What not to do
Let’s talk for a second about what not to do when sending out a query letter.
One of the more mystifying ways some aspiring authors go about the query process is to blast an e-mail to every single agent in the publishing industry with a “To My Future Literary Agent” subject line.
When I was an agent, what made me slap my head wasn’t just that it’s poor e-mail etiquette or knowing that 1,000 of my closest colleagues were also considering the project at exactly the same time. It’s just not a good strategy.
What if you didn’t get the pitch right and everyone rejects (or ignores) you all at once? Well, you blew your chance to tweak it a bit and try again with another round. (And no, you can’t just tweak it and re-send it to those 1,000 agents again, that’s a good way to get blocked forever.)
If you rush the submission process you lose the ability to evaluate and adjust as you go.
Send query letters in batches
It’s much smarter and more effective to send out the query in batches of seven to ten at a time. When you get a rejection, send a new one out. If a few months go by and you haven’t heard from an agent, consider it a rejection and send a new one out.
Take your time. See what the response is like. If you’re not getting any requests, you might take another hard look at your query and opening and think about making adjustments.
As time goes by you might notice something you could do better or receive a valuable piece of feedback. If, on the other hand, you’re getting manuscript requests but not an offer, you will know you’re at least on the right track but maybe just haven’t found the right fit.
Going at a steady pace can be frustrating and feel tedious sometimes, but it gives you time to look at your query and opening with fresh eyes as your results come in.
Consider supplementing your query strategy
Also take note: in this day and age, sending out a query letter is not the only way to approach agents! There are pitch wars, hashtags on Twitter, and you can meet literary agents at writers conferences.
I would still resist the temptation of jumping the gun and pitching via other channels to test the waters before you’re ready to pair it with a traditional query letter strategy.
Many experienced agents still only accept traditional query letters, and you might miss out on a potential opportunity if you get caught up in the rush and limit yourself to only one channel.
What happens after you send out your query letter
After you’ve sent your query letter off into the great unknown, you sit back and wait for the literary agent to consider it. And wait. And wait some more.
If you get requests: your query letter has done its job and you have moved on to the next step!
Bear in mind that many/most literary agents have a no-response-means-no policy, so if you do not hear back after a couple of months you have your answer. It is not customary to follow-up if you haven’t heard back on a query letter.
Keep your cool, stay calm, and be professional throughout the process. Patience in the submission process (and life, for that matter) goes a long way.
More query letter resources
- How to write a query letter
- How to find a literary agent
- A guide to literary agent etiquette
- Is there a best time to query?
- How to interpret rejection letters
- Query letter subject lines: Act now!! get it while it lasts!
Do you have a tried and true strategy for sending out queries? Any superstitions? Take to the comments!
• Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
• For my best advice, check out my guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and my guide to publishing a book.
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Art: The messenger of love by Leonard Straszyński