There were other ways we could have crunched data -- female protagonists vs male protagonists vs animal protagonists (yes, we get animal queries, no, we're not quite sure what to do with them) or agent vs unagented submissions -- but that felt occasionally invasive and universally like too much work.
I think the biggest draw for those who requested on Twitter that we run stats again, is curiosity. While those submitting to the next go-round can certainly learn from the mistakes of #QueryFail or QueryOops! there is no magic formula for success to be found in these numbers. If only it were that simple. (And if there is a reason you love to look at these numbers that I've not thought of, feel free to leave it in the comments. Unless it's mean. In which case, take your mother's advice on silence. And failing that, take my mother's advice on silence.)
Queries received in total: 88
Length of query period: 30 days
Received before/after period: 2
Received as a result of an #SFFpit request: 17
Gender of writers submitting queries (as best we could tell by their names and occasionally by the pictures associated with their email addresses).
- Male: 36
- Female: 45
- Unknown: 7
Sub-genre of Speculative Fiction
- Speculative Fiction (as in, we couldn't specify further): 5
- Science Fiction: 27
- Fantasy: 42
- Primary-world fantasy (e.g. contemporary fantasy, alternate history, urban fantasy): 24
- Second-world fantasy (e.g. high fantasy): 15
- Dimension hopping (e.g. portals between primary-world and second-world): 1
- Science-Fantasy: 2
- Sub-genres we don't publish (e.g. surrealism, psychological horror, ghost novels): 8
Other Elements (as described by authors in the query letters).
- Humor: 4
- Myth or fairy tale: 6
- Paranormal: 5
- Space opera: 6
- Romance or romantic elements: 10
- Novel: 57
- Novella: 21
- Collection: 3
- Anthology proposal: 1
Heavyweights and Lightweights. The sweet spot for a first novel is 70,000-90,000 words, generally speaking. Speculative fiction often opens that range up to 70,000-110,000 words. At World Weaver Press we also accept novella submissions. According to SFWA, a novella ends at 40,000 words, at which point it becomes a novel. But that area of 40,000-65,000 words is still a gray area in terms of how the story reads. Is it a fully satisfying novel, or is it a lengthy short? The feel becomes very important in these lightweight situations. I was amused this month to see works just a smidge over 40,000 words assert their noveldom while works of 50,000 words asserted they were really novellas. On the far end of the spectrum, anything over 110,000 words really tips the scales for us. We start wondering how we can modify our usual print format to accommodate the heavyweight novel without pushing the paperback price-point beyond a reasonable place.
- Lightweights: 9 (42,000, 45,000, 50,000, 51,000, 56,000, 59,000, 60,000, 61,000)
- Heavyweights: 10 (118,000, 120,000, 124,000, 124,000, 130,000, 138,000, 142,000, 145,000, 149,000, and a scale crushing 174,000)
Storytelling choices. This time around I didn't collect data on POV and verb tense. This resulted from two factors. (1) It took me a lot longer than I care to admit to compile the data already on this page. (2) Of the first 15 manuscripts I collected POV/verb tense data on, 13 were third person past tense (bless your hearts!) and 2 were first person past tense.
- Prologues (or other introductory passage): 8
Audience/Target Market. Anything without a teenager protagonist we dubbed "general adult" for purposes of this data.
- General Adult: 55
- New Adult: 9
- Young Adult: 23
- Middle Grade: 1
Responses. Personal responses from the editors range from a single sentence to multiple paragraphs depending on what our editors could succinctly say as to what intrigued and/or troubled them about a query and sample pages.
- Requested full manuscripts: 7
- Requested partial manuscripts: 4
- Declined queries: 77
- Declined queries that received personal responses: 14
- Declined queries that received requests to submit future projects: 7
- Re-write requests: 0
- Authors who asked for feedback after receiving a form rejection: 1
- Authors who refuted feedback provided in personalized responses: 3
A note on how to read a personalized response:
I spend a lot of thought trying to decide if I can articulate why I'm declining a novel succinctly and kindly. If I can't do it briefly, then I can't do it in a passing email, so I won't. Also consider that we do not request pages for one single reason; we do not decline a query for one single reason. If we list one reason in a reply, that's because it seems the most pertinent and hopefully the most useful to the writer. No reply is necessary. Any reply beyond a thank you for response, I'll be taking it into consideration as I continue to query accomplishes nothing more than making me grumpy as I read the next query (which the rest of the slush pile certainly doesn't appreciate).
All responses I send are meant kindly, and should be taken as such. But every time I receive a pissy email in reply to a personalized rejection, I am less inclined to bother putting forth the effort on the next rejection. When you don't agree with why an editor has declined your work because the reason she gives isn't "what your story is about," you need to stop and ask why did this person, this trained reader who loves fiction and has chosen to spend her whole day and her weekends and the odd hours of her night reading queries and manuscripts not seen in my work what I expected her to see? Why is there discord? I'll give you the short answer: because the author's intent was not clearly communicated on the page. This is a great hint, a clue, as to where to start revising (the manuscript and/or the query letter). This is not a hint to write me an email explaining the choices you've made because I'm done, I'm already on to the next thing. Brutal? Perhaps. But in February 26.6% of queries received personalized responses from me; in June, it was only 15.9%. The negative onions are wearing me down and making me wary.
- In June we accepted a project from Rhonda Parrish! This title-to-be-determined second-world fantasy was submitted during the February reading period. As of this posting, it is the only February manuscript to have been accepted. (These things take time. At least in this house they do.)
Response time (initial response to query letter)
- Shortest: 1 day
- Longest: 18 days
- Requested manuscripts: 12.5%
- Partial: 4.5%
- Full: 7.9%
- Total declined: 87.5%
- Declined queries receiving personal responses: 15.9%
- Queries receiving requests to submit future projects: 7.9%
Stats on Requested Manuscripts.
- Resulted from an #SFFpit Tweet: 3
- Author Gender
- Male: 1
- Female: 9
- Speculative Fiction Sub-genre
- Science Fiction: 5
- Fantasy: 6
- Primary-world fantasy (e.g. contemporary fantasy, alternate history, urban fantasy): 2
- Second-world fantasy (e.g. high fantasy): 4
- Other Elements
- Humor: 2
- Myth or fairy tale: 0
- Paranormal: 1
- Romance / romantic elements: 1
- Novel: 10
- Novella: 1
- Storytelling choices
- Prologue: 0
- Audience / Target Market
- General Adult: 5
- New Adult: 1
- Young Adult: 5
Query Fail. I didn't compile stats on query letters gone wrong, just a laundry list this time around. While #QueryFail isn't certain death for a submission should we see something we absolutely must pursue, it does make it a whole lot harder to find that spark to light our fire. And the whole point of querying is come on baby light my fire -- not any other song by The Doors. We hold to the notion that a query letter should contain a "pitch" of the story (much like the paragraphs on the back cover of a paperback), and the pitch should be integrated into the letter itself; some information about the story's market (YA, NA, Adult, what sub-genre of speculative fiction, word count); and maybe one or two lines about the author. This, as per our guidelines should be followed by a 5,000-word writing sample (i.e. the opening of the manuscript) that's not an attachment (that's an us-thing as other people may be happy to spend their day downloading attachments, we are not). We lay everything out on our submissions page, and for the most part, everyone sends us what we ask and avoids stuff that we don't ask for.
- Queries that didn't have a query/pitch and, occasionally, no letter
- Attachments of "cover art" -- This one left me shocked!
- Submissions that did not include a 5,000-word sample, or included the wrong type of sample: 4
- Letters that referencing our dedication to horror or refuting our psychological horror policy (psychological horror is clearly the one we don't do, see guidelines)
- Letters addressed "Dear Sir/Madam"
- Letters that misspelled the editor's name(s) -- yikes, there were a lot of these!
- Letters asking for our "agency" to "represent" their novel -- we're publishers, we publish novels.
I did see some rather clever work-arounds to the "Dear Editor" or "Dear Madam" fail, including "Dear World Weaver" and my favorite, "Dear World Weavers." Although, our names are on the submission page, if your copy and paste commands (clt+c and clt+v) work, there should be no excuse to spell an editor's name wrong.
When thinking about what went wrong and what went right, Stephanie Sauvinet, Reading Editor adds:
I'm probably repeating myself from Twitter but the usual crucial
balance of an opening is important, the right middle between info
dumping/boring the reader and the in medias res beginning where the
reader is totally lost. Be mindful of word-counts (I'm saying that
because one of the SFFpit subs was 174K.) Also, always include target
audience and genre (and YA is not a genre!) Also, do not say at the
end of your query that you would be grateful for any feedback. If
agents/editors have time and want to give you feedback, they will, no
need to state the obvious that it's appreciated. I think in general
I'd like to say that authors need to realize submitting to a small
press doesn't mean you shouldn't be professional or follow guidelines
(like the authors submitting ghosts stories when we clearly state we
don't want them.)