When I jumped into the Query trenches I had the bare minimum of experience. Just enough to know to FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES-we’re not joking about this. Absorbing the information was the easy part. Writing the Query letter, a lot harder.
I learned to love and read all the archives from The Query Shark. There’s nothing like reading examples of what-not-to-do and then watching them be fixed before your eyes to help. Reading down the side (yes, the entire thing, all the archived articles) of author Nathan Bransford was also a huge help, and on top of that I’d recommend reading through the “Queries” (found at top list of tabs) of MS Wishlist.com to really absorb the flavor of what Agents are looking for.
Now that I’ve emerged from my first sally in the trenches I’m ready to share the battle scars with you. If you’re in the process of searching everywhere for advice and experience before you start/continue querying I’d like to help.
Knowing what to expect makes the process a lot less fearful, at least for me. So it may help you to know what kind of rejections you can look forward to getting in your inbox. Or, I don’t know, it might make you feel better about the whole thing to know that I’m poking my head up over the trenches only to have it smacked back down, like an Author-Whack-A-Mole game. You do you, man.
Rejection Type 1: The Deafening Sound of Silence
No matter how mature you think you’re being, it will irk a little. I try hard to remember that Agents are only humans (badly underpaid humans) with authors who they already represent that deserve their time and attention. The only reason they don’t reply is that they are crazy, incredibly, awfully busy. Not because they don’t think you’re worth a reply. In general, agencies know when they are too busy and they warn you that they won’t reply in clear, obvious language.
examples: “Due to the volume of submissions we receive we will respond only if we are interested in requesting more material” or “If you have not gotten a response from us in ________ weeks, consider that we have passed.”
Rejection Type 2: The totally impersonal form letter
Example: Dear [poor bastard in the Query trenches],
Thank you for your query. Please know I carefully considered your project, but don’t feel I can offer representation at this time. Keep going with it. I wish you the best of luck.
Translation: They aren’t interested, for whatever reason, but the best wishes are a kind touch. An actual reply is cool, too. File it in the rejection pile and move on.
Rejection Type 3: The “at least you got a response”
Example: Dear author, (side note: I didn’t change this salutation at all. You gotta laugh)
Thank you for your submission of [Book] to [Not Interested] Publishing. We have reviewed your submission, and while it appears that you have developed an interesting story, at this point in time, it is not what we are looking for.
Good luck in your future endeavors.
Kind regards, [Agent]
Translation: They are not interested. Not even a scrap of encouragement. Don’t come at them again unless you have a completely different project.
Rejection Type 4: The not interested, with a dash of encouragement
Thank you for your query. While your project does sound interesting, I’m afraid it’s not quite right for me at this time. I genuinely appreciate your email and wish you luck finding an agent who can successfully champion your work.
All best, [Agent]
Translation: The agent read your submission and while it wasn’t their personal cup of tea they’re not secretly thinking you should quit, either. Keep going!
Rejection Type 5: Personalized encouragement
Translation: Pay close attention to the advice and implement it! Keep this agent/agency in mind and approach them again after you have a product you’re confident in, all writing errors addressed.
photo courtesy: stocksnap.io & Sergei Soloviev