Traditional Publishing

Query the Agent(s)

By G. Miki Hayden
Instructor at Writer's Digest University online and private writing coach – Monday January 28, 2019

How Many at a Time?

Writing the novel was easy—not! But now comes the hard(er) part. Getting an agent. Well, just take this trip one step at a time—or should I say several steps at time because you need to send out queries as if you were a query-packaging machine. 

When I was a kid—a few decades ago—we had to walk our queries to the agents five miles at dawn through hip-deep snow and wait in the frigid weather for acknowledgements. By that, I mean, we had to MAIL partials and manuscripts by way of the POST OFFICE. 

You guys have it easy these days as everything is done by email. And this way you can query further agents if you aren’t hearing back or if you’re getting (you? really?) rejections. 

Do not go “all eggs in a single basket” since the one who says, “send me 50 pages” and has your heart pumping may then turn around and tell you, “not for me” and scoff at your submission.

Getting to the full manuscript request stage is the hardest part. But if they request a full, they're really interested, much more than they are with a partial. Some agents take partials as part of the query package. So, yes, that they request your partial is happy-making since rejections on queries are not unusual—but the submission of a partial is really merely another step toward what you really want, the request for the full. 

But the request for the full is still not a “let’s sign a contract.” 
How long a time you’ll be waiting to hear on a query or a partial depends totally on the agent. Some will respond within a day or a week, while others take months, or even may never, ever respond until after your book is in print with a mainstream publisher and the accolades are rolling in.

The best-practice advice is certainly to query more than one agent at a time. Query five, if you like, or query a dozen. If you’ve had a request for a full and have sent that out, you can mention it to other agents you query—or not. I’d say don’t tell because even if you send out several complete manuscripts, you can still be rejected on all the submissions. So why should you let anyone know at this point? 

Unless an agent asks for an exclusive peek, which you grant, you aren’t ethically obliged to say a thing.   

If you grant an exclusive—and you don’t have to, and maybe you shouldn’t says at least one agent I know of—then you do have to stick to your word. You can set a time limit though—six weeks, maybe?

The advice to query five agents—or 10—comes with a codicil. Every time you receive a rejection from one, or you don’t hear at all after, hmm, a couple of months, send out another query. You’re just covering the territory, as is your obligation to your work.  

(By the way, your manuscript ought to be agent ready, which means to me, editor ready. The manuscript should be clean. I’ve done many, many, many, many prepublication edits, and I’ll tell you my work always polishes a great deal that was in desperate need of cleaning up. I’m astonished at how hard writers work at writing the novel and then don’t assure that the manuscript is submission ready. The market is so competitive that writers, if they knew that truth, would faint. Maximize your chances, which are, sorry to say, slim for those having no credentials.)

To continue.

But what if more than one agent says yes. Well, halleluiah. This isn’t a predicament. It’s a spot you want to be in. If two agents say yes, then you get to choose between them. You’re in control, and obviously you’re doing something right with your manuscript.

Do not wait endlessly to be accepted or—ahem—rejected. After a few weeks you can follow up on your original query, and if you don’t hear back—even on a full—move on. 

And remember, keep the querying going at a steady pace, sending out additional queries as soon as you hear a “thanks, but no thanks.”

Some authors rarely send just query letters, by the way. They almost always send partials, figuring the agent will read them or not, but at least that way if the agent is intrigued by the cover letter, no time is lost. 

And keep in mind if you know of an agent you’d like to sign with but she has passed on a prior project of yours—and in fact, everyone passed—you can still query on a new project. You may not strike it lucky until the 6th book—or maybe even later. 

Remember, too, that while you’re querying on five, six, or seven novels, you may be attending conferences and meeting agents at the same time. Yes, go to some conferences, attend agent pitches, make those contacts. Become a presence even if you haven’t struck it lucky yet. 

Keep querying. Keep pitching. Do not wait. And even more important than that, keep writing; produce more product to offer for sale. While you might query 100 agents on project 1 with no results, by having a project 2 to query next, you show you have the capacity to generate more merchandise—which potentially will make not only you some money, but will create gain for the agent as well. Being prolific is another part of the author’s job description, and yes, if you query a few of your heartthrob agents with the next project each time, that will be duly noted in the long run. 

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About the Author

G. Miki Hayden is a short story Edgar winner. She teaches a mystery writing and a thriller writing and other writing classes at Writer's Digest online university. The third edition of her Writing the Mystery is available through Amazon and other good bookshops. She is also the author of The Naked Writer, a comprehensive, easy-to-read style and composition guide for all levels of writers.