Resubmitting a Query

September 27th, 2010 • Kate

pileofpaper1I often get questions at conferences or on Twitter about resending a query to an agent. “What if,” the author asks, “I’ve made drastic changes and it’s practically a different project now?” Well, it depends. Did you turn your contemporary YA into a paranormal MG? That’s different. Otherwise, I think you’re looking at a revision, which, drastic or not, is still ultimately the same thing you sent to the agent before.

And a “no”, once given, is pretty much going to stay a no. Sure, “maybe”s have a chance of changing their minds, but “no”s? Not so much.

The cold hard fact is you have ONE CHANCE to make a first impression. ONE CHANCE with your manuscript. ONE CHANCE with the agent of your dreams. And once that chance goes back to you as a no, well, you have to either put that manuscript aside or find new agents to submit to. You’ve burned your bridges. That ship has sailed. (And other metaphors you shouldn’t include in your WIP.)

Are there exceptions? Sure, there always are. But if I’ve left a door open for a resubmission of material, you’re going to know about it. My rejection letter will spell it out pretty clearly — “This doesn’t work for me right now, but if you’re willing to make some changes, I’d be happy to take another look.” Without that offer of a second look, my “no” is a no for all time.

So get it right the first time, and if you think it’s not ready, don’t submit it. I doubt any agents are sitting around waiting for new queries to come in. We’re already got a lot to look at, and if you take another month with your manuscript before you send it, chances are you’ll still have a shot — a better shot than if you send something that isn’t ready.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Cookies?

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19 Responses to “Resubmitting a Query”

  1. Sandra Cormier (Chum Says:

    It's a delicate dance, for sure. After a few months of submitting my women's fiction I received lots of positive feedback with my requested fulls, praising the writing but not necessarily the format.

    I mentioned to an agent the idea of ditching the 'grown-up' portion of the book to create a YA, and she responded with enthusiasm and an invitation to resubmit.

    To comfirm your advice, another agent said resubbing would probably be okay as long as the new book is a significant change and at least six months had passed since the first query.

    I wouldn't dream of wasting agents' time with a blast of resubs if they had formerly responded with form rejections.

    To coin another cliché phrase, it's a whole new ball game.

  2. Elizabeth Kaylene Says:

    Question! When I submit a query, should my novel have already been edited, or does an agent help with that, too?

  3. Olivia Says:

    Let's say that I write another novel and send you a query for that one, and you look at my sample pages and request a partial…and eventually you end up being my agent. Will you then also market the novel you already rejected?

  4. Kate Says:

    Elizabeth – Your novel should be as edited as you and the fine members of your critique group can help you polish it. Some authors need outside editing help, but for most, I believe should do it on their own with help from other writers — not paid help.

    Olivia – if we're working together, we would discuss if an old manuscript is still something that has possibilities after changes, or if it's something best left in a drawer to help educate your process.

  5. Dan Says:

    What if you queried a novel three years ago, but have now changed 75% of the text and gave it a new title? Do you really think that an agent will notice that it's a re-submission?

  6. Scott Hanley Says:

    We are trained from a young age to believe in being polite- never putting anyone out or asking too much of people. I believe this is a good thing in many ways, but it has also conditioned us to be afraid of taking what we want.

    How do we walk this fine line? In personal relationships? In professional settings?

  7. Sandra Cormier (Chum Says:

    Dan, it's not a question of whether the agent notices or not. If you plan to resubmit, you should be up front about the book's history.

    Sure, the agent might not notice, but if it should turn into a business relationship it's best to be honest.

  8. Elizabeth Kaylene Says:

    Thanks, Kate!

  9. Kate Says:

    Scott, I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer your question about politeness as it relates to personal relationships (except to say, be polite!), but in terms of professional settings, the key is to act professionally.

    Take it a step removed from the query process, if you will. If you think of a query letter as a resume, if you submit to a job and the HR department says no thanks, you don't send a reworked resume back to them and try for the same job again. You find a different job to apply for.

    Polite is about sending thank you notes and being courteous in your correspondence. Persistence is a different thing, and yes, you can be both, but know that over-persistence verges on being a bother (or a stalker) and no one wants that.

  10. Shannon Says:

    You've mentioned before that if we submitted a novel to you before, we should say so when we submit a new novel.

    It seems that MS that received a "no" the first time wouldn't be something I'd want to talk about in a new MS query.

    What is the reasoning behind telling an agent that I've queried them before?

  11. Kate Says:

    Shannon, what I say specifically in my guidelines is "if you’re an author who is sending a new query, but who previously submitted a novel to me for which I requested chapters but ultimately declined, please do say so in your query letter."

    So yes, I do want to be reminded that I liked your previous query enough to ask for a partial (or even a full), because that helps refresh my memory of what I enjoyed about your writing in the first place.

  12. Mark R. Hunter Says:

    I've never even considered resubmitting (except once, when I sent a manuscript to the same editor twice by accident — he was not amused). I did a lot of reading up on submitting before I started doing it myself, and the accepted norm seemed pretty clear.

  13. Shannon Says:

    Thanks Kate.

  14. allreb Says:

    This is a rule that I would definitely follow, but I can totally empathize with people who are frustrated by it. There's such a huge deal made over query letters and the perfection required in them that it would be easy to think "Maybe Agent X isn't really rejecting the STORY, s/he's rejecting the QUERY and if only I could find the perfect way to present this, s/he'd fall in love! Pleeeeease lemme try again."

    (I already have query neuroses and I'm not even submitting yet. This doesn't bode well for me…)

  15. Dan Says:

    What if you've submitted to one person at an agency and received a rejection, and then a year later, after many revisions, you want to submit the book to a different agent?

  16. Lit Links Says:

    […] Can You Resubmit A Query? – KT Literary […]

  17. Mike Says:

    The problem with this for a first timer is that by the time you have refined your query letter to something that actually works and does all the things the agents want,as well as none of the things they don't, you have pretty much exhausted your list of viable agents. What would be so wrong about changing your query to one that doesn't get the form rejection based on things other than the pitch and resubmitting? Honestly, would they even notice that you were the same author with the query they rejected out of hand because of formatting, etc?

  18. Mike Says:

    Just to reiterate, I have not requeried any of the agents I sent original queries to, but the ones I sent were without a doubt, amatuer. After months of research and a few rejections, mostly form rejections, I now have what I feel is at least a query that will be read for its content and not dismissed due to my lack of familiarity with the submission process. All I really want to know, is would the agent have passed on my work because of content? Or, was it because I was overly excited to get it out there and violated the norms for a query letter? I have read countless articles by the agents themselves and refined my query to what is now, decent. It would be a shame if I could have attracted the attention of a great agent but was passed on because I was new to the process and they were expecting a polished query from a first time submission.

  19. Mark R. Hunter Says:

    Certainly a lot of queries are rejected because of mistakes in the query itself, without the actual story ever being considered. However, I once accidentally submitted a novel to the same publisher twice — and after a few months, the editor still remembered the previous submission. Granted that they sent me a personal and encouraging rejection the first time, but considering the volume of submissions they receive, I was still surprised (and embarrassed).

    Whether they'd welcome a much improved query is something that probably depends on the individual agent, but in any case I wouldn't count on them not remembering you.