Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Query Theory 101: Successful Query Database

Successful Query Letters Database
Image: Pixabay Vonriesling
I've talked about Query Anatomy, and the Query Pitch, but for many, the best way to learn how to write a great query is by studying queries that worked. There are lots of places on the interwebs for finding sample successful queries. 

     { Check my Querying Resource Roundup for more on that }

But sometimes it's hard to find what you want. 

Maybe you only want to see queries that nabbed agents in the last 2 years, because those formats will be the most relevant. Maybe you only want to see queries that worked in your genre. Maybe you're tired of scouring the web looking for successful query letter examples that fit the bill.

So I bring you: 

The Successful Query Database


Okay, so it's more like a spreadsheet. But ... it's got links to over 370 query letters that worked, with a primary focus on queries that landed agent offers from the years 2010-2016. I'm still adding more, and in future posts in the Query Theory Series, I'll do a lot more detailed breakdowns and analysis. However, for those of you in the query trenches right now, I thought it'd be useful to share the spreadsheet as I've got a fair number of query examples in it already!

What You Can Do With The Database: Some Ideas :o)

  • Find Successful Queries for YOUR Genre / Age Category / Dream Agents 
  • See how authors with no MFA or Pub credits spun their author bios
  • Check out different formats for Last Lines, Comps, Themes, and Personalization.
  • Probably other cool stuff too!

The spreadsheet has several tabs so you can see the data organized different ways here. However, if the format is getting too annoying for you (not sure the frozen fields work in all browsers), please feel free to visit the Successful Queries Spreadsheet directly in Google Docs and view or download it (File > Download As) there :o)

Also be sure to jump down and see the Successful Query Stats after the spreadsheet in this post.


Successful Queries Database
2010-2016
 
(Note: Click to view in Google Docs
for maximum functionality)

Please drop me a comment or tweet me if you notice any errors
or know of any other queries I should add to the database! 




Spreadsheet Last Updated: June 18, 2016

*Currently, this database ONLY includes query letters that resulted in an offer of representation from a literary agent.

**I may later expand this to include queries that got agent requests because ultimately, that is the measure of success of a query, whereas an offer only comes when the manuscript also syncs with the agent. But the definition of success and what constitutes a good request rate starts to get tricky, and data start to get muddy and difficult to find. So for now, the simple definition.

NOTE: If you can't get the scroll bar to work, try these work-arounds:
(1) Click on the chart, then use page-up/page-down keyboard commands
(2) Click on the white space toward the bottom of the scrollbar to scroll down. 
Dragging the grey bar seems to work to scroll it back up

Successful Query Letter Stats

For those of you who are interested in statistics { maybe you were following my stats teaser tweets? ;o) } here are the basics from the original 355 queries in the database (as of June 1, 2016):

Average Request Rate for a Successful Query:
26% request-rate to see more material (Median)

Note: Few authors posted their full statistics, and several mentioned that they didn't want to post because theirs were on the low end, request-rate-wise, so this figure is likely skewed higher than reality. A few months back I did an anonymous poll of over 100 agented authors regarding their request rate from their successful query. It's interesting to see the wide spread there!

Average Length of the "Pitch" Portion of the Query: 
198 words (Median)
Standard Deviation: 51

Typical Number of Paragraphs in the Pitch
3 pitch paragraphs (Mode)

Loglines, Taglines, or Regular Pitch Opening:
While some used a logline (12% or  n=30), and others used a tagline (14% or n=51) at the start of their query pitch, the vast majority simply opened with their regular pitch paragraph (77% n=274).

Comps: 
Of the 284 pitches that included their 'housekeeping details' paragraph (category/genre/word count/title) where Comps would typically be included, most did include Comp Titles (61% or n=173) .... but many didn't include Comparative Titles (40%, or n=111).

Last Line of Pitch:
I'm still digging into the nitty-gritty of this, but since last lines are arguably one of the most important parts of the query pitch ... here's a sneak peek at the stats as they are now. While most successful queries used a specific choice or imperative "must-or-else" format (45% or n=157) at the end of the pitch, almost as many went for a more vague, ominous approach that hinted at impending doom, or a dark secret (42% or n=147), and there were some (particularly Romance, Issue Books, MG, & PB) that eschewed doom & gloom altogether and took a more hopeful/optimistic (9% or n=33) or voicey approach (4% or n=3). There's more than one way to end your query on a cliffhanger!

Personalization:
Because not all shared queries included personalization, these stats were a little more limited. But for the 197 that showed or at least talked about their personalized-to-agent paragraph, here are some stats:

The overwhelming majority opted to include personalization (83% or n=164), with just a few opting out (17% or n=33). This didn't necessarily mean they ALWAYS included personalization though. While a few mentioned they always or almost always included a personalized paragraph (5% or n=9), others only personalized 'sometimes' (17% or n=33). Others 'rarely' did -- opting to personalize only when they had a referral or other really strong personal connection to the agent (7% or n=13).

Most put their personalization before the pitch, right at the opening of the query (75% or n=85) to grab the agent's attention straight away, but some preferred to put it at the end (25% or n=29).


Author Bio:
Bios were another aspect of the query letter that not all authors chose to share when posting their successful query letters. However, the evidence seems to indicate that yes: putting an author bio is certainly standard (and probably would cause red flags for some agents if absent).

Out of 209 queriers that included or talked about their bio, nearly all of them opted to include an author bio (96% or n=200). Only nine queries explicitly stated that they didn't bother with a bio (4% or n=9)

Of the 112 queriers whose bios I've scoured for more details so far, it's interesting to note that only a few of the authors had an MFA (13% or n=14). Instead, others pointed different selling points:  Some held degrees in other areas, such as BAs in English, MAs, MDs, or PhDs (21% or n=23), many had already published short stories, articles, plays, or poetry (53% or n = 59), others mentioned that their manuscript had won or reached semi-finals in prestigious contests (10% or n = 11), nearly a dozen had already been agented once, and mentioned this in their query (10% or n = 11) some mentioned their editorial background or internships (5% or n=6), others noted a strong social media presence (2% or n = 2), and one mentioned that an editor at one of the Big 5 was already interested in the manuscript.

Take home message?

There are lots of  different ways to write a successful query. If you've got a your basic "housekeeping details" (age category, genre, word count, title), a query pitch of 1-3 paragraphs and about 150-250 words, and an author bio of some kind, you're off to a good start.

Personalization? Probably a good idea, and it seems like the standard place to put it is up front and center before the pitch paragraph. But sometimes personalization is too much of a stretch, and in those cases, it's probably fine to leave it off.

Loglines & Comp Titles? Do them if they fit (and/or if the agent your querying likes them), but if not? Don't sweat it! And keep in mind that these are the kinds of things that some agents love and some agents roll their eyes at, so YMMV depending on the agent!

Related Resources:

Successful Query Letters with Agent Commentary on what worked:

Writer's Digest - Successful Queries* || YA Highway - Query Series* ||

Other Successful Queries:

Query Tracker - Success Story Interviews* (those with interviews often have query at bottom of page)  ||  Quite the Query* || Agent Query Connect - Successful Queries* || Absolute Write Forums - Successful Queries* || YA Reddit - Query Letters that Worked || Query Tracker Forum - Successful Queries || Successful Queries - Carl Hackman's Blog || Queries that Worked - Suzanne Van Rooyen's Blog* || Query Letters That Worked - Sub It Club (Picture Book Queries, mostly)* ||

* = in my Successful Queries Database (2010-May 2016 queries)



I'd love to hear from you!

Know of any other successful queries I should include? Stats that would be good to calculate? What are your thoughts on pitch length/last lines/comps/personalization and/or author bios?
Notice any errors? It's 2am and I'm getting a bit loopy so there are bound to be some!

9 comments:

  1. Wow! That is an impressive database. Just--ya know, thank you for all your work. The stats are interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  2. So good!! Thank you for putting this together.

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  3. Thank you for this list. It has lots of useful information. Much appreciated.

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  4. This is really great. Last year when I was querying, one of the hardest things to track down was what worked. While there are some resources out there, I always felt like the small size was too small to be useful. So thank you. Bookmarking for next time.* ;)

    Also, can I share this?

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    Replies
    1. Of course! Always more than welcome to share any of my posts. I'm glad you found it helpful!

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  5. Great database! I just joined Absolute Write, and I'm having trouble finding the "Successful Queries" in the forums. If I enter the URLs you've provided (e.g.: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?92925-Successful-Queries&p=4902072&viewfull=1#post4902072), it takes me to a page that says "Your administrator has required a password to access this forum. Please enter this password now", and I can't seem to find the forum password anywhere. I've used the author's name and title as search terms, but that turned up nothing. I've also scanned through a "Successful Queries" thread (Publishing > Ask the Agent > Successful Queries), but can't seem to find these queries. Do you have any thoughts on where I'm going wrong? Thank you!

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  6. Hi Carissa, I found the answer to my question - pw: vista. Thanks again for the great resource!

    ReplyDelete

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