Saturday, December 17, 2016

Should I wait for feedback on requested fulls before querying more?

 I've taken the slow approach to querying, sending out batches of 5 at a time. Fortunately (and yes, very surprisingly) I've gotten a bunch of requests so my query is working -- you're a wonderful teacher!  All good!  Now I'm wondering: should I wait and see if I get some feedback before sending out more queries? I'm sure I'll be waiting a long time for answers, but let's say I'm lucky and 4-6 months from now a rejecting agent actually gives me some helpful advice about revisions that can get me to "yes" with someone else. If I keep querying, I'll be done with my agent list by then, so I will have effectively shot my wad. And if anyone else requests the flawed manuscript, I'll have to withdraw even more submissions.  In light of this, is it best to send out as many queries/manuscripts as possible or might I be wise to pace myself and see what comes back? 

This is a very interesting question.

First, you're assuming you're going to get feedback at all. That's not a given.

Second, you're assuming that feedback is not from a deranged orangutan which is also not a given since anyone rejecting your novel should be assumed to be deranged as a baseline measure, right?

Third, you're assuming 4-6 months, which given the stats I've posted on requested fulls is either wildly short or wildly long.

I actually went back to my list of requested fulls and calculated the number of days between receiving a requested full and responding with my decision. (I left out any manuscripts that had been revised twixt send and decide, and left out all ms that had been withdrawn for any reason) 

The time ranged from 2 to 226 days.

There were 31 ms that met the requirements.
The mean (or average) is 82 days.
The median (or midway point) is 64 days.

If you discard the bottom and top 4 values (the outliers so to speak) the median is of course still 64, but the average drops to 71 days.

So, why all the math?

If you elect to wait to query your next five agents you should use this info to plan. If you wait for the average number of days it takes me to reply, you'd query again in 71 days.

Most agents ask for 90s on fulls (I do too)

If you wait 90 days to query, just to be safe, here's what your sub schedule in 2017 will look like:

1/1/17  5 queries sent

4/1/17 5 queries sent

7/1/17  5 queries sent

10/1/17  5 queries sent

Unless you are six years old, this means you're going to be querying when you're a doddering elderly writer before you run out of agents.

In other words, I think this is a terrible idea because it hamstrings you AND is predicated on assumptions that may not be true (you're going to get feedback and it's going to be worth listening to)

When I send out a round of submissions, I send to editors I think will buy the project. I send it (generally) to everyone at once. If I hear back about why the editor has passed, I keep the info in my sub db but I don't change a thing unless I start hearing the same thing from MORE editors.

In other words, one editor (or agent's) "the pacing is too slow here" is another editor (or agent's) "oh my gosh, I really like the anticipatory build up with the long languid opening"

Query when YOU are ready.
Keep querying briskly.

If you get feedback you can revise and resubmit to most agents. We want to sell your work, not critique it. If you want to revise, most of us are happy to let you. (try not to take four years of course.)

To just wait, and hope for feedback is a surefire way to be sitting around for a good long time. I hope you brought a book!



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

Personally, I'd up your query batches to 10 or 12 at a time if you wish to go by your original method. There are hundreds of agents out there, so unless you write in an obscure genre, why not improve your odds, both in getting potential feedback and/or getting a yes sooner.

MA Hudson said...

Fingers crossed those agents have already launched into a bidding war for OP's manuscript made all this query strategising redundant.

Still, great to know this stuff so when my querying time comes I can think up some fresh new things to worry about.

Katie Loves Coffee said...

Helpful advice! I'd say further, I think you could be putting too much stock in what you are going to get back from an agent who isn't the right fit for the book. Some agents do form rejections on fulls and partials while others give personalized feedback at the query stage.

If it's feedback you want, you might consider having a professional review it (can be expensive if you want them to review whole MS and you'll want to choose the right person) or coaching/a class focused on what you think you need feedback on (slightly less expensive). I have been doing a lot of hand wringing about what to do with one of my books as well so I can empathize with trying to set yourself up on the right path for you and your book. Good luck!

Donnaeve said...

First off, and maybe it's my southern sense of decorum...ahem, this part of the question from OP raised my eyebrow, "so I will have effectively shot my wad."

Okay, moving along. YES to the subjectivity of feedback! IF it's given at all. Sending only five at a time while waiting at least 90 days for someone to respond (if they do, remember our favorite NORMAN's) is like sitting down to a lovely meal, while only being allowed to nibble, five bites at a time, every three months - and you're starving.

Lennon Faris said...

I also think 5 at a time and then waiting would be too slow in an already slow industry. Even if you get lots of positive responses (hooray! congrats on that, OP!), it would take soooo long if they turned out to be a 'no' in the end.

However there is a difference between a writer and an agent who's 'querying'. An agent's presumably done it a thousand times and knows what she's doing. A writer usually hasn't (even once). Even if the writer is very prepared, there's always a lot to learn as the process goes. I'm relieved I didn't query every agent when I first started querying my mss.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

In my delusional state, I actually did wonder if you should keep querying if you have a mass of full requests. You know, just in case our queen's plethora of advice pierces my thick skull and I one day get lots of full requests. So glad, OP, you are doing so well in the Query Pit of Despair and were able to legitimately ask question. Sounds like you have your answer too. Just keep going.

I think the main thing to take away here is don't enter those perilous pits and "shoot your wad" until you are damned sure your book is ready for prime time. So, if you have doubts about book, then stop the querying, revise, and jump back in.

The editing and revising and beta period of that debut book is super critical so it's back to the rodent wheel with me. I have a 150,000 word Goliath to tame.

OP, do let us know when you land an agent. It sounds like you are getting close.

RachelErin said...

I read an interesting strategy yesterday (by someone who is now a NYTBS). She made her list of agents, and then split it into three groups - the dream team, B list, and C list. (The ranking was based on researching sales, match in taste, agent style, personality, etc). She sent queries in batches of three - one to an agent in each team. She wanted to test query effectiveness without going through all her fav agents at once.

When she got a bunch of full requests, she figured the query was working, and sent out queries to all the rest of Dream list. (she ended up with four offers).

She was testing query effectiveness, however, NOT reactions to the full MS.But feedback on MSs aren't really the agents job, so you might want to look up some editors. A lot of them have a range of services, if a full read through is cost prohibitive.

Good luck, rh

John Davis Frain said...

First off, I just woke up from a nightmare where Elaine Viets' latest Dead-End Job story featured a mystery writer as the protagonist. So it's good to be awake.

And now, to play the role of Counterpoint...

I can see a lot of wisdom in offering 5 queries at a time in the early stages. Send out 5, await feedback while you work on the next project, revise query, repeat. Send out 5, await feedback while you work on the next project, revise ms, repeat. After two cycles, then you up the number to 15 or 20.

Let's say that process takes you one extra year. At the end of it, your pro/con sheet looks kinda like this:

- Dynamite query letter
- Better manuscript
- Second project getting near the gate
- You're a better writer.

- It's a year later.

Now I'm going to check the catalog and make sure Elaine Viets isn't sending me a cryptic message.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Donnaeve... I loved your analogy about the meal and starving. Yes!

My eyebrows also elevated just a bit over "shooting the wad"... *cough. Oh, my. And I'm from the north.

Lennon: I'm with you. I have 2 completed mss. One is women's fiction and the other is paranormal/mystery. I wrote the mystery while I queried the wf, got a bunch of crickets and some normans. I've shelved the wf for now and I'm querying the mystery. But I'm taking a different approach. Slower. It seems to click with the way my mind works, so that's what I'm doing.

It seems to me that we can educate ourselves about the process, watch trends and pay attention to what's working, and heed savvy advice (re: sharkly advice) but ultimately the journey is a personal one. Find the road you want to travel and get going.

Claire B. said...

Thank you, Janet, once again, for breaking this down and giving such sound advice. Makes sense not to wait too long to send out a query that's working. It seems like OP is insecure about the book (aren't we all), and Janet's answer makes sense there,too: agents are the wrong people for a writer to expect help from if it's needed (unless they offer representation, hallelujah!). It's also good to know that many agents would reconsider a revision, even if they didn't ask for the R&R themselves -- I wouldn't have thought so.

Julie Weathers said...

I knew a writer who had a list of 100+ agents. When she got ready to query, she sent out the queries to every agent on the list. I think I had a list of nearly 200 agents for Far Rider, so I'm sure she could find more. Even so, I cringed when she did that.

By throwing them all out at one time she doesn't know if her rejections are from the query or the sample pages. She's most likely not going to get feedback to tell her either.

Another one decided she would just send out one or two at a time and wait for feedback.

Equally cringe worthy.

Out of 164 queries this last round, I think I got useful feedback twice over an 18-month period.

I've got another friend who emails every rejection back with requests for more information on why it was rejected and what can she do to improve it. I would never do that, but surprisingly, a fair number of agents have responded with answers giving her something to work with. I think usually it would just irk agents.

In my case the feedback I got was at the beginning on a R&R, which ultimately resulted in a rejection and at the very end of a nearly two year process.

Agents don't have time to give you feedback. One agent is trying to get through 300+ queries before they shut down for the Christmas break and she stays pretty current.

I try to keep around a dozen active queries out when I'm in the pits. When one comes in I send out one or two more. It doesn't matter what the response was. Even if it's a request for a full, that's not a guarantee you'll get an offer.

Even though you might not get feedback from an agent, you might come up with an idea yourself that makes a difference and want to make adjustments.

It sounds like you're getting good response, so that's a huge plus. I wish you much success.

Megan V said...

Donnaeve I love your analogy with the meal!

It's interesting to see the commenters suggestions and methods for querying.

I send 20 queries in the first round and then replace rejections with 2 new (possibly revised) queries and requests with 1 new query. And as I wait to hear back on requests I write more books.

I will say that feedback on full requests is definitely not a guarantee. Heck, a response on full requests isn't a guarantee either. So waiting for feedback may mean Opie is waiting in vain. :(

Elissa M said...

It's always been my understanding that the purpose of sending queries out in small batches (5-10) is to gauge the effectiveness of the query. If you get nothing but crickets after your first few batches, you may want to revise the query.

If, however, you're getting requests for fulls, especially multiple requests, the query is doing its job. At that point, you can send as many queries as you please (remembering to keep track of them all, of course). If the manuscript's not working, you'll know because you'll get nothing but passes.

At that point, you have several choices. Keep hoping someone will like it (not recommended). Revise (with help from a freelance editor or other reliable source if necessary). Query your newest work (which you were perfecting while the first project was being queried).

Colin Smith said...

Lots of good comments so far. I would definitely be on the side of querying more than five before pausing for feedback (whether form rejection, personalized rejection, or request for ms). In my mind, five rejections is not enough to really get a sense of whether or not your query's working. Ten, perhaps. I would also recommend you include in those first five queries agents you think are more likely to give you a personalized rejection. If you've talked to an agent either on social media, or in person, such that you can meaningfully reference that meeting and conversation in your query, my experience is you are more likely to get more than a form rejection. Agents are people, and they like making personal connections. If your query has a PS that says, "BTW, I tried the cinnamon roll recipe you posted on your blog, and it was awesome!" my guess is that agent is going to be hard pushed to simply send a form rejection. Granted, they may just say "Thanks!" But they may well also say something that might tip you off to why they're rejecting. Or they may at least request a partial.

You do need to query in batches of more than five. Or query five at a time, but don't leave three or four months between each batch. A month at most.

That's what I think, anyway. :)

Colin Smith said...

Oh... one more thing. One of the things I believe Opie is afraid of is the fact that once you query an agent, and the agent rejects, then you're done with that agent for this project. Generally speaking, that's true. However, Janet has said that if you end up making substantial changes to your manuscript as a result of query feedback, the query police aren't going to lock you up if you re-query agents who previously rejected. As long as you're up front in your letter ("I queried this before, but have since made major changes"), I don't think anyone's going to cry foul, or blacklist you, or send you to Carkoon. You could perhaps get away with this if you substantially change your query... but I'm not sure. I'd want Janet's opinion on that before I did it.

Robert Ceres said...

Don’t usually expect such a deep statistical analysis on a writing blog! As a scientist I eat this stuff up.

And what John Davis Frain said. Like him I will be a bit contrarian.

Here's some anecdotal information from a writer I know:
-Half the responses got great feedback initially.
-Half provided little or no feedback, but, when very politely asked for any feedback or notes all but one provided very good feedback as well.
-The comments got better as time went on, providing some indication that the MS was actually improved from incorporating the comments.

Perhaps in this case the response rate for comments was high because the agents liked the MS, but, as was reflected in the comments, were not sure what to do with it.

So, there is some value to waiting, or at least not going too fast. It’s a tough call. I do think waiting is better in the early stages, where you might be less confident in the manuscript.

Robert Ceres said...

Oh, one other thing related to what Colin said regarding requerying after review of a full. In responding to a rejection with nice comments, but without requesting an R&R, ask politely if you can resubmit. Again anecdotal, but mostly you'll get another nice response, often in the affirmative. Just my two cents.

Julie Weathers said...


"Perhaps in this case the response rate for comments was high because the agents liked the MS, but, as was reflected in the comments, were not sure what to do with it."

I got lots of comments like this also. Loved the writing. Loved the world building. The characters were great. I wasn't sure what to do with it or didn't feel quite strongly enough about it to take it on. Unfortunately, there was nothing specific enough to give me any direction until the end.

I should have been more pro-active, but when an agent says no means no and I don't have time to explain why I rejected you, I take them at their word.

Robert Ceres said...

Julie, Yes, the comments like 'loved the writing,' 'loved the dot dot dot' BUT - you almost don't want to know.

I think the reason many agents don't provide feedback is because either they don't want to hurt feelings, or, (I think more likely) they have been burned by impolite responses. Which might explain why polite requests for comments seem to get a response.

Steve Stubbs said...


Your letter implies you think your MS is “flawed” and unacceptable and you are looking for someone to tell you so.

The problem is, agents are not in the business of telling you why MSS are crappy. They are in the business of sending out rejection letters and banishing would be writers to the infernal regions. There is a lot of money in sending out rejection letters and banishing writers to the infernal regions. There is even more money in never responding ever as in never ever ever. People get rich doing that. This is the only business in the world in which not respondmg is a sure fire path to success. Not so much in critiquing badly written MSS for free. Critting for free is a cash sink and not a cash cow. I am the only one I know who works for free. Everybody else wants to get paid. They don’t have my business acumen. Welcome to the world of writing!

So if you think your MS is flawed, pay for a critique. You do not ruin your rep with an agent and the wait time is usually much shorter. You can expect to lay out about $700 for a detailed opinion (NOT a line edit, which is something else entirely) but be careful. There are some real scoundrels out there. You can visit the Writer’s Digest web page and find a critter that works for them or ask around and get a referral from someone who has had a happy experience. Answering a classified ad is a real crapshoot. I am speaking from experience here. Some of these jokers will steal your money and try to hack your paypal account. Welcome to the world of writing!

$700 seems like a lot of money, but if your book gets published you should get that back eventually after agency fees. taxes, monetary evaporation, and innumerable expenses even a CPA could not have anticipated. You won’t be having lunch at Per Se with the chairman of Chrysler Corporation. But you should be able to break even, which is pretty good for two long years of heartbreaking hard work. Welcome to the world of writing!

The whole issue is whether you believe in your idea and your ability to put it in marketable form. If it is marketable, $700 is a very prudent risk, assuming you are in a position to sustain any risk. If you cannot sustain risk, or if you have grave doubts about your project, proceed with great caution. If your nom de plume is John Smith and your book ends up on the shelf with a bunch of other books by authors named John Smith and the title and cover art of all these books is identical and everybody else’s book is cheaper than yours, rotsa ruck.

Megan V said...

Steven Stubbs

*raises eyebrow*

I'm not quite sure if your comment is meant to be waggish or snarky. If the latter, well, I disagree with your impression of OP's query and interpretation of the business. IMHO it's not that OP believes their MS is unacceptable, but rather, is aware of the fact that agents send very few MSes on submission in the same condition as they arrived in their inbox.

Kae Ridwyn said...

I'm with those Reiders who love your stats posts, Janet - thank you for the insight these give us! As a scared woodland creature who is about to plunge into querying in the near future, I was just wondering: how many days / months is average between an agent receiving a query and requesting a full? Assuming said agent is not a NORMAN, of course...?