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When Should You Rewrite Your Query Letter?

Updated on September 26, 2014

A Tough Question for Sure

The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.

Vince Lombardi

This article is for those of you who still hold out hope that a traditional publishing house will pick up your book and carry it to fame and fortune. If you are a self-publisher, and have no desire to try the crapshoot called traditional publishing, then read no further.

The query letter is your opening salvo in the publishing wars. It is your first communication with an agent or publisher, and you literally have about ten seconds to get their attention and spark their interest.

Ten seconds!

If you don’t do a good job in the first ten seconds, then you will receive a standard form letter telling you that your book is not something the agent or publisher can work with. End of story!

I have written several articles in the past on how to craft the perfect query letter, so we won’t go there at this point. If you want to read those articles, check out the link to the right. What we will discuss, today, is what you should do once you have been rejected.

The first thing you should not do is give up. I use a general rule that goes like this: if I have been rejected ten times in a row, then I need to rewrite my query letter. That is a purely subjective rule, but it is a safe bet that if ten agents/publishers are not impressed, then more will follow suit and I am wasting my time.

Let me use myself as an example. Below you will find the query letter I am currently using as I try to find an agent for my new novel Resurrecting Tobias.

My novel
My novel | Source

Query Letter Resurrecting Tobias

Dear Ms. Jenks,

Let’s be honest. We all cringe when we see a disaster on the news, or when we pass a car wreck on the freeway, but still we watch in horrid fascination.

Let’s be honest. We all cry over happy endings.

Tobias Alexander King is a human car wreck, and Tobias Alexander King is a human happy ending. His story will have you shouting at him to strap on some balls, and his story will have you shouting in celebration when he finally does. Toby has it all, loses it all, and, with the help of his two best friends, who refuse to allow him to fail, rises from the ashes of his own self-destruction to finally taste sweet personal victory.

I am currently seeking representation for my 130,000 word mainstream novel, Resurrecting Tobias. It is a story of redemption, about overcoming the past, and learning to thrive despite the hardships. A combination of Thoreau and Siddhartha, Tobias is a character-driven story, told in flashbacks, of one man who refuses to allow adversity to define who he is.

A former classroom teacher, I am now a freelance writer with more than 2,000 articles and one self-published novel. My articles have appeared in Living Magazine, Our Iowa, and Grit.

I believe in strong characters who effortlessly carry a story on their backs, all the while wringing us dry of our emotions. I believe any good agent feels the same. Allow me to introduce you to a truly memorable character….Tobias Alexander King….a complicated man who represents us all and, yes, is my figurative blood brother. He is the only man I would allow to tell my story. I am the only man Toby trusts to write it.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

William D. Holland

1828 Fir St. N.E.

Olympia, WA 98506

holland1145@yahoo.com

www.williamdhollandauthor.com

360-878-1757

It Is All There But……

All of the important facets of a query letter are there. The hook, a brief summary, a very brief bio, word count, genre, it’s all there….but….and there’s that but again…..

So far, nothing positive has come from it, so a decision will have to be made soon….do I continue to ride a dead horse, or do I switch mounts?

This is the third rewrite I have done on this query letter. I suspect there will be a few more before I run out of agents and publishers to contact. Tiresome? Probably! Discouraging? Most definitely! Necessary? You betcha!

Toss it away and start over
Toss it away and start over | Source

So Here Is the Process I Use

It is only natural to want to rush through this query process. You worked hard on your book and now you want to dazzle as many agents as possible in a short amount of time. Many first-time writers will sit down and query hundreds of agents and publishers in the first week, and then sit back and wait for the responses….and then a blizzard of rejections arrive and discouragement sets in and, well, you know the rest of the story.

To avoid wasted effort, I suggest to writers that they query ten agents/publishers and then stop. Wait for those responses to come in. It might take several weeks to hear from all ten, but be patient and wait. If you receive rejections for all ten then rewrite that query letter. If not one of those ten has requested a chapter of your manuscript, then either the query letter is improperly written or your manuscript idea is a poor one. Chances are great that the problem is the query letter since the agent/publisher really can’t make a judgment on a manuscript they haven’t read.

So, rewrite the query letter, and send it off to ten new agents/publishers. Then wait until you’ve heard from them, and so on, and so on, and so on.

No, This Is Not a Fast Process

For those of you who require instant gratification, you are about to experience a major letdown. Publishers are busy people, and they receive thousands of queries every week. Wait your turn and take a deep breath. Using my method may require six months to a year of your time and effort, but at least you will have a fighting chance of succeeding.

And what happens if you go through the entire list of agents/publishers and fall flat on your face?

Get up and try again. Change the name of your book, because there is a slight possibility that the name is the problem. Then change your query letter again and start in on your list all over again. There are usually several agents/publishers in each publishing firm. Send your query to a new agent in a firm you have already contacted, but make sure six months to a year have passed since the first contact with that firm.

Writers write; they do not give up!
Writers write; they do not give up! | Source

The Bottom Line

You are in competition with tens of thousands of writers, all trying to ring the bell of success, and only a few are chosen. If you are going to give up after ten rejections then don’t even bother beginning the process.

If, however, you are convinced that your book is a good one, and you dream of one day seeing your book on the shelves of major bookstores, then straighten your backbone, stand tall, and do whatever is necessary to succeed. And if that means rewriting that query letter one-hundred times, then do it.

2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 2 years ago from New York, New York

      Great advice Bill and like that you choose ten as the number to send and then rewrite if no one bites. I will say your above query letter got my attention and it really was all there. Wishing you tons of luck my friend always! Happy Friday - we definitely made it and deserve a relaxing weekend now, too!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Janine...and we do deserve a restful weekend, so I hope you have one.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 2 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Bill, more very useful information, I'll be printing off a hard copy and pinning to share in my 'How to be a better writer ' file at Pinterest. Have a great day, my best as always.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Jo. I always appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to visit me. Have a wonderful weekend my friend, and blessings always.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      Great advice, Bill. Another informative hub to tuck into my reference library. Have a great weekend!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks, Sha. You do the same my friend.

    • RachaelOhalloran profile image

      Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

      My query letters are much shorter than yours and I don't know whether that is good or bad. My first paragraph is 2 sentences, my 2nd paragraph gives a synopsis of the story in 3 to 4 sentences and my 3rd paragraph is 2 to 3 sentences which lists any work I've already done or my interests at the moment. It all fits on one page and unlike my hubs, my letters aren't chatty or filled with stuff no one cares about. lol Is that a good or bad format for a query letter?

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 2 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Great advice Yoda from one who has walked the walk and is still walking . . . . Your query letter for your current novel had me hooked and captured my attention, best of luck with it. I saw it on Amazon and will be ordering my own copy.

      More words of definite wisdom from you Bill, many thanks!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Rachael, the only steadfast rule on query letters is that they be one page max. I'm sure you are fine.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Irish! Hopefully the book is as good as the query letter. :) Have a great weekend my friend.

      bill

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 2 years ago

      I like the incorporation of your query letter into this article. A person can give advice all day, but without an example it can be misunderstood. I was fortunate to have been taught in both magazine writing and feature writing how to do a query letter. We had to write and mail out several in conjunction with the articles we wrote in class. I think one person actually got published in some specialty magazine, and it was because he had such a timely and unusual feature that fit their genre.

      Your letter is a fine example, and I would advise anyone to use it as a model. Another piece of advice is to make sure the query letter is squeaky clean as to punctuation and grammar. If need be, hire a professional to proofread the letter, or else con your old English teacher into doing it for you.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      This is a tough question since I would say that it's really a choice between two questions: 1) Should I rewrite the letter? or 2) Should I rethink where or when I'm sending the letter?

      This is a constant marketing conundrum. Sometimes a totally "wrong" letter sent to the right market works. It might be hitting them on just the right day.

      But you're right, sales is a l-o-n-g process. So the sooner the better!

      Happy Weekend!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great suggestions, MizB, from the voice of experience, and I value experience above all else in this business. Thank you.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Heidi, great points my friend, but I would expect nothing less from you. Thank you and enjoy your weekend. You earned it.

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 2 years ago from Orange, Texas

      Who would know better about what success is than Vince Lombardi - a great choice of quotes, Bill. Most things that give you instant gratification are not as rewarding as those you have to wait for. Good advice and patience is a virtue. An old cliché, I realize, but true, nonetheless.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, it may be an old cliché, but it is right on. Thanks for your thoughts my friend, and have a great weekend.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very interesting hub. I went through it for that query letter to know how you crafted it. It is very amazing and appealing. Thanks for sharing.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Venkatachari....greatly appeciated.

    • mpropp profile image

      Melissa Propp 2 years ago from Minnesota

      Thank you so much for sharing your query letter with us. It is so helpful to see real examples. Is this the version that you got the positive response from agent Janet Reid?

    • rdsparrowriter profile image

      rdsparrowriter 2 years ago

      Great information and very helpful :) Thank you for sharing :) Keep being a blessing :) Have a fantastic weekend :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Actually, Melissa, that was an earlier form....this one has gotten nothing yet. LOL But hope springs eternal my friend, and I'm stubborn, which is a necessary trait in a writer.

      Have a great weekend. Summer is darned near gone.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you rdsparrowriter. You are appreciated.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Reading your Resurrecting Tobias query letter would make me want to read the book. It has it all, what more do they want? Hang in there Bill and i know you will. Thank's again....

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Excuse me for barging in bro......a-HEM.....but the word is "Persistent," please.....not stubborn. And btw.....thank you for explaining it is a necessary trait in writers. I've been groping for an excuse for years!!!!!! I can always count on you. :)

      Now......who wants to gripe about my stubbornness? Step right up!.... Voted Up & as always...

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you as always, Ruby. You are a true friend. Enjoy your weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Paula...Paula...I was talking about myself...I'm stubborn. There is no way that word applies to you. Angelic is the first thing that comes to mind, Sis. :) And I double-damn dare anyone to argue with me.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Well...yeah...Duh, bro,.(as my grandkids say).....I know you were referring to yourself! Of course I knew that. But, C'mon, that stuff runs in families!

      "Angelic?" Oh please..where's the barf bag? I've told you a dozen times...Don't be sweet. It makes me ill. Bwahhahahahahhaha

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I couldn't help myself, Sis. You know I'm the little devil of the family. :)

    • ocfireflies profile image

      ocfireflies 2 years ago from North Carolina

      Once again, great advice for all of those who have made it to the top of the novel mountain and are now ready to put on those special shoes one must wear in order to climb the next mountain-publication.

      : ) Kim

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Kim, lace up those shoes and get ready to climb. There are many mountains waiting for you.

      Have a great weekend and thank you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Brilliantly stated points here.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 2 years ago

      I really appreciate this hub. Query letters stump me, but now I have something to refer to. Thank you... Voted up, useful, interesting and awesome.

    • mylindaelliott profile image

      mylindaelliott 2 years ago from Louisiana

      I am not at the point I am writing query letters yet. Thank you for the advice though. I will get there eventually.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 2 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks for sharing the experience. It's a rough road!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you DDE... I do appreciate it.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Glad to hear it, breakfastpop....I think they stump most people in all honesty.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Good luck when you do, Linda! Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It is for sure, Michelle, but I love that road. Thanks!

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 2 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for sharing more of what it takes to be a writer, Bill!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You betcha, vkwok, and thank you.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

      Hey Billybuc sorry to comment on this later, but I printed it out to sit and read because this hub was far more helpful to me.. as you will know, because Im telling you..LOL. query letters are very difficult for me to write.. I fail terribly... at it.. so once again I thank you for bowling down my alley once again Frank

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Frank, I'm an old bowler, and I've never heard that expression. You are very welcome. I have happy to roll at your pins. :)

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for sharing your experience and advice, Bill. Your hub contains important information that all writers should know when they're trying to attract the interest of a traditional publisher.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Alicia, I'm glad this was helpful. Thank you so much.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Having a rule of thumb really helps. Ten letters, ten rejections, then rewrite. That makes sense. Thanks, Bill!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Denise. It's the only way i can work, is with a rule like that...otherwise I'm Mr. Random and that does not work.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Definitely good advise, but honestly, that query letter looks pretty powerful to me. May I do a fraction as well...

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You may indeed, Deb, and thank you.

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