Getting An Agent – Querying In Batches

I talk a lot about the querying process. Maybe someday I can talk about actually working with an agent. But, if you’ve been following me for a while, you know that traditionally published books need an agent and that most publishing houses don’t accept submissions for unagented works. You know, in order to get an agent, you need to send them a one-page query letter, telling them about the story — the characters and the stakes, the manuscript’s stats and comparative novels, and a brief biography of yourself. I’ve talked about how to pick who to query. I’ve even let you know about my worries about when to send that query letter.

But that’s not all you need to think about.

There’s debate about how many agents to query at a time, when to stop, and whether to give up and ‘drawer’ the manuscript or self-publish. I know I have the bad habit of revising my whole manuscript every ten queries or so, which I shouldn’t need to do unless I’m getting consistent feedback or my manuscript isn’t ready.

However, I’ve been running into querying writers who are sending out ten queries a day, without stop, until they’ve queried everyone in their genre, (or at least not opposed to their genre.)

Stop it!

You’re only hurting your own chances.

I agree that queries should be sent out in batches — but of 3-5, maybe up to 10. But then you need to wait. You need to see what sort of responses you’re getting.

If you’re getting form rejections, that doesn’t tell you if the agent doesn’t find your voice or story compelling, nor does it say that it’s not what the market is looking for. It simply means your query (and/or your first 10-pages) aren’t working.

It’s a LOT easier to edit or tweak a query and opening chapter than it is to revise and revamp an entire manuscript. But, industry standards are such that one does not re-query with the same manuscript unless there have been substantial changes — plot, pacing, characters — to a majority of the story.

A slight aside about those opening pages – a lot of publishers and agents and even veteran writers have told me that newbie writers often start the story in the wrong place — even if their writing is great.

Now, back to the query talk. If you query every agent immediately, you’ll never know if the problem is your query and opening, or the story itself.

If you query in smaller batches, you can tweak and adjust until you’re getting requests for more pages, or more personalized rejections. Both mean you’re getting closer. Feedback is useful, but lack of feedback just means you haven’t hit the mark yet (or you’ve been querying the wrong people).

Don’t waste your query chances with your first polished query. Once you’re getting rejections on partial or full requests, it may be time to query more widely, because you’ve got the query just right. Or, it might be time to look at the story. But all a form rejection means on a query is that the query isn’t working.

Slow down your querying. The publishing industry is a slow process, and rushing the querying process won’t do anything but close doors to your current manuscript.


Have you queried a manuscript? What did you find to be the right size for a batch?

Have you mass queried and actually had it work?

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