I often talk about how rejection letters don’t usually bother me. In some sense I even view them as a minor success since each rejection reminds me that at least I have a story finished. There is a lot you can learn from short story rejections and if you view them as a tool to use to improve your writing, then that’s a good thing.
But when you’re querying agents with a novel, things are different. Agents don’t require exclusive queries. They aren’t expected to respond to email queries if the answer is “not for us.” They very rarely provide feedback (although it’s awesome when they do). They are a busy lot and it’s not uncommon for writers to wonder just how many sentences of their query was actually read before the agent hit the delete button.
Now, don’t think I’m knocking the way agents handle queries here. I’m not. They receive far too many queries in a month to handle each author with kid’s gloves, and even if they could, they shouldn’t be expected to.
No, my problem with queries lies not with the querying process, but with my specific experiences.
I read somewhere online that you should expect a full request for one out of ten queries and if you don’t get that many, then it’s time to rewrite your letter. Well, when I was querying Holy Fudgesicles, I only received one full request. What’s crazy is that out of 50 queries, that one full request came from the first agent I queried.
Anyhow, that was where I get concerned. With a short story, there is a pretty static list of why one gets a rejection.
With a query, it’s nearly impossible to tell, and therefore impossible to improve.
And since I plan to start querying my next novel next year, here are the five questions I have about my novel queries:
1. There is no standard way to write a query.
Should you start with the facts of the book (title, page numbers, genre, etc.) or start with the action (MC is a kid who blah blah blahs…)?
2. Do agents care about your publication history?
I usually just list the last few publications I’ve had, but do they ever want a full publication list with dates and pay-scale?
3. Should your letter give some sense of plot resolution?
I write my query letter more like a back of the book pitch and leave the ending for the synopsis. But maybe the query letter itself should say, “In the end blah blah blah happens.”
4. While a lot of agents don’t respond unless they want to read more of the novel, is it ever appropriate to “nudge” after a few weeks have passed?
Just a quick “Hi, I wanted to make sure my letter got to you.” or something like that.
And here is my biggest concern…
5. Is the agent rejecting the query letter or the story itself?
It’s tough. A query is one page long and can be rewritten until it’s perfect. But if the novel behind it is the problem, then the whole querying process was almost a waste of time. And what’s even worse is that the novel might not be any good.
So are you currently querying a novel? If so, I’d like to hear your ideas. All are welcome. Leave me a comment or drop me an email.