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Levels of Losing: Literary Edition

April 12, 2011

I was rereading my personal journal from 2007 and came across this tidbit.  It’s based on ESPN’s The Sports Guy’s “Levels of Losing” for sports fans about how bad losing in a particular way is.  Go to ESPN and search around and you can probably find the full column somewhere.

Anyway, this is my version, only I used John Irving novels compared to The Cider House Rules for how to determine how disappointing a book was.  It would have gone perfectly with my “Worst Tournament” posts if I’d remembered I’d written this.

Literary Levels of Disappointment:

  1. “Until I Find You” – Oh my God, what were you thinking?!!!
  2. “The Fourth Hand” – This really sucks. Nuff said.
  3. “A Widow for One Year” – Meh, it’s OK.
  4. “Son of the Circus” – It’s good, I guess.
  5. “World According to Garp” – This is as good or possibly better.

I really need to look back at this more to pilfer other good ideas I might have forgotten.  I should have remembered this before I started a writing blog:

I had this thought while walking last night that I should share my writing wisdom with the world. Then I came to my senses and realized everyone probably already knows everything I know and lots more. So what good would that do? Probably not a lot.

Oh yeah and here’s a sobering statistic for you:  According to QueryTracker’s statistics, only 8% of queries get a full or even partial request.  Which makes for a 92% FAIL rate if you’re not good at basic math.


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  1. Strangely the 92% FAIL rate makes me feel better about things. Everyone is failing, not just me!

  2. I can’t decide if this is genius or hilarity … probably both! Good stuff! :0)

  3. 92% fail rate. Awesome. That means I’m looking at about a 1 in 12 chance then. I like them odds.

  4. Assuming that I can aspire to that 8% success rate then, though, if I can put together and submit nine different queries, I have a 53% chance of getting a positive reply to at least one of them.

    For sixteen queries, the overall success odds are nearly 74%.

    Like they say, it’s a numbers game. You can keep trying, and you only need one agent to take you on. Hopefully.

    • That sounds like government math to me. My own simplistic math would say that if you send 100 queries 92 would fail. If you send 60 like I have then 55 would fail while 5 might succeed. (This hasn’t happened yet.) If you send 9 then 8 would fail. If you send 16 then 15 would fail. But then I’m not “Beautiful Mind” so maybe there’s something I’m missing.

      The point is that you’re going to have a tough go of it.

  5. I have some issues with the fail rate. For some agents, the fail rate is going to be much higher than others because they simply don’t take on new clients. I read somewhere that one agent (don’t remember who it was) had 30,000 queries last year and took 0 clients from them. That’s 100% fail rate right there.

    • Well sure and some people skew the fail rate. You might get one person who shotguns 1,000 terrible queries and one person who only sends 10 good ones. And of course it’s only based on people who have used QueryTracker and input the replies into the system. The actual percentage is probably far worse.

  6. “The actual percentage is probably far worse.” Or possibly far better — a person who sends out one query letter and gets a result is unlikely to enter that anywhere, and isn’t that what happened to Stephanie Meyer?

    I was wandering around the library the other day, and I began just noticing, for the first time, just how many books there were — I knew there were lots of books, but if you ever walk up and down the stacks and think of just how many books have been published and will be published, it’s staggering (and a little depressing) — and then to find out that only 8% of queries even get a response, imagine the far higher number of books-yet-to-be-published there are.

    Rogue, do you have stats, anywhere — you seem to be the guy to ask– on how many self-published authors hit it big? It does happen:,,20480481,00.html

    And while I’m sure I’m the next one to be featured in such an article, I’ve found it more satisfying to write whatever I want and publish it than to keep sending queries. Less remunerative, but more fun.

    Oh, and about your list: I love the concept but disagree on the rankings. I’m going to reshuffle:

    5. “A Widow for One Year” Awful
    4. “The Fourth Hand”
    3. “Son of the Circus” : okay (more interesting than the others, in some spots, and a very different type of Irving book)
    2. “Until I Find You”
    1.. “World According to Garp” – Great

    With a special place reserved for “Last Night…” because that was such a letdown. But where is “The Hotel New Hampshire?” Above Garp, right?

    • Well if you really want to know, my ratings of all Irving’s novels break down like this:

      Setting Free the Bears 3
      Water Method Man 3
      158 Pound Marriage 2
      World According to Garp 5
      Hotel New Hampshire 4
      Cider House Rules 5
      Owen Meaney 2 (I know everyone loves that one but I don’t)
      Son of the Circus 4
      A Widow for One Year 3
      Fourth Hand 2
      Until I Find You 1
      Last Night in Twisted River 1
      Saving Piggy Sneed (short stories) 3–the stories are 4 but the “autobiography” is 2 so it averages out

      I’ve gotten the same feeling walking around B&N or Borders. There are so many books out there already–who really needs one more?

      I don’t have the stats on how many eBooks are hugely successful, but I’m pretty sure the numbers are not great. For every Amanda Hocking there’s probably 10, 20, 100 who might sell a couple hundred tops and only because they charge 99 cents–like me!

  7. Yep. Depressing.

  8. True…there are a ton of books. I however wanted to chime in on this comment debate with a lot of the books you are seeing are copycats. There are thousands of Twilight knockoffs. The same goes for YA dystopian…there is an ocean of YA dystopian novels with the female protagonist forming the love triangle of two men that deeply want to boink her brains out…she sighs a lot, and somehow manifests super powers. And these will continue to dominate the market because it is what sells and SELLS BIG.

  9. BTW, I think this proves my point from yesterday. This was a real nothing post and yet it has as many (or more) views and comments as much longer posts.

  10. Not really as it is the same people posting. Your point is not proven. It is merely serving as a “forum” for publishing discussion.

  11. The numbers can only get more depressing because of the 8% that get full or partial requests, how many of those become acceptances? Ugh. But, it’s all about perseverance, right? (I’m getting a little tired of perseverance, but not ready to jump off!)

  12. Lisa Potts permalink

    Obviously, hope springs eternal or we all would just be writing for our dogs, or ourselves or something like that. I cannot comment on your rankings because I’ve only read one of the novels on your list.

  13. Thanks so much for your glowing optimism. I feel SO much better about my upcoming queries now. Lol.

    ❤ Gina Blechman

    • I just got a full request, so that makes 1 request out of 20 responses or a 95% fail rate, which was better than 100%. There’s your glowing optimism.

      • Lisa Potts permalink

        Congrats! Keep us posted and think positive (I mean that. I wasn’t just being sarcastic).

  14. In case anyone’s wondering, the 1 full came from a modified “Straight, No Chaser” version of it.

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