Why I Quit Querying

No. I don’t think the query system is broken, dead, or any such thing. It just wasn’t the route for me.

I quit querying for four reasons.

Rejection stinks. I sent out a handful of queries after I’d been writing for a year, receiving rejections—and one invitation to revise and resubmit. I did, only to have the new version of my story rejected, too. I learned that I didn’t like the resultant gnawing in my gut, which devoured what little confidence I’d scraped together.

My story wasn’t ready. I went to RWA® Nationals in 2008, where I sported two shiny Golden Heart® pins on my name badge for a double final. People congratulated me repeatedly, and yet I felt like a fake. I knew my stories weren’t marketable, a fact confirmed by the response of the agent and editor to whom I pitched one of my finalist entries. In less than a minute, I knew neither was interested.

My writing craft needed work. I attended the Literacy Autographing at Nationals that year and made my way to Deeanne Gist’s table. To my surprise, she was alone, giving me no good reason to slink away unnoticed. My newbie knees were knocking, but I forced myself to talk with her.

Dee complimented me on my GH finals, and I shrugged them off, telling her I didn’t feel I deserved them since my stories were far from ready, a fact confirmed during those painful pitch sessions. She told me that she, like me, learned quickly that she didn’t like the sting of rejections and determined not to receive any more, which she didn’t. And then she gave me some great advice, which I’m eager to pass on.

Advice from a Best-selling Author

The secret to Dee’s success is that she quit querying and took time to study craft, read in her sub-genre, and revised her story until she had one the publishing pros couldn’t pass up. As I listened to her, I knew she’d just given me the key to success, one that could unlock doors that had been closed.

I heeded Dee’s advice. I quit querying, embarked on an intense study of the writing craft, and devoured inspirational historical romances from a wide variety of authors.

Eighteen months later, I ended up with an offer of representation from a highly respected agent who sold my debut novel a year after that. How did this happen? Come back Friday when I’ll share the rest of the story, along with an another encouraging encounter.

And what’s the fourth reason I quit querying?

I write lousy query letters. No kidding. I look at the one I sent my agent and cringe. I’m proof a promising story can compensate for weaknesses in other areas. 🙂

* * *

Have you made the decision to quit querying at some point? If so, why?

Has rejection made you hesitant to submit your work?

How do you go about studying craft?


About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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21 Responses to Why I Quit Querying

  1. Sherrinda says:

    I haven’t queried….and for the reason you give. I am not ready. I know my work is amateurish. Yes, I’ve had success with the first three chapters, but the rest still needs tons of work. While I am working on the rest, I am continuing to write. (Trying…work load and the end of the year with a senior is pushing my limits.) Oh…and I keep purchasing writing books and reading them in my spare time. Working full time will put me on a longer journey, but in the end I am sure it will be worth it.

    Can’t wait to read the rest of the story.

  2. Jessica says:

    I feel kind of like a fake too, with my semifinal. *sigh*
    As for querying, I’m not sure what it says about my personality or if it’s good, but rejection tends to make me more stubborn. *grin* So rejections don’t usually hurt me they just make me want to keep trying harder. I like queries too though.
    I studied craft by reading, writing, and reading tons of articles and author websites for advice. And then I have fabulous critters who’re constantly sharing knowledge.

  3. Wendy says:

    When I have queried in the past I seemed to get some strong and positive responses.

    I queried after my first novel but then took years off from querying and didn’t pursue anything until my fourth novel.

    I’m currently writing my sixth novel.

    There you have it. Truth be told, I’d far rather meet with a potential agent than just go with anyone.
    ~ Wendy

  4. Another great post, Keli. And very timely for me, as I decided a while back to really do more studying and polish my manuscripts rather than submitting them and receiving rejections. Although I’ve received “only” five rejections (ha!) 😉 I now realize those manuscripts were rejected for good reason. I’ve learned SO much since then (and know I have much more to learn!). ~ Thanks for sharing this, and I’m looking forward to Friday’s post. 🙂

  5. You are such an inspiration and encouragement to me, Keli! I queried way before I was ever ready to actually be published. I was no where near ready. The rejections still stung, which is funny looking back on it.

    I much prefer meeting with agents at conferences than trusting the query system, but that is super difficult too!

  6. You have inspired my curiosity! I shall return. 🙂 Blessings to you, Keli…

  7. candidkerry says:

    Ah, Keli. SO timely!

    Guess what I’m about to do…. 🙂

    I’m thisclose to sending out my first query letter. But I’m still waiting to hear back about my Genesis entry, so I’m on hold – for now. I’ll see if my (sub-zero?) scores will cause me to re-evaluate querying. [So impatient!]

    Thank you for this honest look at querying. I’m so appreciative of your wonderful nuggets of reality in the writing and publishing world.

    (And I just picked up my first Deanne Gist book the other day. I hoping to get to it soon.:)

  8. Gina Conroy says:

    I can’t remember the last time I queired. I usually get requests from editors at writer’s conferences and let my agent handle the submissions!

  9. Tana Adams says:

    It’s the old Nike stand-by, just do it.

  10. Jill Kemerer says:

    Keli, I too had a period where I took time off to study and work on my craft. Also, after a bing, bing, bing rejection of my first three books, I realized I needed critique partners.

    I still work on my craft. I’m constantly analyzing how to make my books better, but you know, sometimes rejections give me the clues I missed.

    Excellent post!

  11. Loree Huebner says:

    This is so timely for me, Keli.
    I sent out some queries late last fall. By Christmas I had decided to stop. Something wasn’t working this time. I decided to really study the craft along with building an online platform. I think this is a time for me to really get a handle on it before I persue it further.

  12. Loree Huebner says:

    typo! um that would be —- pursue

    My fingers won’t work today! 😦

  13. Erin says:

    I’ve only written one query letter ever (I know) and it makes me cringe… it was terrible! Fortunately, the agent I sent it to was nice enough to give me a shot. Still, I think the sting of rejection would have definitely made me quit.

    I also think that as a fiction writer, you have to really study the craft… otherwise you’ll have holes in your plot and your story, etc. We’ve all read stories like that! That’s why writers like you who have worked so hard are evident when we read their books.

    But, I write non-fiction where it’s more about the facts than the story. In many ways, that’s easier. I didn’t need to study the craft of writing as much as I had to really study my TOPIC.

  14. Susan Mason says:

    Wow, advice from Deeanne Gist? How lucky is that? I ADORE her books! Her heroines are so unique and lovable.

    Glad you took her advice and it paid off!


  15. heather webb says:

    So the silver lining of this story is your agent took you on despite your terrible query. Thank God for that! THAT is hopeful! 🙂
    As for developing our skills, it’s interesting how we writers think our works should be marketable and fabulous upon completion. Reality sets in when we’re rejected 5 times or 5 million times. In any other field, we’d be considered newbies that couldn’t receive a promotion until we had learned the ropes.
    This goes to show you the ego writers carry. In short, we need to take the time to learn the mechanics and protocol of our job, like any other field. As you mentioned- learn the craft, study other works, don’t submit until ready!
    Thanks for the great post.

  16. Jenny Hansen says:


    As a member of a critique group, I get to see how several authors react to rejection. Make no mistake, it always stings. But between us, we have a no submission, a rush to submission (though she’s getting better) and a submit only if we browbeat her. It’s fascinating to see how fear motivates all of us.

    Congrats on your respresentation, despite that query letter you hated. 🙂

  17. I just sent a query out a few weeks ago. I’m a little less nervous this time around because this is with the company who I’ve already contracted with before. Still though, hitting that send button can be scary. That’s why my critique partner and I edit each others’ query letters too.

  18. PW Creighton says:

    I’m right there with you. Unfortunately it takes a writer quite a while before you are mature enough to realize it.

  19. authorguy says:

    I quit querying for a reason like your last one. I can’t write query letters for my stories, the synopsis just won’t work. I sort of deliberately on-purpose write so that the story can’t be synopsized (A “If this story can be condensed into a single paragraph, there’s something wrong with it” sort of thing in the back of my head). Fortunately I found a publisher who likes me anyway. I’ve never had any story rejected, just query letters.

  20. Lenny Fultz says:

    I agree with your comments, but I think the most important thing of all is the genre you write. A writer has a much better chance of being published if the genre they write is in high demand. I write epic YA fantasy. Fantasy isn’t in high demand right now. Agents are swamped with Sci-fi/fantasy manuscripts. I wrote a decent first book of a trilogy (I’m working on the second book now). I paid to have it professionallly edited, was in three writers groups that all edited the story, I worked on it for three years, always polishing and honing the story to the best of my abilities, had a very good query letter (as told by a couple of agented published authors), sent the query to 50 different agencies (over time), and received 50 rejections (assuming the agents that didn’t repsond were all no’s). At least now I have thicker skin.

    So, I’ve decided to self ePublish the story. I’m through with queries and rejection slips. In the long run, I’m happier and while I’ve had to spend a bit of my own money for things like a profession cover, advertising, and other things, I get to keep a larger percent of the my sales and if I succeed or fail it will all be based on my own efforts. I kind of like that idea.

    So here’s to no more queries or rejections and we’ll see what good old-fashioned hard work can achieve.

  21. Rita Garcia says:

    Keli, thanks for sharing your experience. Nothing like gleaning wisdom from the experience of others. I enjoyed the various comments as well, and look forward to your next post!

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