Here’s the best way to look at the agent/editor query process. Imagine yourself preparing for the audition of a major breakout role in a Broadway show. Over several years, you take acting & dancing classes, star in regional & other national productions, network extensively, and basically do everything possible to increase your public presence. The big day arrives for the audition, to which it’s essential to remember the general rule of thumb for Broadway, the actor/actress gets only ONE shot during the audition.
This is how it goes with many agents and editors during the query process. The book idea will be considered only one time. Due to the large number of queries we receive, and the 99.9% possibility we’d still turndown an already rejected project a second time, it’s the writer’s responsbility to ensure the query letter, book proposal, and chapters are 100% ready for the big publishers.
For writers, this means the extra time spent on perfecting the queries (and their writing platforms) is to their benefit. This benefits the writer by increasing the odds of finding an agent or editor. This benefits the agent in being able to manage the large #s of unsolicited queries (received daily and monthly). This benefits the publishing industry, as there is hopefully a large demographic of readers who will buy these books (a.k.a. book ideas).
In the vein of this one-time only process, I now kindly remind everyone to avoid querying agents and editors multiple times with the same idea. Without trying to sound sarcastic, it’s highly evident when a writer (already rejected) sends a query a 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th time. Not only does this require the agent/editor writing another rejection, it results in the author losing postage and the agent/editor losing time in rejecting the project again.
Example: An author sent a query to my attention in 2003, which I promptly requested the book proposal. Upon reading the proposal, I decided not to work on the project for a variety of reasons. In the rejection letter, I listed these reasons, thanked him for the opportunity to consider his book, and encouraged him to work on these things. Six years later, I still receive the SAME query letter from him at least 1x/year, which seems to indicate nothing has changed about the book. After sending rejections the 2nd and 3rd times, I now simply throw away the query, since he does not accept the rejections. There is only so much I can do here, and ultimately the author is not receptive to my advice and ignoring the rejection letters.
In summary, be prepared 110% before starting the agent/query process, and knock our socks off during that one-time “audition.”