QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, November 28, 2011

Writing: It's a Numbers Game

As a past (and future) querier, I've spent a lot of time on the Query Tracker website.

Query Tracker is a database of the most trustworthy literary agents, packed with the tools I needed to track each of my submissions to them. Query Tracker became a valuable part of my novel's road to publication and, at the height of my querying, I spent several hours a week using the website.

Assembling an agent list was the easy part. The search functions narrowed down the group of more than 1200 agents to those who were appropriate for my material. The spreadsheet showed my progress and tracked responses as they came in. The individual agent files contained contact information and links to their online dwellings.

But, after a while, those amazing features began to pale in comparison to the tab so innocently labeled "Reports and Statistics." Like many anxious writers who used Query Tracker, I quickly got sucked in to the stats of the querying game.

Numbers. Everywhere. The Query Tracker database had information on every statistic a writer could imagine. Which agent had the highest request rates. How many days until my own request should come in(ever the optimistic one.) How many lucky writers signed. How many unhappy writers marked their own queries as a "no response". Hard figures and agonizing percentages. Nail biting numbers. Knuckle crunching numbers.

Nasty thing, numbers.

Despite the pretty clear delineation between the left and right hemispheres of our brains, numbers will always want to mingle with the words crowd (much to my math-hating daughter's chagrin.) Word counts. Page counts. Royalty rates. Fun stuff. Essential stuff.

Here's some more "essential stuff" to get your mind off the agony of staring down the query stats.

We'll start at the beginning with the 10 Most Important Things every writer needs to know: while simply stated, there is a lot of down-to-earth advice here. For example, did you know that "your friends and family are not your audience"? Nope, they're not--and knowing it might help you define who your audience actually is. A list like this helps to reset ourselves, gets us to pull away from the keyboard for a moment and try to remember the reason we sat down to write in the first place.

Got blog? Then you got numbers. Here's 3 things your blog needs and 5 things it doesn't. (The comments are noteworthy.) And every blogger wants a bigger audience, right? Average bloggers will appreciate these 8 tips to grab those coveted readers while the over-achievers may prefer a heftier 19. Go big or go home, I always say.

Heck, as long as we're going big, let's go Hollywood. Here's 10 things that may decide whether your book is good enough for the big screen.

Once we're done daydreaming about cinematic fortune and fame, the blog 365 Stories In A Year will give us this more realistic list of 10 things we probably do but would never admit. On the flip side, we still have our integrity as writers—and so we'd be better off sticking to these 10 basics, which includes Wil Wheaton's Law. (If you are unsure of just how tremendously powerful a chaotic neutral overlord Wil Wheaton has become, then you seriously need to catch up. He's going to rule the world one day.)

The numbers get even more serious over at Twenty Palaces, where you can find 10 things that might be the proverbial slap you need to stay focused. However, these 10 magic ideas will inspire you with a much lighter touch. (Read it if you *heart* Voldemort as much as I do.)

Want advice from an agent instead? No problems. Rachelle Gardner has loads of great tips and she gets a perfect 10 for her 10 things theme on her blog. She's got several helpful lists on a variety of topics--have fun with them!

And Rachelle isn't the only one who's got her numbers lined up. Janet Reid lists 10 steps to diagnose your query for a particular agent. Some of us will read this and say, really? You need to spell all that out? Give us some credit! while an equal number of us will say, Now, that's what I call *clear* guidelines. Finally. Why don't all agents do it? (Don't get any ideas.)

Lastly, I'll point out a lengthy 10 secrets you might not have known about agents. There is a very poignant message in this one--if you don't have time to read the entire article right now, take the time to scroll down to the bottom of page 22 and read the last paragraph or so. It may help put querying madness into perspective.

Look at all those crazy digits floating around up there. Can writers learn anything from playing the numbers game? (Besides the apparent fact that writers seem to love the number 10.)

Maybe if we extracted all these numbers we'd realize there is no single magic formula to good writing. Sure, we can obsess over numbers and drown in the QT data explorer. We can calculate and extrapolate and postulate but, in the end, it's the actual words on the paper that matter. Word counts and page counts won't matter in the end if the heart isn't in the story. The words and the numbers must work together to produce a splendid story and it's our job to bring it all together.

Perhaps treat yourself and listen to "Hemispheres" by Rush, with an emphasis on the song The Sphere. Just as the heart and mind must unite, so must our right and left brains. Write the words but don't forget to enjoy the numbers…

And look forward to getting that single, most beautiful number: 1.

One "yes" is all it takes to win the writing game.

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who resides in the heart of the Pennsylvania coal region, where she keeps the book jacket for "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" in a frame over her desk. Visit the Spec Fic Website at www.ashkrafton.com for updates on the release of her debut novel, Bleeding Hearts, forthcoming in early 2012 through Pink Narcissus Press.


Stina said...

For someone who struggle with math, I'm sure addicted to the numbers game. I just didn't realize it until this post. :D

G. B. Miller said...

Interesting to see that most, if not all, of the advice is really geared towars YA & MG.

lantern said...

I'm not sure that the article has been geared toward any specific market. It seems pretty general with good advice for all writers.

Lynette Eklund said...

I heard somewhere that, on average, a writer should expect 100 rejections before they find an agent, so every rejection I got, I said "Yippee! I'm one more closer to that yes!" I got my one "yes" and it didn't take 100 no's to get it. I realize now that most of the no's I got came from premature querying. I imagine that's the case with many writers' 100.