Research Before You Send a Query Letter

Let me first begin by saying I love working as a literary agent. Since opening Greyhaus Literary Agency in 2003, I have had the chance to work with a lot of great writers, agents and publishers. Let’s face it – there are very few jobs out there where we get to do something many consider simply a hobby. However, with all of the great things about the job, the one thing I hate the most (and I know many other agents and editors feel the same way) is the part about writing rejection letters to authors. This is simply not a fun activity.

Now, there are really two different types of rejection letters. The first one I don’t have a big problem with. These are the letters for projects that might not be quite right for what I am looking for, or for stories that might not be ready for publishing yet. With stories like this, we can often take the time to provide a few suggestions for improvement, or to discuss why the story is not right for us. Yes, writing the letters takes time, but when I hit “send” I feel as if this author might be one step closer to publishing.

(How NOT to start your story. Read advice from agents.)


index~~element5Column by Scott Eagan, owner and agent of the Greyhaus Literary Agency.
Scott has made sales to publishers including: Harper Collins, Pocket, New
American Library, Source Books and Harlequin. Scott is currently acquiring
authors in most areas of romance and women’s fiction, but, as the article
states, take the time to visit the website first to make sure that sub-genre
you write is what he is looking for! Authors can also visit scott at, on Twitter @greyhausagency.



It is, however, the second letter of rejection that really gets frustrating to write. These are for authors submitting projects that the agency does not represent. Over the years, the number of these rejection letters has increased significantly. In fact, on one recent day in March, as I was answering submissions, I requested 2 partials, passed on 2-3 because the premise just didn’t work for me, and rejected 30 projects simply because these were not projects Greyhaus Literary Agency represented. What added to the frustration was the number of those submissions that were sent directly from my website.

If receiving rejection letters is as equally as frustrating as what I feel writing the letters, there are some very easy steps authors should take to remedy the situation.

Begin your research with general guides. Books such as Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents are great starting points. Add in websites such as Query Tracker and you have a good list to build your research from.

Go to the source! No matter what resources you use to build your list of potential agents, make sure you visit the websites of the editors and agents. Review their website submission guidelines. Please note this is the most accurate information. Along the same lines, do not send something that is not on their list. Agents and editors will not acquire something that they don’t represent just because they think it might be a great read. Authors need to understand that agents and editors specialize in areas they are knowledgeable in and have the resources available to really help you as an author.

Going to the source is also crucial since many agents and editors will shift what they want, or even close for submissions, depending on the needs of the market or their own work load. Publishing is a constantly shifting market and authors need to take the time to stay up to speed!

(What writing credentials will impress an agent or editor?)

Know your genre. This is a small one but very important. Know what genre you are really writing in. For example, just because you have a romantic relationship in your story does not mean it is a romance. Just because your heroine is the protagonist does not mean it is women’s fiction.

Stalk the editors and agents. Next, if you think you have narrowed your search down to a list of specific editors and agents, start following them on social media. Listen to what they “chat” about. Pay attention to the books they like, the books they hate and the books they acquire. This will guide you in determining if your story is still a right fit.

E-mail and ask first. And finally, if you are still confused. You have read their submission guidelines and when they say, “I do not acquire young adult romance” and you don’t understand what they mean by that, then email and ask. Do not send it as a submission letter; just ask the question – “Hi Mr. Eagan. I am just inquiring if you accept young adult romances? I have reviewed your website submission guidelines and there is not mention that you do or don’t.” A simple word of warning though – Make sure you did read the submission guidelines. It makes you look like an idiot if you ask a question that is clearly stated on the submission guidelines.

I always say that researching the editors is not that hard. It does take time though but in this business, you need to have patience. Taking that time will certainly increase your chances of having an editor or agent read your submission. Getting them to publish it? Well, that depends on the quality of the work.



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most recent updated edition online at a discount.


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3 thoughts on “Research Before You Send a Query Letter

  1. KatN

    Great ideas for fiction queries. That said, how much time do you want to spend researching literary agents or waiting for them to reply in an era when many agents’ websites state that they will not bother to reply to any queries, even just to note that the query arrived?
    My advice to my nonfiction clients is to start by making a “hot list” of agents that would be right for you based on your research and querying them all at once according to their guidelines. Give them a week to respond. I’ve yet to have someone not get a nibble. I’ve also had clients use a list to “go wide” and have their query sent to 200 or so literary agents. Inevitably, they get at least a half dozen requests to sort through, regardless of what it says on anyone’s website. We all hate mass emails, and everyone’s busy. I’d like to see literary agents at least attempt to set up software systems that acknowledge queries even if it takes a good month to get to them during a busy period.

  2. JohnA

    At least one UK agency, accepting submissions only online, asks that authors tick two genre boxes; evidently they see what I see – that it is not always easy to pin on the story a precise genre.

    And submitting to a recent ‘Open Submission’ month, I first emailed the publisher to ask how they wanted the manuscript spaced, since it wasn’t mentioned in the guidelines and I saw no point in presuming. I didn’t receive a reply, so ended up sending the manuscript single spaced.

  3. DanielR

    Thanks Chuck and Scott, some great feedback for authors to consider. However, I would like to point out that as an author, one of our frustrations is agents who use generic terms and poor genre qualifications on their websites and then seem shocked they get queried with projects that aren’t of interest to them. Specifically, using terms like commercial fiction is a cop out. That term can be defined and interpreted in countless ways. Personally I like it when agent websites tell authors specifically what queries they do NOT accept. This leaves no room for questions. But when you agents leave it up to interpretation every author should use the broadest terms to interpret because our goal is to get publish. And the unfortunate reality today is that so many agents never even acknowledge receipt of manuscripts or respond (even with generic response letters) that casting as broad a net as possible is a necessity. I would never suggest sending a manuscript that an agent clearly doesn’t represent, but if the agent isn’t clear on what they represent then send it!


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