QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Talking QueryTracker 3 with Creator Patrick McDonald

We wanted to get the inside scoop on the new QueryTracker.net, so we decided to interview QT creator Patrick McDonald.

QueryTracker Blog: Tell us a bit about what inspired you to create QT in the first place.

Patrick McDonald: You know the old saying, "Necessity is the mother of invention" and that's so true here. A friend and I were querying a collaborative project, and back then there wasn't anything like QueryTracker. You had to use AgentQuery (a great resource, by the way) and then keep a separate list on your own of who you queried and who you didn't. Then constantly check back and forth between them. After a few dozen queries it became very difficult to keep track. As we were discussing the problem, someone said, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could just check them off right there on the website?" Then I realized, Hey! I can do that.

QTB: How long has QT been operating, and what kinds of recognition has it gotten?

PM: QT first opened for business in May of 2007, and it has been a surprising success ever since. I never expected it to take off like it did. We were only a few months old when we were added to Writers Digest's list of 101 best websites for writers, and have been honored now two years in a row.

Agents are mentioning us in their blogs and on their websites as a resource for writers, and I even know of one agent who suggests QT in her rejection letter. I really appreciate the recognition, and often equate it to how it must feel to write a successful novel. A task that still eludes me, by the way, but somehow it doesn't seem as important anymore.

QTB: How did you decide what would be added to version 3?

PM: Each re-write is based on the needs and requests of the members. As more people use the site, the need for certain capabilities reveal themselves, or come in the form of suggestions from users.

For instance, I noticed on the agent profiles, that a lot of people were using the comment section to communicate back and forth among themselves. This is cumbersome and not what the system was really designed to do, so something better had to be found. It seemed obvious that what was needed was a method for sending private messages between users, and even a way to set up discussion groups for more in-depth conversations. So, QT3 will now have all that and more.

I've noticed friendships forming between writers here and on the QT forum, and realized that a support group of friends is extremely valuable to writers enduring the query process. So, methods to bring people together were found.

A good example of a user suggested feature is the publisher list. I received countless requests to add publishers to the database. It was something I was always hesitant to do because of the difficulty and effort involved, but the crowd finally won me over.

QTB:What was so difficult about listing publishers that you wanted to avoid it?

PM: Well, QT has always been dedicated to quality listings. I'm very careful with the agent database, and only add agents who are proven legitimate and have the proper experience needed to do the job. That kind of research takes time. There's a lot more to it than just throwing up a list of names and addresses. In order to properly research publishers, I had to learn about how their side of the industry worked, what were their standard practices and what the red flags were. I then had to commit to the time it would take to keep the list updated and to continue to add to it.

QTB: You screen every listing? Why do you do that?

PM: I could just list everyone and save myself a lot of time and trouble, but not every writer on the internet is savvy enough to know when an agent is a scammer or when they are legit. And I certainly don't want to help any scammers.

But there is another danger that many writers don't realize; that an inexperienced agent can be just as dangerous as a scammer. You can't just wake up one day and decide you want to be a literary agent. There is much more involved than just liking books. You have to know the ins and outs of the publishing business, understand the contracts and the terminology. I had no idea how much was involved until I started to interact with some of the agents on QT. I can tell you horror stories about how well-intentioned "agents" set back their client's careers.

That's why QT tends to err on the side of caution when it comes to deciding who gets listed. It's much better to let one go, then to risk harm to a user. It's all about quality, not quantity.

QTB: Tell us a bit about the success stories.

PM: I'm very proud of the success stories. Almost as proud as if it were me landing the agent and getting published. Maybe I'm living vicariously through QT members, but I still get rush each time it happens.

And let me take this opportunity to congratulate Jessica Verday. Jessica was our first success story, and thanks to the slow moving publishing business, it has taken this long for her book to finally make it into stores. I now have my signed copy of THE HOLLOW and it is going in a place of honor on my bookshelf. Thank you Jessica.

QTB: What are some of your favorite new features?

PM: I'm a technophile, so for me it has to be the new technology that went into QT3, making it more convenient to use. The pages no longer have to refresh themselves every time you want to do something. That may not sound like much, but after you've used it for a while you'll appreciate it. Things are now at your fingertips where before you had to move to another page to find them. The new technology also makes the site faster, which is always a plus. And, of course, making it faster and more convenient to add query results will help increase the amount of data available to everyone.

One addition that I think will be a lot of fun are the user profiles. Like on a social networking site, you will be able to set up your own personal profile. But on QT, everything is designed with the writer in mind. So, as part of your profile you can add lists of your favorite books, authors, which genres you write and which you read. You can even opt to display a list of the agents and publishers you've queried and what the results have been. You can then do a search for other members who have the same interests as you.

If you do choose the option to display your query list to others, there is another new feature that I think will be useful. On the agent (and publisher) profiles there is now a list of all the other users who have queries that agent (or publisher). So, if you, for instance, have a query out and want to talk with someone else who queried this agent in the past, you can click over to their profile and send them a message. As I mentioned earlier, forming friendships with other writers really helps the process, and this is one of the ways to do it.

There're also some seemingly minor additions that I think will be big hits, like the "Quick Filters" on the Query List page.

QTB: What can we look forward to in the months ahead?

PM: I hope to spend the next few months addressing feedback from members telling me what they like or don't like about the new QT. For instance, the social networking aspects added to QT are an experiment. If people like and use them, I can add more. Just let me know.


Annie Louden said...

Great interview!
I'm not in the query stage yet, but I'm so glad to have this resource. I didn't realize all the time and care you took, Patrick, in adding agents and authors. It's so wonderful to hear someone care about quality over quantity! Thanks!

Suzette Saxton said...

I agree with Annie - great interview. (Love the photo of you, Pat!) QT3 has me all excited - thanks for creating it!

Diana said...

Patrick McDonald, I am building a little shrine out of paperclips in your honor. Thank you for this site, and for all of the amazing people who keep the blogs and information rolling!

Tere Kirkland said...

I've only been using QT since April, I think, and it is an indispensable resource for writers looking for an agent.

I look forward to the updates. Thanks, Patrick!