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How to Query a Literary Agent: 11 Steps

How to Query a Literary AgentHere’s Part Two of my Querying series! (Find Part One: How to Write a Query Letter here and Part Three: How I Got My Agent here) This post is focused on the querying process and how to query a literary agent. I’m going to share my personal querying/how I got my agent story in the next post.

For this process, I’m going to focus on how to query a literary agent because that’s what I have experience with. But if you’re approaching a small publisher, the process is going to be similar when querying an editor.

First, you should not be considering querying until your book is as finished and as polished as you can get it. (If you’ve got a series or trilogy and aren’t sure when to submit, check out this post!) Assuming you’ve reached that point, let’s take a look at how to query a literary agent.

1) Write a query letter that captures what your book is about

Before you query a literary agent, you have to write a query letter. I talked all about this in my How to Write a Query Letter post. That’s is where this process starts!

2) Do your research and build a list of possible agents

When you go to query a literary agent, you need to make sure you’re submitting to someone who is right for your book. The publishing market is broken down by age group (children’s, middle grade, young adult, adult) and genre (fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, contemporary, thriller, historical fiction, etc). Agents typically specialize in a few of these categories, but not all. So if you’ve written a middle grade fantasy, you need to make sure you’re submitting to agents that represent both middle grade and fantasy.

Here are to resources to help you build a list of potential agents: Once you make a (free) account on this site, you can search agents and filter them by age group and genre. They also include an agent’s website, email, social media handles, and an overview of how each agent prefers to be contacted. It’s also kept pretty up to date. This was my number one resource for keeping track of agents. This site has even more information that Query Tracker, but isn’t kept as up to date (which is why I didn’t use it as much). But you might want to cross-reference them–if you’re into that kind of thing. 🙂

There are hundreds (thousands?) of agents on these sites. Take some time to read through and visit websites, then make a list of your top ten, then twenty others you really like. You may need more but thirty should be good to get you started.

You can also try reading the acknowledgments of books you like/think your book is similar to. Most authors thank their agents, so you can find some names and look them up. (This is how I found my agent!)

3) Take note of submission guidelines and follow them!

When it comes time to query a literary agent, following the directions is critical. As much as the databases are good for finding agents, they may not always be current. You should always go to their actual websites to check submissions guidelines. Some agents will just want a query, some will want the query and sample pages pasted into the body of the email, some will want the partial attached. Whatever they ask, DO EXACTLY AS THEY SAY!!

Agents get a lot of queries, and they don’t have an excess of time. If you don’t follow the submission guidelines, you become someone they definitely don’t want to work with. It also may take them longer to sort through your submission, which again, isn’t something they really have time for. If you want to make a good first impression, follow the submission guidelines as closely as possible. The only place you have a little wiggle room is with the sample pages. If they ask for 10 pages, but your chapter (or a good stopping point) ends on page 11 or 12, then it’s usually okay to add the extra pages. But don’t abuse this. The agent you’re querying won’t appreciate it.

4) Get a dedicated query email address

Before you query a literary agent, I suggest setting up an email address just for querying. It should be professional, ideally with some variation of your name. This will become your future author email.

I also made sure it was a separate email client than my personal email, that way if I had the app on my phone, I would know that if I got that notification it was a query response. This meant I wasn’t constantly refreshing my email. If an email came through, it would find me. (Though I did check in online roughly every other week if I hadn’t heard from anyone in a while, in case of technology/notification fail.)

5) Start sending out letters

It’s time!!

Start with your top ten agents. Address your query. Follow the submission guidelines. Take a breath. And hit send.

I would suggest sticking with ten open queries at a time. You might get feedback from an agent at some point and want to make changes to your manuscript. If you sent the original out to everyone at once, then you have no one left to send your new and improved manuscript to. You also have to keep track of all the queries you send in case you get an offer and want to get in touch with an agent who has an open query (more on that later). This will be a lot harder and a lot more work if you have a ton of queries open. So I say start with ten. Then every time you close out a query, send a new one out.

6) Know what outcomes to expect

Before you query a literary agent, it’s a good idea to be prepared fo the most likely outcomes.

The good:

An agent likes your letter/sample pages and asks for more! (Yay!!) Some agents will go right ahead and ask you to send the entire manuscript. Others may ask for a partial, which is usually between 50-100 pages–the agent will tell you how much to send. DO WHAT THEY ASK!! Like submission guidelines, it’s usually okay to send a few more pages if it’s a better stopping point, but don’t go crazy. If they ask for 50 and you send 100, it’s starting things off on the wrong foot. Traditionally, if an agent asks for a full/partial, they’re expecting them within 24 hours. Which is why it’s really important to have your book finished before you start querying.

The in-between:

If an agent likes what they see, but think you/the project are not quite ready yet, they may tell you to keep them in mind for the future. File this agent away! It may not be the ‘yes’ you were looking for, but it’s still a good thing! It means they see something in you! (Also, this was what led me to my agent.)

The not-so-good:

An agent doesn’t want to read more of your book. (Sad face!) You’ll find this out in one of two ways. Some agents have a “no response means no” policy, which means if they don’t respond to your query, you can assume it’s a no. These agents will usually tell you right in their submission guidelines if this is the case. They’ll also let you know that after X weeks, you should consider them a pass (six weeks seems to be the average in my experience). The second way you’ll find out is with a rejection letter. These are usually form letters that say some variation of “Thanks so much for considering me, but I’m going to have to pass on this project. I wish you the best of luck.” Which leads me to number 7…

7) Reframe your thoughts on rejection

Rejection can be pretty disappointing–especially if you query a literary agent you really like and they end up passing on your book. But when you query a literary agent, rejection is a very likely outcome, and it’s important to be prepared for it. I had queried three books before I got my agent. You would think that at some point this would have started to get discouraging, but I found that the more I queried, the less rejection bothered me. I eventually realized that by the third time through, I had started to think about rejection differently.


I realized that I didn’t want to get an agent (or to be published) because I wanted to be validated as a writer. I write because it makes me happy. No one has to validate that for me. I wanted an agent because I loved to write so much that I wanted writing to be my job. As much as it may have sucked to hear that my book wasn’t wanted, I had to believe that in the long run, it was for the best. If an agent didn’t LOVE what I’d written, I couldn’t imagine they’d be able to put me in the best position to succeed.

It may be hard to see past getting an agent when you’re querying, but the fact that you’re looking for agent tells me that you’re probably not just looking to publish a single book. You’re most likely looking to build a life and career. If that’s the case, you deserve someone who loves your work and who will do everything they can to put you in the best possible situation, book after book.


When you only have ten letters out at a time, that means that there are a whole bunch of agents who haven’t had the chance to read your book yet. The agent who is the right fit for you could be out there and you just haven’t sent the email! Once I knew I wanted an agent who loved my writing (and got used to the idea that rejections came from agents I didn’t want), I started seeing every rejection as an opportunity. Each rejection gave me a chance to contact a new agent who might be The One. And if that one turned me down, it would still give me another opportunity to send another letter.

Clearly, I’m really good at manipulating myself into seeing the glass half full, but thinking about things this way really helped me! It also really helped to understand why I wanted to be published. Only you can decide why you want to be published, but I would encourage you to find a reason other than validation. I truly believe you will be happier if you do. If you want to see more thoughts on rejection, I talk a little about it in my Redefining Failure post.

8) Keep good records

As you’re building your list and going through this process, you’re going to find that every agent/agency has a slightly different procedure. Some will say if you don’t get a response it’s a no. Others will say if you don’t get a response after six weeks, flow up or resend your letter. Some will ask for a partial and say if you don’t hear anything in two months follow-up. Some will ask for a full. You need to keep track of who you queried, when you queried them, if they responded, and if they asked for more. You need to know who has your work.

I suggest a spreadsheet! Here’s a screenshot of mine.

Query Speadsheet

My columns are: agent, their agency, date I sent the query, if they responded (an X for I got a “no” response, and O for closed/no response), when six weeks would be up (or when I should consider the query closed–six weeks is average but some are shorter or longer), and if I needed to follow up if I hadn’t heard from them. Then when I sent a query out, I’d highlight the row in green so I knew it was active. I took the highlight away when I closed it. If an agent asked for a partial, I highlighted it in blue and made a note of when I sent it and when I should follow up.

9) Follow up if/when it’s appropriate

Some agents will say it’s okay to follow up on a query if you haven’t heard from them after X weeks. You should absolutely do this–just make sure you wait until after the time frame they’ve given you. Also, nearly every agent I encountered encouraged a following up if they haven’t gotten to your partial within 2-3 months. (This is also something that helped me get my agent). In both instances, be brief and polite. Here’s an example: “Hello, I wanted to follow up on a partial I sent you on X/X/XX. Let me know if you’d like me to resend.” I also suggest replying to the original email and keeping everything in one thread. Agents handle a lot of submissions. Even if they liked yours, they may not remember it after a few months. Make it as easy as possible for them to see your prior exchange.

10) While you wait, work on something new and don’t give up

One of the hardest parts when you query a literary agent is how long it takes to hear back. Like I said in part one of this query series, an agent’s priority is the clients they have already signed. And that’s good! In the future, when you are one of those clients, you will want your agent to prioritize you. But that means as querying writer, you wait. And while you wait, you might as well work on something new. If you do get an offer, your agent will like to know that you have more in the works. And if the book you’re querying doesn’t get you an agent, you’ll have another book to send out.

I queried a book until I had a new one to submit (which took about a year), then I pulled the first book back and focused on querying the new one. But the nice thing was once it came time to do the next book, I already had a big long list of agents I thought would be a good fit for me, so I just had to double check that everything still lined up and they were still open to queries before sending a new query off.

11) When an agent makes an offer


How you get the news can vary from agent to agent. Some will email to set up a call. Others will just call–like mine did. (I didn’t pick up–I was straining chickpeas at the time. I called back REAL fast.) It’s okay to ask questions if you have them. If you have other partials/fulls out, it’s considered professional courtesy to let those agents know that you’ve had an offer and give them time (about a week) to read what you’ve sent them before you accept anything.

I’ve heard conflicting things about open queries. Some agents want to know if you have an offer even if they only have a query, others aren’t that worried about this. I guess it comes down to how much you want to work with the agent making the offer. If the agent was high on your list, you like what they’re offering and you feel like someone else would have to really blow you away, I think it’s okay to say yes on the spot–if you want to. (I did!)

On the other hand, if you don’t like what you’re hearing or there are things you’re on the fence about, take some time to think about it and check in with your open queries while you do. Though I should note, this only applies to open queries. If you have open partials/fulls, you really need to get in touch with those agents before accepting an offer.

It’s also okay to turn down an offer if it doesn’t feel right to you. Remember, once you accept that offer, your agent becomes your teammate. They are helping you build a life and career. You need someone who is going to put you in the best possible position. If you don’t think the agent making the offer is that person, say no. Trust me when I say, no agent is better than a bad or incompatible one. (I don’t have experience with this, but I’ve heard stories.) If you get an offer from the wrong person, you will get another offer from the right person–just keep going!

I hope this gives you a good idea of how to query a literary agent!

You can find Part Three: How I Got My Agent or revisit Part One: How to Write a Query Letter.

Now it’s your turn: Have you tried to query a literary agent before? If you have, do you have a tip to help others query a literary agent? If you haven’t yet, what’s your biggest concern as you get ready to query a literary agent? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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How to Write a Successful Query Letter

I created this blog to prioritize writing more so than publishing, but publishing is a MASSIVE reason why we write. So it would be super unhelpful of me not to discuss publishing at all. Whether you want to share your work, see your name on a bookshop shelf, or fund your writing habit, publishing most likely plays some kind of role in every writer’s journey. And the road to publication starts with writing a successful query letter.

This is part one of my three-part querying series. You can find Part Two: How to Query a Literary Agent here and Part Three: How I Got My Agent here. We’re kicking things off with the first step in querying: a successful query letter. Since my experience is with traditional publishing (not self-publishing) I’m going to keep my focus there.

Now, let’s take a look at a successful query letter. First, some basics:

What is a query letter?

A query letter is a letter that writers send out to agents or editors explaining who they are, what their book is about, and asks either agents to represent them or editors to publish their book.

Who needs a query letter?

Pretty much every writer who wants to be traditionally published. Query letters are used to get the attention of agents and editors. If you’re hoping for a bigger publishing house (Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Macmillian, HarperCollins, etc) you need an agent to get your book to an editor. However, there are some smaller houses will take submissions directly from authors–if that’s a direction you’re interested in going. Generally speaking, you’ll need a query letter either way.

If you can go right to an editor, then do you really need an agent?

As far as I’m concerned, yes. Yes, you really do. Sure, if you’re looking for a smaller house, you can sometimes query the house or editor directly, and if your only goal is to be published, then this is definitely an option for you. But if you’re looking to build a career, I wouldn’t recommend forging those waters without an agent (and I personally can’t imagine doing so). A good agent knows the industry and will put you in the best position to succeed. They will also protect you and make sure you don’t get taken advantage of. They’re basically a teammate. Additionally, bigger publishing houses won’t look at your work without an agent, so if that’s the kind of book deal you’re looking for, you won’t get there on your own.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s the rundown for writing a successful query letter:

1) The Format

A basic query letter is going to be three paragraphs and consist of a hook, synopsis, and bio. It’s generally pretty straight forward and absolutely should not be more than a page. I’m going to walk you through each step, but as we move on, if you want to take a closer look/see some different examples here’s the format explained on, which was the source I used to write my first query letter.

If you do some internet searching, you may come across some formats that have the third paragraph first. If you want to format yours this way, that’s absolutely okay. It’s very possible to write a successful query letter that’s set up like that. (I’ve seen plenty.) However, my experience (and personal preference) is the hook, synopsis, bio sequence, so that’s what I’m going to walk you through.

2) Salutation

Dear Mr./Ms. [Agent name] is a perfectly fine way to start your letter. Address the agent you’re querying directly and don’t over think it. (I definitely over-thought it).

3) Hook your reader

Once you’ve greeted your reader, you’re going to dive right in. The pitch should start immediately with the first paragraph, which is the hook.

I like to compare both this paragraph and the synopsis to what you would read on the back cover of a published book. Your hook should be its own 1-2 sentence paragraph that introduces your main character, hints at what makes your book special, and/or adds enough intrigue that would make your reader want to see more. A successful query letter should fully engage and entice your reader.

4) Synopsis

Once you have your reader hooked, you need to tell them a little about the story so they actually want to pick up the book and read it. Truth: I found this and the hook to be REALLY HARD! After spending a year writing the entire book and understanding the nuances of the main plot and numerous underlying storylines, condensing it all into nine sentences was painful!

If you struggle with this too, I suggest doing your very best to focus on the heart of your story. Who is your main character? What’s the main conflict? What does your main character struggle with internally and externally? What is a direct threat to the character?

You don’t have to give your whole story away in your query, but you want to entice your reader to open the book and read, just like the back copy of a book jacket would do. There may be several subplots that seem really important to you that don’t make the letter. That’s okay!! As long as what you’ve written captures the heart of the story, it’s a letter you can seriously consider submitting.

5) Add info about your book including title, genre, and word count

The third paragraph has two parts. Part One is about your book. Tell your reader the title, the age group (Middle Grade/Young Adult/Adult etc), the genre (thriller, fantasy, science fiction, contemporary, etc), and estimated word count. If you see this book as the start of a series, this would also be the time to mention that.

6) Say why you’re qualified to write this book

Part two of the last paragraph: Give the person your querying any background information that proves why you’re qualified to write this book. This can be writing related (writing classes you’ve taken, writing degrees you’ve earned, publication credits you have), and/or specific to the content of the book (for example, if you’ve written a book about a lawyer and you are a lawyer, that would be something to mention). Use anything and everything that can help you, but don’t lie!

7) Thank your reader and wrap up

Thank the agent for taking the time to read your letter, say you look forward to hearing from them, and get out. One sentence is enough here.

8) Revise until you have a letter you like, then polish the hell out of it.

I usually had to write my query letter at least twice until I had something that I felt like captured my book. The first draft was me writing down what I thought I needed (which was way more than I actually needed). The second draft was when I cut almost everything I’d written and reworked/expanded on what was left. Then I worked that until I was happy with it. Once I had a letter that I felt captured the book, I polished it until I felt like it read perfectly. Then I found other readers to catch everything I missed. If you have trouble, I definitely recommend talking to a friend or two you trust who has read the book and can give you some insight into which story points are really important and which aren’t. Once all of that’s done, it’s time to query!!

Here’s my successful query letter!

Now I’m going to share my successful query letter for Crossing the Line. Truthfully, I kind of hate the idea of sharing this! My book was a serious challenge to boil down into a couple paragraphs. Now that it’s published and I’ve seen how it’s been pitched by professionals, I think it could have been A LOT tighter. But none the less, this is the letter that got me my agent, which is why I’m sharing it with you! 🙂

Dear xxxxxxx,

North Korean intelligence agency KATO believes eighteen-year-old American spy Jocelyn Steely is under their control. And that’s exactly how Jocelyn wants it.

When KATO sends Jocelyn back to the American-based International Defense Agency she was kidnapped from as an eight-year-old, they see it as the perfect opportunity to infiltrate the ranks of their biggest rival. After ten years of brutal training, forced drug therapy, and a series of successful — yet traumatizing — assignments, KATO never considered the possibility that Jocelyn could still have a mind of her own. But she does. To her, this mission is not only an escape, but also a chance at revenge. The only problem is Jocelyn has never trusted anyone enough to have an ally, let alone a friend. In order to escape KATO, she’ll have to learn to rely on others — including former enemy agent Travis Elton. And to Jocelyn, there is nothing more difficult or terrifying.

CROSSING THE LINE is a young adult thriller complete at around 91,000 words. It is the first book in a planned trilogy. I have an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Rosemont College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in Communications and Media Arts from Neumann University, where I double minored in Writing and Journalism. My writing has been published in both the Neumann University Joust and the Philadelphia Inquirer. I have also spent the past three years volunteering with creative writing classes at a local high school where I assist in creating lesson plans and work with students on an individual and group level.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,

Meghan Rogers

Bonus thoughts: Should you personalize each letter you send?

This is something I’ve thought a lot about–maybe too much–so I wanted to discuss it here.

I’ve read some posts that recommend writers take the time to research an agent’s list and give a pitch as to why they or their book would be a good fit. I’ve also read some thoughts from agents (not a ton, but some) that say they too really like when authors to do this because it shows them how serious the writer is.

But honestly? I didn’t really personalize my queries beyond the agent’s name, and I think that’s kind of an unreasonable expectation to put on a querying writer.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I did my research.

I made sure I targeted agents I thought would be a good fit for my book. (I’ll talk more about that in my next querying series post.) But I didn’t take the time to write my reasons out in each query letter I sent off.

Would I have had a more successful query letter if I’d done this? Maybe. But here’s the thing; most of the agents you query are going to reject you. It sucks, but it’s true.

And 99% of the agents who reject you are not going to take the time to give you a personalized response explaining why. If you get a response at all, it’s likely to be a form letter. They simply don’t have time to give you anything more. Their priority is to take care of their current clients. Most agents can’t afford to invest a lot of time in a response to someone they don’t represent. Their time is valuable. It’s important to be understanding of that, especially as someone who someday wants to be an agent’s client.

But your time is valuable too.

Most querying writers are also working another job (or two), or going to school, or working and going to school, and hopefully writing another book, and making time for their families/friends, all on top of querying. And if you’re going to personalize every letter, that means you have to proof and polish and perfect every letter again before you send it off. In the end, I sent 111 query letters. Personalizing, proofing, and polishing 111 letters was, for me, asking for too much of my time for someone who may or may not represent me.

If an agent passed on me because I didn’t personalize my query, then I have to believe it was for the best. We probably wouldn’t have been a very good fit. As much as you need an agent to offer to represent you, it’s important to remember that once they do, the two of you are going to be a team. And considering most agents weren’t going to personalize a response back to me, I wasn’t so sure I wanted a teammate who expected more of me than they were willing to do themselves.

But! you should address each agent directly

You definitely want to make sure you’re addressing the agent/editor you’re querying at the start of each letter, but personalizing beyond that is entirely up to you. I only personalized two query letters, and both were to agents I had interacted with in the past.

(Though, full disclosure: One of those personalized letters was to the agent I signed with. I personalized it because she had previously responded to a non-personalized query about a previous project. So yes, my most successful query letter was personalized, but that only happened after she responded to a non-personalized one first!)

That’s everything I know about writing a successful query letter!

Be sure to check out the rest of my querying series, Part Two: How to Query a Literary Agent and Part Three: How I Got My Agent.

Now it’s your turn: What query letter tips have you come across or found helpful? Is there a favorite successful query letter you like to reference? Tell me all about it in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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