Why Literary Agents Aren’t Replying to Your Queries

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If you’re already awaiting a response from a literary agent, congratulations! That means you’ve finished your manuscript, put together a list of agents, and sent out your query packages, which is a pretty impressive feat. (If you still haven’t done that, check out our services for writers first.) However, if it’s already been a few weeks and you haven’t heard back, you might be wondering what the problem is. Did you miss something? What did you do wrong?

It’s not you, it’s them 

It can be incredibly frustrating to wait around for a response, refreshing your email in desperate hopes that your key to the publishing kingdom will come flying through your inbox. There can be multiple reasons why an agent isn’t getting back to you about your recent submission. Some can be innocuous—they’re behind on their reading or taking a break—and others can be more significant, such as they’ve stopped accepting submissions because they’re too busy or have closed indefinitely. You can check their Twitter account (if they have one) or website for clues and double-check if they mention how long they usually take to respond to queries. Every agent has a different work style, and some respond more slowly than others.

Even if they’re a few days past their stated response time, don’t freak out just yet. Be patient. If it’s taking a few weeks longer than their stated response time, you can send a follow-up with your query letter reattached, reminding them of your submission. Of course, always remain polite and respectful lest you turn them off a manuscript they really would have been interested in. First, however, make sure you’re clear on what their response policy is: In case they have stated they will only respond if interested, then refrain from sending a follow-up—you don’t want to come off as pushy or inattentive. That will only strengthen their resolve to toss your manuscript in the rejection pile.

Okay, maybe it’s you (but don’t take it personally)

If the follow-up doesn’t get you a response, it might be time to check if you missed something in their guidelines or had typos in your submission. Even a single typo could cost you a book deal from an unforgiving agent. Maybe you pitched to the wrong type of agent: Are you sure they work within your genre and target audience? Are they already too busy to take on a new client? Are they on a beware list? In that case, you don’t want to go anywhere near them anyway. Doing your research before querying an agent is extremely important, so consider requesting our targeted lists of agents and publishers and save yourself lots of time and stress.

If it’s only one or two queries that have been ignored, don’t take it too personally and keep pitching to other agents. However, if it’s been more than 10 weeks and you haven’t gotten a response from a handful of agents, it might be time to reexamine your submission. Rejections are normal in the publishing industry, and household names have famously drowned in rejections before they had their break. Still, sometimes there really are issues with your manuscript or query letter. Take a composed and objective view to the degree you can—no author is perfect.  

Maybe it’s your query letter

Your query letter is the first thing an agent will read, and if it’s not up to standard, they’ll move on to the next submission, and you’ll miss your chance to show them your full manuscript. Even if you’ve written the next huge bestseller, it’ll never see the light of day unless your query letter does it justice. Your query letter has to hook the agent, entice them with your story, and make them want to read more: It’s what tells them they can sell your book. It’s also what showcases your voice and writing style, so make sure it’s impeccable and true to the voice and style used in your manuscript. For example, if your manuscript is witty and sarcastic, dish out some of that dry humor in your query letter (in a respectful way, of course).

Sometimes, agents would rather ghost a querying author than send them a rejection letter. Ghosting sucks in any context, but don’t get discouraged! Rejection is a part of the business, and the best thing to do is let it fuel your resolve to keep going. Although you shouldn’t assume that your manuscript is perfect and the agent is just too daft to see it, you also shouldn’t sink into a pit of self-loathing and despair. To increase your chances of success, check out our query packages, which include a tailored query letter, a synopsis, an outline of the major plot points, and a targeted list of agents and publishers you can submit to.

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