I’m writing this post for all the writers who have ever gone through the querying process, who are currently querying a book, and who will be querying sometime in the future. I feel for you. My last count had me at 167 queries, 48 rejections received, and 0 requests for a partial or full manuscript.** Many more queries have “expired,” which is what I call it when the timeframe for responding suggested in an agency’s website has passed.
I’m not here to rip into literary agents. They are inundated with query letters and need to work through them in an efficient manner. Still, the querying process can tear your heart apart, one rejection at a time. This has nothing to do with being an egotist or narcissist. When you put your soul into a manuscript that took you fourteen months to write, this become personal. Yes, everyone tells you not to take it personally. But how can you not? Sure I understand that publishing is a business and agents are looking for projects that will sell. I just wish there was a better way of doing this.
There are two ways in which your rejection is delivered. Some choose not to communicate at all. That’s right. They tell you in advance that they are too busy to find the time to communicate a rejection. So, if you haven’t heard back from them in 12 weeks or so, well try to put two and two together. I looked at the numbers and this is what I found. I received 4 rejections on the same day I sent them and 20 rejections were received within a week of sending them out. So, thank you for not keeping me hanging. The average response time was about 20 days. But I have yet to hear from 119 and I don’t expect to hear back from most of them. There are always strange outliers. For example, I received a rejection for a previous query 13 months after sending it out. Why bother responding?
Don’t expect any feedback included in your rejections. They are almost always a standard response. “This is not for me.” The only response I received that actually provided a reason for rejecting my query was that the story was too dark. It would be nice to know that story is good but not very marketable. Or that what you sent was weak and needs more work. But agents don’t see this as their role.
But to help others I’ve compiled a possible list of reasons why an agent might have rejected your query. You will need to decide which may apply to you.
- You queried the wrong agent. Many agents provide a wish list of the types of manuscripts they are looking for. You’re going to get rejected if your manuscript isn’t a great fit.
- Your query is weak. If you don’t provide the information or material they ask for or what you send doesn’t wow them, you’ll be rejected. There may be typos and grammatical errors, which will not reflect well on the author.
- The genre or story doesn’t appear to be marketable enough. Publishers need strong sales to recoup the money the put into a book.
- The agent wasn’t inspired. If the first 5 or 10 pages of your manuscript doesn’t excite them, they may feel it’s not worth reading more.
- Your manuscript is good but not quite good enough. Have you ever watched American Idol and thought a contestant was good but they are rejected by the judges? Agents are only going to accept the best.
- Sometimes it’s as simple as an agent has too much going on at the moment and you get rejected regardless of how much promise your query showed. If that’s the case, you don’t want an overwhelmed agent anyway.
When do you call it quits? You need to decide what your threshold is with respect to number of queries and time frame. I intentionally aimed high so that I wouldn’t have regrets down the road. I might wait a little longer to see if I receive any additional feedback but I won’t be sending out any more queries.
And what are your options if you can’t find an agent. Self-publishing is something many writers consider. In some cases, it’s their first options. For more on self-publishing, check out my previous post on the topic.
**UPDATE: Two days after posting this, I received a contract offer. It seems I had completely forgotten about the full manuscript request I received in late April. This only reinforces that you can never send too many queries out.