When I signed with my first agent, it was 2019. I’d queried two manuscripts by then between 2017-2019. In 2021, my agent left the industry. I took some time off, then wrote the book of my heart, and now I’m back in the query trenches for the first time in three years. As an author with books under my belt and previous querying experiences, I’ve seen a lot of well-meaning authors posting querying tips for those currently looking for representation. But you know the saying.
The path to hell is paved with good intentions.
Okay, so that may be a little harsh, but I mean it when I say that times have changed. Advice that previously used to be sound is no longer relevant or an accurate depiction of what’s going on in the trenches and publishing industry in general.
For one, in 2019 turnaround times were typically 2-3 weeks, and I’d often hear back way before that. In 2022? Turnaround times are staggeringly different. Yes, there are some that still get back within the 2-3 week timeframe, but for the most part, I am seeing 6-10 weeks as the norm. In addition, there are a lot more agents saying “no response means no,” so getting closure isn’t even a guarantee. (Did I mention that so many more agencies have adapted a “no” from one is a “no from all” policy?) No shade here, of course. I understand how busy everyone is. But this certainly makes querying via rounds a lot more time-consuming for writers. You used to be able to send out queries knowing that you’d get an answer within a month or so, and then you could readjust for a second round. Not so much in 2022. Not only are response times longer than ever before, but feedback (even on full manuscript requests) is rarer, too. That makes the “query in rounds” advice a little moot. I still recommend it, of course! Just not for the same reasons as I have in the past. This time around, I’d recommend it for sanity reasons. Too much at once can be overwhelming for anyone. I also stand by the fact that you should be getting some requests on your query. Just not as many as before.
In the past, for instance, some folks would say you should have a 75% – if not higher – request rate. That sort of statistic is just unheard of right now. Granted, it’s hard to discern the actual stats from anecdotes I’ve read online and heard from friends, but the trends I’m seeing are a lot less than 75%. Lots of folks on Twitter today have been sharing that a 10% request rate is good right now. (You can also see trends on Premium Query Tracker.)
Full disclosure: At the time of writing this, I’ve sent out 10 queries. I’ve been lucky enough to get 4 full requests right out of the gate. 3 of my other queries got denied, but 2 of those were personalized and encouraging (a wrong-fit scenario). The other 3 are still pending and won’t get a response for another 3 weeks. I definitely know I’m the exception.
So what is my advice for querying right now?
It’s more important than ever to have a great query letter. More so, a fantastic one-line pitch. Even if you feel like you are a seasoned writer with seasoned beta readers, I encourage you to branch out and try to get feedback from a new source. Even better if it’s someone who has secured rep recently. Other than that, I recommend keeping your query as short as possible. (Everyone’s swamped, right?) I, personally, put my pitch and all my meta data at the top (comps, word count, genre, age category). I also add in personalization if applicable. (We met at a conference, you told me to send you more of my work in the past, MSWL fits, etc.) That way, an agent can see right away if they’re interested before diving into the long part of the query. My bio is at the bottom. Once I start querying, I keep track of when I’m supposed to hear back, and if the agent isn’t a “no response means no” agent, then I send a polite one-sentence nudge. Don’t be afraid to nudge! One of my full requests happened because of a nudge. If you can get referrals, great! If you can attend conferences to meet agents, wonderful! But don’t feel like you must spend money to up your odds. If you query in rounds, check out the agents’ response times via Query Tracker, and try to pick a few that have faster turnaround times. That way, you can more easily discern when you want to do a second round. (Remember: Publishing is not a race. It’s better to query well than fast.) Prior to querying, I’ve also asked myself these tough publishing questions to make sure my book has a place in a competitive market. This has worked for me.
Does that mean I’ll secure rep? Nope, not necessarily.
Of course I hope that I will. I have 150% confidence in my book, writing, and platform, and my MG novel-in-verse about the opioid crisis is an important story that needs to get into the hands of kids like me, who lost a parent in such an awful way. But I also recognize that the industry is in a tough place. Agents and editors and writers are swamped. We’re all just trying to do our best out here. Which is also why I think out-of-date tips can be harmful.
Try not to give out old-school querying advice without understanding the current landscape. Take a minute to look around at the agencies and agents, both new and established. Talk to those who’ve secured rep recently. Listen to those who are currently in the trenches. Without doing so, traditional advice could ultimately be more discouraging or even point the writer in the wrong direction. For example, if you tell someone that they should revise their book or opening pages because they don’t have a 75% request rate, you could be causing the writer to make unnecessary revisions.
For my fellow querying writers, if you’ve been thinking about taking a break, do so, especially if it’s for your mental health or general well-being. It never hurts to take a pause, consider your options, refresh the creative well, or just step away for a while. In fact, it might be just what you need. Either way, I recommend taking old-school querying advice with a grain of salt. The basics still stand, absolutely. But don’t get discouraged if you aren’t getting a 75% request rate. Try not to let the old way of doing things get you down. Concentrate on the now instead. Find writer friends that are in the trenches with you, join a querying group, and help each other through the process. Friendship truly can go a long way. So can keeping track of all the encouraging notes you receive. Do yourself a favor, and open a Word doc right now. Title it “Book love for (title)” and start saving every compliment, including the encouragement you may receive in a rejection. An example I received?
“I do hope you find the right agent as you’re pitching around! Stories like these are so wildly important and needed.”
It was a rejection from an agent who just wasn’t the right fit. But it means a lot to me to have their support!
No matter what happens, I know I’m going to keep trying. I’ve already started revising my historical fantasy with the hopes of querying that by the fall, should my novel-in-verse not pan out. I also have two other completed manuscripts and two new ones I’ve started drafting (and so many more I’m dreaming about). It’s always good to be looking ahead (and you’re a lot less likely to be disappointed if you have something new and shiny to focus on).
I wish all of you the best of luck!
22 thoughts on “The Difference Between Querying in 2019 and 2022, and Why Your Well-Intentioned Advice May Be Doing More Harm Than Good.”
In my personal experience (and based on what I’ve head from other authors and agents) the same shift has happened in the submission process as well. Editors are taking much longer to get back to agents than they did in the past. It seems like the entire industry has slowed to a crawl. I’m glad you’re sharing your honest experience — I think it’ll help other authors manage their expectations (and not lose their minds in the process!)
Yes, that is also true! When I first went out on sub with my agent in 2019, the responses were so much quicker than the last round in 2021. Ghosting is also more common. Wasn’t just my experience either. Lots of my friends who are on sub are experiencing the same.
Thank you for reading and sharing encouragement!
Spot on! I last queried in 2019 and had a vastly different experience than I do now (and this time around with the added boost of Pitch Wars in my sails). Delayed responses and short replies, if any, more akin to calling overseas in the 70’s when you’d shout into the phone and hope they heard you, wait for a short reply… and if you heard nothing, shout again asking if they heard you the first time :p (Truly shouting into the void sometimes.)
Thank you for sharing your story! I think it helps querying writers to hear from each other. It is SO different nowadays and can definitely feel like shouting into the void. At least we keep shouting, right? 😉
We learn to shout with more intent 😉
As someone who is on the cusp of sending out queries (which is exactly where I was a couple of weeks ago…), I really appreciate this insight. I’m not sure it changes my plans for what I was already planning, but it at least gives me some ideas for “round 2” as it were. Thanks for sharing and good luck on the querying.
Thank you for reading! I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you!
This is super helpful, Shannon, thanks. I’ll pass this along to my clients and colleagues.
Have you (or anyone reading these comments) noticed an increase in online pitch events like #MoodPitch or #PitMad / PitchMad?
I know PitchMad is well-established, but it seems like there are a lot of other new little ones out there— not just on Twitter, but on other platforms too. This just occurred to me as I read your post. I’ll start keeping track of them myself now, but I’d love to know whether this is a trend or just an artifact of my own little google bubble or something…
I’m so glad you found it helpful! There are certainly more pitch parties on Twitter than there used to be a few years ago. I haven’t participated in one in years, mostly because it seems like it’s more difficult to get noticed on a Twitter pitch party than it is to get noticed querying. (But that’s just my opinion.) I find pitch parties are too flooded to justify them, and I also don’t feel comfortable sharing my pitch with the world when I don’t yet have representation for it. But I know lots of writers really enjoy pitch parties, so I don’t want to discourage you. I’d suggest doing research on which ones seem worth the effort and talking with some writers who actively participate to get a better idea of how best to get involved. 🙂
What about going with hybrid publishing? I got no replies from 65 agents for a memoir on being bipolar. Isn’t it all about marketing? Aren’t books bought on line, not through bookstores?
Hybrid publishing is a valid choice! Nonfiction is a different ballgame than fiction, which is what I have experience in, but it’s my understanding that nonfiction requires the authors having more of a platform than fiction does (if you are going the lit agent route). Books are bought online and in stores right now, but online has certainly opened up lots of opportunity, especially for hybrid/small press/self-published authors. (My novels, for instance, are with a small press, and most of those books sell online, though a handful are sold through Barnes & Noble ever quarter.) I hope this helps!
Thanks Shanno, that was helpful. Who knew writing was the easy part, getting published and read is much more difficult.
Excellent post. I’m experienced similarly, and can confirm everything in this post.
So glad you enjoyed the post! Thank you for reading and sharing your experience.
This was such an essential read right now in my process. Exactly what I needed. Thank you so much.
So happy to hear that! Thank you for reading.
Was it ever 75%? Wow! I queried from 1998 to 2021 when I signed with an agent. (So don’t give up, folks!) One of my tricks: I got premium QueryTracker ($25/year) and ONLY submitted to agents with quick turnarounds for my first round. That got me feedback pretty fast. Then I was able to adjust and query a little more casually. It’s always fun to watch that graph and see that your query has been skipped, which means it went into a maybe pile! That’s also incentive to keep going! Good luck!
I don’t know what the average writer’s experience was on response times a few years ago. I just quoted the most popular article I found on Google when I searched “what should my query letter request rate be?” Since it was on Writer’s Digest, I thought it was a good article to quote, knowing that others might be stumbling across it, too. (I wanted to highlight how outdated stats can be discouraging.) Personally, I doubt the average writer’s request rate was 75% in 2019. Mine was around 60% though. I recently spoke to a few now-agented friends who I know queried around 2019, and their request rates were between 50% and 75%, so while that number is high, I don’t think it was as rare as it would be today. Thank you for sharing your experiences (and for the cheer of good luck)! I love QueryTracker, and I definitely think the premium version is well worth it.