For many of us, becoming an author is more than just a dream. It's a craving. It's a nerve-wracking thing to announce to people because you either get nodding and smiling like "you're adorable for having such delusions of grandeur", or rapid blinking as if you just told them you want to compete in "extreme ironing" (yup it's a real thing).
But drafting a novel is no small feat. They say that only the top 5% of writers finish a manuscript, so if you have made it that far, congratulations! After spending your precious free time drafting, editing, researching, learning, agonizing, and polishing, it's time to enter the dreaded query trenches.
That's where many writers drop off like flies. I think many of us assume that if we wear off the letters on our keyboards, we'll naturally land a New York Agent, a six-figure advance, and national tour with our bestselling novel. But when the first inevitable rejection letter lands in our inbox, we have to contemplate how much gumption we have to see this thing through.
I want to show you just what it took for me to get published...
This was my query letter:
Dear (Agent/Editor), (Insert personalization including why I'm querying them specifically). I was excited to see your interest in fantasy, and am happy to place my manuscript in your hands. GRANTED is a YA urban retelling of the middle eastern folktale THE FISHERMAN AND THE GENIE and is complete at 58,000 words.
Sixteen-year-old Liam Covington lives in a sun-bleached skeleton of a house in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The only colors in his life are the glowing shadows that appear whenever he faces death. After Liam nearly dies at Shaw’s Cove, he brings home a fossilized conch shell and discovers a luminescent jinni named Gideon living inside. Gideon grants Liam powers that reveal a hidden world and a jinni with a mysterious vendetta named Darius.
As Liam learns to protect himself, one of Liam’s wishes goes horribly wrong, pulling him into the jinn world of vibrant illusions and back-stabbing deception. Desperate to escape, Liam finds the door home locked by a two-thousand-year-old curse. If he manages to return, it could let Darius out of his cage—a sacrifice Liam is not willing to make.
I currently live in Southern California where I enjoy sand at its best: the beach and the desert. I work as a freelance writer for Writers Domain and have an article contracted with the NEW ERA magazine. I have attended multiple LTUE conferences in Utah, am in a weekly critique group, and studied courses in Children’s Literature and Writing for Children and Adolescents at Brigham Young University.
Thank you for your consideration,
I began sending out my first round of queries in July 2015. These are the responses I got:
Thank you for your query. Unfortunately, this is not quite the right fit for me. Best of luck, Agent
Thank you for considering me as a possible fit to represent your book. I have reviewed your query and, at this time, I do not believe that I am the right agent to represent your work. Please know that we are extremely selective, even with the materials we review. I do appreciate you thinking of us as an agency, however, and I encourage you to continue your search for an agent who is just the right fit for you. I wish you every success in your publishing endeavors.
All my best,
Hi there Rachel,
I’m so sorry for this incredibly delayed response to you, but I didn’t want to leave you without a response at all so I'm writing to you super late! I was knee-deep in work and thought I had sent an email I’m realizing only now that I never sent. My hugest apologies! But thank you so much for querying me last year. Despite my tardiness, I do want you to know that I consider each project I receive very carefully, and while your story was not exactly what I had been looking for at the time, I do hope you kept on trying… agents are subjective and we’re each looking for different things. I know your work is important to you and I’m absolutely grateful that you wrote to me. And again, so sorry for this late reply! Thank you again, and all my very best, Agent
Thanks so much for giving me the chance to review your work! Unfortunately, after reading your letter, I just didn't feel strongly enough to request pages. I'm of the belief that authors deserve an agent who will be passionate about the projects they represent, and I didn't connect as much as I'd hoped.
Please know that every agent feels differently, and this is merely my personal preference. I encourage you to keep querying as what doesn't fit for one agent is perfect for another. I wish you all the best in finding the perfect agent and good luck in your future writing endeavors.
All the best,
And then, a breakthrough! Someone requested a full!
Dear Rachel Huffmire, Thank you for submitting your manuscript Granted. Unfortunately, this submission isn’t quite what we’re looking for. You have a very strong voice, a competent writing style and overall your manuscript was very technically proficient. We also appreciated the mythology that you developed over the course of the manuscript and how it fit into the world you were building. However, for our purposes, we felt the plot overall progressed too slowly and the path the novel was taking wasn’t very well defined. To clarify this feedback: It isn’t until about 80 pages into the manuscript that the plot begins to pick up its pace. Until this point the majority of the story is background information delivered largely through exposition. This is something that we generally try to avoid, as it makes the progress of a plot tedious and drawn out. The plot does start catching its stride about the 100-page mark and from that point the story gets interesting, but that is just far too late in the manuscript. Additionally, while the plot does significantly improve as events begin falling into place, it isn’t a strong enough payoff to justify the very slow beginning. Along these same lines, the protagonist doesn’t have a clearly defined goal for the majority of the story. This is something that we prefer to see made obvious early on (within the first 50 pages of a manuscript) as it gives the reader something concrete to follow. This wasn’t the case here and even as the novel came to a close the protagonist’s “quest” was still somewhat ambiguous—was his goal to release Gideon? To break the curse? We didn’t feel this wasn’t made clear enough as the plot progressed. While this manuscript, in particular, wasn’t what we’re looking for, we do feel like you are a talented author and the strong parts of your manuscript were very well done. We would love to see more submissions from you or even an edited version of Granted in the future. If you would like further clarification please feel free to send me a response. We wish you the best in your writing career. Publisher
After this feedback, I put Granted through massive re-edits and joined a writing group. They helped me get the manuscript into much better shape!
I resumed querying in 2016.
Thank you very much for your query, which we have read with interest. Unfortunately, the project does not seem right for this agency, and we are sorry that we cannot offer to serve as your literary agent.
We also apologize for the form rejection. The sheer number of queries we receive prevents personalization in order for us to respond in a timely fashion.
We wish you all the best in finding more suitable representation, encourage you to query widely, and thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your work.
So glad you found us! And an extra big thanks for your patience as I wade through my submissions inbox. I need a jinni to give me more hours in the day, so if you can write that into a story, that’d be great. :-)
I’ve read through your query and the first pages of GRANTED. Your premise is definitely interesting, and I enjoyed your initial characterization of Liam and his friends (well, frenemies, maybe…). I can tell you are comfortable in your writing skin, and that’s refreshing.
That said, unfortunately I need to pass on GRANTED. While I am sure the remainder of the story is intriguing, we are looking for something quite specific to round out our catalog for the upcoming year. I wish you the very best on your publishing journey and invite you to submit to us again if you have something else that might fit our wish list.
This was my first non-form response from an agent and gave me so much hope that I was on a good path.
Thank you for submitting GRANTED for review and for your patience while I considered it. Unfortunately I am unable to offer representation at this time. I am just starting to build my list and need to be extremely selective with the types of projects I take on.
Please know that this is one opinion in a highly subjective field and another agent may feel differently. I wish you the best of luck and thank you for thinking of Writers House.
All the best,
We would like to thank you for your submission, Granted, and for the time, effort, and skills that have gone into preparing your manuscript for our consideration. After careful evaluation of your manuscript, we have decided not to publish at this time.
Although we did not accept your manuscript, we recognize the courage it takes to present a work for others to review.
We thank you for your interest and wish you the best as you continue writing.
Thank you for your query. I regret to say, it's not a perfect fit for me. I apologize for not having better feedback for you -- sometimes it’s hard to put to words something that is just a matter of personal taste. I wish you much luck in your journey, and I appreciate you sharing your work with me.
Dear Rachel, Thank you for sending me the query for your novel Granted, which I have read with interest. I am sorry to say it is not right for my list. We wish you luck with your work. All best, Agent
At this point, I discovered a publisher I had previously queried stole a concept from my book and implanted it in one of their new releases. This resulted in conversations with lawyers, a lengthy phone call with the publisher's CEO, and the realization that there ARE predatory publishers out there. I began researching agents and publishers with a fine-tooth comb after this.
Thank you so much for submitting your query to me. Unfortunately, I am going to have to pass. I know you've put a lot of time and effort into your project. The publishing industry is very subjective, so what may not work for me could be exactly what another agent is looking for. I encourage you to continue your pursuit of publication, and to never give up on your goals.
Thank you for considering me for your work. I wish you great success with your writing career.
Many thanks for your submission – I appreciate you thinking of me and (agency).
I’m sorry to say that I’ve decided to pass on your work. The children’s and YA markets are very competitive, and I have to feel a high degree of confidence in a story to take it on. I just don’t have quite enough conviction that this is one for me at the moment, though please bear in mind that another agent may feel differently – it’s such a subjective business. I’m also sorry that I can’t offer editorial comment or advice on your story; we receive such a high volume of submissions. If you haven’t already done so, please see our website and my blog – links below – which will tell you more about what we seek and writing craft in general.
Best wishes, and thanks for giving me the opportunity to consider your work.
Thank you for your submission, which I have carefully reviewed but must decline. Unfortunately, due to the volume of queries I receive, I am unable to respond to them individually.
I hope you will not be discouraged by this reply—as with all readers, I am limited by my own subjective preferences, and so I imagine other agents will feel differently. I wish you the best in finding the right match for your work. If, however, you end up querying a new project in the future, I would of course be happy to consider it.
With warm regards,
Thank you for your query. Unfortunately, it's not quite what I'm looking for at this time, so I will have to pass. Best wishes in your search for representation.
Thanks so much for letting us take a look at your materials, and please forgive me for responding with a form letter. The volume of submissions we receive, however, makes it impossible to correspond with everyone personally.
Unfortunately, the project you describe does not suit our list at this time. We wish you the best of luck in finding an agent and publisher for your work, and we thank you, once again, for letting us consider your materials.
This is not right for me, but thank you for the look.
Thank you so much for allowing The (Agency) to consider your material. Unfortunately, after carefully reviewing your query, we’ve determined that this particular project isn’t the right fit for us at this time. As I’m sure you know, the publishing industry changes swiftly now, as do readers’ tastes and trends. As a result, our own agents’ needs shift and change, as well; therefore, we would like to encourage you to consider querying us with future projects as you may deem appropriate.
Again, thank you very much for allowing us this chance to consider your material, and we wish you all the best in your publishing endeavors.
Thanks so much for sending along the sample pages of Granted. I’m sorry to say, though, that I just wasn’t as completely drawn in by the material as much as I had hoped. What with my reservations, I’d better bow out.
Thanks so much for contacting me, though! I really appreciate it, and wish you the best of luck.
Please forgive this impersonal note but the high volume of correspondence makes it difficult for us to respond to you personally. Thank you for your query. Unfortunately it doesn’t match what we are looking for at this time. We hope other agents feel differently.
Best of luck.
Thank you for thinking of me for your work; unfortunately, it's just not quite right for me. As I'm sure you know, whether or not to take on a client is a very personal decision, and has as much to do with an agent's personal preferences as it does an author's writing abilities.
I wish you lots of success in your writing career.
All the best,
I'm sorry, but GRANTED does not sound like a fit for me at this time. Thank you for considering me and best of luck with your future queries.
I read your manuscript entitled "Granted" a few days ago and I really liked it! I pitched it to our editorial board, and they were hoping to get a bit more information from you before they made a decision, mostly regarding your marketing plan.
Your current marketing plan mentioned that you have connections with the California Homeschool Network. The board was just curious about the depth of those connections. Are you a writer for the Network? Have you attended conventions in the past? The board was just hoping for more information so they can have a better idea of how the connections you mention could translate into copies sold. Like I said, though, I really enjoyed your manuscript. Your work is fresh and original. Folktale retellings these days are often more about princesses—which is fine, but it's nice to see something different! Thank you so much,
Dear Rachel Huffmire,
Thank you for sending us your manuscript entitled "Granted". After careful consideration, we have decided not to publish your manuscript at this time. We enjoyed reading your submission, but we do not feel that it fits our publishing needs.
Selling a book requires authors to do a lot of personal marketing. In fact, the majority of book sales are driven by the author's following, especially in fiction.
I know that you had talked to a company that had agreed to use your books as part of a homeschooling program. When I called them, the program would not be able to drive sales as much as we hoped.
We think your book is a good concept, and we commend you for your work. Please be aware that although we did not offer to publish your manuscript, we encourage you in your endeavors to get it published.
Again, thank you for sending us your manuscript. Please feel free to submit any other suitable manuscripts you might have in the future.
This helped me realize just how important marketing is when working with a publisher. I kicked my platform into high gear.
Dear Ms. Huffmire,
Thank you for the opportunity to consider your query for GRANTED. Ultimately, I don't think it's quite right for my list at this time, and am going to have to pass. I'm sorry it isn't a fit, but I wish you the best of luck in finding the right agent for Liam's story. Yours, Agent
Thanks so much for thinking of me, but this one’s just not quite right for my list. Due to a very full workload, I have to be extremely selective about pursuing new projects.
Please know that this is a very subjective business and that tastes range widely among agents. Someone else may feel very differently—you deserve someone who is passionate about your work and is confident about their ability to position it.
Best of luck with this, and thank you so much for thinking of me.
Dear Ms. Huffmire,
Thank you for your email. I apologize for the length of time we have had your manuscript under review, but the reviews have been fairly positive and we’ve lined up a few more readers to review it for us. I hope to have a decision for you soon.
Dear Rachel Huffmire,
Thank you for your patience with us while we have had your manuscript under review. I wanted to let you know that the reviews continue to be positive for your story. I am impressed with your writing, and am looking forward to reading more.
I hope you don't mind if we keep your manuscript a little longer while we complete our review of your work.
Dear Rachel Huffmire,
Thank you for submitting your manuscript entitled GRANTED to (Publisher) for our review. I apologize for the length of time we have had your material under review. Thank you for your patience with us.
We are always pleased to see new ideas, and we have now completed our review of this material. We had several people review your manuscript, and it is obvious that you have invested a considerable amount of time and energy into this project.
Our publishing schedule is quite competitive, however, and as we look carefully at all the issues involved in publication, we are forced to be extremely selective in our publishing decisions. After some lengthy discussions, I am sorry to inform you that we are not in a position to pursue this project with you.
I wanted to include a few comments from our reviewers in case they are helpful to you:
"I loved the compelling voice of the main character."
"Solid writing. Minor errors, mostly involving commas. Believable dialogue."
"Toward the beginning, when the lights and colors affect kids, the descriptions are a little muddled and confusing, usually taking a couple read-throughs to understand.
Over halfway through the book and I'm not quite clear on why Liam's convinced he killed a jinn the day his luck turned bad. This is possibly a leftover detail from previous drafts."
"What makes Liam Untouchable is never clear and the reader is left to assume it’s because he possesses the aura of a jinni. "
We appreciate your thinking of us and giving us the opportunity to review your work.
This one was from a publisher that I respect and admire. I felt incredibly honored to be considered. I later learned that they only have two slots open a year for new authors. The rest are filled with in-house authors. This taught me how truly competitive and subjective rejections can be.
Dear Ms. Huffmire,
Thank you so much for your query. Unfortunately, however, this project doesn’t sound right for me. I encourage you to continue to submit elsewhere, and I wish you every success in your writing career. Thanks again for thinking of me.
Dear Ms. Huffmire,
I received your query and I am very impressed. Your first two chapters are very strong, with good writing and excellent characterization. I love fairytale retellings and this looks like it has
a lot of potential. I would love to read the full manuscript. Please send it on at your earliest convenience.
I look forward to seeing more of your work!
Have a great day,
Thanks so much for sending on your manuscript. I can say unreservedly that I really loved it. I thought your characters were excellent, the story was original, and it was such a great metaphor for those little voices in our heads that tell us to do stupid things. Sadly, our executive team ultimately decided to pass. There are so many good books out there and we can't acquire them all.
I don't believe you should have much trouble finding a home for your book, and I am sorry it could not be here. Please do consider us for your next project.
I hope you have a great day!
Dear Ms. Huffmire,
Thank you for including me in your agent queries. I have reviewed it, and am afraid I must step aside on this proposed book. I wish you all the best with your endeavor. Best,
Dear Ms. Huffmire,
Thanks for your query.
As to your material I'm afraid I will be passing — I'm just not drawn strongly enough to the concept of your story to feel that I'd be the right agent for the project. I realize it is difficult to make an assessment from a query; nevertheless please know that I give serious attention to every letter, outline, and writing sample I receive.
Sorry I couldn't give you a more positive reply. Thanks for thinking of me, though, and best of luck in your search for representation.
I had an additional 21 queries that never received any sort of response.
Someone once told me to expect 100 no's for every yes in publishing (I can testify that this is 100% true.)
That's why, while I kept querying, I kept writing.
In November 2015 I wrote a science fiction story called Praeceptor.
In November 2016 I wrote a Pride and Prejudice retelling called Netherfield Reunion.
In November 2017 I wrote the sequel to Granted.
In November 2018 I wrote a book called The Reflection of Bianka Cirksena...
In January 2019, I pitched my latest novel to two publishers at a conference. A week later, I got this response to my query:
Good news! I loved The Reflection of Bianka Cirksena! It’s such an unusual take of Snow White — I love how you mixed the modern (future) world in with the past.
Immortal Works would like to offer you a contract to publish with us. I’ve cc’d (CEO) on this email so he can send you a contract if you’re interested.
The Reflection of Bianka Cirksena would be a great fit with Immortal Works.
I look forward to hearing back from you.
I have to admit... I am incredibly proud of this list of rejections. I appreciated the time these agents and publishers spent with my manuscript, but I also love that I kept putting this story out there.
Every rejection letter became a tally mark on my way to my YES.
If you're in the trenches... It's hard. You're a rockstar for pressing forward.
But don't give up.
Because you know what?
After six years, I'm finally seeing Granted in print.