Agent Monday: Should I Keep Querying?

Young Boy at School Raising His Hand to Answer in ClassHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Believe it or not, the October issue of Writer’s Digest is now on the stands!  It’s their “get an agent” issue, and in it you’ll find an article I’ve written, “It Has Merit, But…” that details the 10 top reasons why agents pass after requesting a full manuscript.  It also details possible fixes for each of those 10 points, so I hope you’ll get a chance to check it out.  Rejections sting, no doubt about it.  And sometimes it’s very hard to keep going. So in today’s post, let’s tackle a question I get a lot: Should I Keep Querying?

Some people who ask me this question do so with a heavy sigh, but when I ask them how many queries they’ve sent out they say 15, and expect me to be impressed.  Really? The answer to that one is yes, keep querying, you’ve just begun.

Some people tell me that they’ve sent out 50 queries and have either gotten no reply at all or a form reject.  To these people I say look at your query and fix it.  Chances are pretty good it needs work.  And look at your list of agents – did you select them carefully, or are you just sending out to anyone?  Target your query, tighten your query, and send it out again.

And other writers tell me that they haven’t gotten even a single rejection.  Just no response at all.  To this, I raise my eyebrow.  Sure, some agents are so swamped they have a policy that no reply is a no.  But most do reply, at least eventually.  Personally, the only queries I simply delete are the ones that are so disrespectful and ridiculous that I’d be a fool to waste my own work time to answer them.  The ones that are mass-emailed to every agent at once, addressed as Dear Agent, and have every agent’s email in the send to field.  The ones that address me as the wrong agent!  The ones that are so sloppy and riddled with errors or are rude or creepy in any way. Please.  This is a professional business letter.  Would you show up at a job interview in your underwear?

So, back to the original question: Should I Keep Querying?  If your manuscript is complete and well written and polished, then yes.  I suggest test the market and send out queries in waves.  Send out, say, 10 or so to a carefully selected list of agents who actually are open to queries and actually are looking for your sort of work.  Follow their guidelines for querying.

Get no answer at all?  Ask yourself, are you presenting yourself professionally?  Are you only targeting the biggest agents who might not get back to you as quickly as you’d like? Maybe newer agents at established agencies are the way to go, then.

Getting only form rejections?  Then look at your query and rework it, and sub to the next agents on your list.

Getting requests for sample pages, but then rejections?  Look at what agents are saying in these rejections. Is there a common thread?  Perhaps your opening needs work.

Getting requested full manuscripts, but then nothing but rejections? Remember, this is a tough and competitive field.  You are doing a ton right, but for some reason, things aren’t clicking.  Perhaps you are doing one of the 10 things I point out in my Writer’s Digest Article.  Or perhaps you just need to locate that one agent that personally connects with your manuscript enough to run with it.  That happened to author Kathryn Craft who subbed what many might think was a crazy amount of queries over a few years before landing her agent.  Her novel The Art of Falling comes out through Sourcebooks in January 2014.

Querying is a process.  I think it’s always a mistake to stop your writing and focus solely on this.  Write your next book. Keep subbing the other in waves and course-correcting as you go. You may find that your next book is far better than the one you were sending around (it happens a lot – we all get better as we write more), and that next book or the next will be the one that will move you forward.

Rejection is tough.  I know. I’m a writer, too.  But if you are serious about it you need to keep moving forward in your writing career and learning along the way.  Take cues from your querying results and course correct.  And, always, keep writing!


*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.