Literary Agent Query Response Rates

Literary Agent Query Response Rates

Literary agent query response rates – what are they and what can you expect? For example, if you send out twenty query letters to literary agencies (well-written, of course), how many positive requests for additional material should you receive?

Obviously, if you send out twenty queries and don’t get any requests to see more material (or you only get rejection letters), that’s not good.

But what IS good?

And what would be a best case scenario?

Before I answer those questions, let me tell you why this is so important. If you don’t have the right expectations about what a normal literary agent query response rate is, it can be fatal. If you have the wrong number in your head, you might get a good literary agent query response and not know it. You might even get a good literary agent query response and think you’re doing bad.

If that happens, you might get dejected or depressed. You might stop submitting your literary agent query to anyone. You might even stop writing altogether.

I’ve seen it happen…

That’s why I’m writing this article.

Another reason I’m writing this article is because
one of my coaching clients recently sent me this letter.

* * *

Literary Agent Query – Frustrated Client

* * *

Hi Mark,

When literary agents publish things like this on their website it really makes me riffed:

“If you’re really on the right track with your manuscript and you’re targeting the correct agents and writing professional queries, then, as novelist Marcus Sakey recently claimed, you’ll get a 75% positive response to your query. That means three out of four agents who receive your query will ask to see more of your manuscript. Of those three, one or two are then likely to offer representation. Agents know a good thing when they see it.”

Sheesh!

Tim

* * *

My client knew that statement was ridiculous, based on his own personal experience. And he knows because I tell all of my coaching clients the following before they send their literary agent query letters out into cyberspace…

A 40-50% positive literary agent query response rate is almost always the absolute best that anyone is ever going to do.

Ever.

Even if you have your own radio or TV show, have 100,000 people or more on your mailing list, or slept with the president.

How do I know that’s true?

Because I help my coaching clients write some of the best query letters that New York has ever seen (I’ve had literary agents say that to my clients). And because those are the numbers that I see, day in and day out, for authors of all genres: fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books.

And that’s best case scenario.

What’s a “good” literary agent query response rate for a well-written query?

10-20%.

Why is it so low?

Lots of reasons, many of which you would never fathom. Rightfully so, because you’ve presumably never sat in the agent’s chair.

So, here’s a short list of reasons why the percentages are so low. That way you can understand what you’re up against, adjust your expectations, and start sending out more literary agent query letters.

* * *

Literary Agent Query Response Rate Considerations

  • Even if you use the best literary agent directory on the planet (by visiting the free Directory Literary Agents area on our website) it’s still really hard to find agents that are a perfect fit. You might be pitching historical fiction and an agent might say that she’s interested in that genre in her bio. But she might omit the fact that she’s really only interested in historical fiction set in 1800s England.
  • Some agents will reject a publishable book because they already represent a “similar” author and feel it would be a conflict of interest.
  • Some agents don’t update their websites or agent directories often, so the information there is outdated and/or inaccurate. For example, the genres they interested in and/or whether they’re open to submissions.
  • Sometimes agents will reject your work simply because they’re having a bad day. For example, they’re having problems at home, feeling overworked, feeling overtired, or feeling over… everything.
  • Some agents will reject your work because they tried to sell something “similar” to your book recently and weren’t successful.
  • Literary agent query response rates vary by genre.

75% positive literary agent query response rate?

Yeah, right.

Don’t believe the hype.

literary agent query letter

Don’t believe authors that don’t have any experience, except their own.

Don’t believe literary agents, either. They have no way of knowing what the average literary agent query response rate is. Think about it. All book agents know is the percentage of literary agent query letters that their literary agency accepts or rejects (not all literary agencies, just theirs).

That’s a very different statistic.

Only someone in my position, helping authors send their queries out every week… can say what the typical literary agent query response rate is. It’s no more than 5-50%.

And that’s with a well-written query, that I helped create.

Before that, many of my authors
got zero response.

literary agent query rejection

So don’t beat yourself up if you’re not getting a 75% positive response rate on your literary agent query. Nobody is getting that kind of response rate.

Not even me.

The good news???

You don’t need a 75% literary agent query response rate. You only need one solitary book agent (out of the 1,000+ in my Directory of Literary Agents) to say yes.

Now, if you liked this article… please leave a comment below AND click this link to learn about literary agent turnaround times or click here to discover how to interpret literary agent feedback. Both of those articles are part of my free 15-part Guide to Finding a Literary Agent.

Want help writing or revising your literary agent query? Click here to learn about 3 different ways that you can get 1-on-1 help from me (free to fee) as your Book Marketing Coach. You can ask me questions on my blog, schedule an introductory consulting call with me, or join one of my longer-term coaching programs.

– Mark

Mark Malatesta
Your “Undercover” Agent
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83 comments

  1. Karen Sargent /

    Hi, Mark: Maybe this is cliche’ and I’m too much of a rookie to know it, but I’ve compared finding the agent who will “love” my book to me standing in a bookstore, reading the back copy of book after book until I find that one that grabs me, the one that I just have to read. I read the back of a lot of books when I’m looking for something worth spending my time on. That helps me keep perspective when I receive a rejection.

  2. Nikki /

    Boy. That’s a bummer. I sent out about 70 queries and got 0 response for more material. I thought that was normal. 🙁

    • Mark Malatesta

      Hi Nikki!

      I should have said in the article that response rates are significantly lower for some genres… such as young adult, middle grade, and chapter books. What matters most is remembering, as you know, that it only takes one. Keep going and stay positive.

      One day at a time,

      – Mark

      Mark Malatesta
      The Bestselling Author
      http://thebestsellingauthor.com
      Literary Agent Undercover
      http://literary-agents.com

  3. Dale Taylor /

    I don’t think there is much I (or you) can do. My first (and subsequent) novel(s) are important alternate history novels, re-imagining a better Indian-white history from the 17th century, and by now, with much professional editorial advice and revising of query letters, get no response from agents. I am thinking of going directly to publishers or self-publishing.

    • Mark Malatesta

      Hi Dale,

      I’m sorry to hear it’s been a slow road.

      If you’re going to keep trying…

      As a next step (if you haven’t already done so) click here to access to all the resources I have about getting an agent in my private, members-only area (no charge): http://thebestsellingauthor.com/membership/. Once you’ve entered your name and email address there, click on the link that says, “Audio Training Library”. Then you’ll see my main audio training (and text transcript), which reveals the 7 Insider Secrets You Need to Know to Get a Top Literary Agent, Publisher, and Book Deal.

      That might have what you need
      to get to the next level…

      If you want help with anything else, you can post questions for me online here: http://thebestsellingauthor.com/ask/. You can also (if you haven’t done so already) get access (no cost) to all the valuable resources in our private, members-only area here: http://thebestsellingauthor.com/membership/. And you can register for an introductory coaching call with me here: http://thebestsellingauthor.com/coaching/intro-call/.

      Either way, I’m looking forward to
      learning more about you and your work.

      Have a great week,

      – Mark

      Mark Malatesta
      The Bestselling Author
      http://thebestsellingauthor.com
      Literary Agent Undercover
      http://literary-agents.com

  4. Derrick Tjernlund /

    With the low response rate on queries (so far I’m batting zero for about 80) I can see why more and more authors are switching to self publishing.

    • Mark Malatesta

      Hi Derrick, sorry to hear that.

      Read this article, it might help:
      http://literary-agents.com/literary-agents-number/.

      Also…

      You can often get a drastically different response by tweaking or changing your pitch materials (query letter, synopsis, book proposal, manuscript, etc.).

      My favorite example of this is one of my coaching clients who’d pitched her favorite “dream” agent three times over the course of two years. Rejections every time. After I helped her rewrite her query letter, she approached the same agent a fourth time and he requested the full manuscript. So don’t get too discouraged. You might just be a few changes away from getting what you want.

      As a next step (if you haven’t already done so) click here to access to all the resources I have about getting an agent in my private, members-only area (no charge): http://thebestsellingauthor.com/membership/. Once you’ve entered your name and email address there, click on the link that says, “Audio Training Library”. Then you’ll see my main audio training (and text transcript), which reveals the 7 Insider Secrets You Need to Know to Get a Top Literary Agent, Publisher, and Book Deal.

      That might have what you need
      to get to the next level…

      If you want help with anything else, you can post questions for me online here: http://thebestsellingauthor.com/ask/. You can also (if you haven’t done so already) get access (no cost) to all the valuable resources in our private, members-only area here: http://thebestsellingauthor.com/membership/. And you can register for an introductory coaching call with me here: http://thebestsellingauthor.com/coaching/intro-call/.

      Either way, I’m looking forward to
      learning more about you and your work.

      Hang in there, and
      have a good week,

      – Mark

      Mark Malatesta
      The Bestselling Author
      http://thebestsellingauthor.com
      Literary Agent Undercover
      http://literary-agents.com

  5. Sherill Turner /

    Hey Mark,

    This was very helpful and helps put things into perspective, thank you!

    Sherill

  6. Tommy Richardson /

    Hi Mark, now that I have you in my corner, all I need is for one solitary book agent to say yes.

  7. Carl Megill /

    10% – 20% sounds about what I expected. Never say never. I pledge to find an agent who likes non-fiction humor, or die trying.

    • Mark Malatesta

      Hi Carl,

      That’s the spirit!

      If I haven’t already shown you
      this, you should know…

      The good news is that you can often get a drastically different response by tweaking or changing your pitch materials (query letter, synopsis, book proposal, manuscript, etc.).

      My favorite example of this is one of my coaching clients who’d pitched her favorite “dream” agent three times over the course of two years. Rejections every time. After I helped her rewrite her query letter, she approached the same agent a fourth time and he requested the full manuscript. So don’t get too discouraged. You might just be a few changes away from getting what you want.

      As a next step (if you haven’t already done so) click here to access to all the resources I have about getting an agent in my private, members-only area (no charge): http://thebestsellingauthor.com/membership/. Once you’ve entered your name and email address there, click on the link that says, “Audio Training Library”. Then you’ll see my main audio training (and text transcript), which reveals the 7 Insider Secrets You Need to Know to Get a Top Literary Agent, Publisher, and Book Deal.

      That might have what you need
      to get to the next level…

      If you want help with anything else, you can post questions for me online here: http://thebestsellingauthor.com/ask/. You can also (if you haven’t done so already) get access (no cost) to all the valuable resources in our private, members-only area here: http://thebestsellingauthor.com/membership/. And you can register for an introductory coaching call with me here: http://thebestsellingauthor.com/coaching/intro-call/.

      Either way, I’m looking forward to learning
      more about you and your work.

      Have a great week!

      – Mark

      Mark Malatesta
      The Bestselling Author
      http://thebestsellingauthor.com
      Literary Agent Undercover
      http://literary-agents.com

  8. Lauren Stinton /

    Great article! I appreciate how encouraging you are. I have self-published a fantasy novel for young adults… Is it easier or harder to find an agent if you’ve already published the book, gotten endorsements, etc.? Thanks!

  9. Jeff Cassell /

    Mr. Malatesta, I can not but agree with your article on agent responses; I’ve queried dozens of agents over the past two years with nothing but rejections to show for it. My queries are probably to blame(I try to personalize each one with the agent), so I’ll be needing your help with that, at least. My editor told me my novel is absolutely publishable, so perhaps with some query tweeking I shall finally find success. Thanks!

    • Mark Malatesta

      Hi Jeff,

      Thank you, and hang in there…

      The good news is that you can often get a drastically different response by tweaking or changing your pitch materials (query letter, synopsis, book proposal, manuscript, etc.).

      My favorite example of this is one of my coaching clients who’d pitched her favorite “dream” agent three times over the course of two years. Rejections every time. After I helped her rewrite her query letter, she approached the same agent a fourth time and he requested the full manuscript. So don’t get too discouraged. You might just be a few changes away from getting what you want.

      As a next step (if you haven’t already done so) click here to access to all the resources I have about getting an agent in my private, members-only area (no charge): http://thebestsellingauthor.com/membership/. Once you’ve entered your name and email address there, click on the link that says, “Audio Training Library”. Then you’ll see my main audio training (and text transcript), which reveals the 7 Insider Secrets You Need to Know to Get a Top Literary Agent, Publisher, and Book Deal.

      That might have what you need
      to get to the next level…

      If you want help with anything else, you can post questions for me online here: http://thebestsellingauthor.com/ask/. And, as you know, if/when you’re ready, you can also (if you haven’t done so already) get access (no cost) to all the valuable resources in our private, members-only area here: http://thebestsellingauthor.com/membership/. And you can register for an introductory coaching call with me here: http://thebestsellingauthor.com/coaching/intro-call/.

      Either way, I’m looking forward to learning
      more about you and your work.

      Have a great week!

      – Mark

      Mark Malatesta
      The Bestselling Author
      http://thebestsellingauthor.com
      Literary Agent Undercover
      http://literary-agents.com

  10. Melanie Irene Tagama /

    Thank you for this article Mark! I totally need it. I’m losing confidence already. Great thing I saw this article.

  11. Rick Crosby /

    You are a positive, committed person, Mark. I’d like to benefit from one of your coaching programs one day.
    Of the over 100 query letters I’ve sent to agents, 12 rejection or rather “redirection” slips have been very positive and thoughtful. It’s not the story idea or the writing they’re not getting but rather it’s finding the right fit at this time. Redirection slips can be a learning tool and in fact they’ve spurred me on.

    Sincerely,
    Rick Crosby
    West Vancouver

  12. Kerin Freeman /

    That’s excellent Mark, and sets my mind at rest somewhat. I’ve spent a number of years trying to find a literary agent on my newly finished manuscript and the one before (that was published last year by a publisher). It seems no matter what country you live in you get the same response. So what you’ve written above helps in relieving my frustration. It’s like trying to find the magic query letter that will get me the right response. Keep up the good work!

    • Mark Malatesta

      Hi Kerin,

      Thank you for that.

      By the way…

      You can often get a drastically different response by tweaking or changing your pitch materials (query letter, synopsis, book proposal, manuscript, etc.).

      My favorite example of this is one of my coaching clients who’d pitched her favorite “dream” agent three times over the course of two years. Rejections every time. After I helped her rewrite her query letter, she approached the same agent a fourth time and he requested the full manuscript. So don’t get too discouraged. You might just be a few changes away from getting what you want.

      As a next step (if you haven’t already done so) click here to access to all the resources I have about getting an agent in my private, members-only area (no charge): http://thebestsellingauthor.com/membership/. Once you’ve entered your name and email address there, click on the link that says, “Audio Training Library”. Then you’ll see my main audio training (and text transcript), which reveals the 7 Insider Secrets You Need to Know to Get a Top Literary Agent, Publisher, and Book Deal.

      That might have what you need
      to get to the next level…

      If you want help with anything else, you can post questions for me online here: http://thebestsellingauthor.com/ask/. You can also (if you haven’t done so already) get access (no cost) to all the valuable resources in our private, members-only area here: http://thebestsellingauthor.com/membership/. And you can register for an introductory coaching call with me here: http://thebestsellingauthor.com/coaching/intro-call/.

      Either way, I’m looking forward to learning
      more about you and your work.

      Have a great week!

      – Mark

      Mark Malatesta
      The Bestselling Author
      http://thebestsellingauthor.com
      Literary Agent Undercover
      http://literary-agents.com

  13. Rebecca Flynn /

    Great info! I do have a question. With all the agents out there, in theory, we could query every single one that fits with our project. However, I know I’m not the only one who has seen the “don’t query anyone else until I turn you down” messages. What is proper etiquette when sending queries? I want to get a positive result but if I wait, it could be years before I find someone (considering the 2-3 month time frame most agents give you).

    • Mark Malatesta

      Thank you Rebecca, depends what you’re talking about… initial submission such as query etc… or full manuscript etc. Rad this article as a next step (it might help): http://literary-agents.com/finding-a-literary-agent/stop-looking-for-a-literary-agent/. Here are a few other thoughts that I don’t believe are in this article.

      First, agents don’t want to “compete” with other agents, whether those agents work at their agency or another agency. The most important thing is that you don’t submit your work to more than one agent at the same agency at one time. But you can/should submit queries to different agencies at one time. Otherwise it would take you years to get an agent since some agents take months to respond (or never respond). And, again, because agents don’t like to compete, I suggest your refrain from letting them know you’re submitting simultaneously. It’s none of their business. It gets tricker when an agent responds to your initial query and asks more material though, because some agents will say that they won’t look at more material unless it’s on an exclusive basis. If that happens, you’ll then have to decide, on a case-by-case basis how you want to handle it since every agent and scenario is slightly different. This is something I help my 1-on-1 coaching clients with, for that reason.

      If you want help with anything else, you can post questions for me online here: http://thebestsellingauthor.com/ask/. You can also (if you haven’t done so already) get access (no cost) to all the valuable resources in our private, members-only area here: http://thebestsellingauthor.com/membership/. And you can register for an introductory coaching call with me here: http://thebestsellingauthor.com/coaching/intro-call/.

      Either way, I’m looking forward to learning
      more about you and your work.

      Have a great week!

      – Mark

      Mark Malatesta
      The Bestselling Author
      http://thebestsellingauthor.com
      Literary Agent Undercover
      http://literary-agents.com

  14. Meganne Schrag /

    One of the main things I like about you, Mark, is your honesty. This article really helps put the process in perspective. We writers beat ourselves up enough as it is, so having a clear view of what to expect alleviates some of the bruises.

  15. Esther Clair /

    Dear Mark,

    Hi! Thank you for that information! Always good to receive a nice piece of information from you. I’ve heard that often agents have to dismiss projects to keep their own costs down and for lack of man-power. I try to scrutinize my agents on their websites to determine IF they would be interested or not.
    Something will break for me soon! All the very best..Esther

  16. Jim Dilyard /

    Mark, this one is absolutely spot on. We both know this because of the lack of response I am getting from my queries. That has not stopped me from continuing to send out new ones and go back to agencies that I liked and try another agent. It will only take “one” that has the right connection to my work that I have. The rest will take care of itself. Thanks for the article.

    • Mark Malatesta

      Hi Jim, thank you for that… and I should have said in the article that response rates are significantly lower for some genres… such as young adult, middle grade, and chapter books. What matters most, however, is remembering, as you know, that it only takes one. Keep going and stay positive.

      – Mark

      Mark Malatesta
      The Bestselling Author
      http://thebestsellingauthor.com
      Literary Agent Undercover
      http://literary-agents.com

  17. Thank you Mark for this information, as well as how to interrupt literary agents responses. I found the information very helpful.

  18. Mark Andrist /

    Thanks Mark . . . this article is timely for me. I am in the query stage for my first novel. Out of about 35 queries, I’ve received 2 requests for summaries and samples. I was beginning to doubt the strength of my query letters.

    I joined your site late last year, and actually did work through your introductory tutorials—which were helpful on a couple of different levels.

    Thanks,

    Mark