Skip to main content

Don't Give Up Until You've Queried 80 Agents or More

Novelist and award-winning former journalist Kristi Belcamino explains why aspiring authors shouldn't be discouraged by query rejections.

The other day, a writer friend asked for my advice in dealing with all pesky rejections in the query stage. I asked how many agents she had queried. “Forty,” she said.

“Well, then you’re halfway there.”

I wasn’t trying to be flippant, but if you are serious about getting published, then don’t even think about giving up until you’ve queried at least one hundred agents. Really. But there are a lot of caveats attached to that advice...

(What query letter mistakes will sink your submission chances?)

First, let me point out that some people send out that first query and bam—agent. Bam—book deal. From what I’ve seen in my limited time in the trenches, this applies to about one percent of the writers out there—or maybe .000001 percent. Not sure. One or the other.

But don’t let me be a downer, go ahead and dream of being that minority and more power to you if you fall into that scenario. The rest of you doomed sorts can join me as I slog through the publishing quagmire I call “Building my Career.”

Luckily, there are many signs along the road that will help guide you in the right direction. Before you begin, you might want to make sure you’re stocked for the trip.

Don't Give Up Until You've Queried 80 Agents or More

Here are four things you’ll need to pack for your journey:

1. Perseverance. Be stubborn and refuse to ever give up.

2. Work. Cultivate a constant desire to improve as a writer. This means putting words, lots and lots of words, on paper. This also involves studying the craft of writing and reading as much as you can as often as possible.

3. Teflon-Mentality. Develop a force field to deflect ego-smashing rejections. It is crucial to have the ability to effectively handle rejection, letting them bounce off you, and not allowing them to stop you from plugging away. (See #2 Work.) Get used to it. You think after you get an agent that the rejection is over. HAHAHAHAHAHA. (Sorry.)

4. Patience. Here’s a little secret—the world of publishing runs on a completely alternate universe concept of time. Tired of waiting to hear back from an agent or publisher or editor? Grab a beer and put your feet up. In other words, get used to it.

If you have those four tools in your trunk during your trip, you’ll eventually make it to your destination.

Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not in one year. Maybe not even in ten years. But one day. If you are always working to improve as a writer and refuse to give up, one day you will be successful.

Sound easy?

It’s not. But it can happen.

blessed are the dead by Kristi Belcamino

Blessed are the Dead by Kristi Belcamino

IndieBound | Bookshop | Amazon
[WD uses affiliate links.]

Let’s talk more about that road to publication. Luckily for you, this road is marked with helpful road signs that let you know you are heading the right way.

So, let’s get back to my friend’s 40 queries.

I asked for even more information. Is she getting requests for manuscripts? Yep, no problem there, she said. Well, that tells me that her query is solid. It’s working.

That’s a mile marker she’s passed on her journey.

My next question for her: When she did get a manuscript rejected was it a form rejection or an encouraging, specific rejection with lots of feedback?

Form rejections could mean a detour. Exit and go consult a developmental editor. Feedback with specific rejections could mean revising and resubmitting, especially when more than one agent says basically the same thing needs to be fixed.

If you are getting feedback that takes up the entire page, jump up and down with joy—you are getting close. That road sign says your exit is ahead.

Do the revisions and massage that manuscript even more, if necessary.

Do not give up.

Look for more signs that you are nearing your exit. I remember the day I knew I was close. I was taking a writing class at a local literary center. The teacher said he’d never snagged an agent with his novel. One agent had told him, “It just didn’t make me want to miss my subway stop.”

(Headed to a conference? Learn how to approach an agent.)

I practically did a cartwheel in class that day because an agent had called me the day before telling me this:

She’d started reading my manuscript on her phone on the train home and had intended to stop and read the rest on her iPad or computer once she got to her apartment. Instead, she finished reading my book, sitting on her living room couch with her jacket still on.

Although she never did make an offer of representation, when she told me that story and then I heard my writing teacher tell his, I knew I was close.

Then one day, the ultimate road sign appears: Exit now.

An email in your inbox or a phone call! Yay! An offer of representation.

Congratulations! Go celebrate! I did. I had a helping of bacon ice cream and a shot of vodka. You might prefer a kale shake and a slice of tofu—whatever guns your motor. The point is to take a minute to enjoy this milestone. You’ve made it. So far. We’ll talk about getting that book deal in another post! For now, enjoy your success.

Query Letter in 14 Days

Take your writing one step further and tackle the publishing process. When you enroll in this online course, you'll learn the details of the query letter format and how to write a query letter that catches the attention of agents and publishers.

Click to continue.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Eliminate Threat

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Eliminate Threat

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character work to eliminate a threat.

4 Tips for Writing Gothic Horror

4 Tips for Writing Gothic Horror

Gothic horror and its many subgenres continues to increase in popularity. Here, author Ava Reid shares 4 tips on writing gothic horror.

Lucy Clarke: On the Power of Creativity

Lucy Clarke: On the Power of Creativity

Novelist Lucy Clarke discusses how a marathon of writing led to a first draft in just 17 days for her new psychological thriller, One of the Girls.

A Conversation With Jaden Terrell on Writer Expectations, Part 1 (Killer Writers)

A Conversation With Jaden Terrell on Writer Expectations, Part 1 (Killer Writers)

Killer Nashville founder Clay Stafford continues his series of interviews with mystery, thriller, and suspense authors. Here he has a conversation with novelist Jaden Terrell about writer expectations and success.

Connecting the Dots vs. Drawing the Whole Damn Picture: A Veteran Ghostwriter Takes Back His Pen and Finds Something To Say

Connecting the Dots vs. Drawing the Whole Damn Picture: A Veteran Ghostwriter Takes Back His Pen and Finds Something To Say

Writing for oneself after a decades-long career as a ghostwriter is a challenge unto itself. Here, author Daniel Paisner discusses his career as a ghostwriter, how the process differs from writing his own work, and if the two ever intersect.

Who Are Sensitivity Editors? And How Much Does Sensitivity Reading Pay?

Who Are Sensitivity Editors? And How Much Does Sensitivity Reading Pay?

Sensitivity readers offer a very specific and focused edit to manuscripts. Here, C. Hope Clark shares what a sensitivity editor is, how much it pays, and where you can start.

Kate White: On Building In Brainstorming Time

Kate White: On Building In Brainstorming Time

New York Times bestselling author Kate White discusses the process of writing her new psychological thriller, The Second Husband.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 615

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a desire poem.

Writer's Digest Best Writing Advice Websites for Writers 2022

Writer's Digest Best Writing Advice Websites for Writers 2022

Here are the top writing advice websites as identified in the 24th Annual 101 Best Websites from the May/June 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.