On Queries

I have to be honest: I always breathe a huge sigh of relief when we close our query lines in December. Finally, I think, a chance to catch up! But after a couple of weeks in a query-less world, I get twitchy with anticipation and anxious to dig in once again. Thus, I always approach the re-opening of our query lines with a sense of hope and a certain amount of nervousness. Not unlike, I suppose, many writers who are about to submit their work to agents feel as they pause, scanning their query letter one last time before clicking “send.”pgi0128

As you probably know, we re-opened our query lines last week. Perhaps you’ve just sent out your first-ever round of queries to agents. Or perhaps you’re on your second or third round of queries, having made tweaks and revisions to your query letter and novel based on previous feedback from agents and writers. Whether you’re a first-timer or a veteran, you most likely log into your email each day, nervous yet hopeful that you’ll get a response or two from the agents you’ve queried.

On my side of things, I log into my query box every day (or every couple of days), nervous yet hopeful that I will find the project—the one that will keep me up all night reading, the one that is so beautifully written that I will follow my husband around the house reading it aloud to him (as I am apt to do when I really love something), the one that I can pitch to editors with the utmost confidence and enthusiasm—basically, a project I can shout to the world about (and I’m happy to report that I’ve signed several such projects lately).

That said, in order to find that one project that I can’t live without, I have to read—and let go of—plenty of manuscripts. How many, you ask?  At last glance, I had just over 150 queries in my inbox. Out of those queries, some will show great potential, but will need more work before I can consider signing them. Some will be great, but just not right for me. And some of them just won’t be very good.

Once all is said and done, about three out of the 150 queries in my inbox will excite me enough that I’ll request a full manuscript. That’s right—three.

Look, I know this sounds dismal. I know that rejections are an unpleasant part of the submissions process (hey, don’t forget—agents get rejections, too!), and I know it’s discouraging to receive several rejections in a row, or not to hear back at all. And after awhile, it’s difficult for a writer not to take it personally. But as you go about your submissions process, remember that I’m not reading through queries looking for reasons to reject you; I’m reading with the hope that I will find a project I love. And that’s what other agents are doing, too.

So what can you do while you’re waiting to hear back? Keep writing (every day, even if it’s only a couple hundred words). Keep networking. Keep researching and querying more agents. And keep asking questions. If you have any questions about the querying process, the reading process, etc., shout ‘em out in the comments section.

Finally: Don’t give up. I’ll see you in the query box!

  1. Thanks for the insight!

    How many queries can you sift through – on average – per day? I would imagine you don’t get much farther than the first or second line on a lot of them.

    And if you ever want a query to critique for your blog, I would love to offer mine up for sacrifice! I am really confident it’s in great shape. Well, it’s pretty solid. Okay, it’s got more cracks than Charlie Sheen’s rehabilitation plan.

    But thanks again.


  2. I definitely relate to trailing your husband around the house, reading aloud! (I prefer to catch my husband while we’re in the car and he can’t escape.) While you read excerpts from prospective clients’ manuscripts, I read aloud bits of wisdom from literary agent blog posts.

    If I was at home with my mobile Google Reader right now, I’d be making my way out to the garage to pester my husband with quotes from this particular post. “Nervous but hopeful.” Your phrase sums it up so well for both agents and querying writers. Your perspective from the other side of the query box is a kind reminder of the challenges agents face when searching for a partnership with a writer they are passionate about.


  3. I just wanted to say thank you for that insight on the query process. I think that it was very thoughtful for you to consider the writers point-of-view when writing this post. Honestly, being as I’m on my second trip on the query-go-round, I really needed to read this. Let’s just say that this post has brightened my hopes a little, and sometimes a little is just enough. Thanks again.


  4. “I’m not reading through queries looking for reasons to reject you; I’m reading with the hope that I will find a project I love. And that’s what other agents are doing, too.”
    —These are golden words!

    Thank you for verbalizing what every writer waits and prays for. Rejection can do funny things to your heart, especially when it is (foolishly) taken personally. It’s a lovely thing to be reminded that discouragement is an emotion, not a running commentary on the quality of a person’s work.


  5. Thanks for such an upbeat post about a difficult reality. It’s easy to get the message that editors and agents are looking to reject. The numbers are what they are. But your postive, hopeful attitude toward your inbox, and your exhortations to writers to keep at it are exactly what will bring out our best, and bring you that next project you can’t live without!


  6. danielle … thanks for that note from “the other side of the street.” as a new (but, old) writer, it is too easy to just think that nobody will ever look at our offerings seriously enough to do it justice.
    most of us are not good enough and will never be the next Kathryn Stockett, but two or three of us are that good!
    …….. tom honea asheville, nc


  7. Thank you for a lovely post! It’s nice to think that even a rejection may be an almost, if we’ve done our crafting right. And, speaking of which…what’s your stance on re-querying? In a general way, not personally, as I write MG and you only take adult and YA.

    I’m just wondering under what circumstances a writer can get away with sending a query to an agent a second time? If the book has been rewritten/extensively revised? If a sizeable chunk of time has elapsed? If those are true and they also requested pages the first go-roung? Your thoughts?

    And thanks for giving me the opportunity to ask! This question has been burning a hole in my brain. 😉


  8. I always figure the other end of the query process would wind up tedious. Sorry it’s such a mucky process, but thank you for your devotion to find good stories. Like Leslie mentioned, your upbeat nature made this a much more bearable post.


  9. Suzanne: Thanks for your nice comment. Every agent has a different stance on re-querying, and I can tell you mine. If I don’t specifically ask a writer to re-query me after doing revisions, then I don’t really want to see the project again. Generally, if I’ve read it once and didn’t feel like I connected with it, chances are that I’ll feel the same way if I see it again.

    I do read a lot of projects from writers whose work shows potential, but that isn’t quite ready yet. In those cases, I’ll invite them to re-query me if they undertake revisions. But if I don’t specifically ask you to re-query me about your project, then it’s best not to try me again–for that project.

    That said, I’m always happy to consider new work from anyone–even if I’ve passed on a different project previously.

    Hope that helps, and happy writing!


  10. Wow – a 2% hit rate on good queries! Do you think that’s pretty typical? I get the sense that it is, although I wonder if it’s different in adult vs ya/mg fiction or versus genre fiction.

    I suppose the hardest thing for a writer is that with so many form rejections or non responses in the industry today, you never know if you were an almost or a not even close. Of course, with 150 queries to get through, it would be darn near impossible to provide in depth feedback. We need a standard form with two checkboxes – pick one! (I am kidding, of course. It’s all this ice and snow).

    Thanks for posting this, Danielle. It’s good to know your process.


  11. Thanks for the reply, Danielle, I really appreciate it! That’s kind of been my feeling. If the excitement was there, it would have been communicated the first time around. It’s good to have confirmation, though!


  12. Thank you for this post, Danielle. I appreciate you offering these insights as well as the encouragement. In my day job in HR, I can get overwhelmed combing through resumes and the hope that emanates from each one. I can just imagine how overwhelming your query box must be.
    Stay warm!


  13. Do y’all buy special insurance for your eyeballs? Can’t imagine all that reading year after year (and I read a lot).


  14. That’s great to hear you have enthusiasm for it. I can’t imagine how tough it must be to remain hopeful. Even if so many of the queries and or MSS weren’t bad, the majority still wouldn’t be for you, just because storytelling, and what each of us enjoys, is so subjective.


  15. Hi Susan,

    Loved your blog on queries, for this is where I go wrong. I find it doubly disappointing when I get rejections, or worse still no response, as my debut novel for adults was published by HarperCollins, and yet…

    I am a journalist and have been writing columns and editorial opinion for years and years and years and I constantly edit and polish my MS, and yet…

    I have published short stories in magazines and local newspapers are serialising my MG fantasies, and yet…

    And yet… I participated in the #PitMad yesterday for the first time and found that my pitch was all wrong. I was highlighting all the wrong leads. I also learned what the hashtag #Own meant and realised my work was #Own and I was probably reaching out to the wrong agents. Last week, I learned from another literary agent’s blog, that I couldn’t still tell whether my work was MG or YA. Now I know it’s definitely MG. Some years ago, I went for a children’s writer’s workshop at Big Sur, California, and learned how to show instead of tell. At a Poetry slam recently, I learnt my poems were more prose than verse, and I came home and re-wrote the entire poem.

    So, yes, I am learning… a little every day. And, that’s important, for the journey is more fascinating than the destination.

    Jana, Bangalore, India


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