Thank you once again to everyone who participated in the Be An Agent for a Day contest. 50 queries, 300+ participants, 15,000+ comments later….. I know you’re curious to see how you did.
When I started this contest I really had no idea how it would go. I didn’t even spell out a prize because I wasn’t sure if we’d have five winners or fifty winners. I didn’t know if it would be fantastically easy for people to spot the three actually-published authors among the fifty queries or whether it would be fantastically hard.
Well, now we have our answer. And I think you’ll be surprised.
First off, none of the actually published books were among the top five most requested queries.
And out of the 300+ people who participated, only two people guessed all three published authors with their five choices (that’s less than 1%, compared to the 16% who predicted they got all three). A huge, massive round of applause to Moth and Chenelley!!! They win partial manuscript critiques. They also might have a future career as agents.
Now then. At long last, here are the ones who were actually (or soon to be) published:
Query #39 was for THE PREY by Allison Brennan. The query (and manuscript) landed her an agent, a pre-empt offer from Ballantine, and reached #33 on the NY Times bestseller list. Spotting this query would have been a career-maker. Only 15% of the agents for a day requested it (and many of the ones who passed were quite rude).
Query #9 was by Hannah Moskowitz, and her novel BREAK will be published this summer by Simon Pulse. In real life 60% of the agents she queried requested to see more. But only 31% of the agents for a day requested it.
Query #21 was by Inara Scott, who subsequently received a two book deal with Hyperion Books for Young Readers. Only 16% of the agents for a day requested it.
By contrast, the most-requested query overall was #10, a work-in-progress by Dawn Johnson, which generated a 52% request rate.
What should we make of all this?
To be fair, many of the people who personalized their rejection to Allison Brennan’s query mentioned that they were passing because it sounded too familiar. Well….. yeah. It was a big book. Quite a few people probably either remembered it or even read it. So I’ll let some of you slide on that one.
But more importantly, I think this contest goes to show how people may have overemphasized the query itself when they were playing agents. The queries that generated the highest response rate were the most technically precise. They were tidy, they were well-organized, they followed the rules. They were good queries (and some of them may go on to have success stories of their own). But this wasn’t a contest to spot the best queries.
When an agent is reading a query we’re trying to look past the query to get a sense of the underlying book. We’re evaluating the concept and the writing, not ticking off a box of requirements. I don’t reject people solely because they start with rhetorical questions or their word count isn’t quite right or they break one of the query “rules”. I can’t afford to do that. Nor do I request pages for a book that has a perfect query but whose underlying concept is flawed.
A good concept and strong writing are more important than good query form.
Now, a strong query helps your odds and your request rate, which is why we blogging agents spend so much time talking about the “rules”. It really does help your odds to write a good one. When people are writing good queries it helps us spot the good projects. But remember: the most important thing is not writing a good query, but rather writing a good book. A strong concept is so important.
The other main element I’d take from this challenge is how subjective this business really is. What resonates with you might not resonate with someone else. That’s why it’s so important to query widely. I was one of the 40% who passed on Hannah’s query because it just wasn’t quite right for me at the time.
And of course, I hope everyone will remember this contest the next time a poor agent or editor is mocked for passing on [insert bestseller here]. Because getting it right is incredibly hard.
What do YOU think of the results?