What Is The Best Time of Year to Query a Literary Agent?

Wondering what’s the best time of year to query an agent or send a submission letter? You’re in luck! Erinn wrote in to me a little while ago to ask:

What’s a good time of year to query? I know the week between Christmas and New Years is terrible, since agents across the country are enjoying time with their families and avoiding their computers at all costs. Besides the holidays, is there a time that you get very busy? Is it a few months after NANOWRIMO? Or at 12:02 am on December 1st does your inbox get flooded? Should writers avoid flu season in case you get sick and you’re in “I hate life and everything about it” sort of mood? Are there any major holidays that fill you with joy, like Arbor Day, that someone might be more likely to get past the Publishing Gate Keeper?

best time of year to query, when to query
January 1st is the best time of year to send a query letter. JUST KIDDING! Please don’t do that…

The Best Time of Year to Query a Literary Agent Is…

Erinn’s question about the best time of year to query is one that a lot of writers wonder about. There are two times of the year when I’d avoid sending queries if I was on the agent search. The first, as Erinn mentions, is the holiday season. Publishing mostly slumbers from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, so a lot of agents are using this time to catch up with work, read manuscripts and get all of our affairs for the upcoming year in order.

Plus, you know, we have to pop in at Mom and Dad’s, shovel some turkey in our gullets and figure out how to keep reading manuscripts over pumpkin pie. Queries tend to fall by the wayside during this time. As Erinn so astutely guesses, a lot of the queries coming in after 12:01 a.m. on December 1st will also be for NaNo novels. As I mentioned in my NaNoWriMo post earlier this month, a lot of NaNo novels are not finished come November 30th. They haven’t been revised yet.

So the people who query them around anyway are most likely going to get rejected. NaNoWriMo queries are usually the slushiest slush in the slush, so we tend to not prioritize those as highly on our holiday To Do list.

Avoid the Holidays, and January, and February, and August… Or Just Query When You Query

I’d add that you probably want to strike the first few weeks of January from your “when to query” list, too. People are just getting into the swing of things. Agents are pitching a lot of projects that they maybe held off on pitching during the holidays. We’re doing lots of business. Queries usually drop off the To Do list here as well.

Finally, there’s a partially-true myth about publishing shutting down in the month of August. While some editors report working just as hard as ever in the late summer, it is usually true that not a lot of business gets done around that time. Agents are also using this lull to catch up and read manuscripts and get affairs in order, so queries are usually put off.

As for the rest of Erinn’s question… like whether you should take flu season into consideration or if there is a scientific formula for the best time of year to query, I say: don’t worry about it.

There Is No Perfect Time to Send a Query Letter

The dirty secret is: There is no secret when it comes to the best time of year to query. You’ll query when you query and then it’s out of your hands. The person you queried could break their arm the next day, or drink 15 shots of espresso and race through the slush immediately. There’s really no way to control a submission’s fate once you release it into the world. The best thing you can do for your pitch doesn’t have to do with when to query —  it has everything to do with writing a great novel so that you have something noteworthy to pitch.

If you get way too into figuring out when to query, and you thrive on le control, you may as well avoid the second week of January (ALA Midwinter), the last week of January (SCBWI NYC), the last week of March (Bologna Children’s Rights Fair), the end of May (BEA), the end of June (ALA), the end of July (SCBWI LA), etc. etc. etc. I mean, we’re always going to be busy with one thing or another, so you really can’t predict an optimum time. Getting to the slush in a timely manner is our issue, not yours.

Let me be your publishing consultant. Let’s plan your next steps, put a rock solid submission strategy into place, and address all of your publishing questions. It’s okay if they’re neurotic. I promise.

22 Replies to “What Is The Best Time of Year to Query a Literary Agent?”

  1. Cassandra says:

    Thanks for this helpful post! I have always wondered about this, so it was great to get an answer.

  2. Thanks for shedding more light on this issue, Mary. I was thinking of querying my middle grade hist. around the end of December, but may now wait a couple of weeks after the New Year . . . You give such timely advice; love your blog! Have a great Thanksgiving! 🙂

  3. Have a great Thanksgiving! Oh, and I love that you used the word “gullet” in your post. Such a great one.

    – Julie

  4. What about agents pitching and submitting. Is the time between thankgiving and christmas okay? How about the week or two before thanksgiving? Are there times when you hold off submitting manuscripts?

  5. Time to get stuck into writing and revising then!

    I have a question I would love to have answered some time next year when the festivities are over: in general, do agents like to see more variety in a writer’s ideas or would they prefer an author that specializes (and therefore might be more skilled) in one particular genre? For example, if I write fabulous MG science fiction, but I’m also pretty good at animal-based rhyme, does that make me more appealing as an author, or less so?

    If you’ve answered this elsewhere already, apologies… I did look but couldn’t find anything.

  6. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. You have cleared up a lot of my neurotic fears. Well, maybe not a lot of them, but two of them.
    Thank you.
    Have a great Thanksgiving and enjoy your break.

  7. Pablo — Most don’t submit to editors around these same times for these same reasons. I’m not submitting anything new from now until the middle of January, for example.

    Siski — I present to you… this: http://kidlit.com/2009/10/19/writing-in-multiple-genres-audiences/ Let me know if you have other questions or if this doesn’t answer it for you entirely.

  8. My question answered in full, and then some. Thanks! Now if you could just tell me where my daughter has hidden all my hair ties, I’d be really grateful.

  9. Siski — For that, please refer to… Just kidding. See? There are some things I don’t know. Not many, mind you, but some!

  10. Sweet post! I was going to spend Dec revising and hanging at the beach so now I’m all sorted.
    I wonder if querying in Jan is a good idea because it’s a new year and agents are all pumped like, “2010 is my year! I’m going to find the next publishing sensation and make rhyming gothic romances the HOT new trend in YA” or something like that?

    Enjoy your holiday! We’re not thankful in Aus–instead we work.

    P.S. if you’re looking for your first rhyming gothic novel, I’m thinking about writing one entitled, “Nicky and Ben Together Again”. You know you’re interested…

  11. So if we’re querying at the beginning of December, and it isn’t a NaNo project, should we write at the top of our query: THIS IS NOT A 2009 NANO PROJECT!!!!!?

    Just kidding. Maybe. 😉

  12. Stina — Probably not, even if you are kidding. But I’d also maybe wait to query. You’re not going to hear back as quickly, so any of the time you think you’re buying yourself by querying right away will be negated when people respond more slowly. Best of luck!

    1. If the agent closed in August and open in Jan, do you think they have already gone through the slush and are okay to query?
      Most likely, the agents I want won’t open until 2022. I’ll have to be patient.

  13. Useful and enlightening post. It makes sense, of course. The Holidays and the months of August are times that go quiet in many other businesses, too. And, as you point out in another post, patience is key to life as a writer, why not wait and submit at more opportune times.

  14. I am amazed that writers can spend November writing a novel and then feel it’s ready to submit in December! Is that nerve or naivete?

  15. Linda Armstrong says:

    Thank you so much! This is very useful.

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