What to do when your query isn’t getting you requests

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

You went over your query many times, and you were sure it was beautifully written. You sent it out to your list of agents, and now one-to-two months have passed and you haven’t heard anything. What do you do next?

First, I suggest you check out the submission guidelines on the agents’ webpages to make sure you followed the guidelines. If you didn’t, resubmit your query the proper way for every agency you initially sent to the wrong way.  If you did send the right way, and the guidelines say you should receive a reply, send a polite email checking on the status of your query.

rejectedIf you sent your query letters properly, and there is still no word or you’ve received rejections, next, I’d suggest you have a critique partner look at your query. Does it grab your critique partner’s attention? Does he or she believe it shares just the right info to tell the agent about you and your project in one typed page? Also, have your critique partner look at the formatting to make sure there’s nothing obnoxious happening with the type when the query email is sent. Sometimes agents won’t even consider a project if the fonts are messed up or if it’s written in all capitals.

Next, consider revising your query to highlight a unique hook and why you are the author to write this book. For example, if you are writing a parenting book, what kind of platform are you bringing to the table? Some of these genres are very competitive, so you need to prove that your book will stand out in the market. If your platform or book might not stand out, take a step back from submitting query letters and build up that platform or revise your book in a way to make it unique.

If you do significantly revise your manuscript, you can send your query letter off to your initial list of agents again. Be sure not to continually pester the agents with query letters or you will likely be put on that agent’s “blacklist” and it will ruin your chances of ever approaching that agent with a new idea.

If you continue not to get responses, it’s likely because your book isn’t a good fit for the current market. It doesn’t necessarily mean that book will never be published, it just might not be the right timing. You should put that book on the back burner and turn your attention to something new.

Do you have critique partners look at your query letters and proposals?

Have you ever revised a query letter and had more success the second time around?

Enjoy your weekend!

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24 Comments

  • Rachel, do you recommend sending a query or, if possible, trying to meet the agent at a writing conference and sharing your story in person?

    • Good question, Shelli!

      My guess would be that the personal pitch is far more effective, since you’ve taken the trouble to actually BE there, rather than just writing and emailing.

      It shows more commitment to the process, and holds the promise of greater professionalism along the journey to publication, and beyond.

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      A personal pitch is more likely to get a request. Query letters can work though! I have found clients through query letters.

  • One suggestion I would make is to blind-copy (bcc) yourself on your query letters. That way, you’ll -

    a) know that the query did go when you clicked ‘send’ (I’ve had a lot of trouble with this lately)

    b) have some assurance that the formatting was not shredded as it went through the server

    There would seem to be one more “why the query didn’t pull” category, and that is the circumstances in which the individual agent is working -

    * The agent may have a nearly full stable, and her criteria have gotten very tight, in terms of genre and/or quality

    * Your query may have hit at a bad time (difficult negotiations, multiple deadlinescoming due simultaneously, etc.), and was summarily rejected to ‘clear the decks’. Remember that new queries will always be coming in. and an agent might not be practically able to save yours for later, when things quiet down.

    * A good agent will take on projects for which she shares at least some of the author’s passion. An agent for whom Victorian or Edwardian settings are a bore may be able to appreciate your work, but she’ll hardly be the right choice to represent you – and she’ll know it. It doesn’t mean your book is wrong for the market; it’s just wrong for that agent.

    * Finally, remember that the first paragraph of your query are the most important 20-30 or so words you’ll ever write.

    For example -

    “I’m Sam Hill, and I’d like to offer you my recently completed novel, “Love on Strike.” is a stock introduction, and it’s set a tone for pedestrian thinking and incipient boredom.

    “Can you fight so hard for what’s right that you miss what’s vital?” is more engaging, and asks a question that demands some sort of mental (and hopefully, emotional) response from the agent. There’s plenty of room later for title and word count

    Have a great weekend, Rachel – you’ve helped a lot of us today!

  • Hmmm, my critique partner and I recently revamped our query letters. Now to see if the agents think it’s the improvement that we do.

  • Jim Lupis says:

    Thank you for the much needed information, Rachel.

    Do you ever find items writers put into a query letter that they shouldn’t?

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      All the time! A lot of writers have a hard time staying focused on what bio information is relevant to their book. For example,while it’s nice to know how many kids and grandkids an author has, that’s something I can find out later. I’d rather know more about how an author plans to market the book, etc. (Unless you’re writing a book about being a wonderful grandparent.)

  • Elissa says:

    I like the last paragraph best. Sometimes it’s not the manuscript or the query; it’s just bad timing. Many writers have trouble letting go of a project and moving on. It’s good to be reminded that moving on doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve abandoned that project. You’ve just set it aside until the timing is right.

  • I had all kinds of people look at my query letters and also, I made sure the letter was agency specific when I sent it.
    Not paying attention to agency requirements the first time red flags you for when you may want to re-query, and poof goes your chance.

  • Linda Sandifer says:

    When an agent asks for a sample to be put in the body of the email, I copy and paste those pages from my Word document but they invariably go from double-spaced text to single spaced. I worry that if I try to reformat in gmail, it’ll really mess it up on the agent’s end. Do you see the single spacing as a reason an agent might not want to read past the query letter?

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      No, single spacing is fine. It’s when half the words are little boxes instead of letters and the font size varies from 4pt to 24 pt that I get frustrated.

      • Linda Sandifer says:

        Thanks, Rachel. I often send it to a friend first to see how it’ll “translate,” but that is still no guarantee.

    • Linda, I think Word may have a template specifically for email. I’ve never used it, but it should make the transition easier.

      • Linda Sandifer says:

        I’ll have to look into it, Andrew. I hate Word, but unfortunately, it seems to be the standard.

  • It’s rare that I send out a query without having my critique partners look at it. I know I am destined to miss something or not be clear about a certain aspect of the book simply because I’ve read it dozens of times.

  • Thank you for that wonderfully informative post! I am actually in the process of revising the query letter for my first novel right now. I’ve re-written much of the story and have changed it from adult sci-fi/fantasy to a YA mystery with sci-fi/fantasy elements. Is it a good idea to re-query some of the agents I had approached with the previous version of the novel? I have created a completely new query letter – is there any chance they will read it or are they likely to delete my email when they see a title they rejected earlier?

    • It sounds to me as if the changes you’ve made have turned it into fundamentally a new book, so why not change the title, too?

      A lot of books – most, I think, if I correctly remember what Rachelle Gardner said – wind up with titles different to those which they carried in the query anyway.

  • Great post, and it’s so interesting–even having a non-author read your query can be enlightening. I thought my first query was stellar until a reader friend read it and showed me how it was pretty boring! We juiced that thing up and…it landed my first agent. Definitely get outside eyes on any query before submitting. Sometimes what you say comes off the wrong way and a reader/critter can catch that.

    Only other thing–I’d say keep it on the short side, if possible. Agents have limited time and I figure it’s easier to read something concise than a long email that includes unnecessary details. :)

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