Sometimes authors have no idea how many queries agents or how we choose projects. I wanted to do a compilation of some 2018 stats and what I saw that I liked and didn’t like in queries along with a few things to keep an eye out for when you query literary agents in 2019 to improve your chances. These stats focus on fiction since fiction dominated my slush. Going into 2019 I plan to hunt down some great nonfiction projects.
First of all, I got hundreds of queries this year even with only opening to queries in September. November was my busiest query month with 252 queries. Things slowed down in December to about 190 queries. This was likely due to many other agents closing for the month and people taking a break for the holidays. This is what makes it hard to stand out in the slush, the sheer number of subs agents receive. Make sure your query is on point before sending it out. I saw a lot of queries that left out stakes or got too convoluted or even focused on themes instead of plot or left out the plot altogether. Avoid these mistakes because they make a project easy to pass on.
Keep your query concise and don’t leave out the stakes. Make sure your query is only one page long and if you find yourself passing the 300 word mark take time to evaluate if everything is needed. I saw a lot of really long author bios with info that wasn’t needed. Give us your credentials if you have any, but no need to tell us what inspired the book or that your friends and family love it (as an agent I’ve learned to never trust friends and family. They aren’t publishing professionals and don’t want to hurt feelings). If you have no publishing credentials just tell us this is your debut book and where you live or what genres you write in if you write in more than one genre. Don’t tell us its the first book you’ve ever written. I’ve noticed authors love to point that fact out and it’s a huge red flag to me as an agent because the first book is usually not ready to be published.
When it came to genres I received the most queries in young adult fantasy. No surprise there since fantasy is usually a popular genre. However this also meant that I saw many fantasies with similar themes that made some of those queries blend together for me and not stand out. Some of those those themes included assassinating royalty, helping royalty save kingdoms, and well a lot of royalty stories in general. I saw a lot of Beauty and the Beast retellings with a few Cinderellas sprinkled in. I also saw a lot of dystopian that was a little too similar to The Giver or The Hunger Games. Lots of evil governments and mindless citizens. A lot of people trying to get political about Trump and mimic him with their bad guy. In thrillers I saw a lot of terrorists and Russian villains.
The next most popular genres were adult fantasy and historical fiction. Stories about WWII or WWI tended to dominate this pile. Historical fiction is definitely skewed in my stats compared to other agents because I love historicals. Historical is a small community so those agents who accept it get a lot of it simply due to the low numbers of agents who accept it. Unfortunately that makes it harder yet for historical authors since agents like me try to keep diverse lists, so I only have so many spots for historical manuscripts even though I get enough of it to build my whole list on. I’ve signed a few adult historical projects in 2018 and so now I’m hunting for YA historical and historical romance in 2019.
Out of the submissions I requested, I often requested because they felt fresh in that they stood out from everything else in my query inbox (for example a regency romance with light fantasy) or reminded me of some of my recent favorites (like Circe) while not being too similar. In romance I gravitated toward stories where there were high stakes outside of the romance and where plot lines weren’t dependent on communication issues. For all queries I requested on, the plots grabbed me right away in the query letter and made me want to see how everything played out. The subs I offered on felt polished and didn’t need much help on a line editing basis, mostly just some light developmental edits.