How many agents should you query before giving up?

I noticed that someone was directed to this blog by this Google search: ‘how many agents should you query before giving up?’

I started this blog with posts about NOT giving up, so I hope that some of the inspirational stories on it were helpful. But if success in querying agents was the measure of a book’s success, there’d be damn few of them published.

I’ve posted the rejection stats, and for every series of rejections that seems outlandish, another one  comes along. Agents represent books, yes, but they also reject thousands of them and buried in that pile of “sorry, I’m just not as enthusiastic as I should be” are the ones that they kick themselves about later.

But obviously, not everyone is suited for this Darwinian business of writing and so it’s a legitimate question to ask: When should you give up?

Give up when your writing stands in the way of your living; when you spend so much time obsessing on boards about your rejections that you no longer value and appreciate the good things in your life.

Give up if, like Terry Fallis, you’ve self-published and posted podcasts of your chapters on your website but unlike him, no-one’s listening.

Give up when readers who don’t know you at all (like a book club you’ve approached to dsicuss your work) give you anonymous comments that tell you your book is beyond repair. Otherwise, repair it.

Give up if you done all the polishing you can do and have entered your manuscript, or parts of it, in writing competitions and didn’t get any traction.

Give up if you’ve gone to writers’ conferences and didn’t meet anyone who encouraged you at all.

In other words, give up if and when it isn’t worth pursuing anymore or because the judgment is in, and you can’t write. Because the hard truth is that not everyone can.

But don’t give up if your writing is good, simply because agents you’ve never met have read a few pages of your manuscript, or worse, just a query letter, and decided not to offer representation. That’s like deciding you’ll never marry because you tried online dating and didn’t meet anyone you liked.

If you really believe in your work and it’s not making you crazy, don’t give up. You try every avenue until there aren’t any left, and then you do what Terry did, and see what happens.

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14 Responses to How many agents should you query before giving up?

  1. Ariel says:

    Thank you for this post. I have 16 rejections, three from agents who “just didn’t fall in love with it like they thought they would”. Feeling very discouraged.

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    • Peggy Blair says:

      Ariel, babe, that’s just the start. Hang in there and read some of my guest blogs, like Alice’s — who was rejected 300 times before she found an agent and a publisher. Her book is on the shelves right now.

      Like

  2. Misbah says:

    i wonder how many rejections will I get?
    I sent out many query letters , my book is a young adult fantasy romance novel hope you can give me suggestions of more agents

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    • Peggy Blair says:

      Check out Agentquery.com — you can search for agents in that genre accepting submissions. Cheers, Peggy

      Like

      • Misbah says:

        I sent out emails to every agent in agentquery.com for my genre needed more websites though thank you so much

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        • Peggy Blair says:

          Sorry — I used Agentquery and I don’t really know where else you might try as I don’t write in that genre. Are you a member of Absolute Write’s Water Cooler? You could post a thread there and see what suggestions you get from other authors in the same genre.

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  3. Misbah says:

    No I am not but that is a good idea thank you so much 😀

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  4. Jim Gilliam says:

    Myself, I never give up. However, I am also a realist and the fact is you must be able to follow instructions. We’ve all heard the story about the final exam that only one student in the class passed. At the end of the exam instructions the professor stated, “At this point, sign the exam at the top and turn it in. You passed.” There are so many articles and books out there on writing a query letter that it tends to overwhelm. Agents receive so many queries that most, if not all, have developed their own system of triage. The term triage as used in battlefield medicine simply means that within the limits of your resources you spend those resources on the people that have a reasonable chance of surviving. On the battlefield the worst triage category to find yourself in is “Expectant.” Expectant means that you are expected to die in any case. It follows then, that you must follow the agent’s submission guidelines to the letter or the agent will place your query in the Expectant pile. That means if the agent asks for a one page query letter and a SASE don’t send a six page letter and the first five chapters of your manuscript thinking that the agent will be hooked if he would just read a sample of my work. It will not happen. The agent’s intern or assistant will open the envelope note the extra unsolicited material and throw it away. Now you’re saying, “This guy certainly has a good grasp of the obvious.” Yes I do. Why is it then, that the majority of literary agents cite faulty query letters and failure to follow their set guidelines as their number one reason for rejection? In addition to that I would cite failure to research the agent that you are sending your query letter to. Even a perfect query letter won’t overcome this mistake.

    Bottom-line, if you’ve written a good book, had it professionally edited, even the big names do this, researched the appropriate agent, and followed her submission guidelines to the letter, then I say go for it, as many times as time and your budget will allow! This is a very subjective industry, so you must be persistent. Even if you find an agent, she has to start pitching your work to publishers. Authors are not the only ones who get rejection slips, agents get them all the time. This is probably why they reject the majority of the queries they receive. It’s all about maintaining credibility.

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    • Peggy Blair says:

      Interesting point about agents being rejected, too, Jim. Thanks for commenting.

      Like

      • Jim Gilliam says:

        Thanks Peggy. The comment was borrowed from literary agent Noah Lukeman’s comment on the same topic on another blog. He advises not to give up and also shared that he had once submitted a work to over 60 publishers until he found one who liked the book. A valid point about agent rejection is that the agent has an established reputation to think of while a new author has a reputation to build. That is why it is critical to have your work as polished as it possibly can be before approaching any agent. I hate to be pessimistic but considering that even a negative response from an agent takes about four to six weeks I tend to send out a whole bunch of queries. And I pay attention to personal rejection notes. You can learn from these to modify your approach to agents in the future.

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  5. This is what I tell everyone who tells me they want to give up,

    The publishing industry doesn’t care about you, or your work. If you aren’t going to raise their bottom line, then they want nothing to do with you. The literary agents you’re sending your work too doesn’t care how long you’ve worked on perfecting your manuscript. They glance at it for no more than fifteen seconds and if they don’t see a profitable idea; it will be tossed aside along with the last fifty they’ve looked at that day. You’re going to receive a standard rejection letter. It will almost certainly not tell you of a way to improve your work, or even why your were rejected.

    Sounds harsh to tell someone in their weakest moment? TOUGH! This is a merciless industry that cares only about money, and if you’re unwilling to accept this, then please get the hell out right now. You’re wasting fifteen seconds of each agents time that could be spent on whether to accept or reject me.

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    • Peggy Blair says:

      Rather than standard rejection letters (although I certainly got lots of those), I got quite a lot of feedback from some really great agents before I finally got representation. But I do agree with you on this: it’s a business. A lot of writers have a romantic view of it, but when comes to selling books, it’s not romantic at all. It’s about earning a profit, like any other business.

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  6. Pingback: To Self-publish or not to self-publish that is the question | The Curse of the Would-Be Author, Ash Prince

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