Tag Archives: rejection

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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Why I recommend a “pass” instead of “you’re a genius, your work is fabulous and we should represent you!”

“Why can’t I get an agent to like my work enough to want to represent me?!” you’ve asked yourself over and over. Well, I don’t know. I really don’t. But I have compiled the top five reasons that I recommend passing on a manuscript submission:

1.  Well, poor writing is a big one. That can mean that sentences are grammatically incorrect and there are spelling and punctuation errors. But it also sometimes means that the writer doesn’t use words correctly or uses the same old, tired words, phrases and descriptions over and over again or, even worse, uses a weirdly varied vocabulary, employing words and descriptions in bizarre ways that have me envision them sitting with a thesaurus looking things up while they write.

2. Lack of tension is a biggy, too. If there’s nothing urging me forward, niggling at me to find out what’s going to happen next, pushing my fingers to get to the next page, it’s a pass. I think I’m a pretty generous reader but if I’m not even interested enough to find out what happens next, nobody else will be either.

3. Stupid/uninteresting/boring plot. Um. I don’t really have much to say about that. I guess it’s really a matter of opinion, but that’s what I’m getting paid the big bucks for. My opinion.

4. Telling with not enough showing. I can’t really say enough about this. I might have to do a whole blog post about it. I think I might have already, haven’t I? Here’s what I’m talking about: “As the interview ended Joan didn’t realize she had made a serious faux pas by flirting with Tom. She thought she had gotten the job.” OR “Joan smiled at Tom at the end of the interview, that sexy smile where the tip of her tongue showed, just touching her front teeth. ‘Well, I guess I’ll hear from you then,’ she murmured. Tom forced a neutral smile, just to be polite, stood up, his firm handshake all business, and ushered her out the door.” I mean, that was just thrown together, but you get my point, don’t you?

5. Crappy characters. This has a lot to do with #4. When I read, I’m all about the characters. I want to care about them, know something about why they do the things they do, why they say the things they say. I want to have a reason to read this manuscript and I want that reason to be because the characters are interesting enough for me to follow for 200, 300 or 400 pages. If I don’t give a shit about the characters I’m really not going to read past the first two or three chapters of the book.

Why else do you think agents (or their assistants, readers, interns and other gate keepers) pass on manuscript submissions?

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