“Is it my query or my sample pages?” Why you are not getting full manuscript requests

dialogueOne of the most common, and most subjective, questions I get asked at writer’s workshops is: “How do I know when it’s my query or whether it’s my sample pages that are stopping me from getting full manuscript requests or offers?”

Ultimately, every circumstance is different, but in my experience the situations look like this:

When you are not getting requests because of your query…

…it’s because you aren’t targeting agents who are actively building a list. Established agents have great and enviable client lists, but they usually aren’t signing many debuts.

…it’s because your query is a synopsis and not a pitch. Know the difference and don’t make that mistake.

…it’s because you don’t know what your book is about. Don’t write a rambling paragraph about themes, we want the drama.

….it’s because your query doesn’t explain the external conflict, character motivation, and stakes. If you have a great book but can’t tell us about it, how will we know?

When you are not getting requests or offers because of your sample pages…

…it’s because your book doesn’t start in the right spot. Do we start when the intrigue begins?

…it’s because the main character is waking up from a dream or starting the first day of school. We’ve seen this a gazillion times.

…it’s because the voice doesn’t speak to us. The characters need to come alive for us from page one. (Cue the groans because of subjectivity.)

…it’s because the pitch and the sample pages are at odds. If the query doesn’t complement the sample pages it is confusing.

…it’s because the genre you are pitching isn’t what the sample pages actually are. Know what category your book belongs in to make sure you get a good agent fit.


The querying stage is one of the most subjective parts of the business. The best thing you can do is query smartly and widely starting with your top agent picks.

One thing you must have if you want to get into this business is the conviction that your work is good and meaningful. Whether it makes people laugh, cry, or think, you must have faith in yourself and your writing. Not getting the requests you want? Alter your approach, query different agents, change your pitch, think about attending writers conferences instead so you can pitch in person.

There is NO one way of doing anything, and no single way you’re going to stand out. So at the end of every day, and the start of every day, remember why you’re doing this and why it matters that you get representation. Keep focused. Keep your eye on the prize. Don’t get down: it’s not personal–it’s business. And keep writing.

Further Reading:

I came across these great 12 Rules Of Writing yesterday. Funny and true.

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.

10 thoughts on ““Is it my query or my sample pages?” Why you are not getting full manuscript requests

  1. >…it’s because the genre you are pitching isn’t what the sample pages actually are. Know what category your book belongs in to make sure you get a good agent fit.

    This is definitely something I struggle with. If only there was a magic machine which would scan your manuscript and tell you which genre it was. There are so many sub-genres these days I can’t even keep track of them. Any suggestions on how to label what you write? (My published novel, by the way, was marketed and shelved as literary fiction, but short-listed for a sci-fi prize, so it comforts me to know even the experts struggle.)


      1. I already read three novels a week! Not sure I can cram anymore in… When you’re pitching to spec fic publishers it’s hard to know whether you’re romantic urban fantasy, contemporary magic realism, paranormal contemporary…


      2. So the bookstore I frequent has children’s segmented, but then it’s fiction and literature (together), mysteries, then the million categories of non-fiction. My book is fiction, so it would be lumped in with all the fiction and “literature.” The stores don’t seem to segment fiction much, so it’s hard to pick up clues from that. Is “women’s fiction” too broad to describe my book in a query? It’s all very intimidating – thanks for your thoughts on this.


  2. Great advice and insight. Thank you. I’m tempted to write some more query letters. I was obviously making them too passive. I realize now that they are as difficult to write as any page of fiction.


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