witt said...

OP: Whoa. 328 queries? I feel like a super slacker. My list of 50 agents felt like it took a lot of work to come up with.

Out of the 34 queries I have sent since May, 10 are NORMANS so I think the 30% is fairly accurate, at least from where I'm sitting. Since I was last querying two years ago I noticed almost 10% of agents who used to reply are now NORMANS, sadly.

DLM said...

Over the course of a much longer period of time (stopping for a revision, and then again for a second refinement), yes, this sounds quite like my own experience. See also: reasons I finally quit querying. I simply ran out of agents who'll do historical or who say "query me with anything, it's always worth a shot" (Janet is not the only one, yay).

NORMANing has definitely become very much the norm and settled in since the transition to e-querying. In fact, now that I think of it, I'm not even sure I heard back from agencies who use form submissions on their own sites (as opposed to email queries).

AJ Blythe said...

Not querying at the moment (I hit the trenches again later this year), but after talking recently with writerly friends it seems to be a lot more common nowadays.

Actually, the conversation came about because I was telling them about "NORMAN" (so it was very recent).

328... wowee, that's an effort. I'm collating at the moment a list of agents but I don't think it's that long yet (although I haven't seriously started, waiting until a little closer to the scary day).

Unknown said...

In my current round of queries, 40% were non-responses.

InkStainedWench said...


When I was a copy editor, we had a SINGLE KEY that saved an edited story in our file, sent it on to be typeset, and deleted it from the screen. Save/Set/Delete. It's beyond me why agents can't come up with a function that deletes an unwanted query from the inbox and fires off a canned rejection in one stroke.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

A tentative yes.

I'm qualifying this because I've had four agents who've gotten back to me after a year and a half. I'd written them off as NORMANs, but they were just being soooo slow.

(I'm not sure if this is a good thing compared to being a NORMAN or not.)

But yeah. Sitting on nearly forty percent non-response on nearly 150 agents. My issues lie in trying to find agents who'll handle Fantasy and Romance, as that is the direction of my career. Querytracker tells me there's over two hundred. There might be more, if I look for those agents who don't say they don't rep a certain genre, even if they don't mention they do rep it.

Colin Smith said...

I, too, did a double-take at 328 queries, yet I know figures like that (and higher) are quite normal. I didn't query nearly that many with either of the novels I've put through the trenches, simply because the responses I got back from those I did query indicated my novels weren't as ready as I thought. Also, I decided the genre wasn't for me, and I didn't want to debut with a genre I had no intention of pursuing for the next few years, at least.

As for the NORMANs, one way to make them change policy is if writers refuse to query them. Unfortunately, there are too many good ones to ask writers to do this. Perhaps if we at least give priority to non-NORMANS, that might help? I don't know. Maybe the fact that QOTKU is embarrassed for them will be persuasive. It would make me think twice. :)

All the best to you, Opie! Thanks for sharing your stats. I hope one of those agents bites soon. :)

Cindy C said...

I'm with InkStainedWench. How long can it take to send a form rejection? And maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that if you are so busy and overworked that you truly don't have the time, maybe you should close to new queries until you catch up. I'm having a hard time understanding the business strategy here.

DeadSpiderEye said...

328, that's like... couldn't keep a lid on that, I'm more

S.P. Bowers said...

Yes, that's pretty close to my stats, though I'm nowhere near 300 queries. Yet.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

328? Wow! That is persistent. I am in rewrite mode so won't be back on query crazy train for some time.

60% Normans is frankly rude. How long does it take to send a form rejection? I suppose a few seconds longer than to hit delete or just let query rot in the inbox?

I don't suppose there is anyway to change this, but how annoying for us woodland creatures. We work so hard to craft a query after pouring out our souls into a book just to be met with abject silence. That is hard to take for sure.

Donnaeve said...

328 queries is a Herculean effort. And the fact that OP was methodical in keeping track of who did what(excel most likely!) speaks to organization and professionalism. If that's any consolation - probably not.

Isn't it ironic that the very technology intended to "speed" things along has actually created the conundrum? E-mail queries versus the old SASE which allowed for at least a week of travel time depending on where one is located. Now queries can be zipped off (after months/years of writing and polishing them) in a matter of seconds and thus the clock starts ticking in the querier's head soon as the SEND button is hit.

I wonder what would happen if agents went back to another "old school?" Changed their querying process to SASE again? :) I hear screams from woodland critters. Maybe agents too. Think about it...the agent could then reply via email, thus turning NORMAN's into responders. I.e. slow the trickle at the front end of the pipeline. NO? Stupid a** idea? Am I being escorted out of the building with my box of pens, stapler, and my pathetic, almost dead, office plant?

Aside from technology changing the query process, I think there might be a different sense of etiquette as well. Those who read this blog understand that an actual response from an agent who is rejecting the ms only requires a reply back with a "Thank you" - if that even. No asking why. No questions about what to change. No insults or other random comments. Some NORMAN's may not respond because they've had one too many do this.

Good luck, OP, as you continue to move on. And keep your hopes up - never know when one of those NORMAN's might turn into something else.

Kitty said...

QUESTION ... I apologize if this is off topic, but I've been dying to ask this question. I've heard writers should write what they read. I read murder mysteries almost exclusively. I almost never read women's fiction as a rule. However, my WIP is turning into women's fiction. Does anyone else read in one genre but write in another?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

No partials, no fulls, 100% no reply means no.

The last time I put forth a major effort regarding queries, the internet was used to keep your hair in place, twitter was what you experienced on a first date and trump was part of a bridge game.

Of late, the few times I actually queried my emotional/humorous/serious/informative, memoir/essay collection, all replies were the nicest rejection letters a girl could have. So what if I'm not famous enough, yet I think you agent types actually respected the thirty year effort.

Maybe it's time I get with the program.
We're packing and moving. Is that an excuse? Hell no.

Megan V said...

That's pretty close to my current stats, though I'm definitely not up to 328 queries for this manuscript(props to opie for the effort in the trenches!). For me, 44% are closed because of no response.

I don't prefer the no response on the queries, but I get it.

No response on a full though...

I've heard that's becoming the norm too.

Colin Smith said...

Kitty: The conventional wisdom is that you need to read at least 100 books in a genre before you write it. The reason for that is so you can be sure you know the genre, what's been done, and what hasn't been done, and the various tropes and expectations that go with it. I will be hard to answer the question, "Why should I read your novel over some other work of women's fiction?" if you haven't read at least the most popular novels in that genre over the past few years.

Of course, that's the conventional wisdom, not a hard-and-fast rule. You say your WiP is turning into Women's Fiction. Did you start out writing a murder-mystery? Is it possible it might still be m-m but with a strong wf slant?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Kitty, I write fantasy. I read everything. As long as you read in the genre you write in enough to understand your genre, by all means, read anything you want. As much as you can.

Reading inside your genre is research. You need to know what is being published and make sure you understand well-enough where your book fits on bookstore and library shelves.

Aside from that, all reading helps writing. It's like clearing the palette between sips of wine so you can divine the quality of what you are drinking. Or in this case, what you are writing.

DLM said...

SiSi, Janet has said the administrivia involved in closing to queries is significant, and it's a real pain. But as everyone has pointed out, a macro goes a long way.

I did receive a polite and apologetic rejection a couple of weeks ago. I stopped querying in March, 2015. In its way, it was almost sweet, but she could have saved herself a lot of trouble.

Kitty, I read in many, MANY genres as well as a huge swath of nonfiction. This naturally includes historical fiction, but I could never love one genre alone. As for me, it seems best to read widely, rather than concerning myself with focusing too much in one place. It does seem if you're writing something you never read you might be giving yourself more of an uphill battle in terms of knowing your own market, though. Why would you not wish to read what you write - if it appeals to you enough to write it, surely it appeals to you enough to read it ... ??

Donnaeve said...

Kitty, the term Women's Fiction has always given me a bit of a twitch. Granted there are some books most men would never read. Think Romance genre. There is no way to know, however, every man never read one. I bet some do.

Having said that, I agree with what Diane said...however, I'm curious as to why you feel it's evolving from M-M to WF? Is it because it has a romantic element? I think a lot of books not categorized as WF have romance in them... however, if it's not because of romance, but maybe because of some other relationship twist - between sisters, or female best friends, maybe that's why you think it's shifting.

Interesting question either way.

Kregger said...

My stats to date:
108 queries
44 rejections (including a few nice notes)40%
64 Normons 60%
Only 1400 more agents to go.

Kitty said...

I do read other genres, just not very often. I looked over my list of books read.

Since Jan. of 2015, I've read a total of 59 books.
Mysteries: 52
Memoirs: 3
Literary: 2
Women's: 2

I would LOVE to write a mystery, and I've tried many times, but it just ain't happenin', at least not now. The WIP I'm working on simply will not let me be. As it is right now, I have no plans for it beyond getting it written. I'm hoping once it's written maybe I can finally write a mystery.

Kitty said...

Donnaeve, my WIP never began as a murder mystery. It began as a story and grew. I don't think men would be interested in it but women would (or so I'd like to think), which is why I refer to it as women's fiction. As I said in a previous comment, I have no plans for it other than getting it out of my head and down on paper. Hopefully then I'll be able to write a mystery.

julieweathers said...

I'm at Wonder son's babysitting wonder grandchild who is still asleep, so I don't have my spreadsheet in front of me. I really should put everything in google docs, but I have a hate hate relationship with google. Somewhat similar to how Mark Twain felt about Jane Austen felt methinks.

Anyway, I haven't queried in months and received a very nice, very apologetic rejection recently. She was appalled it took so long to respond. The query and partial had got lost in the shuffle. She liked the writing, but was passing. Please remember her for future works.

I had several requests for fulls and partials so I know the query was working.

I have perhaps ten who asked me to keep them in mind for future submissions, so it's not the writing. Several others who commented on the writing specifically, so I made note of them. (They liked the humor, characters, dialogue etc.)

I queried around 100 before shelving Far Rider. As said before super agent gave me some specific feedback about what he felt was wrong and he definitely felt it was a YA. This is something we had been debating back and forth with beta readers and on Books and Writers for months. To work as a YA it needs a major rewrite that I don't have the heart or time for right now.

If I didn't think his advice was correct, I would have kept fighting the battle, but I think he's right.

So at the end of the day, it was close, but I wound up with about 28-30% no responses. Mostly form rejections so I have no idea what the agent thought. Never try to read anything into a form rejection other than no means no.

Now, keep in mind, I queried agents I felt were a fit for my work. I did my homework. I had 148 agents on the list to begin with, but that did include some agents who didn't necessarily rep fantasy, but said they would rep something they found interesting and liked some element I wrote. For instance, they liked strong female leads.

I think when you use a shotgun approach, your chances of the no response go up tremendously. I'm not sure the original poster did that, but 328 queries is a LOT of agents.

By homing in on your agent list I think you increase the chances of not only a positive response, but a response period.

DLM said...

Donna, I don't care for gender lines in genre names either. As for "chick lit" ... best not even to get started.

Unknown said...

OP - What pain and frustration on your part. And yet positive responses! You are very brave to share and even more courageous for those submission efforts. You are now my role model and shame on me for not trying harder than I have.
I understand Query Tracker has developed a new App that would make it easy for agents/editors to keep track of submissions and send out short clear answers (no thank you, R&R, etc.).

OT - Have just returned from a great conference of writers and illustrators receiving direct feedback and contact with editors and agents.
I am still stunned at how little I know or understand of the business. The people I met were professionals. They offered clear, succinct, and honest advice and I came away knowing which project (not the one I expected) was ready for another short round of revision before sending out and which project needed a major overhaul. Also, and this is not at all a negative, I was reminded how subjective it all is. I guess that is why the book world is both an art and business.
I now have a bunch of self-imposed deadlines to reach for. Luckily I’m armed with this blog’s (led by its fearless and gracious leader) brilliant advice on revising for deadlines. Thank you all for sharing your collective wisdom.

OOT (other, other topic) – The above is also my excuse for not entering the FF contest this past weekend. I am looking forward to a morning diet cola drink (my form of caffeine-face red with embarrassment) and stealing some time to read the clever, creative, and poignant entries.

A.J. Cattapan said...

It's been a couple years since I've queried any agents, but yes, this sounds right. Last query round I did only had about two responses out of thirty agents. Most just don't respond at all.

Shaunna said...

The shortest rejection I've received this round of queries said, "not for us, sorry." Yes, it was a comma splice. Yes, it was blunt and impersonal. But I still appreciate the two seconds of effort it took for intern to hit the auto-response key.

Perhaps we woodland creatures could draft a polite email to all the NORMANS out there. We could make a succinct argument for form rejections. We could even include instructions for setting up an email system to allow these rejections to be sent with a single keystroke. Perhaps those NORMAN agents simply don't know how to do it. Could be worth a shot, eh?

julieweathers said...

I tend not to read fantasy when I'm writing fantasy because I don't want other authors influencing me. I'm reading historicals now even though I'm writing historicals, but Rain Crow is such a weird animal I'm not concerned about other influences. Jo Bourne has a new spy novella out I'm going to read because I like the way she does her spies and romance.

Bunny Bear, I'll be the lone dissenter I guess about understanding why some agents do the no response. I've followed a lot of agents on twitter for a long time. I've weaned myself off twitter and facebook, but I was a rock star for a while.

I honestly had a few agents tell me to query them anyway even though they didn't rep what I wrote just because we had fun on twitter. I didn't. That wasn't the reason I was interacting with them. I was just having fun. Anyway, I paid attention to what they were saying.

Too many times an agent sends out what they think is a kind rejection or even offer words of encouragement and they get back vitriol or some author who won't take no for an answer. After a while, they get tired of it and decide it isn't worth it, so they just go with no response means no reply.

Then you have the ones who are just swamped. Yes, it takes you time to send in your query and you should expect a reply. It only takes a few minutes to read and respond, right? Kristin Nelson says she gets 500 queries a week on average if I remember correctly.

The internet is a great thing. Everyone who has ever wanted to write a book has all kinds of resources. They have the contact information for every agent. It doesn't cost them a dime to query them, so why be careful about who they send to? Query everyone. I don't rep romance! Send it anyway. You never know. Maybe you're the exception. Follow along on #tenqueries on twitter sometime. Most of the rejections are because it's something the agents specifically say in their guidelines they don't rep.

I don't like no response, but I can kind of understand why it happens. Even when people get form rejections, they gripe about that so where does it stop?

roadkills-r-us said...

Short version:
Queries sent: about a dozen
Requests for full: one (rejected almost immediately)
Total rejections: six

I had fully planned to query a lot more, but those are my numbers.

The more or less full story:
I've only tried querying one novel. That was in November of 2013. I spent about 40 hours culling through agent lists in _Writers Market_ and online. I ended up with a spreadsheet containing 20 to 25 agent names. If I burned through those, I'd research some more. But these seemed the likeliest matches based on the information available.

I sent out some queries, noting on the spreadsheet the date I should either ping them or assume a "No, thanks", based on what their guidelines or auto-response said. These included email queries, web form queries, and honest to goodness paper via the USPS queries. As I would get a rejection, I'd query another agent. In the course of a couple of weeks, I had sent about a dozen queries.

Then, late at night, I synced up the spreadsheet between my laptop and my desktop, since I hadn't done that after I first started the spreadsheet with only headers and one or two entries.

I synced the wrong direction.

I didn't find this out until the next evening. Between these two times, my backup script had helpfully run, over-writing the backup with the now empty spreadsheet. Shortly after this came the events that convinced me to self-publish, but that's another story.

I know I sent about a dozen queries. I got back six email rejections and zero paper rejections (although email rejections could have come from any of the above query methods). I got one request for a full a week after I queried a particular agent. The rejection came within an hour or so. I've always wondered whether they had meant to query someone else, or something after the first N pages just left them cold.

A year or so before that I also queried some short stories. I could only find a few markets, so there were few queries. Every query received a rejection. 100%. Including several by USPS. But those were all directly to magazines, not to editors.

roadkills-r-us said...

OT: The subheader makes me want to start a band called "My Chemical Romance with Latin".

Stephen G Parks said...

Did you all notice that the first word of the title of this post is "Sadistics" not "Statistics"? I read it maybe three times before it clicked.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

My queries to date are on a much smaller scale (the revision suggestions I received were minor but meant major things, if that makes sense. And also made sense to make the novel stronger and are things I should've done sooner...), but 30% is about right. Included in agents who didn't respond in any way are an agent who apparently left agenting not long after my query was sent, a new agent who has interviewed about really wanting to build his/her list, and an agent who supposedly responds to every query, per a recent interview. So with the latter, I'm considering querying again, after revision, because maybe the initial one just got lost.

And this is 30% after specifically knowing about and trying to avoid NORMANs. Seriously. A form is better than nothing at all. But I'm preaching to the choir here.

Ashes said...

I don't have my stats with me, but I'm pretty sure I concur that 30% NORMAN is normal.

But I'd love to see the stats on queriers who opt not to query NORMAN agents, because I know a few who have such a long list that they put those agents on the bottom. In that regard, the NORMANs of the world might be missing out.

Cindy C said...

I'm not even ready to query yet, so I'm not sure why this has lit a fire under me today! Maybe I'm focusing on this rather than going off on a rant about what's going on in the world around me.

I understand why some agents choose not to respond. In fact, if they state that upfront, I have no problem with it. They've made the business proposition clear and I can choose to accept that or not, same as any other business proposition.

But the 30% who don't let you know beforehand--those are the ones I don't understand. Well, I understand that it's easier to just ignore emails when you can't respond with good news, or you're worried that you'll get negative and emotional responses. My life would be WAY easier if I could ignore student emails asking me why they didn't get an A.

Right now though the supply (thousands/millions?) of queries so far outweighs the demand (books being published traditionally) that I doubt there are any major consequences to agents who just don't respond. Of course the long-term consequences could be severe. If more and more agents do this, more and more writers may switch over to self-publication, and in time this will hurt all agents. Even the good ones.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Thanks to this blog, I know so much more than I did during my first foray into querying. I love these posts about the behind-the-scenes numbers. The solid data really help me wrap my head around what I should be expecting when I query. If something doesn't add up, I may just be unique, but it's more likely that I've done something wrong somewhere and I need to fix it.

Kitty, I'm in a similar situation. My current side-WIP is a genre I haven't read much in, but the story is there. What can I do, ignore it? (Psh.) So my game plan is to finish writing the darn thing, then read a LOT in that genre before editing it. Then I'll put it away, read some more, and edit it again. It's a gamble though, and I may need to scrap the project or restart it. If you're not willing to take that risk, I'd recommend taking a break from the story to just read a ton of women's fiction.

Adib Khorram said...

I'd agree that 30-40% seems typical for NORMANs. I don't have my spreadsheet with me but that sounds about like what I had for querying on my previous novel.

As to reading in/out of genre: You definitely have to understand your genre. But if you're still in the writing stage, you might not know what genre you're going to end up in. Write the story you want to write! And then read in its genre while you're revising.

Julie, it's funny you mention not reading fantasy while writing it, because Rainbow Rowell said pretty much the exact same thing—she reads fantasy when she's writing contemporary. So when she switched to fantasy for CARRY ON she didn't know what to read!

Also, I see a lot of names I don't recognize today, so welcome one and all. And if you've been around forever and I just didn't realize it, I apologize!

DLM said...

Julie, I'm not sure I agree on the vitriol issue.

Here's the thing - in my job, one of the things I must do is to field calls from people with complaints about our drivers (and, sometimes, our operating locations). Most of the time, this involves frustrated people who aren't yelling at ME - but I get the occasional agony aunt who just needs to talk to someone; our trucks aren't even the point, in the end. And every now and then, I get someone who goes bat-splat crazy on me.

There was a woman once who was unhinged with offense at a letter she'd received from us. I could see that indeed she was at the very least out of proportion, and at the very worst, mentally unstable. But it is a part of my job to deal with these things, so after she'd done screaming I reached out to all possible resources, and ended up discovering that the offending letter was one to family members of our drivers, telling them we appreciate their sacrifice, as we know how demanding the job is not only to the drivers themselves, but to their loved ones. We never did hear from the caller again, but could only assume that (a) she was nuts, or (b) she was divorcing one of our drivers, or the driver had been fired before the letter arrived. Maybe the time I spent was wasted, but such is my expectation of my own performance, and my loyalty to my company, I wanted to make sure we were prepared in case this woman made a public display of her vitriol.

Here's the thing: it sucks. but it's what I signed up for, with my job. At other jobs, I've signed up for poor systems and resources, too-small bathrooms, the one jerk who makes me tense, frustrating climate control, or overwhelming security measures that meant I was walking through X-ray arches every day of my life. This is why jobs tend to be paid.

Authorial vitriol is INEXCUSABLE - but it is also an entirely forseeable part of the job of being an agent. There is no reason to punish the 99% of authors who deserve a response, because of the one guy who's going to be an ass.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing, OP, and I wish you all the best going forward!

Leaving aside questions of business etiquette, I find that the timeline feature on QueryTracker makes the functional difference between Normans and Saxons fairly unimportant. First, it clearly shows in advance who is a Norman. Second, it gives a sense of how quickly a given Norman responds if interested, so I know when I should consider my query closed.

The timeline function reveals a lot of other information about agent response patterns too. Do they go through queries in discrete batches? Do they review queries in the order received? Do they sit on submissions about which they are on the fence? By using this information, I can usually guess within a week or two when a (non-Norman) agent will respond. To me, it is well worth the $25/year for a premium subscription!

Of course, it is also very possible to spend way TOO much time obsessing about the information QueryTracker provides. Or that's what a friend told me anyway...

John Davis Frain said...

"30% of the agents you queried couldn't be bothered to reply."

Help me with my math here.

From a base of 328 queries, 200 didn't reply. That's 61%, a little more than double the 30% you mention.

Eighty-six of the non-responders pre-empted their rudeness by saying ahead of time that they might not reply, but they still did not respond. Which leads me to understand you're giving them a pass on not replying since they said up front that's what they'd do.

I'm not making a judgment, I'm just making sure I understand the distinction. And I won't ask you to speak for them since you respond to all queries.

I'd agree that it's a bigger offense to be a NORMAN if you don't pre-empt a querier with that warning, but you're still a NORMAN if you give no response. (At least, according to the acronym!)

Colin Smith said...

John: My understanding is Janet's comment wasn't so much aimed at the 200 NORMANs, but the 114 who give no indication of response expectations, and yet, 3+ months later, still haven't responded. Yes, we don't approve of the NORMAN approach, but at least if the agent says they're a NORMAN, we know what to expect. That's better than having to wait 3 months to discover they're a NORMAN.

Andrea said...

My statistics:

Queries were sent some time in 2013 and 2014.

61 queries sent (mostly US, some UK agencies)

36 rejections, 1 partial request, 24 no response (including a few agents who claimed to respond to every query)

I then decided to stop querying, and I'm glad I did. My first novel wasn't bad, but I'd rather make my debut with a better story. You live and learn, right? As a published author advised unpublished authors on Twitter a while ago: "Slow the f*** down!"

BJ Muntain said...

That's 328 queries in four months?

I don't consider 'simply didn't respond in 3+ months' as NORMANs. NORMANs actually SAY 'no response means no'. And while most responding agents (I'm sure) try to respond within 3 months, many say 6 months on their websites. And yes, some of them can take over a year.

One thing about assuming a non-responsive agent is a NORMAN: it makes the writer less likely to follow-up or nudge. Has OP followed up on those 114 who 'simply didn't respond'?

Queries aren't a major priority for an agent. Their current clients are, and that's pretty important. As someone mentioned, agents get a LOT of queries. Queries are read over lunch or coffee, in the few minutes an agent is waiting in line somewhere or sitting on a bus or train. While signing new clients keeps their career growing, taking care of their current clients is their real job. We've all had those times where even those fleeting amounts of time haven't occurred. So do agents.

So, for heaven's sake, if an agent doesn't respond when you think they should (and yes, give them at least 3 months) FOLLOW UP.

DLM said...

BJ does make a good point, this time frame is a very short window indeed to judge some of the agents NORMANs.

Lennon Faris said...

I don't prefer NORMANs but I don't have a problem with them if they say it on their website and give you a time period. Then all you have to do is 'x' it off on your excel sheet once you hit that date.

It's when they don't do this that it feels rude, if they don't mention any guidelines or don't follow through with what they do say. I do take notes on their replies, how polite and kind they were. I have tiers and those will be on top if this project doesn't go through, because I'd like to work with someone like that.

Since Feb 2, 2016, for a YA fantasy:
33 queries sent (23 from Feb/March, then 10 more in May after reworking query)
10 NORMANs (7 I expected from clear guidelines on website, 3 annoyed me)
17 rejections so far
6 still waiting on replies

BunnyBear - Yes agents need authors but it's all about supply and demand. There are a lot more authors (/wannabe authors) than agents. Some agents get over 100 queries a DAY. That blows my mind.

Brigid said...

Along the bunnytrail of reading in your genre, what have you been reading lately that has impressed you? Colin, Gary Corby, we know.

While reading Spellbinding Sentences, I realized it's been a while since I read something beautifully-written, where the words sparkle independently of their role in the plot. So I opened Isabel Allende's Eva Luna, and it's stunning. Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity is impeccably-crafted and one of my all-time favorites, but it's a very different experience. It really throws into relief the way QOTKU explained the difference between commercial and literary.

julieweathers said...

I'm astounded that the original poster sent out 328 queries in four months. In that span of time they didn't even have time to judge if the query is working. Agents almost all say give us 90 days and if you haven't heard from us nudge.

So, rather than send out ten or twenty queries and see what response they got, they sent out 328. I've had three agents request fulls within 24 hours. One requested a full within 30 minutes. So, you don't always have to wait for 90 days for a response, but I plug in 90 days on the timeline unless their site says otherwise.

Once I get a response, I either send a partial or full if requested or write it off as rejected if it is and make notes about any comments. Then I send out another query.

If I'm not getting a response with my query and synopsis, I can make adjustments. The querier doesn't know if the query works. If the synopsis works. If the sample pages work. They haven't taken the time to zero in on what the problem is. They don't even know if there is a problem because a lot of these agents will probably still respond, but haven't yet because it's still so early.

This particular querier has burned through 328 agents in four months with very minimal results. I'm sorry, but it isn't a race and I'm afraid you've done yourself no favors by rushing to query as many agents as quickly as you could.


Agents are not in the customer service industry. They should not be expected to have to deal with people they don't represent harassing them because they have respectfully declined representing a work. They shouldn't have to worry about some nut tracking them down at their child's school and attacking them because they rejected their work. Frankly the idea the agents OWE us anything is wrong.

If some of them get tired of dealing with the harassment, and how does anyone know what percentage that is, I guess that's their business. If they feel they no longer have time to respond, it's their call. Whatever reason they have for adopting the no response means no interest, we either live with it or we don't. If we don't like the policy, don't query them.

There are some agents I won't query because of some remarks they've made on social media. That's my choice.

It just makes us appreciate the ones who do respond that much more and it should certainly make us appreciate the agents who blog, post on facebook, post tips on twitter, etc. that much more.

Colin Smith said...

Brigid: Well, there's Gary... oh... um... ok... :)

Actually, I enjoyed Neil Gaiman's collection of short stories, TRIGGER WARNING. Is that in my genre? Hmmm... some of the stories were, at least broadly. :D

Craig F said...

I would not blame those who got the queries I sent at the beginning of this journey for being NORMAN. When I query again I hope to be sophisticated enough to be above average. I don't say that in completely the way some of you will take it.

I wonder if the NORMAN craze is not genre oriented? Do certain genres that have a huge amount of writers have a higher incidence of said NORMANS?

Timothy Lowe said...

As if on cue, just now I received a query rejection from an agent I did not recoginze. I looked more closely and realized why. It was from the last project I queried, dated October 7, 2015.

I'm currently querying something else. Stats on that are very similar to all those listed.

John Davis Frain said...

Andrea, thanks for this excellent reminder:
As a published author advised unpublished authors on Twitter a while ago: "Slow the f*** down!"

So true, so true. In so many aspects.

Colin, thanks for the clarification. I, and apparently OP too, have always considered an agent who says NO Response Means No to fit your generally accepted definition of a NORMAN. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, it sounds like you're saying a NORMAN is someone who doesn't warn an author up front but doesn't respond after the query.

Honestly, I'm not sure why I'm spending my time determining this because -- ONCE AGAIN -- it comes down to the writing! Write well, and even a NORMAN, whatever the etymology, will respond favorably.

So I'm going back to editing. I've chased off so many of my favorite sentences they might start turning up on milk cartons.

Joseph S. said...

John Frain - I love your observation that

"I've chased off so many of my favorite sentences they might start turning up on milk cartons"

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Brigid: I have a hard time finding fantasy with writing that takes my breath away, but Patrick Rothfuss always manages to do it. For you historical fiction junkies out there, The Accursed Kings series by Maurice Druon(translated from French, I think) is beautiful and complicated.

Geez, just like always, ya'll are inspiring me to get off my butt and write so that I can go query. Then I can add my stats to the pile. :P Too bad I'm at work at the moment (taking a coffee break, obviously).

Colin Smith said...

John: I'd never before considered differentiating between declared NORMANs and undeclared NORMANs. I guess an agent could be an accidental NORMAN if they overlook or forget to respond to a query. I'm not sure I would want to classify an agent as a NORMAN without either a declared intention to be a NORMAN, or a track record of NORMAN activity. And that would have to be normal NORMAN activity (consistent no-response), not irregular NORMAN activity (occasional response).


Where There's A Quill said...

Opie, thanks for sharing your query stats. It's always comforting to be reminded we have comrades in the trenches. I only jumped back in a few months ago, but holy hamster, it's rough out there.

Panda in Chief said...

Didn't Anne Tyler write a book called "The Accidental Norman"?

As much as I hate the concept, I can understand the NORMAN phenomenon when it comes to queries. But to fulls? To me that is unconscionable.
A form letter rejection at the point of a full would be okay. Just don't leave me hanging.

Anonymous said...

Holy guacamole. So roughly a third of agents say up front they won't reply if it's a "no" and roughly another third simply don't reply and leave you to wonder? This is mind boggling to me. I'm not sure I even care what the *reasons* are for it, it's rude.

I don't think I'll be querying any agents who have adopted this policy. There are damn few things writers have a choice about in this process, but that's one of them.

Steve Stubbs said...

If the blog reader wants an opinion, tell him to send me the query and.or MS.

NORMAN is an acronym for, “Welcome to the world of literary agents.” translated into English from ancient Sanskrit.

Julie Weathers said...


No, that is not what this means. I think the numbers are very skewed in this case because of the time frame. There are probably a lot of agents who simply haven't responded yet.

The original poster is posting numbers from 328 queries sent out over a roughly little over three month period. Even if the OP sent all the queries out in February, we could not reasonably expect every agent to respond by now.

I'm home and just went over my spread sheet. According to the numbers I have on my spreadsheet and granted it means nothing, but it gives some numbers over a roughly 12 month period. I backed off for a while as I was reworking the query and chapters.

76 queries. 10 requests for fulls. 21 Closed due to no response and it was noted in the file that they were no response means no interest with one exception. That agent belongs to an agency that prides itself on responding to every query. I withdrew my query after nudging him twice with no response.

So, I had queried them with my eyes open being forewarned that if they didn't respond within a certain amount of time I could assume they were not interested, which I did.

That means 28% of the agencies queried are no response for me and frankly, I can live with that. I didn't avoid agencies that were no response. I simply researched the ones I thought were the best fit.

The quickest response I got was 30 minutes. The longest was 282 days. The average was 63 days. I got enough rejections that were very quick 2-3 day range that knocked down the ones that seemed to be the more average of 60-120 days.

I'm not digging out the information from emails before I started keeping the spreadsheet, but I imagine they will be about the same.

Quickly looking at agencies on Querytracker, most say allow at least six weeks response time on queries if they give a time frame.

Theresa said...

Oh, Panda,"The Accidental Norman"! I'll be smiling for the rest of the night. A great way to wind up the discussion of sadistics.

Julie Weathers said...


I've never had a no response to a full. I've had to nudge two and in both cases they were on the fence about it and in the end decided to pass. Sometimes agents just get really behind on fulls, that doesn't mean it's a no response.

Anonymous said...

Julie, I do understand that the time frame here in this example is short, perhaps too short to be meaningful. And I do understand that agents get backed up with queries and can take a very long time to respond. I've been reading this blog for years, after all.

I do not understand the attitude of some agents that it's perfectly fine to have a policy that no response means no. We all get to decide whether that's acceptable to us as queriers. To me, it's not. I find it dismissive and unprofessional. I'd rather not have an agent at all than one who treats writers that way.

Botanist said...

I can't claim anything like those impressive stats, but out of the 62 queries I sent the proportion was flipped: 2/3 replied in some way (mostly form rejections) with 1/3 NORMANS. Still a significant proportion though.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Kitty, fret not that your novel is turning into WF. Genre-bending is an up-and-coming thing. Lots of authors are doing it (including me).

What was your novel originally born as? How do you know it's WF if you don't read WF?

Do you want it to be WF? Does it have elements of your beloved MM?

Whether or not this novel is WF isn't as important as what your next novel is going to be. Do you want to build a career as a WF author, or does your heart lie somewhere else?

It's okay if you don't know yet. You might not know until your third novel.

By all means, write this novel. Get it out of your system. It will do you and your mastery-of-the-craft good. I once wrote a thriller (a darn good one, too!), and I'm glad I did. However, That will be the only thriller in me.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I need to read John Frain's ms.

As for reading what I'm writing, if I'm writing Romance, absolutely I'll indulge in reading Romance. Sure, I'll find similar elements, but if I read enough, the pool of influence will be insignificant enough that I won't worry about being a copycat. If anything I might see certain ideas that get repeated over and over. I avoid those.

Maybe that's why I'm writing Fantasy Romance. I can toss in elements that one does not find in the average Romance.

As for Donnaeve's suggestion of going back to snail mail...

Hush yore mouth and wash it out with soap! Do you have any idea how much it costs to post mss from Australia?!

Roadkill: I've never heard of querying short stories. All the editors I know ask for the completed story--both literary and genre magazines. That might explain why you got 100% rejection. The art of the short story is all about execution. Querying is a rather useless step for shorts.

John Davis Frain said...

Her Grace,
If only I'd read your note before the bonfire.

One thing I'll be able to tell the grandkids one day: My manuscript was smokin'!

(Grandkids?! I think I just took my first stab at writing horror.)

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Good question, OP.

Someone above mentioned the new app on Querytracker. Yesterday I saw on twitter that Djanet is using and even suggested "try it." Out of curiosity I clicked on the link. The form she created is crystal clear. I did not try it because I have nothing to query.

Part of me quitting writing is that I kept slowing down. Not the writing. I was writing three hours a day. Sometimes more. I had to ask myself why I was writing? To see my name on the shelf, to give snarky orations at writing conferences. No.

There was no way Hades I was going to query something mediocre. I wanted a success rate like Kelly Garret. I want to write like Helena Andrews does in her memoir Bitch is The New Black.

Then my work stole my time.

Linda Strader said...

Yup, this is exactly what I've found. I'm not quite up to 300+ queries, but I am at 150. However, let me say that the first 120 were prior to a total revision. I have only myself to blame for believing the advice from my writers critique group that my book was ready to query, when in reality, it was not. I feel like I've burned many bridges, and there is nothing I can do about that. Rather disheartening though, as my beta readers tell the book is great, and should be a movie. So, I'd say out of the 150 queries, I received, maybe, 50 responses. Of the 50, maybe 20 personal responses. I'm not giving up, though. No way!

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E.Maree said...

Sad to say the numbers sound right to me. I've only queried 25 agents... would *love* to take a peek at OP's query list, honestly, I've been struggling to find sci-fi/fantasy agents in the UK and it sounds like they've found much more). My NORMAN rate is 56%.

It's disheartening, if I'm being honest. When I was querying two years ago the no-response rate was never that high -- and when I do get a response, my request and personalised feedback rate is *much* higher, so I'm fairly confident that it's not a weak query problem.

Ah well. It only takes one to say yes. :)

BJ Muntain said...

I don't know. I think there are more important considerations when looking for an agent than whether they respond to unsolicited e-mails. And that's exactly what queries are. If they were solicited, they wouldn't be queries - they would be 'requested material'.

If I could find an agent who A) loves my work, B) is successful, C) is compatible with my work style, and D) wants to represent me... I'm not going to give one whit whether they respond to queries or not. So I'll keep querying NORMAN agents as well as non-NORMAN agents. The right agent is out there...

Miles O'Neal said...

kdjames, while I don't like it, I can totally understand it, having been on the receiving end of a wide variety of reactions to being turned down for jobs, from crying to rants to threats.

Duchess, you are correct; the short stories were actually submissions; I sometimes think of them as queries simply because I am asking whether they want them. Good catch. I always follow guidelines for querying, submitting, or whatever. If I couldn't stand their guidelines for some reason ("must pledge allegiance to a Trump/Clinton ticket") then I simply wouldn't submit/query/grovel/etc.

Julie Butcher said...

I'm querying Middle Grade and with 126 queries out there are 56 NORMAN's. I'm sure there will be a few more. Until I read everyone's comments I thought the internet was broken.