Read. Write. Edit.

How many queries to get an agent?

Posted by on Nov 18, 2011 in agenty stuff, authors, editing, nitty gritty, publishers, publishing, querying, writing | 4 comments

Apocryphal stories abound of how many rejections it took this famous author to get an agent or another author to get a book deal. I actually laugh when people think Stephenie Meyer got so many rejections prior to her book deal. Hooboy! that’s a good one.

Because the question crops up a lot, I decided to put together a little sampling of how many rejections famous authors received before securing a book deal and (maybe) everlasting fame.

Note: I limited selection to contemporary authors, because the game has changed so much in publishing, even within the past decade, that getting rejections pre-computer is completely different than it is now.


J.K. Rowling


 1 rejection from agent

12 rejections from publishers


While getting an agent on the second query is amazing (and understandable since it’s Harry Potter), the twelve rejections from publishers is a different story. Those twelve accounted for a good chunk, if not most, of the children’s publishers in London, and Harry was out on submission for a year before it landed at Bloomsbury.


Stephenie Meyer


15 queries sent

8 rejections 


From her website: “I sent out around fifteen queries (and I still get residual butterflies in my stomach when I drive by the mailbox I sent the letters from—mailing them was terrifying.). I will state, for the record, that my queries truly sucked, and I don’t blame anyone who sent me a rejection (I did get seven or eight of those. I still have them all, too). The only rejection that really hurt was from a small agent who actually read the first chapter before she dropped the axe on me. The meanest rejection I got came after Little, Brown had picked me up for a three-book deal, so it didn’t bother me at all. I’ll admit that I considered sending back a copy of that rejection stapled to the write-up my deal got in Publisher’s Weekly, but I took the higher road.”


Nicholas Sparks


“Countless” rejections for 2nd book 


For The Notebook

25 queries sent

12 partial or full requests

24 rejections


From “1989 was also the year that I wrote my second novel, ‘The Royal Murders.’ It’s also in the attic, together with countless rejection slips.”

According to his website, he sent off 25 queries for The Notebook. He got a call from an agent a week later who got his query forwarded from a colleague of an agent who had recently died. She subsequently offered representation. He waited to hear back from the other 24 before deciding. All rejected him, though 12 requested a partial or full. He eventually signed with the first agent.


Meg Cabot


a mail bag full of rejections from agents 

17 rejections from publishers


From an interview with Dear Reader: “I kept all my rejection letters in a US postal mail bag under my bed. I vowed when I got published I would a) sneer at everyone who’d rejected me, and b) show the bag to school kids and tell them never to give up on their dreams. . . . I should mention that this bag, which I still have, turns out to be way too heavy to carry, so I have never actually taken it to any schools to show kids how they should never give up on their dreams. Although I do go to schools and tell them that. I just don’t bring the bag as a visual aid. The truth is, I can’t even lift it.”


Erin Morgenstern


33 rejections from agents


Stats & quote from interview with Writer Unboxed: “I wasn’t sure about my query stats but then I remembered I did play with QueryTracker for a bit, I’m not sure this is completely accurate but it’s approximately:

36 queries sent

27 query rejections

6 full requests

3 partial requests

“And of course, 3 of those requests eventually led to offers. (The other 6 were rejected. First 2 full requests were rejected within 10 hours of each other. One was a form reject. That was not a fun ten hours.)”


Shannon Hale


about 60 rejections

(click here for visual)


From her blog: “I’m so glad I saved all my rejection letters. Those of you who have come hear me speak may have seen my letters laminated into one long roll. It’s satisfying now, battle scars, and collecting them felt like some kind of progress during those long, anxious years of submitting books and stories and receiving nothing but rejections in return.”


Jasper Fforde


76 rejections


Before Hodder & Stoughton accepted his first novel, The Eyre Affair, for publication in 2001, Fforde tallied up 76 rejection letters from publishers.


As for me, my first book (The Craptastic Guide to Pseudo-Swearing) releases in June, but in my years of querying all sorts of projects (fiction, nonfiction, humor, cookbooks), I’ve accumulated at least 100 rejections, if not more. (I counted them up once but of course now I can’t find it.)

If you know of any other authors who’ve stated how many rejections they got before their big break, post it in the comments (with link to source) and I’ll add it to this post.


On the subject of dealing with rejection as a writer, Nathan Bransford said it much better than I ever could.


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Kelly Andrews

    With the possible exception of Meg Cabot, who doesn’t give a number, that is not many rejections unless you add them up together. I think it proves that all of these writers had clearly commercial, well-written manuscripts that turned into very successful books.

  2. Michelle

    Excellent point, Kelly, especially with the more famous authors. Their work has obviously found a large commercial audience.

    I’d like to include more authors in the list, especially those whose books were more recently acquired, to compare and contrast. Additionally, it’d be interesting to see if the age of e-querying has changed the numbers since it’s easier to send off many queries at once.

  3. E.M. Tippetts

    It’s important to note that authors with a high rejection count will not state it publicly. Until an author has a solid audience and can command a good income (which is something many struggle with their entire career) publicizing their rejections can work against them. An editor who is on the fence about their manuscript can, and sometimes does, Google the author’s name, and the last thing the author wants to have pop up is a blogpost about how they queried over 100 agents – though that number isn’t unheard of. I happen to know someone with a number that high who is now agented and has had her books well received by the market.

  4. Ashlyn Macnamara

    I think you also have to take into consideration we’re only talking one manuscript with some of these authors, and not the total of rejections they received for all the manuscripts they ever shopped. I just looked up my Query Tracker stats. I only have them for the book I got my agent with, but I sent 14 queries, had 5 outright form rejections, 9 requests for more material and more than one offer of representation. However, that was the third MS I shopped. I don’t have overall numbers, but if you count the two others I have since shelved, they’re quite a bit more dismal.

    Interesting post, though. I’m a big Harry Potter fan and I didn’t realize JKR had such good luck in finding an agent.

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