Surviving Query Hell Part 3 of 4

Welcome Back!

To recap, the previous "tips" on surviving query hell were:

1.  Have a Really Good Book
2.  Get a Life
3.  Keep Copies of the Close Calls
4.  Have a Support System
5.  Keep Writing
6.  Remember the Time Difference

7.  Follow Up But Don't Be a Stalker.  It's perfectly fine to follow up with agents if they've got a full or partial of your book.  Just don't call and/or email them eight times a day or show up at their office or worse, their home unannounced--or at all.  Don't rappel into their backyard from the stealth helicopter you hired for just such an occasion.  In other words, don't stalk.  Unless an agent gives you a specific time period within which you will hear back from them, it is acceptable to send a short email after 2-3 months of waiting.  Or if they say they'll get back to you in six weeks, you can wait 8 weeks and send an email.  Just identify yourself, your work, remind them they requested it and ask politely if they have had a chance to look it over yet.  Keep it brief and cordial.  This really does keep your book from falling through the cracks.

8.  Re-evaluate.  If you're somewhere upwards of 50 queries and you haven't had any requests or even a personalized rejection (I had a few agents say "intriguing premise" or "sounds like a strong project" in their rejections of my query), you need to take another look at your query letter.  It might not be working.  There are about a bajillion resources on writing the perfect query on the internet so do a little more research.  Try to get a few people to evaluate/critique your query.  Also you want people who have both read your book and not read your book to evaluate your query.  You'd be surprised how often we, as writers, fail to distill the essence of our own books into a few paragraphs.  If you've written a murder mystery, you should be pitching a murder mystery.  You don't want your query sounding like you're pitching a romance novel.  Hence the need for people who've read your book as well as those who have not.  Also if you've gotten requests for fulls and partials but only rejections (and I mean more than just one or two) then you should take another look at your book and decide if it needs more work.

9.  Don't.Take.It.Personally.  Seriously.  Believe it or not, 238 agents saying no doesn't necessarily mean you suck.  It just means you haven't found the one agent who loves your book.  Remember, this is a subjective business.  I know, I know.  If you've been querying long enough (or even on subs long enough) hearing that phrase makes you want to vomit.  But it's true.  Have you loved every book you've ever read?  Probably not.  Haven't you ever read a book that took your breath away and forced it on a friend only to find out later they thought it was complete crap?  There is something to that saying that one man's trash is another man's treasure.  Although you may need to re-evalaute (see #8), don't take the rejections personally, especially the form rejections.  If you've written a good book, chances are someone out there is going to recognize it.  A lot of variables have to come together and align at exactly the right time for that to happen but when it does, all the waiting and rejection will have been worth it.  For more on subjectivity, see my post on When Good Isn't Good Enough.

Stay tuned for part 4 of this series coming up tomorrow!


  1. As always, so enlightening and helpful. :) I am loving these posts Lisa!

  2. Great stuff, Lisa. Two questions so far: How many different version of your query did you write before scoring your agent, and, when you were querying ABERRATION, did you send that to any of the agents that had rejected CLAIRE FLETCHER? Thanks for sharing!

    1. I only ever had two versions of my queries and they were so similar that you could barely tell them apart. I worked very hard on them before releasing them into the world!

      As to your second question, I queried all the agents who had rejected FCF for Aberration, especially the ones who had read FCF. I wrote to each one of them and said you read my first novel and liked it but passed, would you be willing to have a look at my second novel. All but one of the agents immediately asked for Aberration. They all passed but it seemed like they were MORE likely to give it a read than the agents who had never read my work before. The one agent who didn't ask for it simply never responded to my inquiry at all. Good questions!

      Also if I had an agent really love my work but pass, I always asked for a referral. They didn't work out either but it was another chance at getting my book(s) read.

  3. I just received my first rejection in response to a query. At least I know the agent received my email!

  4. "Don't take it personally." That one's tough to do sometimes.

    Excellent series this week, Lisa. Great advice.

  5. Sometimes it can be hard not to take it personally, but you're right, we shouldn't.

  6. "Don't rappel into their backyard from the stealth helicopter you hired for just such an occasion."

    ...I mean, great post! :)

  7. Check. Check. Check. Ad nauseum! I'm still tweaking both the manuscript AND the query. Hopefully, within a month, I'll be ready to descend into the pits of query hell.

  8. Truly excellent advice! Great series, Lisa. Should be a must read for anyone about to jump in - or who's currently smoldering - in Query Hell.


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