4 Tips from the Query Trenches

Thursday, January 11, 2024
Image by 巻(Maki) from Pixabay

In December, I started querying my nonfiction proposal “Wild Cities.” This third grade series is about wildlife in our urban and suburban areas. It leans heavily into the Anthropocene which is a reference to the changes human beings are making on the world. 

Last night after dinner I received my first email response. It only took me a moment to realize that it was a fairly long form rejection. I say, “fairly long.” It was 9 or 10 lines of text. 

Maybe it’s just me, but if there’s no feedback specific to my manuscript, you don’t have to tell me how much you anticipated reading it or how you hate sending rejections. You can say it all with “thank you, but no.” Or even “no, thank you.” 

Yes, I frequently come in under word count. Why do you ask? 

I’m still hoping to hear something positive from another agent, but I’m not waiting before I send it back out. And that’s my first tip. . . 

Query in Batches 

You can do this by sending out five queries at once. Or you can query one or two agents a day for a week. Basically, don’t send out just one. You don’t know how many queries it will take before you contact just the right agent on just the right day and get a “yes.” Some writers send queries out in large batches. One writer I know queried 75 agents at once. I prefer smaller batches because you may hear something back that will enable you to improve your manuscript. That said. . . 

Don’t Expect a Response 

I tried to Google how many queries agents receive. The numbers I found ranged from several dozen a day to several hundred a week. Specific numbers aside, not every agent will respond. They simply get too many queries, and don’t have the time. Yes, it would be nice if they did, but even those who respond to everyone will most likely send a form rejection. The crème de la crème of form rejections will include your name and manuscript title, but they are still form rejections. Instead of sending out form rejections, many agents will tell you up front that “no response means no.” 

Be Prepared to Pivot 

When you’ve sent out a number of queries and heard nothing, be prepared to pivot. How many queries do I mean by “a number?” It depends on the size of your market. I tend to reevaluate things after 10 to 20 queries. This doesn’t mean that I revise my manuscript although I may. What it means is that I take a hard look at who I am querying. I write primarily nonfiction. Many agents, and we’re talking children and young adult agents, say they want nonfiction, but they mean something more specific. Maybe they only get excited about picture book biographies. Or they may want middle grade nonfiction. If I hear nothing, I likely need to look harder at who I’m querying. 

Work on Something Else 

Finally, once you start sending out queries, get to work on something else. I am currently working on the draft of my cozy (half way!), several contracted jobs, and some drawings. When I get a bit more done on these, I’m doing one more draft of a picture book manuscript. Our own Angela Mackintosh teases me about the variety of things I work on at any given time. It is both a blessing and curse. The curse is that I sometimes struggle to get one thing done. The blessing is that when I get a rejection, I can pick up my pens and sketch something out. 

One rejection isn’t nearly enough to know how I’m doing on this round of queries. Although we hear stories about people finding representation with their first query, those are Cinderella tales. Although I wouldn’t have said no if it had worked, the reality is that querying takes time and numerous attempts. Fortunately WOW! is a great place to find the support that you need as you work your way through the process.


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of 40 books for young readers.  
  • To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.  
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She is also the instructor for 3 WOW classes which begin again on February 5, 2024. 
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Jodi Webb said...

It's encouraging to see someone who works on many projects. Makes me think that instead of being scatterbrained, I'm smart. How do you keep up your spirits while querying? Is it working on the other projects?

Angela Mackintosh said...

Ha! You always have so many irons in the fire, Sue! :) Solid advice on querying, and I agree with sending in small batches. I wish all agents would send a form rejection letter at least. It doesn't take much time to put all the emails into an email provider and schedule a form email to send to everyone, but I get that they are unpaid. Anyway, congrats on your first rejection! That means you're sending it out into the world and that's great news. Wild Cities is fantastic and needs a home! :)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Part of it is just making sure I always have at least two queries/submissions/pitches out in the world. One comes back, maybe the other will be a yes! But I'm also not above rewarding myself. A friend of mine had a rejection jar. Inside were slips of paper listing prizes - go to a movie, play a game, etc. I did this for a while and got a prize every time I got a rejection.

Thank you re: Wild Cities. I would so love to find a home for that.

I don't mind form rejections, but keep 'em short. "Thanks but no" would be excellent because it gets across the vital part (no) and is still polite.

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

One of my resolutions for 2024: Send in batches! Any batch amount will do, as I was nearly batchless in 2023. LOL.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I know what you mean. Last year, I pushed myself to pitch and query at not doing so for far too long.

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