The other night, mr kk and I watched Morgan Freeman’s show, “Through the Wormhole.” The March 12, 2014 episode was titled, ‘Is Luck Real?’ Some of the content was way beyond my comprehension–statistics and such–but the part about sample size sunk in, and got me thinking about queries and luck and all that good stuff.
After querying EFFIN’ ALBERT, albeit tentatively, and receiving back a string of rejections, I found myself mired in that sick, familiar feeling of hopelessness. I’d worked hard on that query, wrote different versions of the thing, put it through Query Letter Hell over at Absolute Write. While no specific consensus was reached relative to POV, or even target audience, I took a risk and drafted a query I thought was the best of all worlds, kept the voice strong and proceeded to send that bad boy out to literary agents. Not too many, though. I was testing the waters, seeing what kind of responses I’d get.
First day, one rejection. Then, responses started trickling in. Nobody was biting. Nobody. So I reworked the query, toned down the voice. Sent a few more out. . .
Ergo, quiet desperation. Doubt, rearing its ugly head once again. Second-guessing my ability to draft a decent query, a decent novel; doubting my writing abilities. Concluding once again that yeah, I royally suck.
Then I watched that Morgan Freeman show and I had an epiphany of sorts: What if the problem had nothing to do with my query and everything to do with–
Before I say anything else, I have to mention a certain friend of mine, a fine writer who is also knee-deep in the querying process right now. She blogs as mrs fringe: http://mrsfringe.wordpress.com/ , damn fine blog I’ve mentioned before; damn fine writer and damn fine friend. She basically told me what I’m about to tell you, told me more than once, made me promise to get off my duff and send out more queries. To wit:
The thing is, Cherry (and Albert, for that matter) are so very specific, I think you’re hobbling yourself to only query agents that specifically state x, y, and z. I wouldn’t send either to agents who only rep romance or sci fi, but I would query *every* agent that states lit fic for both, as well as commercial for Albert. Casting a wide net is not the same as carpet bombing, imo.
It’s true, the more submissions you send out, the more rejections you’ll get (including forms, and no responses at all), but it also broadens the opportunities for requests. In other words, if you send to 20 agents, and get 1 or 2 requests, everything rides on the mood, schedule, list, connections, or 1 or 2 agents. But if you send to 100 agents, and get 10-12 requests, the percentage is the same but your odds increase.
I know, mrs fringe. And I did listen. But what I’m about to recount has Morgan Freeman backing it up and dammit, I’m a sucker for anything Morgan Freeman tells me. Consider this blog post proof that you, mrs fringe, are indeed one smart cookie. Right up there with my ol’ pal Morgan. I mean, look at that face.
Back to it. Say you write a novel, pretty decent, ship the thing to betas, revise, rework, declare it “done” and start querying. You send out six queries initially and then you wait. Eventually, you hear back from six literary agents.
Bad luck? Bad query? Bad novel? Do you suck or did you prove the law of probability: your data’s faulty because your sample wasn’t big enough? Increase the number of queries you send out, see if your query gets any positive bites from that larger group. Chances are, it will.
Math has never been my strong suit. I find it hard to grasp complex mathematical concepts sometimes but Morgan Freeman explained it to me in a way I kinda, sorta understood. Caveat: my understanding of that Wormhole episode may be totally off the mark. Anyhoo, here’s how I understand it: A really good basketball player, maybe a guy with a 40% three-pointer rate, shoots seven or eight in a row, nothing but net. Folks know he’s good but now they say he’s really hot–in the zone. Or maybe he’s really damn lucky.
Another player, same three-point stat average, shoots seven or eight baskets and misses every time. How do you explain that? Maybe he lost his mojo. Maybe he really does suck. Or maybe it’s bad luck. Maybe.
Not so fast. According to Freeman, luck had nothing to do with either run and neither string “means” anything. Eventually, the player with “good luck” is going to miss a string of three-pointers, and the player with “bad luck” is going to get hot and hit a bunch in a row. Track both players scoring over time and you’ll see that they both average around 40% success making three-pointers. Freeman says if you have a string of bad luck–or, conversely, a string of really good luck–all that means is your sample size isn’t big enough. Increase your sample size, you’ll increase your odds either way. It’s the law of averages.
Which brings me back to querying. Skill has to matter, right? And Freeman wasn’t discounting skill, his example players were talented guys who practiced all the time. They made, on average, four three-pointers out of every ten. (Btw, please don’t quote these stats, I’m generalizing here based on my limited comprehension skills and I didn’t take notes, so. . .)
Let’s assume skill is a given; that I possess a fair amount of writing skill. If I send out ten queries and get one partial request and nine rejections, does that mean I suck? NO. It means I need to send out more queries. If the data holds, if I send out twenty queries I might get two positive responses. Send out a hundred, I might get ten. Ten requests for partials and fulls isn’t too shabby. Ten requests would make me a happy camper, raise my spirits, wet my whistle, put a bounce in my step and a song in my hard little heart.
Of course, the flip-side to this scenario is that if I send out twenty queries and get my heart stomped on twenty times, I may need to revisit that query of mine. And if I send out 100 queries and get 100 rejections, I may need to make an appointment with a shrink to deal with those delusions of grandeur that keep me writing despite the fact that nobody–and I mean NOBODY–wants to read my stuff.