Not Getting Query Interest? This might be why.

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

If you are submitting query letters into the sea of literary agents and editors and you aren’t getting any bites, the reason could be one of these below. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that your query is one in hundreds that agents or editors receive each month, so the competition is fierce.

Here are four reasons your query might be passed up:

1) You’ve written about a perennial topic without a unique angle or strong platform.

You decided to write about parenting, marriage, prayer, dieting or some other large topic but you are not the expert in the field and/or you don’t have a unique approach. It’s extremely difficult to find a unique angle on these overdone topics, so approach perennial topics cautiously. If you aren’t an expert with a large following, your time and energy might be better spent writing something else.

2) Your query letter is poorly written.

Maybe you didn’t take the time to spell check or to ask some beta-readers to take a look and give you feedback. Or perhaps you didn’t follow the query guidelines listed on the agency or publishing house website. Maybe you wrote the entire letter with CAPS LOCK on or you didn’t do justice to your story in your brief description. If you don’t do well with a one-page letter, how confident is an agent or editor going to feel about your ability to write a quality book?

3) The topic wasn’t right for the agent or editor you submitted to.

Sometimes your query is beautifully written and on a great topic and it is still rejected. Most of the time this is because the story or project didn’t grab the interest of the agent or editor. They might have been mildly interested, but they might be mildly interested in 50 of the query letters that came that month. You need to find the agent or editor who really gets your idea and this can take time.

4) You wrote your book for a niche market.

I received a query last week for a book that was heartfelt and powerful, but it was specifically aimed toward a support community for one type of cancer. This book was unlikely to be salable and so I couldn’t take it on. Publishing houses are always looking for books that can appeal to a broad readership, so be careful about limiting yours. There are some publishing houses that do publish books for specific niche markets, but your best bet is to keep your potential audience as big as you can.

How do you make sure your query is the best it can be before sending it out into the world?

7 Responses

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  1. Amanda Wen says:

    My CP is a multi-published author who’s gone through the process before, so I send my queries to her before I do anything else. She’s pointed out things I need to add, take out, etc. I’ve also done a lot of “how to query agents” research and feel like I’ve put together a pretty solid query.

    The age-old frustration for authors, of course, is when a query is rejected, we often don’t know why. If it’s something in the query itself, then obviously we would want to fix that before we send it to any other agents. But if the problem is with the project itself; i. e., if the topic doesn’t grab the interest of that specific agent, but might for another, or if the angle isn’t unique enough or if the book is written for too narrow and audience, then it would be helpful for authors to know that as well. I realize agents don’t have time to respond to each query at all, much less provide feedback on why they were rejected, so I’m not sure what the solution is. All I know is that when a query is rejected, and I have no idea why, I don’t know whether there is any point in continuing to query agents with the existing query/project in hopes that I just haven’t queried the right agent yet, or whether the problems lie deeper and I need to rework the query, the proposal, or the project itself.

    Thanks for an insightful post, Rachel!

  2. I suppose it makes sense to put the same agent’s name in the salutation as is in the email address. Been there, done that, and wear the t-shirt with a certain perverse pride.

  3. Good things to remember. Thanks, Rachel. I think perhaps my stories are weirdly unique and just don’t match up well with particular publishing pros. There are two in particular that I just love and am hoping that if I revise them enough times, I’ll find a match for them. Here’s to hoping.

    • Wear the Weird with pride, Kristen. Ain’t no one never built no monument to normal.

    • Carol Ashby says:

      How does an agent decide where to draw the line in the continuum between the good weirdly unique and the bad uniquely weird? I’ve always hated the game of “bring me a rock and I’ll tell you IF it’s the wrong rock but not WHY.” I’m glad you’re going to keep trying with those stories, Kristen. I like weirdly unique myself.

  4. JuliaKovach says:

    I’m saving this so when I’m ready to submit my first query, I’ll remember your advice. Thanks!

  5. Jeanine Lunsford says:

    Your “best bet” advice is just what I needed to hear … Thank you, Rachel Kent.