What are the Odds of Getting an Agent?

Dear Rachelle: You’ve blogged about how to write a good query letter, but what about the stage after a successful query, when several agents have requested partials or fulls? How many requested partials or fulls become clients? Could a dozen agents be interested enough to take a look, but none of them love it enough to take it on? What are the odds of getting an agent if you have a strong query?

Here are my thoughts: I don’t know the percentage of requested partials and fulls that become clients, but I also think it’s irrelevant information. You can’t apply a generalized statistic to an individual, so stats would be meaningless. Plus, 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 become clients. 100% of writers with queries that knock my socks off will get a request for a partial or full. 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 partial or full, 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. Pay attention to this! It may be time to get some help evaluating your manuscript and try to determine what you can improve.

You could just 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. Like I’ve said many times before, 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 a partial or full? Got an agent yet? If not, how are you planning to proceed?


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  • Marilyn Almodóvar

    >Great post! I think a problem that many of us have is that we love our books so much that we struggle letting go. I queried for the first time in 2010. After a few partial requests, I had to tell myself that the book wasn't working. I struggled with this, because I loved the characters, so I tried fixing the book. Unfortunately it took several months for me to let go of the book.

  • Jenni Merritt

    >I am about to enter the query stage and must say: I am nervous! It is a scary thing to put your work out there and face the potential rejection. This was a great post. I will for sure remember it. Thank you tons!

  • Melissa K Norris

    >I currently have four agents looking at my book. I had an editor and an agent reject the novel last year. I took their advice on what wasn't working and worked on it.

    I'm hoping that work paid off, but if not, I'll learn what I need to fix next.

    Like you said, it's a learning game, no matter what stage we're at.

    Thanks!

  • Dee Yoder

    >I have an agent now and I sent him my very first query. Sounds great! But wait a minute: I had to work with his editor for several months before my novel was in good shape; then he reviewed my query and read the manuscript. That's when he offered to represent me. Happy ending! Or beginning…

  • Maggie

    >Rachelle, I have a question on this topic. What if you receive feedback from a publisher or agent on aspects of your novel that could/should be improved? After making those changes, should you re-submit a query to agents you've already tried with–or has your chance passed, and go ahead and move on to new publishers or agents?

  • Josin L. McQuein

    >I just got my agent last month :-D

    Querying can be nerve-wracking, and it can exciting when agents ask to read pages, but you should always consider those steps, not destinations. Some agents don't connect with a given book, others get 40 pages in and realize it's too similar to something they've already got from an existing client.

    I think one of the hardest things to accept is that a "no" doesn't always mean "this stinks". It's worth the "not for me" responses because when you finally hook someone who reads the whole thing and loves it, there's no better feeling.

  • Kate Larkindale

    >I'm just starting to query a new book after realizing my last one wasn't good enough to get me an agent. So far no requests, but it's very early days, and I'm being a lot more careful and systematic about how I query this time around.

  • Melissa

    >The odds would depend on the total number of queries an agent gets. Assuming all queries are equal and an agent gets 500 queries per week, you have a 0.00004 percent chance. You’re far more likely to die in a car crash or by gunshot. Fortunately, all queries and books aren’t equal. ☺

    I’ve sent out around 20 queries; got partial requests from four agents. Two agents’ requests made me think, “Huh?” Just didn’t seem to be the best fit for what they represented. I was right; “not for them.” Other two loved my partial, but were expressly looking for a romance that was, um … more (blush) explicit. I did get some good feedback. Put querying on hold, entered contests instead – just placed Top Three in the first! Going a different route; not self-pub.

  • Nancy Thompson

    >My first round of queries garnered me many rejections which were hard, but accepted. I also received 4 requests, 2 fulls & 2 partials. When they were all turned down with little or no feedback, I pulled back, stopped querying & took the next 3 months to make some revisions, especially in the area of backstory. I read countless blogs & addressed those areas the experts advised, like the first page conflict, tension & action. I'm finally ready to query again & hope to learn even more this time around. But in the meantime, I'm moving onto my next project which I'm hoping will be easier since I've learned so much in the last year.

  • Stephanie McGee

    >I'm at the stage where I want to query but I don't. I'm worried about my book being ready or not, about me being ready or not. I'm worried about a lot of things. I think there's a lot of fear I need to overcome before I can get there.

  • Judith Mercado

    >I have received requests for partial and full manuscripts. I do not have an agent. I have proceeded by starting a new novel. I am almost finished with its first draft. I have also been sending out my short stories, four of which have been placed in the last six months.

  • Christine Murray

    >I'm about to start querying, which is fairly nerve-wracking.

  • Huntress

    >I have two MS out with fulls and partials in the hands of different agents.

    Now, after 8 months to a year, three different agents won't respond to my request for status on the manuscripts. This makes for a very frustrated writer.

  • Mark R Hunter

    >I sent out one query for my YA comic mystery and got a request for a partial, then a request for a full. Even though the agent ultimately decided not to take me on, she gave me some constructive suggestions for the middle and end parts of the story, and I'm considering making changes before submitting again. Overall, I think I did pretty good for my first time out.

  • sally apokedak

    >I subbed in batches, several each month. I got many requests for partials and fulls. It still took me a year to find an agent (I had a lot of feedback and revision requests and I worked on the manuscript during that year).

    Here is what I've learned so far from my ten-year journey in which I've studied how to write and sell books.

    You have never arrived. The day the editor calls doesn't mean you're locked in and will be published. The day you win the contest doesn't mean the editors will now be beating down your door. The day the powerhouse agent asks for a full doesn't mean you're going to sign with him the following week.

    And I'm guessing the day you hold your published book in hands isn't the first day of a "happily ever after" life.

    The joy is in the journey.

    I love stats. But thinking too much about the odds smothers the satisfaction that should come with creating stories.

  • Wendy Paine Miller

    >I’ve been pretty selective and I thank research for that. I can say with absolute confidence my MS is exactly where I want it to be.

    ~ Wendy

  • Charity Bradford

    >Love this post! It confirmed I've made some of the right decisions in the last six months.

    I queried last fall and got a couple of partials and two full requests. Two of those came back with a "just didn't connect with the writing" and a "you're close but get more eyes on it to tighten things".

    And that's what I've been doing. It's amazing how much a good critique partner can improve your work! I loved my book before, but now…it's gone places I didn't imagine in the beginning. And it's better than ever.

    Plan to test the waters again this summer. *fingers crossed* I'm also starting a new project *cue excitement*

  • MJR

    >I've received several requests for partials and a couple for fulls, but haven't heard from agents so I'm assuming that silence=pass. I'm not sure what to do. Without feedback I don't know if the novel is good, awful, or improvable. I'm almost at the giving up stage I guess.

  • Anonymous

    >Thanks for this post. It's very relevant to my situation right now. I've had four requests for my MS so far, two of which have turned into rejections. One of those came yesterday and had some very helpful feedback. Unfortunately, now that I'm aware of the problem, I'm expecting that the other two agents still looking at the MS will have the same issue with it. If they both come back with rejections I'm going to have to make a tough choice about how to proceed. I could edit the MS and send it out to agents I'm less excited about, or I could keep working on my latest project and send it to the same pool of agents when it's ready. I don't want to limit myself by being super picky since I know there are a lot of fantastic agents out there, but on the other hand, if I've made connections with some of my dream agents through this round of querying and they've invited me to query again with my next project, then I don't want to give up the chance of working with one of them. Do you have any advice? Am I being boneheaded in my reluctance to consider a wider pool of agents or should I hold out for the agents I really like?

  • Lacie Nezbeth

    >I'm still trying to learn all I can and perfect my ms before I attempt the query process. That is a stage of this writing journey that I really look forward to. Probably because I'll finally be on the next step. :)

  • Kristy K

    >Thanks for this post! I started reading your blog because I wanted to learn how to get published… but my biggest takeaway is that I need to put more effort into writing before I even think about publishing.

  • lynnrush

    >Great post. I learned so much from the rejections I got for the year and a half I queried. You really do have to stop and listen if you're getting requests yet no offers.

    It stings a little, but that's part of the biz. I think the key is sticking with it, working on your craft.

    It was my tenth novel that finally landed me an agent. Yeah, can we say slow learner? LOL. It's my 13th novel that's getting published. So, write on, my friends.

  • Noelle Pierce

    >I'm in this boat. I sent out queries and received partial and full requests from close to 30% of the agents I queried. I heard back from the last of them a few weeks ago. One agent suggested areas to revise and offered to look at it again when I've edited. However, I decided that book needs to go in a virtual drawer for now, while I work on the other books I've started in the interim. The feedback for my writing was excellent–it was the story in this one which was the problem. What I've noticed is that my writing has improved dramatically since that first book (the one I queried was my first ever fiction writing), as has my ability to develop characters, plot, and arcs of both. I believe I'll have better luck with a different one.

    What I learned from all this is to just keep writing, no matter what. It might not be the first book that hooks an agent, and sitting around waiting for responses just wastes time.

  • Jane Steen

    >I have one more round of revisions (and some polishing) to do before I have an MS worth querying, so no agent yet. As this book is meant to be the first of a series, I'm in a bit of a quandary as to whether to get the first draft of the second book in the series down before I query, or come up with a standalone novel in case nobody's ready to take on a series project. Both tactics have their merits, but they'll both take time.

    So I'm planning to attend my first conference with a pitch just in case, but not to be too anxious to get an agent at this stage. It seems to me that the odds of getting the right agent will improve with time, and that the more books I have under my belt, the better. I'd rather wait for the right opportunity than rush into an early chase after an agent – I know that, once I start querying, the process itself will become addictive, so right now I'd rather focus on the writing.

  • Taz

    >Ditto what Stephanie McGee said! It seems such a difficult thing nowadays to even get that look-in. The push is on-going, and so I feel like, "Why would I submit when I'm not sure how good this MS really is?" I mean, I LOVE it. The feedback's tremendous, it's more and more polished all the time. Am I stepping off the deep end of faith, or stepping on a landmine of serious cases of reality biting?

    Time to put the faith where the mouth is (or the pen) and just send the dang thing off!! God knows procrastination's a killer.

    I am determined!!

  • Susan Anne Mason

    >When I first started to think of submitting my work, my target was Harlequin and so didn't figure I needed an agent. Got a couple of rejections from the editors there and am now re-evaluating where I want to go.

    Have put a few queries out to agents, but nothing so far. Still pretty green about the whole process! Much to learn. Hopefully at my first ACFW conference, I'll learn a lot!

    Cheers,
    Sue

  • Anonymous

    >Thanks for saying this, Rachelle. It needs saying as many times as possible. There are no "odds," because this isn't a lottery.

    Vanity publishers like to tout the "odds" angle, as if there were nothing a writer could actually do to improve her chances.

    Where I am in the process? I have several books out from a major publisher, and have just gotten an agent.

    And oh, yes– it's a lot easier to get requests when you're published. But the final decision still comes down to the manuscript.

  • Cyndy Aleo

    >I think there are a lot of writers who think everyone gets an agent their first time out. I was cautious my first time out, queried a few agents to see what happened. I had great request rates, but got form rejections on fulls and partials. It stung, but I knew it was the book and not the query.

    I went back to the drawing board, tossed the draft in ABNA to get some additional crit, and started revisions. It's scary trying to revise when you don't know whether you are headed in the right direction, but I finally had a request for a full that came back with feedback that it was being rejected for exactly the reasons I was trying to revise out of it.

    I'll be querying it again soon, and I think it's a much better book having taken that nine months to take a step back, get some additional feedback, and try again.

  • Loree Huebner

    >I've put aside the 3rd book in my series, just for now, and I'm working on a book that I wrote several years back. It's nearly ready and I'm hoping to start the query process sometime right after the 4th of July holiday.

  • Jan Cline

    >Ive received requests from editors and even came close to winning one particular pub house over, but never had any kind of response from an agent. I have tried again after working on the MS and if this one doesnt bite, I will do as you suggested. I know I have a lot to learn and Im willing to learn it!

  • Krista Phillips

    >I received 2 requests from agents for fulls (well, one was a partial, then a full).

    I don't have an agent yet, but my life went kinda crazy shortly thereafter so I haven't really followed up well or tried to "get" an agent since then, as I didn't feel I could devote the time needed this past year.

    However, my baby is HOME now, and I am home too to care for her (I used to work full-time at a corporate management job, now I do contract/project work from home) so I'm praying really hard I can get into a good writing/work routine and restart the agent search soon.

    How to proceed? I'm not sure yet. I need to take a little time to take "stock" of where I'm at and pray about my next steps.

    But that "urge" to write has come back, so I'm really excited to put words to, uh, screen? again soon!

  • Christine Rains

    >My query for my paranormal romance trilogy had gotten a lot of response, but once the agents receive the full manuscript, they pass on it. Recently, one agent was kind enough to tell me the reasons why, and I made changes based on her advice. I'm still waiting to get a bite, or at least, more suggestions to improve my MS.

  • Beth

    >Very true. Thanks for pointing out that there's probably a problem with the ms if they aren't getting beyond the request for full or partial.

  • The Pen and Ink Blog

    >I'm at the query letter. I want to get one out this week

  • A. N. Rosen

    >I found most agents would not give me the time of day. I apparently can't write a query,but I can write books.
    I followed the advice of friends and self-published (I have my own professional editor and a graphic artist.) Now agents want me but I no longer need them. So what do I do, I tell them politely "no thank you" and reap the benefits of my own work alone.
    Amanda Hocking did it for years and I may need one down the road, but for now I am happy with the way my writing career is going.

  • Lauren F. Boyd

    >I'm waiting on requests for fulls from the agents to whom I have submitted, but I'm relatively early-on in the submission process. My plan is to continue to submit to literary agents and wait for responses.

    But I'm not writing the sequel until someone picks up the first one in this series, HAHA! :)

    http://laurenspathtopub.blogspot.com/

  • Heather Webb

    >I'm preparing to query very soon and am pretty nervous, like most, but I must admit I'm incredibly excited! Regardless of the outcome, I'm loving the process of it all (though rejection can be so disheartening). I'm open to suggestion and can't wait to see what type of feedback I'll receive.

  • LV Cabbie

    >An aside – for years now, I've used the awesome database provided by Patrick, the host of QueryTracker.net
    It not only allows you to follow your queries but has data provided by other members on what those agents asked for and how they then responded.
    I'm certain this is just a small sample but it lets one get a feel for what to expect.

  • Kelly Combs

    >I don't know if you remember my query "Rockin' Revelations" and our follow-up, but it eventually failed because I couldn't pull off the copyright permissions.

    I read in Sunday's paper that the TV show Glee pays between $15,000 and $30,000 per song on their show, more if it is a "popular" song. Somehow that made me feel better.

    I still want to write a devotional book, but for now I am working on becoming a contributor here and there and build my platform.

  • Sarah Forgrave

    >I've gotten requests for fulls, followed by a couple no's, and am waiting for word on the remaining fulls out there. If I get no's on these, I plan to do exactly what you recommended…set this m/s aside and keep trucking ahead.

  • Rachel Pudelek

    >I revamped my query after two rejections. The next agent I sent it to requested a full within hours of receiving my new and improved query. Three months later she told me she loved the story and my writing, but my main character lacked depth. She also said she'd like to see my future work.

    So, I got busy on the rewrite. When I was done, I emailed her to make sure she was still interested. She was and told me she'd read it ASAP. I thought it was in the bag. But, it is almost two months later and I haven't gotten a response except to say that she did receive it and apologized for not getting to it yet but that she would.

    I haven't sent any other queries out to agents because I really want her and feel lucky that she's given such great and helpful advice. But waiting stinks. ;)

  • Jackie

    >I've had three agent requests for the full MS for my most recently completed novel, all from reputable UK agents. None have offered representation, although two have made very complimentary noises about the quality of my writing etc and the third assures me she's still planning to get to my MS which she's had for a year. Of the two who were complimentary, one loved everything about the novel but thought the plot wasn't complex enough and the other had no quibbles about the plot but couldn't warm sufficiently to the main character. This same novel was given a Publishers Weekly review of the full MS as a result of being a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and the reviewer said how much she/he warmed to the characters. I've done extensive revision of the novel, some based on the feedback I've received but feel it's time to stop tinkering, get on with the next novel and keep submitting the previous one. I respect all the feedback I've received but this experience has also shown me that even the experts can only give a subjective view. At the end of it all, you have to apply your own judgment.

  • Sarah Thomas

    >I was frustrated by queries not getting any response. Was it the query? The story? The font I used?? And then I entered some contests (Genesis, The Frasier). Now I have feedback on my novel from some incredibily qualified readers. My MS has benefited greatly from some kind, thoughtful judges. They not only pointed out some flaws, but were also very encouraging about my concept. I've never enjoyed criticism so much! If you want to save your book enter contests and get a critique group. Then query.

  • lizzie

    >This is great advice…I am just starting to feel confident enough to finish up my book (after years of delaying and procrastinating with excuses not to write) and I'm nervous about looking for an agent and whether or not I'll ever be published…Your blog has really taken a lot of the "mystery" out of it for me and put it in plain terms that are, at the very least, manageable. Thanks for writing.

  • Melanie

    >This is so what i needed to see right now! I was querying for several months (queried about 40 agents total) and only got 2 partial requests. I have had my query letter torn apart and put back together in one of the harshest places ever (a thread on a writer's forum called Query Letter Hell and let me tell you, I went to hell and back and back and back until I was told the query was ready to go). I've also had this novel BETA read by 8 different people (some of whom are agented) and was told I have a very well written, unique story (X-Men meets Girl Interrupted w/a slice of Taken), but still no bite. The one comment I got from a couple of BETA readers is that the story might be better received by agents if I can get to the inciting event a little faster. So, I cut out 3 chapters from my beginning and rearranged things a bit, but after another round of R's I'm not sure what to do. So, I'm working on other projects while I mull things over and try to figure out what to do because giving up is simply NOT an option.

  • Jenni Wiltz

    >I'm in the process of submitting my third book to agents. I've had two rejections of a full, and four more requests. It's a long process, because each agent wants an exclusive read on the full, so I have to be patient and wait before sending it everywhere! In the meantime, I've started my next book…it keeps me grounded while I wait.

  • Jenny Sulpizio

    >Recently queried to a mass of agents and have had a few bites. The hardest part is waiting for sure…that and dealing with the frustration that comes with rejection. Understanding what a tough business it is, helps but ultimately, it's what I love to do. While I wait (non-fiction proposal), I am constantly fine-tuning my chapters. Unfortunately, this has me thinking that the partial I already sent off to one agent will definitely land me in the "reject" pile for sure. Hopefully not but only time will tell.

    Great post and thank you for posting it!

  • Kristin Laughtin

    >It's so tempting to try to apply statistics to this process. We can count ourselves one of the lucky few percent if we get a request or even land an agent, or comfort ourselves with the knowledge that "only" X percent does so (or freak ourselves out about the odds). The reason this doesn't work, though, is because our queries and manuscripts are so individualized. 10 people could send you awful queries, and the request rate would be 0%. Another batch could be a mixed bag and garner 4 requests, creating a 40% success rate. (Might not be too likely, but hey.) It all depends on the quality of your writing.

  • Sarah Wells

    >For my first novel I have 3 FM out with agents right now. I didn't query many though, so I'll send it out to more soon. Since that manuscript is the first of a planned series, I've been tinkering with outlines of the next ones, and have an idea for a standalone that is simmering, which I've started. At some point alone the way I remember you blogging that we should just outline the sequels until we know the first in the series sells, rather than invest a lot of time in them before we know if the idea floats. That was super helpful. So although I'm eager to hear what these agents thought, I'm pretty excited about my other projects, too.

    I'd love to hear your thoughts as to how long we should wait before following up on FMs that are out. I know agents are super busy so I don't like to bug them. Thanks for all your helpful pointers!

  • Botanist

    >This resonates with me so well. I queried for a while and got a few requests for partials, but nothing more. I came to exactly that conclusion – something in the MS needs fixing. I've been working on that ever since!

  • Heather Marsten

    >Still working on my rough draft, haven't written query yet, figure I need a solid draft and edit first. Although one agent suggested writing query for the memoir first so that an agent can help frame the way the story should go.

    I have a question. If you are asked to submit sample chapters, do they have to be the first two or three or can you submit chapter one, thirteen, and twenty or three representative chapters? In my story there are different segments, one detailing abuse, the next one detailing many new age and occult paths. The story line changes from victim toward victor. So how do you do sample chapters?

    Thanks,
    Heather

  • Terri Tiffany

    >I've gotten a few requests for fulls and partials. But I'm also starting a new book because I know I am not there yet and I think I know what is missing.

  • gillian

    >I hired an editor to go through the first draft of the ms with me and now I'm almost through rewrites. God willing, I'll start to query at the end of summer.

  • Peter DeHaan

    >When I first entered the workforce, I thought a good resume would land me a job. I didn't know that the purpose of a resume was to get an interview and the purpose of the interview was to land the job.

    I suppose in the same way, the purpose of a query is to get an "interview" (that is, a chance to show your work), the purpose of which is to find an agent or get a book deal.

    Just as a job seeker shouldn't rely on a resume to get a job, a writer shouldn't rely on the query to sell the book.

    This is a great lesson; thank you for pointing it out.

  • Brianna

    >I've submitted to 8 agents and received a rejection for one. I assume the others aren't interested either. Unfortunately, my work schedule has prevented me from proceeding with querying more agents and submitting work anywhere. I'm struggling to find a balance and time to do those things, since writing is my career.

  • GFanthome

    >I started out by submitting to agents but so few actually got back to me about my queries. So I decided to submit directly to publishers instead and found they actually get back to me – even if it's in the form of a rejection letter. It's interesting how much a simple acknowledgement gives you the push to continue submitting.

  • http://joeduncko.com/ Joe Duncko

    I haven’t even tried sending out a query for this very reason. I am not confident in my manuscript yet. I really feel as if it needs edited to be the best it can be, and my pride will not let me send it in otherwise. I’m glad this post somewhat agrees with this.

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  • http://asserttrue.blogspot.com/ Kas Thomas

    Most comments here are not answering the basic question, so I’ll try to. Here are some numbers.

    On my first novel (comedic fiction), I sent 69 queries, got 3 full reads and offers of rep. I also got 20 to 25 form-rejections, the rest silent passes.

    I am just beginning to pitch a much stronger second novel (YA paranormal). Have sent 70 queries so far. After a week I have 4 rejections. But a week is too soon to tell anything, obviously. Two of the rejections were interesting. One agent said she enjoyed reading my words and called me “a terrific writer,” but passed because of insufficient editorial/publishing connections for this specific flavor of book. Another told me the concept itself was “strong” but she just didn’t fall in love with the style. One agent loved my writing and the other didn’t. It shows how varied agents’ tastes are, I think.

  • Margie Brimer

    After my first 3 submissions I have 2 partial request and a full being considered. The anticipation keeps me in a constant state of excitement and nausea! I received the requests at a writer’s conference. How different do you think an agent’s request from a face to face pitch vs. a query? Do they hold the same weight? Also if an agent tells you to feel free to contact her if I receive other offers of representation is that so she can lay the project down or act first?

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