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Querying Literary Agents and The Waiting Game: 4 Things to Do While You Wait

Let’s face it…no one likes to wait! Patience is not one of my strong suits (though I am getting better) and when you work in publishing, you need a lot of patience. One thing I have learned as both an author and an agent is that whatever amount of time you think something should take in the publishing world, it usually will be doubled or even tripled. Simply put – things are slow in the publishing industry, even more so since COVID.

One area that you may be experiencing a waiting game right now is waiting to hear back from literary agents you may have queried. Waiting to hear back regarding your query or proposal can take weeks to months (usually months), and it can lead you to thinking all sorts of things during that quiet period.

I know, because it took me three months – and numerous rejections – to land an agent.

So I wanted to touch on two areas that have to do with waiting while agents review your query. First will examine why the wait is so long and the other will touch on things you should or could be doing while you wait.

First, why the heck is the wait so long? For starters, agents receive anywhere from dozens of queries a week to hundreds of queries, depending on the agent. Just this past June, I received over 300 queries. A friend of mine – who is an amazing and seasoned agent – is just now going through her queries from February (it is July)! And yes, this is normal for publishing.

Personally, I can get through nonfiction queries a lot quicker than fiction queries. The reason behind this is because with fiction, I need to read the entire manuscript before deciding if I want to represent a client. And even thought the beginning or middle of the manuscript might be amazing (and have me thinking that I definitely want to represent the author), most fiction manuscripts fall apart in the end. That being said, if your query is fiction, expect to wait…and perhaps a little longer than if it is nonfiction.

Now, what can you do while you wait? To me, having a plan in this area is key. I made sure I kept myself occupied while my queries were outstanding to agents. Here are some activities to consider that will benefit you in the future when you get that publishing deal:

  1. Reinvigorate Your Website – Whether you are a chick-lit novelist or a nonfiction writer with a growing platform, you should have a website. The website should be easy to navigate, informative, and represent your brand clearly. If your website hasn’t been updated in some time, now is the perfect opportunity for a refresh. Add new content, update the logo and color scheme, have some professional photos completed, and connect the website to any social media pages you maintain. I click on websites sent in queries and the one thing that is a complete let down when I see an outdated or confusing website that doesn’t showcase the author in his or her best light.

  2. Place an Article – A lot of writers I am in contact with, and converse with on different FB Binder groups, spend this time writing and trying to place an article in a high profile outlet such as The New York Times, Longreads, Narratively, etc. It is great exposure and something your soon-to-be-agent can add to your query and proposal for publishers. And, when the stars are aligned just right, a perfectly timed and well-written article can sometimes get an agent or publisher to reach out to you directly about a book deal. In fact, I am working with a client right now that had it happen to her! Though I call this the “unicorn scenario”, it does actually happen now and then.

  3. Work with Beta-Readers – If you haven’t already done so, there is no time like the present to send your sample chapters to several beta-readers and soak in the feedback.

  4. Network – Word of mouth is a great tool in the publishing world, and I always encourage people to grow their networking community. This offers you a variety of choices down the road when you need a book blurb, support when your book publishes, and the right people to round up when you need to create a book launch community. Don’t forget to give back to other writers as well – we all need as much support as we can get!

Hoping to submit to agents or publishers soon but need a little help when it comes to your query letter or book proposal? Reach out to me or schedule a free 15-minute consult and let's chat!


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