My Query Letters Get Rejected

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Q: Dear Suzanne: I’ve sent out my query to over 50 agents and small presses, and my book has been been rejected by them all.  I don’t get it. I did everything right. The letter is only one page. I used a snappy opener to catch the reader’s attention. I gave book title and word count. I included an entire paragraph of great supporting material to show the strong audience for the book. I included a list of what I’ve published. What should I do? — Puzzled

A: Dear Puzzled:
There’s good news: You’re on the right track. You have to stay dedicated and purposeful, look for that open window when a door closes. And it’s time for some fresh air after so many queries and no rewards. You need to do something different to attract attention.

Remember that you have only one shot with a query to an agent on a single project, so do your query revisions while you still have a good list of agents to pursue.

Revise your lead: that opener has to engage a reader with what it reveals about your book. If you’ve given the title at the start, move it down a bit to avoid distracting the reader who wants the heart of the story — what your book will do — not the prospective title of the book or the word count it is now. Both belong in the letter, but not in the first paragraph: this is precious real estate. That real estate, too, should not lose value with an entire paragraph on researched facts and numbers of potential readers. Say it in a sentence or two. A query letter is a sales pitch and an invitation to read the book proposal and/or sample of the book. It has to be concise. Stay confident, and sound that way in your letter. Thank the reader. Tell them why you chose them (show you did your homework researching them and books like yours they’ve represented or published). Thank them for their time and tell them you look forward to hearing from them.

You’re right to consider new avenues. That’s key in sales, and that’s what you’re doing with a query letter; it’s a sales pitch. You can certainly be proud of yourself for what you’ve done by crafting a competent, quality letter that uses all the necessary ingredients. Now mix up those ingredients in some new ways, adjust the spices, skim the fat, and get ready to serve it to some hungry diners ready for a book they can believe in.

If the query doesn’t appeal to any agents once you’ve reached your max (which could range between 40 and 60 or so), chances are you’ve fairly tested that field and your book is more appropriate for a small press that doesn’t require an agent’s representation. Or you may like to investigate your options with e-book publishing or self-publishing, which is no longer a second-best option as long as you do your part to produce and promote a stellar book.

And remember: you’re not alone in facing the frustrations of rejection letters. I found this on the Web, a good reminder of how important it is to try, try again. I hope it gives you courage. Good luck!

These are excerpts from famous author rejections. Read on and have a laugh!
1.    Sylvia Plath: There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.
2.    Rudyard Kipling: I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.
3.    J. G. Ballard: The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.
4.    Emily Dickinson: [Your poems] are quite as remarkable for defects as for beauties and are generally devoid of true poetical qualities.
5.    Ernest Hemingway (regarding “The Torrents of Spring”): It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.

6 responses to “My Query Letters Get Rejected

  1. Suzanne provides excellent advice. I would add that timing is also relevant. Also, rejection weans out the posers.

    Here’s an excerpt from my latest book, An Artist Empowered:

    When I decIded to write a book about kites in 1986, several authorities in the field and a half dozen literary agents told me that I was wasting my time. I was informed that everything important about the subject had already been covered, the market was too small, and no mainstream publisher would be interested.

    After listening to this consensus concerto of advice, I felt opportunity calling and went with my intuition—which is the soul singing the divine song of the Creator. I did find a mainstream publisher. Nearly two decades later, my book continues to sell both here and abroad, and a new, updated edition was published in 1998. What did I learn? The experts, who may even have been earnest with their doomsday advice, couldn’t grasp the vision I had. Don’t be deceived: sincerity is often totally wrong.

  2. Puzzled,
    Suzanne has great advice.

    I want to encourage you to not give up. I querried numerous agents & small publishers (too many to remember the exact number) and would get rejected continually. A few would have interest but come back and say “not for them.” I would set the manuscript a side for a period of time and then something would bring it up again. I was almost about to give-up when I sent query letters to a final group of agents.

    Finally, I found an agent that was willing to go the extra step with me and help me fine-tune my book proposal. I also worked with an editor who helped me fine-tune some of the writing. Although it is no guarantee of getting published, I now do, officially, have an agent for my book. Now the waiting game begins but I am hopeful we will find a publisher. So do not give up because there may be one agent out there that sees the potential. Just recognize there is a lot of competition for the agents attention and you do have to “shine” with the right one.

  3. Suzanne, this is a very helpful post and reminder that a writer’s life is as much about business as it is writing (much to our dismay).

    It’s also important to thoroughly research agents and publishers before sending queries to them. Make sure they promote the kind of work you’re doing. Target your letters to particular agents, just as you would target cover letters for specific jobs. I’ve heard over and over again that agents and publishers want to know that you care enough to know who they are.

  4. Pingback: For Writers – The Dreaded Query Letter «

  5. Pingback: Marketing your novel while querying. | Jennifer M Eaton

  6. Pingback: Obsessed with query-ing… | Scared Sugarless: The Sweet (& Sticky) Path to Getting Published

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