As you may know, I’ve begun the dreaded query process. If you haven’t heard of my latest foibles, check out yesterday’s post on my blog, because I just can’t bear to admit it “out loud” one more time. I expect I will be flooded with rejections soon, so I decided to look up the reasons most agents reject a query.
My first query went out to Kathleen Ortiz of Lowenstein Associates, after a contest on authorsavvy.com where she requested my material. Since I sent it to her first, I thought I would check out her reasons for rejections (no response yet, by the way).
- Word count. In the YA world, if the word cont is over 100,000 words, it’s too high. For reasons why, check out Querytracker.com for the lowdown. Conversely, if the word count is too low (30,000 words) it is too low and needs to be fleshed out.
- Voice. If it doesn’t have the basics: originality, authority, authenticity, it just isn’t going to grab their attention, and hold it for the duration of the novel. For more on this topic, check out my previous post here.
- Backstory. You shouldn’t have fifty pages of the boring; start the novel with the turning point in the character’s life.
- Show, don’t tell (I felt mad, I felt sad, I felt happy). Don’t do it. We all know how easy it is to fall into the telling trap, because showing takes A LOT of work.
- It’s too complicated. If there is too much action in the beginning, to the point where it’s impossible to follow who the characters are, and who’s doing what, it just gets confusing.
- Not following instructions. If she asks for a query letter, 2 page synopsis and the first ten pages of the manuscript – do it, for goodness sake! Don’t assume you can ignore the rules; otherwise you’ll just appear arrogant.
- Too many cliché’s. If you rely on stock characters (happy hooker, busty blond bombshell, evil billionaire, your ms is going straight into the slushpile – and fast!)
- The first pages are awesome, but then the rest falls apart. So many websites out there right now provide first pages critiques, but the truth is, if the rest of the manuscript sucks, it won’t help anyway.
Here are a few of my personal notes from the Surrey International Writer’s Conference - Idol workshop in 2009:
- It just isn’t authentic. If you have a vampire in your novel these days, it had better be pretty unique (hint – no sparkly, self-loathing, brooding vampires with the name Edward).
- It’s too boring. Don’t make your opening characters stagnant, you have to grab the reader from the first sentence.
- No reason to care about the character. There needs to be something special or unique about the character, otherwise, why would a reader care?
- Head-hopping. You get one POV per scene. That’s it.
- Graphic violence, profanity and explicit sex from the get-go. Don’t rely on the shock factor to hook a reader. Not that these things need to be excluded altogether, but you need to earn their respect before you go there.
- There’s a morality lesson or message. This can be insulting to a reader and be the number one reason for them to put the book down.
- The writer has an attitude about literary agents and expresses it. Be professional. Don’t assume a literary agent is cruel and insensitive. They are people too, with feelings, so treat them with respect.
- The pacing is off. Does dialogue make it move too quickly? Does description slow it down?
- The writer is a stalker – follow your favorite agents on twitter, read their blogs, but don’t repeatedly re-query them, or ask for feedback or generally annoy them.
After reviewing the above list, I’m curious what will be the reason(s) for my rejection. The best I can hope for is a request for a partial, and the worst, a form letter. Maybe I’ll get something in the middle, perhaps a personalized letter with some short feedback on why it was rejected.
Have you ever received a rejection that explained why your ms didn’t make the cut? Did it involve one of these seventeen reasons?