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No One is Exempt From the Querying Process

Like every other agent, I have standard responses to queries–both when I’m rejecting and when I’m requesting material. When you’re receiving hundreds of queries a month it’s a necessary evil.

While my responses are standard, I have tailored a few to make them slightly more personal and helpful whenever possible. The one I use most commonly is a rejection that suggests the writer look again at their query. Typically it means I might very well have requested more material, but the query just missed the mark. It’s my attempt to let the querier know that maybe a revised query will get them more requests.

It’s also the response that gets the most backlash.

I get a surprising number of queries that say nothing. Typically in nonfiction, but it does happen in fiction as well. The author in these cases assumes that a paragraph telling me about themselves will be enough for me to want to read the book. But here’s the thing, I still need to know what the book is about. A memoir is a lot different from a book on leadership and also a lot different from a parenting book, or a thriller or a romance. Some of these are right for me and some aren’t. Some I want to read, some I don’t.

No one can avoid the query. You can tell me how long your career as a journalist has been or how many years you’ve been speaking to audiences about arthritis, but I still need to know what your book is about. Even previously published writers need a query. To sell the book, I care mostly about the book. So do readers.

So bash me all you want, berate me for expecting you to do the same work I expect from every author. It won’t change my mind. In fact, it only solidifies for me that I made the right decision by passing.

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7 comments

  1. Wow. I’m guessing you must have had a spate of these recently. I can understand writers not nailing their query – it’s not easy to write, especially for those new to the trenches. But to then respond in a negative way…that’s not professional. I bet you do sigh in relief at dodging a bullet when you get those replies.

    1. Thank you, Jessica! As an author, it’s frustrating getting reject letters without any reason why. Feedback is very useful to us. I understand agents are busy, but a sentence or two would be appreciated. I suggest a simple checklist of the top reject reasons. Just my humble opinion.

      1. I understand that Russ. I really do. The problem is that very often there is no feedback to give. The book just wasn’t big enough, different enough or something to get us excited.

        1. That’s a cop out, Jessica. There is ALWAYS a reason. I have screened thousands of job applications in my career, and I did have a checklist. It worked great. Most of the candidates didn’t have the necessary experience or education. In your case I suspect the story wasn’t captivating enough for me or the writing needs work would be your most prevalent reasons.

  2. Sorry you are getting bashed for something that is just a norm in our business. It still surprises me that people don’t take advantage of all the free how-tos on the web. There’s plenty of great info on querying. Thanks for being one more source of great info.

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