When do you give up? When is it time to retire your query?

When do you put the novel in the drawer? When do you move on? How far do you take something? How long do you have it on submission? How many agents do you take it to?

There are a couple scenarios to discuss.

a) You get no requests based on your query.

b) You get requests on your query but always a pass.

Use your instincts. If you are getting some quality feedback, but no offers or continuing requests but no offer, try to digest.

a) Either your premise is poor, the quality of writing is poor, you aren’t personalizing your query (To Whom it May Concern) and thus aren’t connecting with agents, OR your manuscript might be great but  your query isn’t explaining it properly to get warranted attention.

b) If you are getting form rejections on your material then agents probably don’t have time to breakdown what needs work. If you are getting personalized rejections with tips and information for improvement then you are on the right track.

There are many behind the scenes situations that writers can read too much into: how long an agent takes to get back etc. But, overall, you’ll know if you are connecting. Take your feedback and work with it. One agent might say the pace needs work and another might say pace is great, but dialogue isn’t authentic. While these seem like contradicting pieces of advice what this say to me is: agents are reading it, they want to connect with it, but sadly aren’t. So think about what’s holding them back.

Agents want good writing to find good representation and thus a good publisher. But, it might not be right for us.

Alternatively, if you are stuck in form rejection land there is nothing to do but push on with a good, well executed, hook based query letter and faith in your work.

Time to retire?

  • When you’re ready to self publish.
  • When you’ve stopped taking care in personally addressing query letters and doing appropriate research.
  • When you’ve gotten to the end of the list of your ‘desirable’ agents and publishers–don’t sign a contract that you’re not happy with.
  • Retire an old query and write a new one. Keep it fresh for you and you’ll project that freshness to agents.
  • When it’s your first query and your first manuscript and it’s not getting any bites or feedback. Chalk it up to a learning experience and get writing your next novel. Don’t waste time in the past, think about your writing future.

Q: Have you ever had to retire a query? What were the circumstances? 

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

14 thoughts on “When do you give up? When is it time to retire your query?

  1. What about if the market has moved on? I wonder if my manuscript about vampires will ever get published after the Twilight blowout…


    1. It’ll be a tough sell, I’m not going to lie. That might be a case of chalk it up to a learning experience and keep it in the drawer when it revives itself. All trends are cyclical.


  2. I’ve asked myself this question many times. Thanks for giving such a clear answer. I have a manuscript I keep revising to the point, the storyline completely changes. For some reason, I believe in the theme. I’ve put it aside, but always go back to it and now, once again, I think it’s improved based on what I’ve learned from a revision workshop. Friends have told me to put it down, but the characters and their journey keep tugging at my heart.

    I love your bullet points for letting go of an old manuscript. My revisions are so extensive, it’s as if my old manuscript was a huge, loose outline of a story. While revising, I thought, I might as well have started over. I plan to send it out once I’m finished and then, I will follow your guidelines for determining if I need to shelf it.


    1. Hi Janie!

      Glad this post connected.

      You raise some interesting reactions to ‘retirement’. There are things that keep you coming back to your manuscript, but you can let it go for a month/6 months and then when you come back to it you might find how much farther you’ve got with your next WIP that your former manuscript isn’t worth the time anymore. Perspective and introspection are important.

      Revisions are part of the process. You can revise a mess of a first draft, but you can’t revise a blank page.

      So make a decision, follow your literary heart, but also be aware of the commercial tune of the industry.


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