Fun with Statistics

Hello friends, and welcome to the year of our lord 2019. I promised real updates last month, so please join me as I imitate Nate Silver to discuss the query process for The Mechanic.

Since submitting my first query letter on August 3rd, I have sent 36 in total. Of those, I have received 18 rejections, as broken down below:

Say what you will about literary agents, but they are unfailingly polite. Each rejection has assured me it is not a judgement of my writing ability, but that the “industry is incredibly subjective” and they hope I find an agent “who will be an enthusiastic champion” of my work. All of these rejections–including the two clearly not written from a template–are so similar the language and tone is clearly agreed upon at an industry-wide conference.

For the remaining half of my submitted queries, one agent was kind enough to inform me they were currently closed to submissions but would accept them at an unspecified time in the not-too-distant future. The others have provided no response whatsoever.

Of those queries that received a rejection, the average response time currently stands at 20 days. I sent my most recent query on November 20th, which was more than 50 days ago. I think it’s safe to assume that any queries sent last year with no response have either timed out or are lost forever to the great slush pile in the sky.

Additional Fun with Statistics:

  • 83% of the agents I queried are female
  • Despite being smaller in number, male agents were 1.4 times more likely to not respond
  • All male agents requested materials in addition to the query letter (e.g. synopsis, page/chapter selection), but 20% of female agents requested no additional materials
  • 38% of literary agencies that did not respond to queries began with the letters F or P

The size of my sample is too small for any of this to be really meaningful, but it’s interesting nevertheless.

What does is all mean? It could be that The Mechanic isn’t ready for publication, my query game is terrible, or some combination of both. The first queries I sent out were objectively awful and all of them are perhaps premature.

I took a break from querying over the holidays, largely because querying feels a lot like looking for a job while managing to be more depressing. Over the break I worked on a short story I’m excited about, but I also started going through The Mechanic chapter by chapter, trying to make the prose as tight as possible. Definitely should’ve done that before sending any query letters, but here we are. I’ve also put one of the more exciting/scary chapters first, since a lot of agents are only willing to read the first 10 pages. It’s embarrassing how long I held on to the idea that the whole story mattered more than immediately grabbing someone’s attention.

I’m really proud of The Mechanic, but I also understand it would be difficult to market: It’s sort of a novel, sort of a literary thriller, parts of it flirt with body horror, and it has enough chronological shifts to make Quentin Tarantino blush. Some agents request a one-sentence pitch when you query them, and mine was always “a superhero story for the #MeToo era.” It is not a feel-good story, but it is a good story.

I’ll probably send more queries when I’m finished with these edits. I’m also thinking about self-publishing again (I already designed a cover I like), and I’m toying with the idea of releasing it as a podcast audiobook.

Those are my updates. I hope you had fun with stats.