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?

Book Marketing Coach - Introductory Session

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 10-50%.

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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35 comments

  1. Well, I just added up the results of my flurry of queries for my latest novel. Out of 60 queries, I had 31 no responses (52%), 15 personal replies at least addressing me by name and sometimes with a single line of feedback (25%), 11 form e-mails without addressing me by name (18%) and 3 requests for more material subsequently rejected (5%). This is about typical for my previous 3 novels as well. I’d have to rate MY personal response as cautiously pleased but frustrated. But time to move on …

    [Reply]

    Literary Agents Reply:

    Hi Bob, 3 requests for more material out of 60 queries isn’t bad. Of course it could be better, but you’re doing okay. You can either improve the query or simply get more out. Either way, keep moving forward and keep us posted. Your success is our success. And we’re pulling for you. Mark

    [Reply]

  2. Cayuqui /

    It all sounds great and very encouraging. I guess I’ve been lucky on my query response ratio, so I’m not about to gripe.

    Thank you, and keep the good things coming!

    [Reply]

    Literary Agents Reply:

    Hello Cayuqui, glad to hear it… and thank you for sending the love my way. It’s much appreciated. Every writer needs readers. And every writer needs to hear from those writers once in a while. Thanks for taking time, and have a great weekend. Mark

    [Reply]

  3. carl giannelli /

    my manuscript is done been accepted by a few publishers ,who ask me for money to sort of get things going im a writer and sadly a poor one so i imagine its going to be difficult for me to get an agent let alone anyone to look at my query,another problem is who do i send my query to,and if interested in doing business who do i trust , one publisher has 225 pages of my book and i enough material for two more,now i can i just put myself out there in your world and get recognized i can shop agents

    [Reply]

    Mark Malatesta, Literary Agent Undercover Reply:

    Hi Carl, I had a website glitch (having issues) that caused some of my comments to disappear so my apologies for the delay. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve only gotten publishers interested so far that want to charge you to publish. Leave them as a last resort. In the meantime, use the info on my site to help you improve your pitch and query agents. I have info to help you do both things, including figure out who the GOOD agents are. Mark

    [Reply]

  4. Take the time out do something different with that query letter personalized it. When you write the pitch in the query letter make the pitch stand out with catch of words to make that query sparkle keep it short 3 to 5 sentences long and never suck up period. | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

    Mark Malatesta, Literary Agent Undercover Reply:

    Hi Ricky, absolutely. That’s one of the reasons I recommend that authors always put anything nice they’re saying about an agent at the END of their later. When you do that, it’s a welcome accent. When you put it at the beginning, it’s much more likely to feel like flattery. Here’s to never sucking up. ;) Mark | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

  5. Lynn Orloff /

    Hi Mark!

    First things first! A BIG THANK YOU for this site and all your free (yes free is that good four letter word) sage advice on all things “bookie” (the legal kind). I’ve enjoyed your wit and “been around the block” counsel. Just read how to send an email query (after the fact) for a Children’s Picture Book and O-U-C-H! I made a few boo-boos, but curious to ask you, if the Agent liked the manuscript enough would that and could that cancel out the shortcomings in the email???

    Lynn | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

    Mark Malatesta, Literary Agent Undercover Reply:

    Hi Lynn, you’re absolutely welcome. Thank YOU for taking time to say hello. Don’t beat yourself up too much about any mistakes you’ve made with your queries in the past. Today is a new day. And, like you said, a good manuscript can overcome a bad query. The problem is, most agents won’t look at the sample writing in the manuscript unless they like the query. So you might need to revise your query and send out more. Just don’t quit! Mark | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

  6. Great article! Thanks for putting a more realistic frame on this subject. Very helpful – and entertaining too! | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

    Mark Malatesta, Literary Agent Undercover Reply:

    Thank you Cyn. You’re the reason I’m doing this. You’re kind and coachable. Looking forward to connecting with you more. Have a great weekend and I hope to see you again soon. Mark | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

  7. Thanks so much for this post, Mark. Even fiction writers need a bracing dose of reality. Good stuff. Extremely helpful.

    [Reply]

    Mark Malatesta, Literary Agent Undercover Reply:

    Hi Annie, thanks for stopping by to say hello. Glad you liked the article. If I can help you in any way and answer any questions for you, let me know. See you again soon I hope. Mark | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

  8. Congrats to Lynn!! You go girl! :) And congrats to Mark as well for being such a wonderful coach! It’s feedback like this that confirms that we’re working with the best. Go Mark! :) | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

    Mark Malatesta, Literary Agent Undercover Reply:

    Hi Sabrena, that is amazing… right? 2 minutes and 36 seconds for a literary agent to respond with a positive request to see more material. I’m starting to get greedy now. I want to see under 2 minutes. Then 1 minute. Wait a second, that’s probably not possible. Agents do need time to READ the query letters, don’t they? Ha ha ha. Good hearing from you. Mark | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

  9. saw lian cheah /

    Hi Mark

    An informative article. At least, I know what to expect which is not much so I don’t get disappointed. So if I were to send out eleven good query letters and get four contract offers and seven rejections, would you say that is pretty good responsel or very good? | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

    Mark Malatesta, Literary Agent Undercover Reply:

    Hi Saw Lian, thank you. If you send out 11 good query letters and get four requests for sample chapters and/or the full manuscript, that is good. If you get one or two of those agents to offer you representation, that is great. Do let us know how it goes when you start sending them out. Mark | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

  10. Reading Lynn Bouldry’s raving fan remarks about her query letter assures me that I am working with the right man. | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

    Mark Malatesta, Literary Agent Undercover Reply:

    Hi Dorlies, you absolutely are. I’m going to make you look like a rock star. Nice speaking with you tehe other day. :) Mark | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

  11. I AM getting 75% positive comments, but NO “we’d love to represent you,” so I may be the best writer nobody wants to,represent. | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

    Laura Moe Reply:

    I need to get over myself, don’t I? | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

    Mark Malatesta, Literary Agent Undercover Reply:

    Yes, you do. And HAPPY BIRTHDAY! :) Mark | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

    Laura Moe Reply:

    Thanks! Some friends took me out to a Japanese steak house. Got the whole hibachi experience where the shelf pelted us with broccoli. He sautéed a birthday “volcano” out of onions. | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

    Mark Malatesta, Literary Agent Undercover Reply:

    So the shelf pelted you with broccoli? Ya gotta love auto-spell-correct. Ha ha ha. I’m just glad you had a good birthday celebration. Looking forward to celebrating with you in your new year. ;) Mark | Literary Agent Query

  12. GREAT ARTICLE: Literary Agent Query response time/reasons… Intimidating! Yes, given all variety of literary options at public libraries, booksellers and my own miniature collection. Yet, in the world of possibility and the fact I have you Mark on my shelf of added potential, there just might be a place budding for “The Wedding Garden.” “Timing Is Everything” is not just a cliché. | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

    Mark Malatesta, Literary Agent Undercover Reply:

    Timing isn’t everything but it is something… and this is definitely your year to get your work out there. :) Mark | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

  13. I would have put it around 30%. It depends how accurately the writer can target his agent which can only be done through elbow-grease and a bit of guesswork. Adequate preparation and following guidelines helps, but god-only-knows what kind of log-jam might exist at a book agent or whether the weather be foul or fine. Sometimes if lucky an agent will refer you to another or directly to a publisher, in which case you have good idea of what you have and should just keep plugging along. | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

    Mark Malatesta, Literary Agent Undercover Reply:

    Hi Pogo, you’re very right… timing has so much to do with it. As an agent I learned to adjust my expectations the same way. Send out twice as many submissions for a project as you think you should have to send out… and assume that close to half of the responses will be rejections that have nothing to do with the quality of the work. Mark | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

    pogo Reply:

    when I wrote I had good acceptance but i think it is because I spent much time studying target.Writer submits; editor rejects. I carry the same attitude regarding photography, but there is a difference. 10% acceptance from any submission into a high-end photo agency is quite good. My goal is to license maximum among different agencies, so I just circulate the rejections elsewhere and don’t think about it. It takes tough mentality to survive, hence always growing collections. | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

    pogo Reply:

    p2. now studying glossy rags. photography is good enough to deliver, but am a bit lost in writing and suffer no confidence; but there’s no rejection letter without a submission, so back to making inquiries and studying guidelines. food reviews. saw new ebook company, but they handle their contracts similar to RM photography licenses 50/50 5yr excl. NonFiction only ;) Shorties ca 50pp forgot word count for iPad, smartphone-so things like travel guides, short bio, foodies,etc | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

  14. Mark helped me to upgrade and dramatically improve my query letter. However, actually sitting down and first checking each agent’s website for current submission guidelines, then actually sending queries to multiple agents, is entirely up to me. As for responses, using his polished query letter I have had 3 out of 10 agents request sample chapters. While they did not obtain an agent, I must now send out at least 25 more before getting discouraged. Thank you Mark for being in my corner. | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

    Mark Malatesta, Literary Agent Undercover Reply:

    Hi Pat, I have to say that I was thrilled to your comment. I had no idea that you were getting that kind of response rate… and that was based on you not doing that much with me. That’s fantastic. I saw your comment come in on my iPhone and immediately bragged to my wife about it. Thank you for sharing, and please keep getting those queries out. I can’t say it enough… you have a great niche and you’re a very good writer. Mark | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

  15. Wow! Great article, Mark. It really helped me to stay inspired this week. And as you well know, with expectations as high as rejections, that isn’t always an easy thing to do. But who ever said easy was good? Being born was pretty hard. Thanks! Tom. | Literary Agent Query

    [Reply]

    Mark Malatesta, Literary Agent Undercover Reply:

    Hi Tom, I’m glad to hear it because you so often inspire me… and everyone else around you. Sending you rainbows and publishing bliss. Mark | Literary Agent Query

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