How long?

Monty Python would have answered this question thus: “Well,…that’s kind of a personal question isn’t it?”.
But seriously…(drum roll)… it is indeed a pertinent question. How long must one ‘query’ before one gives up and self publishes? For myself, I have been through this whole rejection experience before with my first novel. I eventually self published.
So why am I going through this painful process again with my second? Like the proverbial battered wife, why do I think that he will love me, and not beat me up ‘this time’?
"I’m gonna keep tryin’…I’m gonna give it at least a couple months…I’m gonna send to a hundred agencies this time! …instead of just fifty like last time. Yeah!..that’s why! I just didn’t send it to enough agencies last time. (I didn’t have his dinner ready early enough…and that’s why he punched me in the mouth and broke my teeth…it’s MY fault!).
No,…I think it’s time to forget the false dream… and just self publish. It’s liberating.
Your thoughts?

You should do it again.

Hi there,

This seems better suited in #industry-insider so I’ll go ahead and move it over there :smile:

Thanks for understanding,
Fray - Community Ambassador :frog:

Query as long as you want. There are authors who’ve been offered representation on their first book, and then there’s authors who haven’t gotten any offers until their tenth book.

The main thing? Follow query guidelines. A lot of people don’t, so if you’re following guidelines, you’re already ahead of a lot of people. Also, make sure your book is ready. Actually ready.

The main thing with querying is to keep trying. Once you get through the offer phase and an agent, you’ll have to go on submission, and that’s another long process like querying that has no guarantee that you’ll get an offer from editors.

Even if you get no offers, it doesn’t mean your book wasn’t ready. It just might not be what the agent is looking for. However, it also doesn’t mean your book is particularly ready for self publishing, either.

TL;DR there’s no set amount of time for querying. It’s a journey you must decide for yourself.

Get feedback. critique circles, beta readers. If they tell you you are ready and the story works, then it is about personal preferences - and marketability.
It’s not about the total number of agents 50, 100, 1000. How many in your genre who are a really good fit are open. Have you queried those? I queried only 25 or so before I got my contract. Also, try publishers, some indie presses take direct submissions. If your manuscript really rocks and just doesn’t get taken then you self-pub.
If it is not ready yet, you open a totally different can of worms

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That is a very personal question because the answer is different for everyone.

I queried my first novel to one medium size publisher who (at the time) was the king in that genre. The feedback I got was that I broke a cardinal rule for the genre. The publisher’s editor agreed with me as to why I did it that way, but she couldn’t publish it. So I self-pubbed it. For me, I believe that was the correct decision.

I kept self-pubbing until I wrote a novel in a completely different genre under a different author name. Then I decided to shoot for a Big-5 publisher so I queried literary agents. I decided on only big name agencies (if I remember, one represented Hemingway and Fitzgerald). I think I only queried 5 or 6 before I got frustrated with the process and self-pubbed it. For me, that was a mistake.

The point is, each case is unique. So the answer to your question is unique to you.

It depends. I would judge it on the responses you are getting. If you have nothing positive from the first 10 queries then you should revise your query letter (you have read Queryshark haven’t you?). If you are getting requests for pages but they don’t turn into full manuscript requests then you need to rework those pages. If you are getting full requests then keep going unless you are getting consistent feedback then you need to listen to that feedback and revise the manuscript.
I took me 6 and a half years to get an agent, but I was getting partial and full requests throughout that time.


Yeah, but that’s just the frustrating part about it. Honestly, when I research these literary agencies I become somewhat frustrated. Oftentimes their ‘Query Rules’ are rather draconian, and if you violate them you will be casthather dr4y

Think of it as the first filter. Agents are slammed by queries all the time, having a ‘first filter’ of seeing who is willing to follow the rules helps weed out writers that aren’t able or willing to follow requests.

Sorry…my darn left finger triggered something that posted my reply before it was finished. Don’t you just love how artificial intelligence thinks for you?

OK, so where was I before the nemesis and future destroyer of mankind interrupted? Yeah, these literary agencies sometimes seem to be weeding us out before giving an honest listen. They warn you in no uncertain terms that “attachments will be deleted!” "Send the first five pages…(OK, so if I accidentally send six am I going to be sent to the trash can? YES!). Despite the fact that there are probably many nice people working for these agencies…they still come off as arrogant. They are indeed the “keepers to the keys to the kingdom”; I will not be convinced otherwise. Until self publishing really takes off.

I recently watched a video. It was a group of literary agents speaking at some conference at some university. One of the leading agents of the agency commented that "There are so many people out there ‘desperately’ searching for a literary agent, and there are so many literary agents ‘desperately’ searching for the next great writer. He said that there is a lot of ‘desperation’ going on. Yeah, maybe too much. My take is that literary agents aren’t gamblers. Maybe they should be more. Just a thought. Instead they are so ultra-conservative that they lose in the end. I’m not sure what their business model is, but it is so low risk that maybe opening a ‘Burger King’ franchise in a suburban subdivision might involve more risk than they’re willing to take.

Anyway…sorry for being so long winded. I love you all.

No, 6 pages in place of 5 won’t get you bounced if the writing stands out. This instruction means “choose a paragraph end that makes sense at around 5 pages.”
I don’t know how much you’ve looked at other people’s work pre-publication, but my experience is that a lot of people don’t realise how where the bar is for “writing that stands out”. It is higher than you think.

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Exactly what @Tirellan said.

No, six pages won’t get you eliminated. The point is to send a short sample, not a partial, not a full. The reason not to send attachments is because EVERYONE avoids attachments from unknown senders.

What you’re seeing as unnecessary hurdles is them asking for exactly what they use to make their decision. Agents are individuals, and they make their decisions in a way that works for them as individuals. So their requests vary. They’re doing you a favor by telling you, up front, what they need.

It’s like an RFP – Request For Proposal – in the business world. It’s a long doc that describes EXACTLY what the respondents need to provide to be considered for the position. Every RFP is different. Well, that sucks for people who are responding, yet they spend days preparing their responses to each one, just as it lays out. A request for queries is an RFP for agents. They’re looking for business partners.

And yes, they do look to see who can follow simple directions. Why? Because experience has taught them that the people who can’t are the ones who won’t act professionally at any other stage of the game. If they don’t understand how to query, they’re not going to understand all the steps that come later.

Agents desperately want things they can SELL. Taking a risk does you no good if they don’t know who to sell the manuscript to. Agent A might LOVE your manuscript – love, love, love it – but you don’t want him to take it on unless he knows the editors in its market and can SELL it. YOU don’t want that. You don’t want just any agent. You want the RIGHT agent. And it can take a lot of searching to find that agent.

Finally, I haven’t read your manuscript, so I have no clue what shape it’s in. I do know, though, that 95% of what is submitted isn’t ready. The bar is painfully high. Why? Because the slots for traditional publishing are limited. There are only so many publishers who publish a particular genre, and the majority of those slots will go to established authors with a solid track record. Only a few slots are available to debuts.

It’s a highly competitive system, and it SUCKS to break in. Honestly, it sucks once you’re in too! But if that’s where you want to be, then accept that it sucks and just do your best over and over until you make it. You may not make it with this manuscript, and the world won’t end because of it. Write another. And maybe more after that. Get BETTER with each one.

Honestly, most people look back at the first one they queried and laugh their asses off.


Yeah, I fully understand everything you say. I especially understand about how they weed out people who can’t follow instructions. I used to be in the US Navy, and I worked with weapons and weapon systems. I fully understand that you don’t want people who can’t follow instructions.

I just like to bitch now and then because it makes me feel a little better. Sorry for another Navy analogy, but we used to say that a sailor who’s complaining is a happy sailor. It’s those that don’t complain that you worry about. Sometimes a little bitching and moaning is good for mental health, even if it is unwarranted. I apologize if I may have done a bit too much here.

The painful part of this whole querying business is spending literally an hour or more preparing just one particular query, and then having to start all over again with the next one because the next Agent has all different requirements. And at the end of the day it’s all pretty much a waste of time anyway. But…it’s what we do, right?

I know the kind of pressures and difficulties these agents are dealing with. Most of them seem like fine people. In fact, usually when I get a rejection I will make it a point to e-mail back with a thank you note, thanking them for taking the time to respond personally.

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I sympathize. But when I was querying, I noticed that there was enough of a pattern to it that a few templates would suffice. The standard for a lot of agents is a 250-300 word query letter with a certain conventional structure, and the first 5 ms pages inline. A lot of them even ask for about the same format of subject line. That covers a lot of agents. A few minor variations such as 10 pages instead of five, or 5 pages plus a 500 word synopsis, covers 85 or 90% of them. At least it did for the genre I was querying.

And there are a lot of agents. Enough that you can be selective. For example, I didn’t bother with the ones who wanted me to fill out a web form. I just dropped them from the list.

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Quick Q. Can the short sample be from any part of your manuscript (the part that most shows off your writing skills) or does it always have to be from the start of the novel?

Also, does the sample need to be in the body of the email?


Especially on wattpad, I think there is a very false idea of what constitutes an acceptable standard of writing. As you say, the bar in the real world is very high. I’ve seen many comments in the forums from people who think they can get over that bar with a spellchecker and a bit of grammar software, when in fact they need 20 rewrites and beta readers, and quite likely a few more years of practice, and a whole lot more knowledge about what constitutes good writing.


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Yeah, I totally agree with your point. Often times in my writing my best sample is somewhere well within the manuscript. Of the last twenty queries I’ve sent out for my recently completed novel, only ONE agent asked merely for a “sample” chapter in their requirements. I was delighted, and sent them chapter 22!

I agree completely with you on this. Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of bad writing here on Wattpad. Sometimes however it is understandable. There are many young writers spreading their wings. There are many great young story tellers and that is a very wonderful thing! But there are also growing pains.

Sometimes I wonder about the school systems today. I think they are letting these kids down and failing them. Sometimes it is shameful how lacking in good grammar, spelling and punctuation are some of these writers.

Back in seventh grade I had an English teacher named Mrs. Leary. She was one hundred and one years old, wore her grey hair in a tight bun atop her head and a perpetual scowl on her wrinkled face. She also wore a huge ring on her right hand; and it was that ring that we all feared. She would often turn it around so that the big part faced the inside of her palm. (This was back in the day when teachers could still hit kids.) If you put the apostrophe in the wrong place you were likely to get an ‘apostrophe’ to the back of your head. Yes, she seemed to delight in smacking us students in the back of the head with her enormous ring. But you know what? I learned to love and respect the English language in Mrs. Leary’s class like I’m not sure I could have done anywhere else. God bless her, and may she rest in peace. (You are not forgotten Mrs. Leary.)

Today I don’t need ‘spell check’, and I don’t need any kind of ‘grammar software’; instead I have the scars on the back of my skull and my memories of Mrs. Leary to keep my spelling, grammar and punctuation correct.

Too bad there don’t seem to be too many of Mrs. Leary’s type around any more. (These days she’d probably be fired in a hurry anyway and face charges of child abuse.)

Yes. I think a generation of teachers thought that grammar was difficult and unnecessary, so they delighted in dropping it from the curriculum.

What they didn’t realise is that the study of grammar provides cognitive handles for thinking about sentences, and without those handles and without a sense of the underlying structure of language, it is difficult to write effectively. It’s not just about avoiding errors; it’s knowing that there are 20 different ways to link ideas into a sentence, and having those 20 different ways at your fingertips leads to more engaging prose than endless cycles of subject-verb-object. It’s also easier to avoid reader bumps if the eventual decoding of the sentence is explicitly in the writer’s mind as the sentence gets written.

I had my own version of your teacher, though no hitting was involved.