Why Agents Reject Query Letters Part 1

Are you getting ready to query agents? Want to know some of the reasons agents give out rejection slips? Every agent has pet peeves, but there are definite reasons why most of them will reject a query letter.

Let’s take a look at seventeen reasons agents reject queries.

-Your book isn’t written. A query letter the way to ask an agent’s advice on an idea you have. Sorry, but you have to do the work and write the book, then see if the idea was great or not. Besides, sometimes a great idea won’t be properly executed, so the book will flop. Or the idea isn’t very good, but the way the story is written will win over any agent. You just never know until the story is on paper… or monitor. Non-fiction is a little different. You need to have a complete proposal written but not the book.

-Lack of confidence. If you start your query out by saying, “You’re probably going to hate this”, why should an agent waste her time reading it? And why did you waste her time by sending the query if it’s not ready?

-Overconfidence. This can be anything from claiming you’re the next Stephen King to saying, “My query doesn’t do the story justice. You really need to read the novel. It’s to die for.” Or you might say, “Query letters are beneath me. I don’t have time to write one up. I’m too busy working on my next book. I know you’ll understand and appreciate my dedication to this new creation. I guarantee you’ll love my novel. I’ve attached the first three chapters so we can skip this unnecessary step.” Confidence is one thing, but overconfidence can scare agents away because they might feel you’ll be difficult to work with.

-An attempt at being funny. Addressing the query to the agent’s dog, cat, child, or anything other than the agent herself isn’t funny or cute. It’s unprofessional. Don’t do it.

-Not the sender. The query is sent through a query service or by your friend, husband, wife, neighbor, dentist, or anyone other than you. This is the beginning of a relationship between you and the agent. Why wouldn’t you approach her yourself?

-Amateurish appearance. This is when you say something like, “This is my first book ever. I took twelve years to write this book and it’s in its first draft. I’ll need help editing this thing because I’m not that good with grammar.” There are a few problems with this example. You don’t need or want to tell the agent that this is the first book you’ve written because the odds are very good you’ll never sell your first novel. If you do, it’ll be after major revisions. Don’t make the agent nervous that she’ll be wasting her time by telling her this. Don’t mention how long it took you to write the book, especially if it took over a year. Your writing speed should increase as you learn the craft and become more comfortable with novel writing. In this market, publishers often require their authors to produce 2-3 novels a year. Some will permit one novel a year if you add short stories to anthologies or write a novella or two. They want you to keep your name in the public eye and one novel a year isn’t cutting it anymore. There are exceptions, so don’t let this frighten you, but don’t tell an agent it took you years to write this novel or she’ll be afraid you can’t produce enough material to satisfy a publisher.

-Poor attitude. This is similar to overconfidence, but it’s on a whole new level. This is when a writer says he doesn’t believe he needs an agent or he thinks agents rip people off. This can be a romance writer who trashes romance novels because most of them “suck”. Or an erotica author who says most novels in her genre are nothing more than smut. Agents don’t want to work with negative people, so if this sounds like you, don’t waste anyone’s time. You can expect a rejection. Many of them, actually.

-Jealousy or entitlement. This is when a writer complains that every member in her critique group has an agent or is published but her. Or she states in her query letter that she expects to receive an advance as big as a New York best seller and if the agent can’t get that for her, she’ll go somewhere else.

-Too friendly. This is when a writer acts as though she’s the agent’s friend. She might say something like, “Hey, Rachel. How’s it going? Just thought I’d send you a little something about my book.” Maybe they’ve met before, maybe not. Regardless, this is still a business proposition and should be treated as such.

Come back next Tuesday for the second half of this post, where we’ll look at eight more reasons agents reject query letters.

If you need help with your query or synopsis, check out these query letter and synopsis critique packages.

What has your experience been with querying agents?

Lynnette Labelle

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