How to successfully query a literary agent

I was initially going to call this blog ‘How it feels to be rejected by literary agents’, but that’s super depressing, why not focus on the positive this time? My novel, Mesmerise, has been officially rejected (since last friday) by the grand total of five literary agents I was able to query it with. Most of my initial queries were actually successful, and (another bonus) I learned heaps of valuable info about the query process, which should come in handy for the next round – submitting to publishers.

Most of the Australian literary agents I queried requested partials (then they were like, what the hell is this shit?) LOL JOKES. If you don’t know, a partial submission is the magic that happens when your query letter is successful and the agent wants to see the first 3 chapters or the first 50 pages of your novel etc… I thought I’d put myself out there and give you an example of one of my query letters that received an initial positive response. But before I share my query, here are my nine tips for when you start querying literary agents:

1)      Submit to agents before you start submitting to publishers

The whole reason you want an agent is so that they can submit to publishers on your behalf. Imagine getting an agent only to tell them ‘oh yeah so I’ve already been rejected from all the publishers in the country, but you know, you can try again for me!’ yeah… no


High five on that one!


2)      Submit to agents who are actually accepting submissions in your genre

This is particularly important even if it means your new adult steam punk romantic suspense novella can only be submitted to the one agent in the entire country. Agents waste huge amounts of time going through ineligible queries, which is why it takes so long to get a response from them in the first place. Oh and also figure out exactly what genre your book fits into first, there’s nothing more embarrassing then realising your romantic suspense novel is actually a psychological thriller.

cat startled by book

I think this may be a trap


3)      Closely follow the guidelines on each agent’s website

Double and triple check if you have to. I know this is an obvious one, but your query will be immediately passed over if you are tempted to ignore the rules or accidentally miss an important step. Agents no doubt get a ton of queries every day, so it’s best to make sure yours is perfect. It’s very unlikely that you’ll be an exception to the rule. Seriously, have you not seen He’s Just not that into you? But my god I love that scene with Justin Long & Ginnifer Goodwin when he tells her ‘You are my exception…’ my heart dies every time.


How many guidelines are there!?


4)      Write a kickass query letter that is short, sweet, and to the point

First step is to send a simple query letter (usually just an email with no attachments) to the agent who may then either send a rejection or request a partial or full manuscript. If you’re not getting any requests for partial submissions, then there may be something wrong with your query letter. Either do more research on ‘successful query letter writing’ or attend a writing workshop on pitching your novel, like I did, which you can read about here.


Make sure it has some bite


5)      Tell them about your writing achievements

Most agents like a short paragraph about yourself and that means they want to know about your writing-related achievements (writing competition wins or previously published work). Sadly I don’t have any, so I just insert a quick writing-related blurb about myself. Whatever you do, don’t go on about how many cats you have, or what type of coffee you like to drink… Yes, I admit, I did that once.


I like coffee, any type of coffee


6)      Try to personalise each query letter

It’s important to make sure your query is tailored for each agent so that it can stand out. Agents will notice that you’ve put more effort in then the usual ‘cut & paste’ perpetrators. For example, address the letter personally to the agent in question, not the agency or the dreaded ‘To Whom it May Concern’. Also, if you want to compare your novel to an already published one, choose a similar novel from their list. Nothing screams ‘amateur’ more than when you tell them your novel is a mix between Twilight and The Hunger Games. That’s a super weird mix anyway. And yes, I did this once too.


What Twilight cross The hunger Games would look like (btw if you didnt get it, that’s Damon plus Primrose’s cat)


7)      Be patient

Refrain from sending a follow-up email to a query unless given a time frame on when you are supposed to expect a response. Agents take anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months to get back to you. One agent I submitted to responded to my initial query within 20 minutes, and then read and rejected my partial submission within a day. No joke. I was super impressed. The last agent to reject my novel took about two months to get back to me (with a form response no less).

cat cleaning

Keep yourself occupied while you wait


8)      Only submit to multiple agents if they allow simultaneous submissions

Some literary agents prefer that your work is “not currently being considered by any other agent or publisher.” For those agents who do allow simultaneous submissions, they would appreciate a heads up when another agent requests a full submission or sends you an offer (this also gives you a chance to let the other agents know you’re hot property and they better put an offer in before you get snapped up!)

waiting cat

That feeling when you get a request


9)      Be super excited when they ask for a partial submission AND try not to dissolve into a furious mess if you get rejected

Agents are people too! On that note, even though I really wanted to thank them for their consideration, I DID NOT reply when I received my rejection emails (even the personalised ones), while it seems like a nice thing to do, agents are really too busy to read your ‘thanks so much for taking the time to reject my novel’ emails.  You’ve been rejected. Move on. It would be like sending a message to your ex-boyfriend saying how much you enjoyed the breakup. I could be wrong, but that’s my personal take on it.


Friends and family will be a good source of sympathy


It’s a little bit embarrassing admitting my novel was ultimately rejected by all the agents I tried, and that’s exactly why I’m blogging about it. The more of us who admit when we fail, the easier it will be for the rest of us. There are thousands of other writers getting rejected right at this minute, or even this second. You are not alone. I even wrote a blog post last month on The nine states of facing rejection – with cats – in my attempt to make myself feel better.

For now I’m just trying my best to see the positive side of things – I was lucky enough to interact with agents who sent real replies. I was just so excited and thankful for getting an authentic response, that I honestly didn’t care that it was a rejection. After reading a few terrifying news stories, I soon began to sympathise with agents on how difficult it must be to dash the hopes of (sometimes) very sensitive writers on a daily basis. They really have no idea which writers will turn into crazy stalker psychos, like this horrific story about literary agent Pam van Hylckama Vlieg who was attacked by a disgruntled writer.

So finally (and thanks for waiting), here’s a query letter I submitted that successfully received a personalised response from an agent. I’m very happy to share, even though it took forever to come up with, because it’s tough enough out there, why not help each other out?


Dear [INSERT NAME OF AGENT] (do not put ‘To Whom it may concern’!)

I would like to query with you my novel Mesmerise, a 70,000-word young adult novel (for ages 15+ to early twenties and even beyond) that I see in the tradition of [INSERT AUTHOR AND BOOK NAME FROM AGENTS LIST]. What if there really are subterranean humans living deep beneath the surface? And what would happen if you met one? [IN THIS SECTION YOU CAN ADD: ‘It is a standalone novel with series potential’].

The story begins when seventeen-year-old Phoebe Rose uncovers what she believes might be a ghost living in an old warehouse close to where she lives. Inexplicably drawn to the mysterious creature, she soon uncovers his true nature – he is a strange human called an undergrounder, who, in a bid to save Phoebe’s life, takes her to an underground city called Hades that exists deep beneath the surface.

I am an aspiring young adult author living in [INSERT LOCATION]. While I work fulltime as a WH&S Officer, I spend most of my spare time writing, blogging and studying a Master of Arts in Writing at the University of New England.

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to read my query!

Kind regards

Millie Schmidt

Address:     [INSERT ADDRESS]

Phone:        [INSERT NUMBER]

Email:         [INSERT EMAIL]

Website:    [INSERT WEBSITE]


Now that I’ve exhausted my list of agents, I’m ready to submit to my slightly longer list of eligible publishers! (Hehe) Unfortunately most of the ones on my list are closed for submissions over the Christmas/New year period, with some not reopening until at least February.

So while I’m waiting for the publishing industry to wake up to 2017, I’m going to continue working on this really weird and slightly insane thriller/suspense novel I’m working on, I’ll update you all about it soon! 26,000 words and counting!

Happy new year everyone!!

75 thoughts

    1. Same! Querying agents is super grueling, but its really important to never give up hope. It doesn’t matter how many reject you, all that matters is that one person accepts you.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience & advice! Didn’t Stephen King write that he papered a whole room with rejections once upon a time? Your subterranean story sounds like fun; I hope to get a chance to buy it at my local bookstore someday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes he did didn’t he! I was thinking of doing something similar in my study but I chickened out last minute (I printed off ALL my rejections and everything! hahaha.) Thanks for you lovely comments. I hope one day it gets published, even if just online as a self-published ebook 🙂


  2. Thank you for renting a room in Alvin’s House of Words. Enjoy the warm bed and cozy atmosphere… For now.

    My debut novel is the first in a dark fantasy and spiritual science fiction series so it may get a little cold 😉.

    I get you about query letters. Oh my. Working on Natural Selection’s makes me shiver in heat, obsess during every shower and squirm in bed dreaming of word tetris!

    Thank you for sharing yours. Posting my final (yeah right!) product is something I’m currently debating.

    Have you read the Query Shark’s critiques at Out of the ocean of advice out there, I learned the most from reading its 200+ brutally honest critiques.

    ¡Mucho éxito en su jornada, colega!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the link to query shark!! I’ve actually poured over their website before but had forgotten the link. I absolutely LOVE reading their critiques, they are the best! The new one, #285 is absolutely dreadful hahaha (Omg I hope it’s not a real one??) But then who am I to talk, I’ve sent my fair share of dreadful queries too…

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Oh, the fact that your debut novel is a dark fantasy is super awesome 🙂 I just finished writing a dark fantasy novel that I’m currently trying to get published as well. After an endless amount of rejections, I’m finally having a little bit of luck – I just got my first partial request for my manuscript, and I’m sitting here nervously biting my nails right now. How did you get published? I had a pretty hard time finding literary agents that represented dark fantasy books specifically, so anyone that I do find I treasure like gold.


      1. It’s been nearly two years since your comment. Thank you for you patience 😇

        It’s 2020 now. How does it feel to be a successful and published dark fantasy author? 🙂

        I never published because life got in the way. I’m back trying to find that rhythm that carried my goals, aspirations but above all: my prose!

        I’m happy to share the progress I make on the journey. When I was close to querying, my focus was on trying to land those comps that I could observe matched the agents’ interests.

        How did your querying go?

        I hope both you and your family are health and safe.


  3. Haha! Is this the one?? Loved! Crossing Twilight with Hunger Games! So much better than my King Kong Versus Godzilla bit! Glad you found me and I followed the bread crumbs back because You’ve got a new follower. I love your blog!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, don’t think too much of five. It’s kind of weird though–once you get enough rejections you kind of get immune to them. Writing and trying to get published just forces you to develop a thicker skin. You have to believe in yourself, even if the agents that you’ve queried so far don’t. When you’re published and your book becomes a bestseller, they’ll regret it, trust me.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by! I was reading your latest blog post. I am absolutely in love with the name Silas and have used it recently in one of my stories. Your last line – ‘What an inelegant end.’ is great, kinda made me laugh considering the violence of Valiant’s death 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Millie,
    Thank you so much for passing on your tips – one day I’ll have a manuscript ready to shop around and I’ll come back to re-read this.
    In case it makes you feel any better – as a short story writer, I’ve submitted (to journals, competitions etc) over 90 times. Most of the responses have been rejections. But I persist, because I know I’m learning and improving. I also know that what one person hates another may love.
    All the very best to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow 90 times! That’s incredible! Good work on persevering through all that, I’m very impressed. I think I’ve only submitted to about 5-10 competitions that I can remember (all rejections of course). And as you said, we are submitting to judges, agents & publishers who all operate and make decisions through a biased veil of subjectiveness 🙂


  5. This is amazing advice for anyone wishing to follow in your footsteps. It’s great that your here sharing your experiences. I do quite like the cat format so you had me compelled straight away.

    I’m really sorry about your rejection woes, I wish I had some advice for you. Thank you for sharing this not only is it a great piece of writing it’s so helpful for all of us reading

    Just keep writing and astounding and I’m sure the publishers will catch up!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks 🙂 I’m glad that you like the cat format! It’s my go-to. There’s just something about cats that makes all the worries and hardships of life melt away, while adding that golden glow of joie de vivre we all desperately need when faced with rejection!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. …and I adore it. I wouldn’t even sat I’m a cat person but what you do is fantastic!!
        You’re very right, cats hold attention detract from any negative context and for some reason inspire. it’s like thr cats are risk takers and don’t give up so why should you.
        Just keep up the astounding work!!


  6. Brilliantly informative, yet somehow redundant – and this isn’t a reflection on the blog but on the art, the craft, of writing a query letter. The hardest thing a writer has to write. A sharp arrow striking a blunt surface. It’s a purebreed-eats-mongrel world out there, and long may it last!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A goal of mine has always been to become an author some day, and while I’m at the very early stages (haven’t even decided what I’ll write about), e whole process with agents and publishers has always been sort of a mystery to me. This really helped though! Now if I could take all my little stories and excerpts and mash them into a best-selling novel I’d be set. But I guess that takes time 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad this helped you out 🙂 The query/submission process is definitely a daunting one, and when I first started I had no idea what I was doing or even how the query process worked. It took a few weekend workshops, some false starts (in which I sent off some really dreadful queries…) and hours of research and sifting through websites & blog posts before I figured out how queries actually worked. From there it took ages to fashion a semi-acceptable query (like the one above), though I‘m under no illusion that my example is in any way exceptional…

      Good luck on putting together a novel 🙂 If you want it badly enough I’m sure you can do it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh I’m sure you’ve gone through a lot to get to the stage you’re at today. I’m sure it is a daunting process, but I feel I’m up for the challenge. A friend of mine frequently talks about how he’s planning on publishing his first book in just a few months after some extensive revision, and it’s motivational in a way. Then to hear how you’re in a similar boat, and willing to share your experience all the while boosts my confidence! It’s definitely helpful, ’cause right now I’ll take all the advice and tips I can get. Best of luck with your current work!


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  9. This is a very apropos post for me at this time. I presently have a query letter into two different agents for my first novel. I have managed to incorporate most, if not all, of your suggestions into my submissions. But, what I never did receive through the process of submitting is the wonderful encouragement you have provided in dealing with the emotional intricacies of the process. Thanks for sharing, Millie, and best of luck to you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so happy to hear I could help you out with your queries in whatever small way. What perfect timing. You absolutely have to let me know how you go, I’d love to hear if you have any success! I was really hoping my experience could provide some encouragement to others (and show that there is plenty of light at the end of the tunnel – sorry, rainbow hahaha). I wish you all the best and hope you do well 🙂 and even if you don’t, there are cat gifs aplenty to enjoy and laugh over 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, exactly, you hit the head on the nail – sorry, nail on the head! (Though the first makes sense as a writer hahaha) Rejections have only forced me to write more, do more and work harder! Good luck to you too in 2017 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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