Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How Long Should You Query a Manuscript?

You've written the next great American novel.  You've edited, made it pretty, worked on your characters, and developed a stellar plot that no one has thought of. Okay. Now it's time to query the agents and editors.

What? You've been querying? No one's expressed interest? Bummer...

Does that sound familiar? Probably. Most writers go through the above process at least once, though I'd venture a guess that it happens more than that.  How do you know when it's time to stop querying a manuscript and move on?

First, consider a few things.

1. How long have you been at it? A month? Two? That's  it? Quit your whining and keep trying! Some agents take six months to respond to one query. I'm talking from personal experience here!

2. Six months go by and no one has requested a full, a partial, or the first 10 pages. It's time for you to look at your query letter again because it may be that it just isn't doing your novel any good. Query letters are tricky little beasts that are meant to entice the agent to want more. Maybe you aren't sending a letter that's very interesting or that captures the flavor of your novel. There are many articles on the web that will show you how to create a great query letter. A lot of agent websites will tell you exactly what they want, too. One of my favorites is Janet Reid. Talk about brutal! That lady tells it like it is and doesn't care who she crushes in the process. If you want feedback on your query, check out her webpage! I've included her link for those feeling brave: Janet Reid

3. You've queried, received requests for fulls or partial manuscripts, but you keep getting passes from agents. Okay, this one really isn't about your query. Obviously, that's getting the job done because agents want to see your work. The problem is your manuscript. Reread the rejections carefully and without emotion. Is there a common theme? Are you getting similar complaints? Then fix the problem and keep querying.

4. You've queried, been rejected, made changes, and still nothing. Oh, my friend...I've so been there and done that. You have a few options at this point. A.) Keep trying. B.) Look at small presses. Many of them would love to have your work! C.) Consider self publishing. D.) Move on to your next project.

Any of the above paths have the potential to get your work out to readers. Trust your gut and your heart when it comes to making the final decision on whether or not it's time to stop querying. While you're querying one novel, be writing the next. It's possible you may discover some flaws in the first manuscript as you work on the new project that will change your mind about its potential. Maybe it just isn't marketable as is.

These are tough things to contemplate, but no matter what, don't quit writing!


  1. Great advice here! Although you left out another option... rewrite manuscript! Maybe not all at once... but after six months of querying, it may be time to start dissecting your beloved child for a full or partial make-over. Hopefully by this time you've been honing your skills on the next manuscript and will have an easier time of spotting stuff that 'just dont work'

  2. Excellent analysis! I agree with Matthew, too. The novel may need more work. Hiring a professional editor is a logical step if you can afford it, and if you think that project is worth pursuing further. I think you should always be working on a new novel! While querying the finished one is a good time to do that.

  3. This is all great advice, especially the part about writing new novels if the rejected ones keep getting rejected. I read a story once (I think it was an essay by a Pushcart Prize-winning author) about a writer who couldn't let go of his first novel, no matter how many times it got rejected. So he kept working on it without starting other manuscripts, until he finally realized that he had to let it go and change the way he thought about writing.

  4. Wow. I've heard stories like that too, Neurotic. It's hard to let go, but sometimes necessary. Of course, you can always come back to that first novel as long as you keep writing. Thanks for commenting!

  5. Hi, new follower here. Found you after searching Google for this exact topic. Thank you for this encouragement. (Been querying for only a month but I'm getting discouraged already. Guess I better jump back on the horse.) Nice to find your blog!

  6. Shelley,

    Good to have you here! Don't give up! I've sent queries out to agents who didn't respond for 4 months. And then they requested to see the full thing. Go figure! You never know what's going to happen. Thanks for dropping by!

    Mary Ann