Five Simple Reasons Why Your Query Might Have Been Rejected

You spelled my name wrong. Actually, you called me Molly Jaffa. I’m flattered, because Molly is young, pretty, successful, and much nicer than me. But really? If you don’t have enough presence of mind to check your e-mail to make sure it’s going to whom you think it’s going, then I definitely don’t have enough presence of mind to bother reading your query. I rejected your query as soon as I saw the words, “Dear Ms. Jaffa.” Or, you didn’t send me the first 20 pages or sent them as an attachment. Ditto my presence of mind statement re: following submission guidelines. They’re really not that difficult or unreasonable.

I couldn’t understand a word of what you wrote. No, really. Your “synopsis” was 3000 words long and you mentioned so many characters, plot twists, and seemingly irrelevant details that I just gave up trying to figure out what was going on . Because if that’s what’s happening in your query letter I’m pretty sure your manuscript will be just as convoluted and impenetrable. Regardless, I’m really really busy and can’t slow my momentum to try to decipher what the heck you’re getting at here.

I really and truly don’t read or represent Thrillers/Mysteries/Romance/fill in the blank… I know you think your manuscript is different, special, unique, fabulous. But I’m the wrong agent for this. I have no way to assess whether a manuscript of this type is good, bad or sellable, because I DON’T READ THEM. I don’t think these genres are in any way “less than,” (to the lady in one of my classes once who embarrassedly whispered “I write romance novels”), they just don’t catch my interest. I have to be interested enough to invest my time in reading a manuscript. You have to be interested enough in finding the right agent to do the research about what I’m looking for.

Your idea is good but your writing still needs work. You may have worked on your manuscript for 5 years. You may have taken writing classes, gone to conferences, had it critiqued. But I see a lot of manuscripts. I’ve probably read over 2000 submissions in the past year so I’m pretty sure I can tell if the writing still needs work. I’m not just being mean, insensitive, a bitch, or whatever it is that you think of me when I say “I like your concept but the writing still needs work.” If you’ve done everything you know to improve your writing, either do something different to work on the writing, or perhaps put this manuscript aside and start something new.

I’ve seen this before (i.e. it’s not how you’re saying it, it’s actually what you’re saying). I know that you think your idea is fantastic. You wouldn’t have spent all that time laboring over crafting your story if you didn’t believe in it. But this is the 10th (or 20th or 30th) time I’ve read a query for a story that is about pretty much the same thing as a gazillion other queries I’ve read, and you’ve handled it in pretty much the same old way. If you’re going to use a tried and true storyline, you’ve got to bring something new to the table. You just have to.

What do you think are good reasons for rejecting a query? What do you think should have me ask to see more?


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14 responses to “Five Simple Reasons Why Your Query Might Have Been Rejected

  1. Pingback: Thirsty Thursday Blog Round-Up | Thirsty Thursday

  2. All of those reasons are good reasons to reject someone’s work. I think if writers spent one day working as agents, they’d get an idea of the sheer volume of printed material you cope with and how little time you have to cater to tender sensibilities. A bit like I feel when, coming home tired and late from work, I get an obnoxious telemarketer who can’t pronounce my name, yet will not accept my polite attempts to end the call.

  3. Oh Molly, you’re such a kidder.

  4. Extraordinarily helpful comments for someone just starting out with this process. Breaking into a new culture is always difficult, and the insights of someone immersed in it can really help put things in perspective. Many thanks!

  5. Liz deBeer

    Great post. I haven’t had experience on either end, but this helps explain why some successful authors have been rejected so many times… And, as an English teacher, I am not surprised to hear some people’s writing is not as tight as they wish it were. Thanks Linda!

  6. Steve McCann

    Those all sound like very fair reasons for rejection. It sounds like you look for the glaring and obvious reasons first and then work your way down to the more discerning factors. Sill, considering the avalanche of queries agents receive, I’m amazed anybody can pick the real gold from the fool’s gold.

    I once misspelled an agent’s name in the subject line of the query, and still the agent replied with a request to look at my manuscript. I noticed the misspelling as I was sending the email, but couldn’t stop my finger from pressing the “send” button. So I immediately sent another email profusely apologizing for the mistake. Apparently, I was forgiven.

    Just curious, do literary agents ever regret rejecting a work that later develops into a success under somebody else’s guidence?

    • I’m sure there are agents who do that whole “regret” thing, but I just don’t go there. I usually know if I’m the wrong agent for something, even if that something is good.

  7. Pingback: Rejection Bites, And Here’s Why! » Pugalicious Press

  8. An informative post, Linda. I’m a professional award-winning journalist of 35 years (so I can write) and last week placed fifth among a few thousand entries in the inspirational category of the WD Annual Writing Competition. I check agent listings to see what type of novels they represent. I do my homework. Two agents are now looking at the full ms of my novel because my query was professionally written with a quirky idea and characters. But many others have rejected. Thanks for the insight as to “why” this happens.

  9. I made the opposite mistake. I planned to sent you a query about an American teenager buying Jaffa Oranges from Israel in the supermarket and then she discovered the secret of all secrets. So I sent it to Molly Jaffa by mistake but she was kind enough to praise you.

  10. I absolutely LOVE this post! I am a newer writer to this industry and I probably follow a different path than some other new writers. While I worked on different projects from picture books to young adult novels, I spent the past 18 months diligently researching what agents and publishers actually want from their clients. This time spent researching the industry has rewarded me with my first soon to be published story. While I confess to making “newbie” errors as I am still learning, I have grown from my mistakes, and fortunately I can claim never to have done the things you post about. Your list of what NOT to do is presented in a comical way, but I’m sure you are serious when you say professional writers should do their homework first and make sure their POLISHED work is presented to the right person who might help them…otherwise it is a waste of time for both individuals.

    Donna L Martin

  11. Your opener just made me spit out my OJ! ROFL