How to Query, Part 3: Communicating with agents
The types of emails will you receive from agents while querying and how to respond
This is Part 3 of my How to Query series. Catch up on the earlier reads:
Reminder: I’m approaching this from the context of traditional publishing. Standards and norms shared in this series are for authors pursuing the trad route.
Today we’re discussing communications during the query process—the type of emails and requests you can expect to receive from agents, along with some sample responses you can use when replying.
Let’s get started…
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The biggest thing I want to stress about communicating with agents is that you should always be professional, polite, and succinct. (Yes, even if you get rejections.) Ideally, your query already exuded these three qualities! Make sure you continue to channel them throughout all correspondences.
What might those correspondences look like? Well, it will depend on the agent’s reaction to your query. Here’s a rundown of the types of emails you may end up fielding during querying process:
What it is: A generic email in response to your query that firmly and succinctly says “no thanks.”
A form rejection will hold little to no personalized information. Often times it won’t even include your project’s title because the message was copied-and-pasted to save the agent time.
In a sentence or two, the form rejection will typically say that the work isn’t right for the agent’s list, that they didn’t have the right enthusiasm for your project, that they have to pass on the title, that the manuscript isn’t something they’d like to pursue, or another turn of phrase that politely declines representation.
How to respond: Don’t! A form rejection can sting, but it’s the quickest way for the agent to tell you they are not interested in your project. No response is necessary.
What it is: A rejection to your query, but with a personalized comment about your work.
This comment could be praise or critique, but with the volume of queries the average agent receives, any personalized response is a great sign. Although this project isn’t right for the agent at this moment, they still saw something in your work and took the time to write to you individually. This means your query and pages are working!
How to respond: A simple thank you is a kind gesture that may be appreciated.
Thank you for taking the time to read and for providing this feedback. I’ll keep you in mind for future projects.
Note: You don’t need to query those other projects right away, unless the agent literally says, “Do you have anything else that you can share with me?” Otherwise, give yourself time to query your current project and circle back to this agent with another project later down the road as necessary.
A Partial or Full Request
What it is: A response to your query in which the agent requests to read more of your work and instructs you on how to send those pages.
Sometimes the agent will request to read the complete manuscript. This is considered a “full request.” Or they may simply want to read an additional sampling of pages before investing their time in the complete manuscript. If the agent asks for a set amount of pages, this is considered a “partial request.”
How to respond: Express your excitement that the agent is interested in reading more, attach the requested pages, and sign off. (Then go celebrate. This is a huge accomplishment!)
I’m thrilled to hear that you’d like to read more of [TITLE].
Per your request, I’ve attached [partial/full/however many pages they asked for] to this email. Please let me know if you have any issues with the file. Thanks again, and I look forward to hearing from you.
A Revise + Resubmit Request
What it is: A “not now but maybe with revisions” response from the agent, most commonly after they’ve read a full.
In this instance, the agent will likely provide you with some editorial notes, outlining the type of edits that would need to see made before being able to offer you representation. They will invite you to revise the manuscript and then resubmit it once you’ve completed the revision.
While it’s frustrating to not get an offer of representation at this point, it means the agent sees a lot of potential in your work and that they are very invested in the story. They may just want to make sure you are capable of revising before they offer.
How to respond: It depends. If the revision notes resonate with you, you may want to revise and resubmit to this agent. If the revision notes feel wrong, you may simply want to thank the agent and leave things open-ended (so as not to burn a bridge). Either route is fine. Remember that this is your story and you should take on revisions only if you believe in the proposed creative direction.
Thank you so much for reading [TITLE] and providing such insightful feedback. Many of your editorial notes immediately resonated with me. I plan to revise with your feedback in mind, and I’ll send you an updated manuscript [soon/by X date].
Thank you again for your time.
Thank you so much for reading [TITLE] and providing such thoughtful feedback. I’m going to take some time to digest your notes and consider how it will change the shape of my story. If I decide to revise with your feedback in mind, I’ll be sure to send you an updated manuscript in the future.
Thank you again for your time.
How long will this all take?
The amount of time you will spend querying (and in turn, communicating with agents) is impossible to predict. Some authors find an agent within a matter of weeks. Others spend months or even years querying. In some of these cases, the author may shelve their initial manuscript and query a second or third story before finally signing with an agent. Because the journey can vary so greatly between writers, averages are hard to pin down. That said, most manuscripts that find an agent typically do so within a few months. (At least, this was true back when I queried. Publishing is slower than ever now and I believe a year of waiting is not uncommon these days!)
While in the query trenches, remember that the time you spend querying is not always an indication of your story’s quality. Response times from agents can vary based on how much work the agent currently has on their plate, their personal reading speed, the time of the year that you query (holidays, summer vacations, etc.), and even industry trends (some agents may prioritize manuscripts that feature hot genres/trends while working through their slush pile).
While not formally part of this ‘How to’ series, you may want to check out So you’re stuck in the query trenches, a piece I recently published that talks about why you might be getting rejections even when your readers/writer friends love your book.
If you’ve been querying for a looong time and are uncertain if you should keep at it, ask yourself what type of progress you’ve been making.
Positive progress (garnering requests, getting personalized rejections, etc.) means it may be worth continuing to query.
Stagnant progress (all form rejections or no responses at all) may be a sign that it’s time to write/query something else.
It is incredibly hard to set aside a book that you strongly believe in, and only you can decide when it is time to shelve a manuscript. Just remember that it is possible to spin your wheels polishing and revising endlessly. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to write something new.
Ideally, though, you won’t have to set your book aside. Ideally, an agent will offer you representation…
Up next is Part 4: Signing with an agent, where we’ll talk about how you go from querying to represented.