Friday, January 2, 2015

Surviving the Quagmire of Querying

This came in the email today:

Thank you for the opportunity to consider your work, but I am sorry to say that I do not think this material would be right for me, and therefore I would not make your most effective advocate. Please remember this is just one agent's opinion, and there may well be other agents who feel differently. Thank you for thinking of me, and best of luck.

The good news is that I actually received a reply to my query! The bad news is that this is another agent to cross off my list. The worst news of all is not knowing why my query was rejected.

As you have just determined, I am currently seeking literary representation for my new novel. Why, you may ask, is someone who previously self-published a suspense novel with moderate success (some 10,000 copies downloaded), seeking a literary agent this time around? There are huge advantages in self-publishing – I know this from experience. I had total control of the look and feel of my book; I was in charge of marketing and promoting; and I could easily revise the text with small corrections whenever necessary. It was an awesome feeling, especially when reading the many positive reviews the book received.

I acquired quite a bit of experience about the self-publishing process and I frequently share tips with other aspiring authors. I have no doubts that I can self-publish my new novel as well, building on my previous success to gain new readers and more sales.

Querying for literary representation? Welcome to the slush pile!

But first, I am considering traditional publishing. There are a number of reasons why I am doing this. I believe that my writing has improved since completing my previous novel. The new book will have far greater marketing potential. Add to that the fact that I am an established, regular blogger at both The Times of Israel and The Huffington Post – I think an agent, and afterwards a publisher, will see the advantages of working with me.

Traditional publishing will open new doors. It is the only way I would get my book into book stores; it is the only way mainstream newspapers would agree to review it; and it is the only way that the book would have a possibility of being translated.

In my search for a literary agent, I am seeking someone who will share his/her enthusiasm for my book, someone who will help me promote and sell it. Signing a literary agent would be a significant achievement and would serve as a stepping stone to the main objective of selling the book to a publisher.

I am realistic about my chances. The publishing market is changing and literary agents are very hesitant to take on new authors. I am one of hundreds, actually thousands, of authors seeking literary agents and no matter how persuasive my query may be, the chances of being noticed are very slim. As one agent stated on her web site: she receives hundreds of queries every day, but only signs two or three new clients a year. Those are not great odds.

Even so, I carry on. I have done my research, compiling a long list of suitable agents to contact. I only send queries to those agents who will consider the genre of my book (suspense/thriller) and who are open to new authors. I submit according to the guidelines listed by each specific agent, including synopsis and sample chapters where appropriate. Each time I click the “Send” button I am full of optimism. And then I sit back and wait.

Advice commonly given to authors at this stage in their career is to make a handful of submissions, and then adjust query letters and elevator pitches based on the response. This is hard to do if a) there are no responses; and b) those who respond do not state the reasons for the query’s rejection.

To be an author, you must have thick skin. The lack of response is upsetting, but you can't let that stop you. The rejections hurt, but you must endure. The bad reviews after publication sting, but you must continue to write.

To be an author, you need to believe in yourself. If you are confident that you have achieved your goals in your writing, show it to others. Don’t forget to ask for help along the way. Beta readers can give you objective comments and honest feedback. Professional editors can correct embarrassing grammatical errors.

As I finish writing these lines, another impersonal "Dear Author" rejection arrives in my Inbox. Another agent to cross off the list. But there are still others to query. After all, it only takes one agent to say "Yes" to proceed. If you never query, you will never get rejected.

Surviving the quagmire of querying is just one of the many challenges on the path to publication, but there are many ways to get your book published. Don’t lose sight of the end goal. Continue to write!


  1. Sending you lots of positive energy for your goals. May 2015 give you all you need!

  2. Very good advice. I plan to start agent hunting this year, so I'll be sure to keep this in mine. Good luck with your search! :)


  3. I wouldn't bother with an agent, at least, not yet. Most of the writers I know don't use them.

    Basically it's an issue of economics. Dean Wesley Smith covers agents in his Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing which is readable on his website.


  4. Carry on! I'm at the same point you're at with querying agents and I'm getting dangerously close to the end of my list. You're right that every time one presses the Send button, hope soars. It does so even more if an agent requests to see the manuscript. And then, inevitably it seems, the often canned rejection arrives. It is disheartening, but as you say, it takes only one "Yes!" Good luck!

  5. Thanks for this! This is probably what every independent author goes through.
    I, too, am a self-published, older author who only began seriously trying to publish after retirement: reinventing myself as a writer and social critic. I've self-published two books (nonfiction) and am now working on a third revision of one I would really like published through a commercial publisher. I'm wondering if my age is a factor in an inability to attract an agent; I'm sure some sort of calculus goes on about how many books the author has in him/her. I had one interested agent, but she has not gotten back to me since I sent the proposal a few month ago. I guess I'll begin querying in earnest again this year. Thanks for the boost.

  6. I'm chuckling while reading all this. I queried 72 agents, thinking that I did everything right (choosing agents who were listed in my genre, writing and rewriting my query letter, etc.,) and got 72 rejections. One agent even suggested that I put a vampire into my story. Sorry, couldn't do it. I wonder now if that was a mistake. Harlequin of London kept me dangling for a year, sending me a notice like "your letter has been submitted to our senior editor", which was exciting. It made me feel like they were really interested. Needless to say, the final result was a "No". I'm trying to crawl my way out of the "unknown authors' pit" through social media and private talks and sales, but it's pretty hopeless! Good luck to everyone! I invite all of you to take a look at and

  7. Ellis, I needed to see this today. I, too, am in the querying mode for my memoir... working hard not to get discouraged. The form rejection, while disappointing, is still a step up from being completely ignored. My favorite is when submission guidelines say, "If you haven't heard back in six weeks, consider it a NO... However, if you get an offer of representation from another agent, please let me know." Wishing you all the best and fingers crossed for a satisfying relationship with an agent and a great publishing deal!

  8. Best of luck to you! It sounds like you're going about this with a great attitude and a lot of research. Happy querying! May it result in your best possible agent AND advocate!

  9. I finally got an agent because I knew she could open doors I couldn't. But it took think skin and years of trying until finally I met her online and finally in person. She still rejected my work but read it. Until I wrote a book she could sink her teeth in so to say. Hope it happens soon for you!

  10. Thanks for this piece Ellis. I have had only two responses to my queries over two years. One was an obvious cut and paste letter, judging by another person's name in the greeting, and the second was written by someone who obviously didn't read the sample. Regardless of this I will continue to send queries in hopes of finding a path to a traditional publisher. It is a daunting process. I envision my queries reaching a twenty-something intern who has the task of sorting through reams of queries for little or no pay.

    I will persevere! Best of luck, PJ Seward

  11. Keep at it! After several years of on-and-off querying, I signed with an awesome agent in December. Now, eleven major publishing houses are reading my full manuscript. It's worth all of the headaches!

  12. When I could not get an agent, I sold my memoir myself to a small independent press.
    I am not self publishing. My book comes out this year. Also if you are not getting responses
    to your query, you may need a better letter. I had a number of agents ask to see the
    first 50 pages ( so my letter was effective) but they passed on signing me. I am actually
    very happy to be working with a small press. I'm getting lots of individual attention.

  13. Are you including the first five pages? Miss Snark (agent who blogged about query letters and publishing and who critiqued queries) used to say that a query includes the letter plus the first five pages unless they ask for more. Often a writer can write a perfectly good novel but lacks query-writing skills.

    If you are getting requests and/or personal rejections, your query is probably okay.

    If you aren't getting requests or personal rejections, have your query letter critiqued and tweak as necessary.

    Good luck with your agent search!

  14. Looked at this early on. Discovered while researching that the 'book-world' is about the same as the 'film-world' on the back side of things. (Which is NOT a compliment.)

    One writer actually was rejected (by agents AND publishers) a zillion times with a pulitzer prize winning piece that he changed the title of...just to see what would happen. Not one of them realized they had rejected something that won the prize.

    In this day and age, write, get good people around you who can do the editing/proofing/arcing and get it out there. my 2 cents.

  15. thank you very much for very useful tips....

  16. Good post and spot on...

  17. The reality is that hundreds of thousands of people are vying for these same agents, not hundreds. That makes the odds even worse then you imagined; so as you say, you need to have thick skin, belief in your work, and perseverance.

    And, I am assuming that the query shown above is a farce and not the actual query you sent; but for anyone that might not recognize that fact, it contains several phrases that turn agents off. First of all, one should never ever say their book is a best seller or going to be a best seller. No one knows that until it happens. One should never claim it will sell millions of copies because again, no one knows until that happens. And third, one should never ever use the phrase send me a contract right away.

    What should be in a query is the actual name of a specific agent spelled correctly (I know because I once inadvertently typed Mr. instead of Ms. on a query, lol). A catchy sentence or two about your book with a hook that draws the reader in, a brief paragraph about yourself and your qualifications, and a realistic comparison of your book to one or two books on the market.

  18. To address a common misconception: Professional editors don't just help with grammar. In many cases they can help with characters and story too. (I know because I am one.)

    Anyway, great attitude. I think it's important for authors to read posts like this every once in a while to strengthen their resolve. Otherwise, it tends to wane what with all that (inevitable) rejection. Basically, it's not you. It's the industry. Although, sometimes it is you. But along the way, if you persevere, you'll learn whether that's the case.

  19. Well, the aging process helps with the thick skin bit, but I'm too chicken to send anything out. I did get 11 requests at a conference 2 summers ago, but then nothing encouraging... I feel for you Ellis. Good luck on your journey!

  20. I wish you all the best of success, no matter which road you travel.

    Did you put your followers and SP sales in your QL? Probably yes, but I thought I'd mention it because some agents pay attention to those numbers.

  21. LOL! I'm sitting waiting for responses, too. But, I'm curious about your experience with self-publishing. Did you really enjoy promoting and marketing? All that work! Would love to chat with you about that as Im considering it