Querying, re-querying and finding the right agent
In my blog reading the last few days I’ve noticed a number of agents talking about people sending them query letters that are in their “do not represent” genre list, or writers sending multiple query letters after they’ve received a rejection. A few days ago, Jessica Faust at BookEnds agency posted a message entitled Please Stop, and it was about a writer who had sent her the same query letter “at least 20 times” from different email addresses and sometimes daily. Jessica says she has already rejected the query and has asked the writer to stop sending them. And if you read through the comments, Jessica isn’t the only agent who has been getting these emails. One agent apparently emailed the writer asking him or her to stop and the agent got a reply that said, “The queries will continue until ELIZABETH [the name of the book] is published.”
As a writer trying to get my own work published, it boggles my mind why a fellow writer would think this approach would work AND why someone would want an agent who is only representing them to stop harrassment. (Of course, perhaps it’s not a writer at all and just someone with waaaaayyy to much time on their hands.)
Anyway, today, agent Jennifer Jackson started a discussion on re-queries, whether it’s ok for a writer to re-query an agent if they have already been rejected. There were lots of thoughts in the comments from writers saying no they wouldn’t send a query again after a rejection, or maybe they would if they had made extensive changes to the manuscript.
Personally, I think the polite and professional thing to do is to re-query only if the agent said he or she would like to see it again if changes were made. Other than that, I wouldn’t query again for that project. If the project got rejected completely by all of my top-tier agents, then it probably wasn’t ready to submit and I’d try again with the next project and I think it’s fair to re-query an agent with a totally new manuscript.
I posted a comment saying roughly this and more on Jennifer’s blog post and I wanted to re-post it here, because I think it’s important for writers to really think about what they’re doing when they query. You want a career-long relationship with this person, and you want someone who believes in your book as much as you believe in it. If they don’t, they won’t be able to sell it properly. So, don’t just blanket-query to everyone under the sun. Not only does it waste the time of the agents — not to mention clog up the system for other writers — it also wastes YOUR time, and, in my opinion, undervalues your work. If you’ve worked so hard to make your book the best that it can be, editing and revising, making every word the best word, the characters and story strong, then given your query and synopsis the same attention to detail, don’t stop now. Research agents, and if one rejects you, don’t take it as a personal slight. Writing is subjective. Move on to the next agent in your well-researched list.
That’s pretty much what I said in the comment on Jessica’s blog post, but I’m including it here too in case you want more details. Bottom line: Don’t short change yourself. Find the best agent for you, not any agent.
I’m not an agent, and I really think it’s up to each agent to make his or her own guidelines for submissions.
But as a writer, given what I know about the industry and what I want out of an agent-writer relationship, I wouldn’t re-query an agent unless that agent had said, if you make changes, please send it to me again. That’s the only time I would re-query an agent on the same project. If I didn’t find an agent on my first project and was now going through the process with a completely different book, I think it’s fair to re-query with the new project.
As a writer, here’s my thoughts on why I would never re-query an agent on the same project unless it was invited. I want an agent who really loves my work, and no matter how much re-writing is done, the basic story or idea of a project isn’t going to change. If it does, that’s a new project. So, if an agent reads my query for Project A and doesn’t think the story has merit enough to ask for a second look after some re-writing, then in my mind, that agent isn’t that in love with the story. If the agent can see promise in the story, he or she would have asked for a second look. And, if they’re not that in love with Project A, that’s ok. Someone else might be, but either way, perhaps won’t be a good fit.
So often, I think writers feel desperate to get an agent, any agent. But they should be trying to get the right agent. There are lots and lots of wonderful agents in this business. The agent that’s right for Christopher Paolini might not be right for Ellen Booream, or whoever. Both of those writers’ agents, I’m sure, are equally wonderful, but they’re equally wonderful for those particular clients that they find a connection to through their writing. That’s what you want in an agent.
The thing is, and I’m addressing this to any writers who don’t research the agents you submit to and just send out query after query even after you’ve gotten a rejection, there are lots of agents in the business and lots of them who specialize in your particular genre. You want to find an agent with whom you can have a career-long relationship. You want someone who’s going to be your advocate, your salesmen. And for them to really want to sell your book and get you the best deal you can for your career, you want them to love your work. They should love your work. If an agent you query doesn’t LOVE your work, that’s ok. There are other agents who might love your work.
If you’ve spent all this time writing your book, revising it, editing it, having it looked over by critique groups and editing it some more, don’t stop working on it now that you think it’s ready to be published. Don’t short change it by sending it to every agent on AgentQuery.com. Do the work, do the research. Find the right agent for you. If one doesn’t get your work, that’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with that. Writing is subjective. There are lots of people who don’t like Harry Potter. Move on to the next agent on your well-researched list and query to them, and then the next until you find the agent who does LOVE your work.
Now, there’s also the fact that many writers submit their work before it’s really ready. I’ve been guilty of that. And if you get rejections from every agent on your well-researched list, that’s ok too. It just means you need a little more work. Perhaps this project isn’t the one that will get you started as a published writer. Perhaps this project is the one that gave you the experience to write the book that WILL make you a published writer. Perhaps, as is often the case with writers, this project will be published after your second book is already a success.
The point is, sending out query letters to agents who don’t specialize in your genre or who have already rejected you is a waste of your time as well as theirs.
So, do the work, be patient and be smart. Be smart for yourself. Aim for a career, and a life-long partnership with an agent.