Friday, January 7, 2011

We Haven't Got What it Takes

Most blogging literary agents discuss the proper way to write a query letter at some point or another. Some literary agents dedicate their blogs to that purpose, reviewing query letters and redlining anything they see wrong. Authors seeking publication seem to hang on every word. However, in response to a post by Rachelle Gardner that stated that she had received 10,000 query letters last year and had taken on 0 new clients as a result of those query letters, an Anonymous commenter said:

That's why it's so funny - it's like the lie has been put to the whole query thing.

What I always thought I knew instinctively about this aspect of publishing is true - the query system is a fruitless endeavor.

The stats bear this out. All the blog posts, and all the discussion, and all the fussing about what particular agents prefer in a query - it amounts to nothing.

It demonstrably amounts to nothing, according to these statistics.

There is a little truth in what this person said. I think literary agents are spending way too much time on the subject of the ideal query letter. In some cases, I think it is their way of venting the frustration they feel toward authors. Obviously, if you expect to go the traditional route of submitting to an agent who submits to a publisher who pays an advance, a good query letter helps. But the nature of the industry is such that it is a little like the state lottery, in that the odds of winning are only slightly improved if you play. In fact, with the publishing industry, that may be even more true, since there are plenty of example of books that began as self-published endeavors and were later picked up by traditional publishers. When it comes to traditional publishing, it is getting to the point that many people are asking the question of whether they want to play at all.

There aren’t any easy answers. The publishing industry is about champions. No one can write about what anyone can do to succeed in the publishing industry because that would many that everyone would succeed. That isn’t possible. It is much like a race. If ten people are running, only one will be the winner. We can give all ten some general advice about how to win a race, but only one will take use that advice to win the race. It doesn’t make the advice wrong for the other guys, but they didn’t have what it takes. Sadly for authors, most of us don’t have what it takes. Perhaps we could find an advisor who can help us get what it takes, but that advisor can’t do that for everyone.