If you’re an aspiring author who wants to get published, you probably know how important it is to write a query letter. A query letter is a one-page letter that introduces your book and yourself to a literary agent or publisher. It’s your chance to pitch your story, show your writing skills, and convince them to request more materials or offer you a contract.
Writing a query letter is not easy. It requires research, creativity, and clarity. You need to know your target audience, genre, and market. You must craft a compelling hook, a concise summary, and a professional bio. You must follow the specific guidelines of each agent or publisher you query. You need to learn how to write a query letter that stands out from the rest.
After sending your query letter, you may wonder what to do next. The length of time you should wait for a response varies depending on the agent or publisher. And following up with them may or may not be appropriate, depending on the situation.
Query letter follow-up etiquette can be tricky and confusing. There are no hard and fast rules, but some general guidelines and best practices can help you navigate this process. There are also some common mistakes and pitfalls that you should avoid at all costs.
When to Follow Up on a Query Letter
Sending out a query letter is only the beginning of an aspiring author’s journey. The following period of anticipation can be filled with questions primarily centered on the ideal time for a follow-up. Let’s help streamline that process for you.
Checking the agent or publisher’s guidelines
Before sending your query letter, always consult the agent or publisher’s website. They often provide submission guidelines detailing how to send your query letter, any specifics to include or exclude, and their typical response time.
When they specify a response time
Some agents or publishers might specify that they typically respond within a certain timeframe, like four weeks, six weeks, or even three months. It’s important to wait for this duration to conclude before following up. Doing so prematurely might come across as impatient or overly eager.
The general rule for unspecified response times
If there’s no clear response period, the industry standard is a good gauge: wait 6-8 weeks. It’s essential to understand that this is an approximation, with some agents or publishers possibly taking less or more time depending on various factors.
No response might mean no interest
If they’ve communicated that they will only get back to authors if they’re interested, then it’s reasonable to infer that no response within the usual time frame indicates a lack of interest. Limit your follow-up to a single instance after the 6-8 week mark if you decide to check in.
How to Follow Up on a Query Letter
When considering a follow-up to your query letter, always opt for email. Resist the urge to call or use social media – it’s seen as intrusive and unprofessional. Email remains the top choice for most agents and publishers.
When you send your follow-up email, make sure to:
- Reply to the original email thread – Don’t start a new email with a new subject line. This will help the agent or publisher easily find your original query letter and avoid confusion.
- Keep your tone professional and courteous – Don’t sound angry, impatient, or entitled. Remember that agents and publishers are busy people who receive hundreds of weekly queries. They are not obligated to respond to you or offer you a contract. Be respectful and grateful for their time and attention.
- Keep it concise and clear – Don’t write a long or rambling email. Get to the point quickly and politely. Explain why you are emailing, what you are expecting, and what you are offering.
- Remind them of your query letter – Include the date of your original query letter, the title and genre of your book, and the word count. You don’t need to repeat your pitch or synopsis; they can refer to your original query letter for that information.
- Ask for an update or feedback – Don’t demand or beg for a response or a contract. Simply ask if they have had a chance to review your query letter and if they are interested in seeing more materials or discussing your project further. You can also ask for feedback or suggestions on improving your query letter or book, but don’t expect them to give you any.
- Thank them for their time and consideration – End your email with a polite and positive note. Express your appreciation for their time, consideration, and interest in working with them. Sign off with your name and contact information.
What Not to Say in a Follow-Up Email
You should never say some things in a follow-up email, as they might ruin your chances of getting a positive response or a book deal. Here are some examples of what not to say in a follow-up email:
- Avoid rudeness – Refrain from using aggressive words or making accusations. Ultimatums, insults, or suggesting they’re incompetent appear unprofessional and disrespectful.
- Steer clear of desperation – Don’t beg for a response or highlight how much you need the opportunity. This can make you seem insecure or impatient.
- Don’t be arrogant – Avoid boasting about your work or achievements. Making comparisons or assuming they’re already interested can come off as presumptuous.
- Stay relevant and focused – Ensure your email stays focused. Avoid unnecessary details or off-topic information that might make you appear unfocused or unprofessional.
- Avoid spamming – Avoid overwhelming your recipient with frequent emails. It’s wise to wait 48 hours before your initial follow-up and then space out subsequent emails over several days.
Following up on a query letter is important for publishing success as it can lead to feedback, publishing, and improving your craft. However, following up on a query letter requires skill, tact, and patience. You must know when and how to follow up without being annoying, rude, or desperate.
By following these dos and don’ts, you can write a follow-up email that will increase your chances of getting a positive response from the agent or editor of your choice.