Re-sending Query Letters: Is it ok to re-submit to literary agents and publishers?

Literary agents and publishers reject an overwhelmingly large number of query letters than they accept. With those odds, it’s hard not to have gone through the rejection and dejection phase. In many cases, it’s not even an outright rejection of the query letter through a template responses. It’s that eerie silence from the other side that gets on the nerves of new authors. There are ways for authors to deal with rejection.

But does a rejection (implied or explicit) from a literary agency that was on the top of your wishlist mean it’s the end of the road for you?

Nope, it doesn’t need to end that way. You can still take another shot at it. In fact, many shots… if you have the patience. But there are a few pre-requisites to keep in mind before you enthusiastically start flooding their inbox with your query letters.

Warning: I’ve been in consulting roles for a significant part of my corporate career. So, fancy three-letter-acronym (TLA) generation is a skill that has been honed over the years. Even if they aren’t the most memorable ones, they can still add some structure to a seemingly chaotic process. If you don’t like TLAs, skip the label and focus on the idea behind it. Alright, now that you’ve been warned, allow me to propose…the IRE approach.

Re-sending Query letters: IRE and Fire

Introspect
There’s always a reason why your query letter didn’t get the response you expected. The tough part is putting your finger on it, as it’s highly unlikely that the rejecting literary agency or publisher will give you the specifics. So it’s up to you to figure out the probable reasons for the rejection.

– My novel / writing sucks: It’s easiest for new authors to assume that the rejection had something to do with their quality of writing. At the query letter stage, when you’ve not even shared the manuscript with the agency, they can’t reject you on the basis of your story-telling abilities. So don’t punish yourself unnecessarily and keep this reason out.

– My query letter sucks: Yes, this is more likely. Even if you are a strong novel or non-fiction author, that doesn’t make you an expert at marketing (that’s what a query letter is, anyway). The skills needed to draft a kick-a$$ query letter are very different from the skills you needed to write your book. That means there’s a learning curve involved.

– I’m not following the rules:
When you are getting into a business discussion (pitching your idea to an agent / publisher), there are protocols to be followed. About what you are saying, how you are saying it and when you are saying it. When you are competing with thousands of other authors who are trying to do the same, you can’t get any of these aspects wrong. The submission guidelines on the publishing company or literary agency website should give you an idea of what they are expecting from you.

– I’m not targeting the right team:
Continuing from the barrage of what-how-when questions we saw in the previous point, there was one we left out. Who you are saying it to, also is of paramount importance. Are you sure you are knocking on the right door?

– My novel / writing sucks: Damn! Tough to keep that thought out of the head, huh? Anyway, for reasons we talked about earlier, let’s try to consciously move away from the self-defeating stream of mental chatter.

Research

Once you’ve got a set of ideas (assumption, actually) in your head about what could’ve gone wrong, the next step is to see if and what you should do differently.

For instance, revisit the guidelines for the agency you approached earlier. Were you over-jealous in sending across a huge attachment with the query letter (to save both sides the trouble of a second email?) when the submission guideline just wanted a few paragraphs? Did you skip some sections that they specifically requested?

Also, re-check if the literary agency (or the agent within the bigger agency) is actually specialising in your genre. If not, could you approach another agent in the same agency? If the answer is yes, check out more details about that agent. has she just joined the agency or is she a veteran? Does she have a blog where she shares thoughts about what she or her agency is looking for in the next 3-6 months?

Lots of questions that you can ask in the when, how, who departments.

And yes, do read up on how to write query letters and see how you can make your earlier version more impactful.

Execute

This is the part when you re-write your query letter and shoot it out again. Hopefully this time the hit rate would be better – if not in getting a publishing contract, then at least in getting the initial interest from a top literary agency.

There you have it – the 3 things you can do to keep your chances alive in the publishing race. So before you vent your, er, ire at the cruel gatekeepers of the publishing world who stand between you and the best-selling author crown, see if the IRE & Fire approach might be worth a shot.

Have you had your query letter rejected? Tough to tackle the whole approach on this blog, but let me know what the Introspect phase suggests? Why do you think you are getting rejections? Happy to share my perspectives if you think it helps.

14 Comments

  1. Nethra says:

    The ‘my writing sucks’ phase is the most difficult to tackle but an essential one nevertheless 🙂 Ride it out and once your brain takes over your heart in the matter, R and E and an A for acceptance will automatically follow. There’s however I guess, one bottomline to go by – write and work on your story for the love of it! At the end of the day, self-satisfaction is the greatest reward! 🙂 Good luck!

  2. Sameer says:

    I like the ‘A for acceptance’ part, Nethra. You’d make a good consultant 😛

    But jokes apart, you are right. The overly self-critical aspect can be a big hurdle in getting the book published.

    With so many non-traditional avenues opening for new authors, getting published is more a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.

  3. Lavanya says:

    I’ve been sulking over a particular eerie silence, the variety you speak of and the gremlins of self-doubt were starting to gnaw and here’s your post! Thanks Sameer:-)
    Some queries: 1) I reread the query letter I sent out and found a cringe-worthy typo. Am I doomed? It’s unlikely they’ll reply right? 2)Can I resend? How much should I change? 3)Curious about these non-traditional avenues. Do you mean self-publishing?

    Thanks again!

  4. Sameer says:

    Lavanya,

    Glad to see that you’ve tamed the gremlins, if only temporarily.

    Answers to your queries:

    1. Nope. If your query letter has real potential, they won’t mind.

    2. Don’t resend. It’ll only draw attention to your typo or worse their email filter will mark you as a spammer.

    3. Yes, self-publishing…in its myriad forms. Always good to use, er, non-traditional phrases to describe beaten-to-death ones, right?

  5. I V N vaibhav Reddy says:

    Mr. Sameer, I have neither sent my letter to the publishers yet nor was I rejected once. But, i would like to have your help about writing the proposal letter for the first time.
    Thanks for spending your valuable time.

  6. Sameer says:

    Vaibhav,

    I’m afraid I wont be able to help in an individual capacity.
    Don’t delay writing the first query letter & don’t wait for experts to help out.

    Learn the basics (you’d find that on this blog), take the plunge and start paddling. You’ll learn to swim soon.

  7. Shankaranr says:

    I just sent out my first batch of query letters last month Sameer. The silence is not eerie any more, just disheartening. I was wondering (to myself and now to other readers here) how sensible or safe is it to send out a query letter again to the same agency / agent even after a cooling and IRE period. Would they have complex sniffing algorithms manning (dogging?) the email server?

  8. Sameer says:

    @Shankaranr: I don’t think any literary agency would spend money on such sophisticated software. It’s just not a priority area to invest in.

    Despite the advances in technology, many of the standard processes within the industry haven’t changed much. For instance, there are agencies that still accept (and others that insist) on printed submissions.

    One month is too short a period. Allow them some more time (~3 months) before you re-submit.

  9. Shankaranr says:

    Hi Sameer,

    Amazing that you are able to reply to every post in this blog. Ended reading almost every post here over the last 3 – 4 days. It is really great, what you are doing.

    Thanks a lot; some of the stuff here is very, very helpful for aspiring writers.

    Also hope some one finds it worthwhile to respond before the three months are over 🙁

  10. Sana Rose says:

    Hello Sameer,

    I am here once again, this time regarding resubmitting queries. Like I said before, I am pretty sure that all my queries sent last year were rejected for my long manuscript rather than for other reasons because knowing the industry more now tells me they probably didn’t look beyond the magnanimous 250k word count mentioned. And one agent, [name edited out] responded saying that he couldn’t look at a manuscript that was 3 times longer than the acceptable length for the genre. But if I wanted, I could avail their editing services to cut it down. Perfectly reasonable, now when I think of it. But back then I was mortified. And I said no-thanks to the editing services as I was not financially equipped for the same.
    However, I have been killing my darlings, and the book is getting tighter each day. And it has definitely gone down from 250K to 175 K to some more that I had to rearrange chapter numbers. And I am not done yet.

    The doubts I have, well, now that I know it is becoming a fit book, are about resubmitting queries, because I have been rejected by most publishers and agencies before.

    A year has elapsed since I queried the first time for my novel ‘Amidst Sandcastles’.

    1. Should I mention it is a resubmission after revision, editing and cutting down?
    Or should I present it like I am doing it the first time?

    2. Would the same title have any effect on them? That can be kept, right, because nothing else would suit it. I read somewhere that the title should be revamped as well to avoid rejection. How true is that?

    Thank you for your time. 🙂
    Sana

  11. Sana,

    Submit it as a new query. It’s changed substantially, and there’s no point putting the previous rejection history on the table to make them biased even before they look at the new manuscript.

    For the same reason, if you are submitting it as a new query, it might make sense to give it a new working title as well.

  12. Sana Rose says:

    Thank you, Sameer. So I must work on another title if I can. That’s quite difficult, considering I have been calling it the same for 5 years. Lol, that IS pretty long! Like changing the name of your kid when he or she is five. Gosh… 🙂

  13. Dear Sameer,

    Can you give me a rough or a very rough idea regarding the percentage divisin between publisher and author say the publisher being a well known organization like Penguin India and the writer is Mr. Aam admi. ( No puns intended of any kind)?
    Arindom

  14. Arun says:

    Hi Sameer,

    As you have no doubt heard a million times, your website is extremely well maintained and useful. Excellent job on this. My question is this: an agent has rejected my query. That was about seven months ago. Since then I have polished, edited and heavily trimmed the manuscript – and it is leagues better now than it was earlier. You say one can re-submit… but won’t they get irked and won’t it annoy them? Should I mention it is a re-submit? My biggest worry is that it would really get on their nerves if they saw, again in their slush pile, a manuscript they had rejected earlier. Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

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