How many queries does it take to land an agent?

One, right?

(Not including all the flawed queries, or those unfortunately sent to all the wrong agents.)

This is a burning question that pains all of us unpublished authors: What will it take to land an agent? How many hooks should we bait to catch that one big… (no, I’m not going to call an agent a fish. Not me!) … angel of the written word?

The agents tell us, and appropriately so, that a million isn’t enough if the book just isn’t good enough; if it’s not finished and thoroughly rewritten and edited; if the query letter isn’t clear, distinctive, professional and alluring; if we haven’t done our homework before selecting agents; or if we haven’t done enough networking. Or whatever.

Fair enough. But none of that tells us how long we keep going on faith before we should take the hint. Or better, until our line goes taut and our reel starts spinning.

This seems to be the consensus answer: 50-100.

At least, that’s what I find, based on what I can find.

There are a lot of personal admissions that show up in comments, tweets and other places that fall in that range.

Looking for something less anecdotal, I found writer Jenna Wallace, who twice has tallied writers’ admissions on Query Tracker’s Success Stories and published her findings on her blog, Writing in the Dreamstate, detailing each story and summarizing the results. Her findings:

In her 2011 post, she looked at 34 stories and found the average number of queries was 68, and the median was 45. In 2010 she looked at 30 and found the average number of queries was 57, the median was 47. In both cases, there were several writers who had gone through more than 100 queries and succeeded.

In 2009, on Ask A Literary Agent, agent Noah Lukeman of Lukeman Literary Management and author of The First Five Pages, recommended a writer send out 50-100, and to send out 100-150 if he can identify that many appropriate agents for the work.

Then there are the anecdotes. I saw a writer tweet this morning — the inspiration for today’s post — that she had sent out 538 queries before getting representation.

538! She’s my hero, when it comes to faith and determination.

On the other hand, there are the stories of famous authors, many of whom are handily compiled on a post on agent Michelle Witte’s Read. Write. Edit. blog. J.K Rowling, 1 agent, 12 publishers. Stephanie Meyer, 15 queries. Nicholas Sparks, 25 queries for The Notebook (and countless for a 2nd novel.) There are more, going up to 76 for Jasper Fforde.

I’ve only sent out 17 so far for The Murder Plague, though more will be going out in a couple of days. For Eve’s Swath, I never really counted but the total was several dozen. I didn’t give up on that book. I simply moved on once I had completed TMP.

Oops. Is that the sort of thing a savvy writer keeps to himself? Nah. They know. They know what we go through. They know when we say, “You’re the agent I’ve always wanted! You’re the one for me!” that we’ve probably said that before. Lots of times.

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