October 22, 2010

queries and rejection

So, as those of you that follow me on Twitter may know, my rejection tally is continuing to rise. I am an optimist with very tough skin, so it’s actually easy for me to take a rejection and move on.

So, while I have yet to receive any requests, I’m going to pass along the little bit of query knowledge that gets me responses over deletions and the dreaded no-response.

Sometimes agents send rejections just because they are in a rush, your story is just not their thing, or because they already have something similar on their plate. Rejections aren’t a reflection of the agent’s thought of your work. One agent that rejected my work loved my writing and loved the concept behind my story, but in the end, they just couldn’t get behind the characters. It happens.

Other times, agents send rejections for obvious reasons (in no particular order):

Typos. Misspellings, poor grammar, and bad use of punctuation can get you an immediate form rejection. Think of this way… A query is about 250 words; your novel is 100,000 words (hopefully it isn’t that long). Mathematically, because I like math, for a single typo or grammar misusage in your query, there are 400 in your manuscript. So for two or three, or even a dozen typos… that’s 800, 1200, and 4800 typos respectively. If you don’t have a mastery of the English language, and/or you’re too lazy to run spellcheck, why on earth would an agent represent you?

Getting the Agent’s Name Wrong. Some agents will read your query anyway, but addressing an agent by the wrong name or misspelling their name can get you an insta-reject. Also, mass-sending queries to multiple agents within a single email is a big no-no, especially when you address the email “Dear Sir/Madam” – DON’T DO IT. This also boils down to laziness.

Not Following Guidelines. A lot of agents will delete queries that have attachments, and they say so in their submission guidelines. Some agents want pages with the query, others don’t. Some want synopses, others don’t. Some like snail-mail only; others are e-mail only. Some agents give you a free pass and list exactly what they want in a query (check out Casey McCormick’s blog here for her Agent Spotlights).

Sending to Agents Who Don’t Represent Your Genre. This can be tricky because sometimes it can be difficult pinning down your genre. One agent’s definition of High Fantasy can differ from another agent. Paranormal could be Urban Fantasy. Steampunk may be Science Fantasy or Science Fiction. On the other hand, most agents will explicitly say what they do and don’t represent. Don’t send Fantasy to someone who doesn’t represent Fantasy. Don’t send a middle grade manuscript to someone who only represents adult fiction.  (Check out Jennifer Laughran’s genre definitions here if you’re really lost).

All this ultimately boils down to DO YOUR RESEARCH.

I spend at least 20 minutes on each query, sometimes more. When I choose an agent to send my manuscript to, I check out their blog, interviews about them, their agency website, and any other information available to me. I want to make sure I have my query as perfect as it can be. If we share a love of a certain author or an affinity for mint chocolate chips, I might include that to show that I did my research. I have changed the font to a query just because an agent said they preferred Times New Roman.

If you do your research, follow guidelines, and proofread your query, you are already ahead of the game, probably beating out at least 85% of other querying authors. (If I missed anything, please let me know in the comments!)

Again, the best source for all this information on agents is Casey McCormick’s blog “Literary Rambles.” Though, she only covers agents that represent some form of children’s literature (some represent adult fiction too). She has 85 agents listed to date. Please check it out here.


  1. This article should seriously be a must-read for anyone who is planning or currently in the process of trying to get published!

    I used to get really down whenever I received rejection letters, but once I worked on the other side of the desk as an editor, it helped me realize that a rejection letter wasn't always a reflection of my writing. Sometimes, like you mentioned, it simply wasn't what they were looking for.

    But you are so right when you say to do the research. That's the number one rule of even getting in the door.

    So again, awesome and very optimistic look at rejection letters. Best of luck to you!

  2. Great post Brooke! Your suggestions are clear and helpful. It's so important to not rush getting a query or manuscript out and definately make sure you are sending it to an agent that fits your genre. Wishing you the best of luck!

  3. I highly recommend Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb. The first half is the writing part, and it's interesting in its own right. However, the second half is the part that really makes the book worth the money--an agent discusses pretty much everything about agents from querying all the way to submitting your books to publishers, negotiating your contract, and tons of other stuff you wouldn't think agents do. A great head's up about the biz.

  4. I feel your pain as I am right there with you. It's not easy to deal with and I think writing the query is the hardest part. That and the synopsis. But it's a great writing exercise regarding your novel. Good luck and keep up the #query tweets. One day it will be your turn. Just keep querying till you find your agent. He/she is there waiting!

  5. It's important to remember the basics. I just re-tweeted this for my writer friends to see.