The Broken Query System

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Broken things drive me crazy. Just call me the Fix-it Fairy. If something is broken–be it an object, a person, or a system–I have trouble accepting the state of brokenness. I want it fixed.

Last week I talked about the correct way to submit queries. Today I want to vent about the query system agents currently use to screen potential clients. Here’s a news flash: the system is broken.

Let me tell you why.

Queries are not necessarily representative. Some of the finest writers are some of the worst query writers and vice versa. We’re making seat-of-the-pants decisions on a bit of promotional-type writing.

Scarcity of Slots. Truth be told, most established agents carry a very full client list. That’s not to say that we don’t take on a new client if we fall in love with the book or the writer, but I struggle to find new clients through the query system. I often wonder if it is counter-productive. So how do we find clients? Each agent is different and I know, even in our agency, some agents have found a good number of their clients through the query system. But I tend to find clients two different ways: through referrals from editors, clients or published authors; and through meeting writers in person at a conference. As I write this I’m in Minneapolis for a the Northwest Christian Writer’s Conference. I always look forward to meeting writers in the flesh. Some writers I’ll be meeting for the second or third time.

So. . . can the broken query system be fixed?

I’m not sure it can be fixed. In a dream world I would say that the tsunami of queries needs to be stemmed but no matter how many times we stress research and matching the project to the agent we can’t make a dent because query spammers never assume it applies to them. The only writers who take heed are the very writers we most like to represent– writers who invest their time in research and follow all the guidelines.

Do we need more agents? Maybe, but remember there’s still a finite number of publishing spots. If we doubled the number of literary agents while publishers kept publishing the same number of titles, agents would statistically sell only half as many books. And their clients would probably have their chances of getting a book contract cut in half. The reality of the current market is ever-shrinking publisher lists.

Can a writer get around the broken system?

Yes. If you are reading agent blogs you are exactly the kind of due-diligence writer agents love to represent. Think outside the broken query system. Connect with other writers. Once you get to know published writers you may get the offer of an introduction. Or cut out the middle man and meet your target agent(s) at a writer’s conference.

Also remember that you stand a better chance with a newer agent (like our amazing Cynthia Ruchti), an agent just developing his/her client list.

Your turn: You can tell I didn’t come up with many solutions to the broken query system.Got any suggestions for fixing the system? Would you like to point out the unfairness of it all? Is there something I’m not seeing? I’ll respond to your comments after I return.

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Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

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Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

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