Re-querying agents with revised material
Should you do this? Should you not?
This week, we’re tackling a subscriber’s question about re-querying “silent” agents. Here’s our subscriber’s question (we’re gonna call her K.):
To answer K’s important question, we first need to look at the hierarchy of literary agency responses, from least desirable to most.
Literary agency hierarchy of responses:
Of these, the last two are rejections.
Wait a minute, you might be thinking, is a non-response definitely a rejection? Barring the rare occurrence when an agent, intern, or agent’s assistant entirely misses an email, yes, silence is, unfortunately, a rejection. What silence means is that there was something about your query letter that was so off the mark for this agent or agency, that they could not be mustered to respond. Generally, those reasons look like this:
Your submission doesn’t adhere to the agency’s guidelines (you have submitted romance, for example, when they don’t accept it, or nonfiction to an agent who specializes in fiction.)
Your letter is demanding, poorly executed, or offensive in some way.
Your letter is poorly written, suggesting the manuscript also is.
Your manuscript sounds like a hot-ass mess.
Less often, the reason might be this:
Your email was somehow missed or went to spam and no one ever read your query.
This last reason, although rare, is why it is permissible to follow up (one time) with an agent after a respectful amount of time (at least two months) has passed. If you get the silent treatment in regards to your follow up, the agent has definitely passed.
Which brings us back to our subscriber’s question. It has been two years since K. has queried—she’s revamped the manuscript substantially. Can she query her list of silent agents again?
To answer this, let’s examine what it means to “revamp a manuscript substantially.” If I part my hair to the right, and show up to work one day parting it to the left, that is not a substantial change. If I cut all of my hair off, or dye it an entirely different color, those are visible and higher-level changes. But if your manuscript is going to show itself at an agent’s desk again, it needs to be so unrecognizable, it’s not about a different haircut—your manuscript has on a different head. The changes you’ve made have to be so substantial, the query letter reads as if you are pitching an entirely different book. Why? Keep in mind, these silent agents never asked to read your manuscript in the first place, so they don’t give a hoot if you “changed the ending” or “got rid of a scene.” Whatever continental shifts have taken place in your revision need to be reflected in your query letter, full stop.