It’s a fact of life for publishing–everyone gets shot down at some stage in the game. Editors, agents, authors–it’s part of the business. But when you’re querying, it can seem like the rejections are neverending. The frustration occurs not necessarily because you’re getting a no, but because you can’t always know WHY you’re being rejected.

When you’re agent-hunting, here are 10 questions to ask after you’ve received 10 nos (before 10, you just haven’t tried enough agents to be thinking about getting discouraged).

  1. Are you thoroughly researching the agent and agencies you are sending to? For example, Waxman handles a lot of top-shelf nonfiction, but Byrd and I also represent novelists.
  2. Does the specific agent you are querying represent your genre?
  3. Are you only approaching senior agents at your desired agencies? Expand your search to include agents whose lists may be more open and your response rate could go up.
  4. Does your query have any big DON’Ts on it? (rambling letter; confusing concept; picture of you/your kids/your dog; no contact info; calling your work “the next Harry Potter”)
  5. Are there too many competitive titles currently crowding the genre?
  6. Is it a viable market? Certain genres come in and out of vogue. For instance, memoir is very crowded right now, so your query would have to be exceptionally strong to catch an agent’s eye. Chick lit is a tough sell, so you’ll have a harder time there. If you are in a tough market, you will get more “nos” on your way to a yes.
  7. Is your word count too low? (below 60K for an adult project)
  8. Is your word count too high? (above 120K; of course there are exceptions, but anything too high could make us pause before requesting)
  9. Are you straddling too many genres/markets to be appropriately sold into one?
  10. Is this your strongest possible draft of the query and the work?

15 Responses to “Rejection”

  1. thanks for the tips.

    as for #7, since you mentioned 60k word count for adult novels… so it’s ok to have less than 100,000 words for a literary fiction novel, yeah? I’d like to hear your answer because I ALWAYS see conflicting answers on so many blogs and I really am not sure if it’s ok for me to have less than 100k words for my novel in progress. I keep worrying whether or not I need to actually reach 100k words…

  2. This is great that ya’ll have started blogging–and better that I found you at the beginning!

    All these are great tips, but #9 stopped me. I thought crossing genres was popular right now?

    Or are you meaning the person that queries something along the lines of, “My story, ALL AROUND THE WORLD, is an epic fantasy, romantic suspense featuring a chick-lit heroine who slays demons in the present and past–also making it a historical!”

  3. Great tip sheet for query letters. Thanks!

  4. BWA HA HA HA HA!!! Welcome to the Blogging Zone! You will now be required to insert one gratuitous cat picture for every ten posts. (It’s the law!)


  5. I can attest to Colleen’s faithful compliance with the kitty post law . . . .

    As for rejections, I can admit to a certain level of frustration that comes with receiving them as an unpublished writer, particularly with the economic slowdown having such a profound effect on the publishing industry. I’ve received very positive feedback on my manuscript, including a fair number of partial and full requests, but have yet to land an agent. I try not to think about how things might be different if the economy was performing, but in the end I know it always boils down to the preparedness of the writer approaching the submission process and the quality of the work. If the story is sellable, someone will want to sell it. The hard part is finding that someone.

  6. More than one hundred and twenty thousands words is too many? That’s just crazy. All the best stories need at least one hundred and eighty thousand words just to get going.

    Sex Mahoney for President

  7. 7 Janet S. Corcoran

    Great post – thanks for the information and checklist. Now, would you suggest after 10 nos to revamp the query as that could be the problem with getting someone to look at more?
    And Keri – it sounds like you can add time travel to your multi-genre masterpiece!

  8. Deaf, yes, I think it is ok to have less than 100k. No point in taking a tight 89k ms and bloating it just to reach an arbitrary 100k point. That’s why there’s a range of acceptable.

    Keri, it’s a prob only when you hit a scenario where all your urban fantasy editors say “too paranormal romance” and all your para romance eds say “too UF,” as an example. Blending hints of genres=good, camping out in the valley between two=tough.

    Janet, yes–it’s a good point to consider if it may be your query, and that’s ok. Retool it and get back out there! Even the best books, if not presented well, can seem deeply unappealing.

  9. Thanks for answering, Holly! I can see where that would be a problem.

    Janet, dang it. I can’t believe I missed that. And you know, if she goes to HER past, that would also make it YA!! :O)

  10. Awesome reminders. I’ve been reading slush for Jenny Rappaport, and getting a lot of queries that say “I read your blog!” and yet their submission doesn’t fit her guidelines. (Which are on the blog. There’s a big link that says Submission Guidelines.” )

    Welcome to the blogging world! 🙂

  11. 11 bpeschel

    “Is this your strongest possible draft of the query and the work?”

    This probably should be number one, and I say that knowing that I include meself in that bit of advice as well.

    I loved Stephen King’s story about one of his writing mentors who taught him that anything could be cut 10 percent and be improved.

  12. #9 *sigh*

    #10…ALWAYS have at least one person read your query letter before you send it out–and moms don’t count. 😀

    Welcome to blog-landia!

  13. 13 Manda Collins

    All great advice, Holly! I’m so glad you guys are blogging now:)

  14. Good self-reflective advice! It’s nice to have something to focus on instead of just randomly banging one’s head against the nearest wall. 🙂

  1. 1 A Thought on Rejections… « H. L. Dyer’s Weblog

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