Querying writers have quite a few hurdles to jump through to secure literary representation. For those of you who don’t know what a query is or what I mean by literary representation, let’s go over a few of the basics to start.
There are a few ways to publish a book, one of those being traditional publishing. As of early 2019, the big five publishers—whose names you have likely heard of many times before—are Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster. If you want to be published through the big five or through another traditional publisher, you need to have a literary agent.
Many people call literary agents the “gatekeepers” to the traditional publishing industry. Whether or not that’s true, writers have to pitch their unpublished manuscripts to agents via a query letter, which is essentially a professional cover letter all about your book.
There are certain formats and pieces of information that are expected to be within your query letter, but we won’t dive into that today. To learn more about querying, be sure to check out iWriterly’s Query Hack series, where we critique queries.
Essentially, writers are expected to pitch their book (via a query letter) to one literary agent per agency. Many represented writers have shared that they queried an upwards of 100 literary agents before they signed their contract with their current agent. On average, most writers write an average of four books prior to securing literary representation. That means, they likely wrote several books before writing the book that landed them an agent.
If you do the math, a writer could potentially send out 400 queries (assuming they sent approximately 100 queries per manuscript) before signing a contract with a literary agent.
Now, imagine you spend years writing and editing a book that an agent (and publisher) doesn’t want.