Query Rejection: What Now?

A. R. Silverberry, Author of The Stream

A. R. Silverberry, Author of The Stream

Query Rejection: What Now?

You’ve worked hard on your manuscript, writing and rewriting, submitting it to beta readers, then polishing it some more. You’re editor has given it several passes. The manuscript is as good as you can get it, and now you’re ready to try to find an agent. You send out query letters and wait for a response. Flash forward three months. No one has requested your manuscript. Some agents declined by not responding. Others sent a form rejection letter. Still others were kind enough to send a personal rejection.

It hurts. There’s no way around that. But what now?

The above scenario captures my process last fall. My novel seemed ready. I didn’t know how I could improve it. So why did no one bite?

The truth is, you may never know. But let’s look at some possibilities. First, the competition is fierce. Agents are bombarded with one thousand or more queries a year. At those numbers, the chances of getting a manuscript request—much less a deal—are extremely low.

Keep in mind the reasons an agent doesn’t respond favorably to your query. They may be looking for something specific. They may already have a similar kind of story they are representing. They may feel your idea and your writing is good, but that it will be difficult to sell to a publisher.

Another reason for a rejection is that your story may not have adequately engaged the agent or the agent’s assistant. Remember that 1K-plus figure above? They will make a split decision as to whether they want to keep reading. They may not get past your first sentence or your first paragraph, let alone your first page.

Here’s what I did with the rejections I got. First, going into the querying process, I told myself that the worst that can happen is that I’ll self-publish. I did that with my first two novels, and it worked out well. I built an author platform. I’ve got readers who enjoy my writing. So continuing on that road isn’t a bad thing. Adjusting my expectations from the get-go took a lot of the sting out of those rejections.

Next, I looked very closely at the rejection letters that were personal. They were actually quite encouraging. One said my writing was solid. Another said that the concept for the novel was strong. What I take from this is that my query and synopsis weren’t the problem. In fact, there may have been no problem at all. It just might not have been their thing.

But I had a feeling that if I’d really grabbed them by the lapels, I would’ve gotten a different result. So I scrutinized my opening pages. After all, that’s all an agent has, the first five, ten, or twenty pages.

After taking careful stock of the opening—Act I, if you will—I decided to pull the existing chapter one. In it’s place, I wrote three new chapters, and significantly revised the fourth, which previously had been chapter two. Then I went back to my editor, and we polished the new beginning, ironing out all the rough spots, clarifying and tightening the prose.

Is any novel perfect? I don’t believe such an animal exists. (For some reason it does in movies, but that’s another story!) But I believe the rejection process encouraged me to dig deeper and find more to say, to create a stronger set up, to deepen character development and the inner story.

Bottom line? Don’t take rejection as rejection. Take it as an opportunity to improve the story, if you feel you can. I still may not get a positive response from my queries. But I sure feel good about what I’m sending out. Either way, I have a better novel to share with readers, whatever route it comes to them.

Comments welcome, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

WYNDANO'S CLOAK, by A. R. Silverberry

WYNDANO’S CLOAK, by A. R. Silverberry

The Stream, by A. R. Silverberry

THE STREAM, by A. R. Silverberry


  • Posted April 20, 2021 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Hello Mr. Silverberry,
    Your last name is a delight to both say and type.
    I enjoyed your article on query rejection and am wondering what you did with your book after rewriting the beginning chapters. My dilemma is that I never found people who got my work or could give good and valid feedback so I just sent things out to agents when I thought they were good and done. I have gotten enough positive feedback to still be sending them out 12 years later, but find that agents who gushed over a particular book don’t want to see a rewrite, even if it was based on their suggestion. But I guess that’s better than when they do look at it and then I just get a standard rejection. Has this happened to you, too?

  • Posted April 20, 2021 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    Hi Christina,

    After the rewrite, I submitted the book to new agents, not the ones previously queried. There’s one full manuscript pending, so that’s something. I also submitted the book in the Florida Writers Association yearly contest and the book got two golds (in the YA and Sci-Fi fantasy categories) plus was first runner up in the unpublished book of the year category. You can bet I highlighted that in the subsequent query letters!

    First, you should be proud of yourself for getting such positive responses from agents, even though they did not offer to represent you. The vast majority of them send out automated rejections, so count yourself special! The reasons for rejection are numerous and may have nothing to do with the quality of your writing or the merits of your story. Sometimes it may just come down to what agents know that publishers are looking for or the vagaries of the current marketplace. You mention difficulty getting feedback. Did your book go through a professional edit? If not, that would be an important step before submitting. There are so many things we as authors can’t see because we’re so close to our work.

    I haven’t personally rewritten per an agents suggestion and then resubmitted. But I’m not surprised at what you describe. I’m guessing it’s pretty common, so don’t take it as a reflection on your book!

    Good luck, and I hope that’s helpful!

    A. R. Silverberry

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