Here's Why You're Not Hearing Back From Literary Agents

Here’s why you’re not hearing back from literary agents.

Here’s why you’re not hearing back from literary agents.

Landing an agent may be difficult, but that doesn’t mean you should be getting ignored. If you’re sending out queries and not hearing back at all, you’ve got a problem that needs to be addressed. 

Here are some possible reasons you’re hitting a wall:

1. Your entire premise and book idea are objectively horrible.

This is possible, but it’s unlikely. If you love this idea so much that you’ve committed to it for many months or years, I’m willing to bet there is something good in there. But that awesomeness obviously isn’t coming through in your submission or you’d be getting some requests. I’ve seen queries that are so lackluster that I assume the writer has zero chance of getting an agent to even peek at the book. Then I talk to the author about their novel and realize the book itself has huge potential that’s not coming through. That brings me to the next problem, which is much more common.


2. Your query doesn’t work.

You could have a future bestseller, but if your query doesn’t demonstrate that, you’re dead in the water. You’ve only got a few seconds to sell both your story and yourself. Everyone struggles to wrangle a three-hundred page novel into a paragraph or two, but it must be done. If you’re not sure what should go in your letter, I urge you to read as many good examples as you can. You’ll find plenty at GalleyCat, Writers Digest, and Query Shark. Seriously, read a hundred and notice how the authors cover each of their bases and how they are able to summarize their books into entertaining and intriguing tidbits. 


3. Your query is strong, but your sample pages aren’t.

This also happens a lot. Most agents will ask you to submit your opening pages or chapters along with your pitch, so even if they liked the query enough to open your submission, they may be turned off by how you’ve executed your opening. Remember, an unsolicited submission is a sales pitch, not unlike all of the fliers in your snail mail box or advertisements in your email promo folder. You occasionally flip through to see if there’s anything good, but you won’t give a sender the time of day unless they grab you immediately. You absolutely must dial in those opening pages. They need to be gripping, for sure, but they also have to be extraordinarily clear. That’s where most authors trip up. After reading several hundred student and client stories, I see the same problems over and over, so I’ve written an entire post about the most common missteps in novel openings and how to fix them.  


4. Your strategy is all wrong.

Maybe you’ve been told this is a numbers game, so you’ve been blasting your query to every agent you see listed online. STOP! Although there is an element of truth to the numbers-game theory, do not use the shotgun approach. There is a better way! Send personalized pitches to highly targeted agents who are looking for books just like yours. When you mail off a generic letter to people with different tastes and needs, you’re not speaking to a single one of them. Pick the right people, and you can demonstrate precisely why your book is something they’d like. I explain how to do that in this post.

4. You aren’t following up.

If you’re not following up, you need to be. How many times do you miss an email completely? How many times do you intend to respond to an email and forget? Have you ever set a magazine or catalog aside to look at later? Do you have a drawer full of coupons or restaurant menus of places you’re intending to check out someday? Most people miss emails and have files full of things to get to later. Believe it or not, most of those people also have the best of intentions, so a short, polite follow-up email will usually get a response…even if it’s a no. No sucks, but it’s better than not knowing. You’ll find a script for following up in my free Query Like a Pro Toolkit, plus a handy collection of templates, scripts, and cheat sheets to make this process easier.


5. Your overall book just isn’t good enough and you need a massive revision.

This is a real possibility. No one knows the number of manuscripts out there on people’s hard drives, but it’s safe to assume that only a very small percentage will get picked up by an agent or traditional publisher. That said, if you’re targeting the right agents with a good query and strong opening chapters, you should be getting some requests for your manuscript. If your query is ignored completely, start with reworking your query. If you get interest in the query, but then agents disappear after you send the full, then the problem lies further into the book and you need to consider looking for beta readers or an editor. In the meantime, here are a few posts to get you started on a revision.


What do you think? If you’ve felt ignored by agents, could any of these be the cause? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.