Querying, making sense of rejections and finding the right agent

Hello gentle reader,

September is just around the corner, and for some of you it might mean a new step in your writing endeavours: the querying process.

For the purpose of this post, we are going to assume you’ve done your homework, finished and polished your manuscript, written a professional query letter and put together a list of agents to contact, along with their submission guidelines. You’ve read all the success stories about writers who got multiple offers one week after sending out their query and signed with an agent within 3 months. So you send out a batch of queries and you start drafting your “How I got my agent” blog post while refreshing your inbox. You’re ready for the offers of representation to roll in.

Except instead, rejections start piling up.

And you have no idea where things have gone wrong.

So here is a little 4-stage guide to help you make sense of those rejections and hopefully help you on your way to finding your perfect agent match.

Stage 1

The problem: You’re getting form rejections, with one or two random partial requests thrown in to keep you guessing.

The diagnostic: At this stage, it’s likely the issue lies with your query letter. “But,” you’ll say, “my letter follows the guidelines and doesn’t even mention Harry Potter!” Fair enough. But to compete with the hundreds of query letters that land each month in the literary agent’s inbox, your letter has to stand out and be stellar.

The solution: Revise your query letter. Post it on forums like Agent Query Connect, Absolute Write or WriteOnCon. Enter contests and giveaways offering a query letter critique. Revise again. Re-draft until your letter is concise, clear, eye-catching and true to your story. Writing an outstanding query letter might take 20 or 30 drafts, but if it gets your manuscript requested, who’s counting?

Stage 2

The problem: You’re getting partial requests, which turn into rejections with a personal comment from the agent.

The diagnostic: There’s something wrong with your first 50 pages. Whether it’s pace, characterization or plot holes, hopefully you’re getting the same feedback at least a couple times.

The solution: Revise your manuscript. Work with your Critique Partners to fix your manuscript’s issues. Once your revisions are done, send your story to beta readers who haven’t read it before and listen to their feedback. Enter contests and giveaways to win a manuscript critique from an editor, an author or even better, an agent.

Stage 3

The problem: You’re getting full requests, which turn into rejections with detailed feedback or a Revise and Resubmit (R&R) request.

The diagnostic: There’s something wrong with your manuscript, and agents highlight what it is.

The solution: Again, revise, get feedback, revise again, and resend.

Stage 4

The problem: You’re getting requests left and right, which all turn into “I like it but I’ll pass” rejections (aka the “not for me but best of luck with it” rejection, aka the “not the right fit for me at the moment” rejection, aka the “I didn’t fall in love with it” rejection).

The diagnostic: It’s the hardest one, because there’s nothing wrong with your query letter or your manuscript. Nothing the agents are telling you about anyways.

The solution: KEEP QUERYING. You’re so close to your goal, the next agent you’ll contact might be the one falling in love with your story. And this is the one agent you want, the best possible match, the one who will wholly believe in your manuscript’s potential.

So tell me: which stage of the querying process are you at now? Do you have any questions I didn’t answer in this post? Or any advice for other querying writers? Feel free to leave me a comment below!

3 thoughts on “Querying, making sense of rejections and finding the right agent

  1. Miss Cole says:

    Fantastic post. I’m kind of a mix of stages 2-4. And my only advice is what’s been said before – don’t give up!

  2. ki pha says:

    Awesome! I’m just at the beginning of writing and storing ideas, with lots here and there.

    I was wondering if hiring and agent is a good idea or if going self publish digitally a good choice to take after many rejections? How about choosing to self publish without handing it to a publisher?

  3. That’s interesting. I’m at stage 4! Phew, that means I’m doing it right! Thanks, this gives me the confidence to keep going. One day….

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