Obelus query status

A friend once kept an account of the submission status of his novel on his blog, culminating in his publishing success, and I thought I might do something similar with Obelus.

I’ve mentioned before that I truly think submitting a novel — to agents and to publishers — is a numbers game, and success is more likely to be achieved through volume rather than precision. I think the factors in success are so variable that even the best written query, adhering exactly to a site’s submission requirements, can meet with rejection unless it reaches the right agent in the right mood on the right day. Something that might seem appealing on a Monday morning could get dismissed on a Friday afternoon. I realize that literary agents are professionals, and for the most part I don’t think they are capricious, and I’m sure they know their markets, but they’re human too.

I’ve visited hundreds of agent websites and studied their wish lists, and in my observation these are imprecise, suggesting an agent will just “know it when they see it.” Sure, many agents say, for example, that they are only interested in women’s literature or young adult novels. That’s precise enuf for me to know not to send my query. (What of a young-adult novelist? Is it clear what type of YA novel the agent is looking for?) But when the agent lists “literary fiction” as their field, just what does that mean?

Not much, and so volume approach.

To date I’ve sent 77 queries to agents, mostly by email though a handful were submitted via a given site’s online submission manager. I didn’t do a tally, but I think most of these have said they won’t respond unless interested. Several state that if there is no response within a specified number of days, the query was rejected, which amounts to the same thing. One said to expect a response in six months. Others have spans of a few weeks to a few months. It’s because of this that I’m not doing the conventional method of picking my “top ten” targets and waiting until I have a response from each before moving on to my next ten. I just don’t seen how that would be efficient given the variables.

In some cases, the agent will list their clients so that you can get an idea of what they like, but in nearly all of those cases, I’m unfamiliar with the authors or the list is of the last ten years of Pulitzer Prize winners. In a couple of cases the agent has asked for my “platform” and “marketing plan,” which I can see might make sense for nonfiction, but for reclusive, antisocial fiction writers, not so much. (I can’t ever see myself as an “influencer.”)

Of the 77 submissions, I have received 15 rejections. Most of those were automated and most came within days. As unpleasant as a rejection email is, I think it’s better than not getting any response at all. I have received two personalized rejections, including one that offered some praise and went into detail about why it was declined, even welcoming further submissions.

I think I’m about halfway through the potential agents listed in Duotrope. It’s a painstaking process, and on a good day, I can get about a half dozen submissions made. I expect a couple more months of this, all the while refining my query letter.

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One Comment on “Obelus query status”


  1. I have nothing to add to this, other than what you wrote, here, might be the best thing I’ve ever read about submitting queries:

    “I think the factors in success are so variable that even the best written query, adhering exactly to a site’s submission requirements, can meet with rejection unless it reaches the right agent in the right mood on the right day. Something that might seem appealing on a Monday morning could get dismissed on a Friday afternoon. I realize that literary agents are professionals, and for the most part I don’t think they are capricious, and I’m sure they know their markets, but they’re human too.”


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