Marjorie Brimer

So you’ve sent out your queries and you’ve waited with exceeding angst for replies. Then they start to trickle in, the “we wish you all the best but this isn’t right for us” messages or the “we’ve considered your work and graciously decline. Remember, the market is subjective and we hope you find a good fit for your work,” letters. In the beginning you are just excited to get  responses from real life agents, however pre-formatted they may be,  but after about the 15th to 20th time (maybe the number is different for you) you start to get a little discouraged and ask…

 What is wrong with my work?

Is this a fair question to ask of ourselves? After all, the market is subjective and not every agent is going to love our work. When is it time to go back to the drawing board and how much should I change when it is time?

There are two reasons you could be getting repeated rejections.

Number one is your query. I usually give my query another good looking at each time I send out a batch. I send 7-10 out and wait about six weeks or until all have been responded to then send out a new batch. After waiting and reviewing, I have often found that the query could be better or even has errors-GASP. This is one good reason not to blanket the market with your query! I don’t know about you, but by the time I’m done writing it, I have my query memorized and it’s easy to miss small mistakes because my mind substitutes the correct words for the wrong ones or the ones that aren’t even there at all!

Maybe your hang up isn’t an error. Perhaps, your query isn’t a good representation of your work. We know our stories and it’s easy to fall into the pit of assuming other people understand the plot when they read the excerpt in our queries. It’s a good idea to get someone who doesn’t know your story to look at your query. Ask them questions about it and if they have a different idea of your characters and plot than you do then it’s time to revise. I have a formula I’ve developed after working with some published authors on my queries.

Start with a hook!

Start with a hook!

  • Hook!
  • Use a close narrative voice. Don’t fluctuate!
  • Show don’t tell.
  • Establish the setting.
  • Mention genre, word count, and title and use your character’s full name the first time you mention it. (You  might even capitalize it.)
  • Brief but convincing bio- even if you’re not published say a little something about your platform you’ve been working so hard on and establish the fact that you aren’t a loon.


    Establish that you are a stable author – not some loon!

The next reason for constant rejection would be your synopsis or manuscript sample. Maybe you’ve noticed that you get requests for your manuscript and THEN you get rejected. A few of these are to be expected because again…SUBJECTIVE. But if this becomes a trend, say five or six, then you may consider revisiting the way you’ve summarized your work in your synopsis. Obviously, your query is doing the job but your work isn’t standing on it’s own. Ask yourself if your synopsis captures your style and voice? If you are submitting sample pages then consider a new opening and comb over that baby with fine teeth for errors. Make sure the cadence of your work flows so  there are no sentences that have to be re-read in order to understand.

And after all this, if you are still receiving rejections consider revisions of the entire manuscript or pitching from a different approach. Is the dystopian concept of the novel truly the forefront or is the romance the focus? If so, pitch it this way. Sadly, there are times that we need to walk away, work on another project and come back with a new approach. Sometimes, time provides the fresh look we’ve been trying to conjure!

Is there a magic number for you when you feel like it’s time to go back to the drawing board? Has anyone revised  successfully and received representation as a result? Do tell!



  1. Great post – reflective of experienced, inner analysis 🙂

    If you have, indeed, run the gambit and polished and sharpened till the manuscript could cut onion paper and you STILL get no takers — This is a perfect time to self-publish and let the reading public judge your work (and make some money to boot). If it is successful (and sometimes even semi-successful) and catches an agent’s eye (most hang out more in eval of SP works and their performance nowadays than reading through submitted queries and MS’s, anyway) you might possibly get a contract offer from a trad publisher — assuming you would still want that offer.

    The self-published work today is the new query letter ‘with benefits’ 🙂

      • Margie – Self-publishing has already been embraced by traditional publishers (and is therefore part of the ‘traditional route’ today – and as I intimated above, TP’s are heavily mining this area for talent and future contracts (it truly is a new way to query with some actual performance data available to the TP).

        The scenario you painted in your post was one where all had been done under the older (and often misunderstood – due to some degree of obsolescence) traditional query method and the system had failed to pick up your manuscript. I was just pointing out a new, accepted TP method of giving your subject manuscript another go 🙂

        I never meant to infer that the traditional route to publication was to be abandoned – quite the contrary – it is just growing and writers should take full advantage of its more grown-up avenues.

      • It’s a wonderful day we live in with so many options to choose from. I agree that some agents will consider self published manuscripts. I just spoke to an agent in St. Louis that said if a self published book has done very well on the market some traditional publishers will consider picking them up as long as they don’t have any contractual obligations. I think if an author is at the stage where they have done everything, they’re still in love with their work (which we should be) and they want to make the self publishing investment then self publishing is a wonderful option for them!

    • Thank you for that! It is encouraging to think that a rejection isn’t always a sign that your work wouldn’t be valued by readers. The famous authors and their numerous rejections the blog mentioned can validate that. I wonder if they made revisions before submitting the 500th time though?

      • Margie,

        I think the point is that sometimes the people looking at the works are influenced in a way (at times) that has them not connect properly. Like when Steve Jobs approached his old boss to invest in the idea of macs, and his boss said no, after looking at the plan? He says he kicks himself today. There are times when the powers that be aren’t there yet. People used to think Charlie Kaufman was a terrible writer. It’s laughable. So in other words, you can do back flips but they may be looking for something different because they haven’t arrived, eyes tuned yet. Keep going… 🙂

  2. Excellent advice! This is like a page out of my life. After 25 rejections on one novel, I stopping querying and let a grad advisor read it. She said she loved some of it and showed me which scenes she loved. “Hmm,” I thought. After getting more advice on the manuscript, I decided that I should revise it as a middle grade book, rather than a YA book. But I tabled it (for the present) in favor of my current WiP. I revised it a few times, then started querying. This time the four rejections I received were of a different flavor. Some were regretful. “I like it, but I don’t love it.” Another mentioned the length. “Hmm,” I thought again. “I’m onto something with this one.” I stopped querying in favor of revising the manuscript. I just sent it out for the second round of queries. Waiting to hear back.

    To answer your question, I don’t really have a set number. But if I keep hearing the same thing from agents (“It’s too long” or “I like it, but I don’t love it”), I know it’s time for me to revise the manuscript and keep trying.

  3. In about one week I’m going to start sending out my first ever (!) round of query letters to agents after editing my manuscript like crazy (lots of readers and drafts, let me tell you :P). This post was helpful to me because I need to make sure I’m prepared for what rejected may come and be ready to fix what needs to be fixed, be it my letter, synopsis, or manuscript. Thanks for the perspective 🙂

  4. I enjoyed this article very much. I live in fear of ever sending out query letters, although my project, right now, is nowhere near that stage. I keep telling myself “first things first — get the writing done!” Anyhow, thanks for such a great post with fantastic advice.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog, and for the “like” on my recent post. I’m happy you enjoyed it, and I appreciate your visit to my site. 🙂

    • Don’t fear the query! See it as a challenge and don’t allow a rejection to crush you only let it build character. Good luck with putting yourself out there. You’ll do great!

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