For the longest time, I figured when it came time to query, I’d rely on a good old-fashioned spreadsheet. Something about the rows of cold, hard data appealed to me. When I learned about QueryTracker, a site dedicated to helping querying writers find agents and publishers for their work and making it easier than ever to research, I was persuaded to join when I found myself revisiting again and again.
One of the pieces of advice I’d had pounded into my head in grad school was the kind of research querying authors should do on agents: preferred query format, manuscript wishlists, clients, agencies, genres, etc. After all, you don’t want to send your science fiction epic to an agent who only reads cozy mysteries. QueryTracker, through its various tabs and links, made it easier to navigate and research agents—find their websites, social media, wishes and wants—and figure out whether we might be a decent match.
However, the times are interesting and I can be impatient. So I was intrigued by some of the Premium features and the promise of more “revealing” data about agents. For only $25 a year, QueryTracker would give me more insider info that might lead to a good match. With the idea that I’d be in the querying trenches for a while, it didn’t seem like a bad decision. The free features themselves aren’t that limiting and many users seem to navigate them well. However, I was curious as to what was behind the curtain.
Both free and premium users have access to the agent and publisher database, can track queries in a handy spreadsheet, and have the ability to do basic searches. Free users can manage one project that they’re querying and may have the ability to see some data or comments, but not all. Premium users, however, have access to a veritable treasure trove. Not only can I see all past data for an agent (every submission request, every offer since the profile was created) but I can also see specific response times and where my query falls in their queue.
This has been particularly handy because agents are busier and more overwhelmed than ever. Not only are they receiving more queries than before (people had a lot of time to write in the past year), but—like a lot of other industries—they’re dealing with burnout and slowdowns as publishing itself readjusts. So, with the ability to see an agent’s queue and response time, the anxiety of why haven’t they answered? goes away. Some agents are months behind, and the “average” response time listed on their websites may no longer be relevant. Others are still on top of things and read quickly.
One of the Premium features I liked was the ‘Two Year Query Replies.’ Sometimes, in the midst of everything, it’s easy to feel letdown when you receive a rejection or to let imposter syndrome give you doubt when there’s success. With this category, you can see how often an agent rejects a query and how often they don’t. For example, an agent might receive 85 queries in a month—80 of those might be rejections and 5 could be submissions of some kind (partial or full). Either way, it’s a numbers game; you’re either part of that small number who made it, or the larger number who didn’t. Additionally, with the Send/Receive Report, you can see the total numbers and, by and large, many many people are rejected.
I was also weirdly addicted to the Query Timeline. Here, you can control how far back you’d like to go and which kind of queries or submissions you’d like to see, but—essentially—it can demonstrate the length of time before a reply is given. Some agents may request work quickly, then take a few days to read, and then make an offer. Others may take a long time to respond to a query, ask for a revise and resubmit, and then later reject the new submission. It gives you a big picture idea of the agent rather than a small one. You also can get a general idea of what work/genres the agent is requesting more of at the moment. Similarly, the Data Explorer, depending on how it’s used, can help you see how active an agent is, what they’re requesting, or if they’re not responding.
Now, as a caveat, using Premium to “game” the system isn’t a guarantee of anything. Agents are people with their own tastes, preferences, and wants. One day they might be in the mood for young adult fantasy and the next it’s contemporary young adult. Additionally, your work has to stand on its own—a concept can only get it so far. Judging that book you worked so hard on off of a query letter, a handful of pages, and some other information may not seem fair to you, but agents are professionals. They know what’s selling. They know writing. As quoted in You’ve Got Mail, “It’s not personal, it’s business.”
And when your writing connects with the right agent, you might be thankful that QueryTracker Premium was in your toolbox to ease some of the stress of those days/months/years in the trenches. So, yes, it’s worth it—if you’re actively querying (and you love data).