What Are the Odds of Getting an Agent?

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

Recently I was asked, “What are the odds of getting an agent if you have a strong query?” I don’t know the answer, but I do know it’s the wrong question. This is not a game based on “odds” because all the players are not equal. For example: About zero percent of writers with uninteresting queries will get an agent based on the query. 100% of writers with queries that knock my socks off will get a request for a proposal or manuscript. So you can’t learn much from trying to calculate the odds.

But the question addresses an important point: What if a dozen agents request a manuscript based on the query, but nobody goes the next step and offers representation? Then you have a problem. Your query is good, and possibly your first few pages (if they were included with the query) were also promising. But the book itself is failing to deliver. It may be time to get some help evaluating your manuscript and try to determine what you can improve.

Rolling-dice You could doggedly keep submitting to agents and that might do the trick. But if numerous agents are reading your manuscript (not just your query) and you still have no agent, seriously consider whether you need to stop submitting and fix your book or write a new one.

It’s easy to focus on the query, because it’s the first step in grabbing the attention of someone who can help get your book published. But don’t forget, the process can easily end with the query if the book isn’t carrying the reader all the way through. Most of your focus should be on your book. Continually be open to learning how to improve your writing. Even writers with multiple published books are still learning.

So where are you in this process? Have you received requests for based on a query? Got an agent yet? If not, how are you planning to proceed?

13 Responses

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  1. Thanks for this inside look, Rachelle!
    * I’ve never received a request based on a query, but my queries were really, really bad; I know that now. (And your kind response to my very-first-ever-query kept me sustained and hopeful…from 2008. Thank you for that.)
    * There are a couple of issues that stay my hand from querying; my health is one. I don’t want to waste an agent’s time by not being able to get to the end of the process if I’m offered representation. (Yeah, hope springs eternal. but I don’t want to bust up an agent’s ‘rice bowl of time’.)
    * The other is that my fiction falls into the gap between CBA and ABA, since it’s imbued with the Catholic worldview that I picked up in my ‘travels’. Even a deliberate effort to reduce this influence usually fails; the characters are unmistakably part of the Roman church, even when I try to make them dyed-in-the-wool Evangelicals. (Since most of them are either Hispanic or Irish, it may not be unexpected.)
    * I guess it comes from my experience that the village priest, from Columbia to South Armagh, made a pretty good drinking buddy. So now you know.

  2. Carol Ashby says:

    I’ve never queried, although I sent a proposal to an agency that wanted the proposal first. Rejected, but that was when the novel was written in omniscient narrator POV. That made it a dead horse before it even left the starting gate, but I didn’t know that then.
    *I’ve had two full manuscript requests at a conference. One was rejected as being too long. We (editor and I) both knew it was 30K longer than their normal maximum. Cutting that much would have gutted the book. I’m just delighted she read the whole thing and gave me her comments.
    *The other I pulled from consideration because we decided to go indie to keep the rights for mission. The editor wished me luck and told me my genre wasn’t selling very well at the moment. His company probably couldn’t afford to take a risk on a debut author in a weak genre, so it would probably have been rejected.
    *I doubt even a superb agent would have found a publisher for my series, anyway. My niche (romantic historicals set in the Roman Empire that are also stories of spiritual transformation) is probably too small to sell enough for a trad publisher. I don’t have the platform that would carry such a novel to the numbers that would make a publisher enough money. If I were to keep the royalties I make as an indie, I think I’d earn back the cost of cover, layout, and editing, but I don’t expect huge profits from any individual novel.
    *If I had kept looking for an agent, I would have loved to have one of you Books & Such folks, as would most of the folks who come to this blog. When I dream, I like to dream big.

  3. I’ve never queried, but I’ve had a couple requests from conferences. I discovered my story needed some work, and I’m in the process of a major overhaul of said story.
    *What you share, Rachelle, makes a lot of sense. In this market, stories need to be well-written to catch an editor’s attention. And thus, an agent’s attention.

  4. I’ve got one query and two proposals out there and I’m
    in that ever so delightful spot of waiting to hear back. 🙂 One of them is approaching the “if you don’t hear from us by ‘x'” date at the end of this week. The other two reach that mark in mid-April. Meanwhile, I’m
    Continuing to tweak and polish the manuscript so it will be ready if/when someone asks for it.

  5. Elissa says:

    The couple of queries I’ve sent out were horrible and received no requests. That was good, because the manuscript was no better than the queries. Not that I could see it then. After working on my skills for some years, I’m nearly ready to start the query process again. While I do believe there’s some luck involved in securing an agent, I’ve never thought it had anything to do with “odds”.

  6. Jared says:

    To some extent, the query process is a litmus test. The first project I tried to query got rejected every which way, and never made it past the first step. Sure, the query needed work, but the body of work the query represented needed even more. It taught me to write a more captivating book the second time around.
    *Book #2 queried very well. Lots and lots of partial request. Even 8 full MS requests. How exciting! But after that, 12 months of silence waiting to hear back. The general idea I’ve gleaned from this is that the concept catches people’s attention, but the execution disappoints.
    *After 2 years of trying to get over the hurdle with Book #2, I’ve finally broken ground on #3. It’s a story I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but somehow the pages have only started coming to me now. I’m really focusing on nailing the voice this time, so that I don’t lose readers after that initial catch.
    *I guess what I’m not sure about is when to give up on a book you believe in, that just doesn’t seem to have found success yet. I still think my book #2 can be published. Maybe it needs another rework/rewrite, or maybe it just hasn’t met the right agent yet. Hard to tell when to give up hoping on something and when to keep doggedly pursuing it.

  7. I was extremely fortunate at my first writers conference to have one of those table conversations that almost make you feel bad for the other people at the table as my eventual agent and I discussed different aspects of my work in progress. We had some friends in common and at the “any other ideas in mind” I was able to share several related but different workshops I’d been presenting several years.

    Love the phrase about it being the wrong question. Write the best query / proposal you can while continually growing your writing skills, speaking skills, and the concept/idea. Don’t let the “it’s hard to get an agent (or publisher) stopping you from what you’re doing.”

    Write or speak because you were called to write or speak. An author/coauthor of over 20 books asked me after a 3-hour drive/conversation, “why are you even considering this book thing?” It was not the warm encouragement I had expected, and after a 3-hour thoughtful drive home, I emailed him back with “Because I’ve learned so much about the topic, the process and myself in the past few years, and want to see where God takes it in the future.”

    The conversation on that drive solidified my thoughts on ‘why’ I write and speak, and I still want to see what God has in store.

  8. I have received numerous requests, by Agents and small publishers. Only to come and find out that my book wasn’t a genre I thought it was. Yes, that happened! They were expecting a “romance” book and I have now learned that my genre is women’s fiction. My lesson? Know your genre! Although the two genres teeter on blurry lines, I have since learned, after a year of querying, that “romance” definitely has guidelines and expectations. Women’s fiction is a wider net, and that it s more subjective for an agent to love it or leave it. So much so, I just recently had an agent that loved one of my manuscripts. She liked the story, connected to the characters…but there was just something she couldn’t define. And so she passed. But she did ask for future manuscripts. So, not all a loss. Sometimes it does just boil down to not right for the agent. Although, I would agree that you need to analyze what is failing and try to fix it. For me, it was pacing in the first few chapters (I had to get to the story quicker), and secondly, writing a query that wasn’t romance based, but women’s fiction based to not mislead the reader’s expectation. So, to your point, just in a round about way, I needed to evaluate and determine what wasn’t working. I did, and so the query process starts again.

  9. I’m a little late to the discussion today (spent my early morning with a snow shovel).
    * I am in waiting mode with a couple proposals on my first book. In the meantime, I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit and sent off a proposal for a non-traditional collaborative project with the publisher for my denomination (I’d broached it gently last summer and gotten a “we might be interested”). I found the non-traditional, kinda-interested, square peg-round hole process both scary and fun. Even if it doesn’t fly, it’s an interesting ride.

  10. Bryan Fagan says:

    This was a humbling experience for me and sadly my stubbornness did not do me any favors. I finally did the one thing that I should have done when I began this journey: Listen.

    When I finally opened my ears and listened to people a lot smarter than me I realized the query I had created was not working. Lesson learned.