The Stages of Querying

As far as I can tell, there are at least six stages in the agent querying process. There may be more, for all I know, as I’m still only part of the way down the list, but from what I can tell the stages go something like this:

  1. Send your first query letter
  2. Receive your first form rejection letter
  3. Receive you first personalized rejection letter
  4. A partial request
  5. A full request
  6. An offer of representation

First and foremost, you have to take the leap and send out your first query letter. It’s a big step, and something akin to entering brave new world. For more of my thoughts on that first step, checkout my previous post here.

Once you’ve managed to find yourself in the querying trenches, however, the process can become more mundane. You’re over your fear and excitement of hitting submit for the first time, and you’ve come to the realization that you aren’t likely going to find an agent instantly, just because you took that giant step.

You do your research, send out a batch of queries (I’ve been doing 10 at a time, but people vary here), and then you wait and see if anyone bites. But now that you’re waiting, what can you expect? Well, that’s where steps 2-6 come in.

Depending on how large the literary agency is or how busy the agent may be, the likely first thing you’re going to get is a form rejection letter. It’ll probably go something like this:

Nothing too offensive and nothing to get excited about. More than likely, you’ll get plenty of letters just like this one. They can be disheartening, but all it really means is that perhaps that agent isn’t looking for a project just like yours at this particular moment. No harm, no foul, just keep submitting elsewhere.

The next step up the process is a bit more exciting, the personalized rejection letter. It may look something like this:

Ah, ha! Now you know that the agent was interested and a little hesitant to turn it down. They see some potential. The didn’t flat out reject you as an author, but rather invited you to query a new story with them in the future! You are on the right track.

The fourth phase in the querying process is the partial request. You send off a query letter and you get something that looks more like this:

WOW! All of a sudden you’ve gone from rejected to requested. The elation is high with this one. Someone out there wants to know more. While the information that’s been requested may be no more or less than other agents have asked for for their initial query, there’s still a buzz in the veins that someone out there wants to read your stuff. Huzzah!

The epitome of the responses you can get, and phase number five, is the full request. It would look something like this:

Squee of delight. Someone out there is willing to take the time to read your WHOLE book. Not just the synopsis or the first few chapters, but the whole thing. Can it get any better than this?

Only one feeling can top that (or at least I imagine, since I’m still waiting…). The final phase of querying. The almighty offer of representation.

I won’t even bother trying to tell you what that email looks like, because chances are you won’t get past the first sentence or even the subject line. Someone wants to represent you! They think you are worth the effort and they love your project enough to fight for it to come into this world.

Break out the champagne, breath a sigh of relief, get a fancy dinner with your significant other. You have finally done what you set out to do. Just know that the rest of us still in the trenches are rooting for you and using you as an example to keep our own motivation still up. You got there and one day we will too.