Sunday, October 3, 2010

If you are getting 100% Rejection Notices...

I hate to be the one to tell you, but it is guaranteed your query letter and first 3 chapters aren't strong enough.

I know, I know, there are some that are going to rail against such a notion, but as writers we must put aside our ego and our love for our project. We must listen to our audience and in this case our audience is the 50 agents you sent out to then subsequently rejected your work.

Now, your writing may be fine. It could be that you are sending out to the wrong agents. Your query may not 'sell' your project as much as you like. Or your writing just isn't 'there' yet.

No matter the reason for the rejections, you received them for a reason.

It is now for you to decide why.

Before we get much deeper into the causes I want to remind you I am on YOUR side. I want you to succeed. I believe in you. And I am here to tell you that rejection letters truly are a gift.

They cause us to reevaluate and really look at our work with fresh eyes.

The first place I want you to look is your query letter. A great query letter should get you about 10% response back to read the entire manuscript, or at the very least a nice note that they liked the work but it just wasn't there thing.

If you aren't getting 10% or more requests for more pages, then your query could be your problem.

Is it dynamic enough? Have you excited someone enough to read more? Are you knowledgeable enough of the market? Are you realistic enough that your work belongs in this agent's hands?

Your query letter is a MARKETING document. It needs to sizzle. It needs to excite. Workshop your query. With people who know your work (to make sure the letter is representative of your story) and people who are not. Did they 'get' it from a cold read.

Take in those notes from people. Punch the query up. Don't send a single one out until you are just blowing people's minds with your query letter.

Now let's say your query is rocking the house and you are pretty sure people are reading those first 3 chapters (and yes, I recommend you send them if they say they don't want them. Especially with digital queries, there is no wasted paper etc).

Again, this query/1st 3 chapters should get you about 10% requests for the whole manuscript.

So now you need to workshop those three chapters. Especially the first 3 pages. If you can't hook an agent, you won't be able to hook a book buyer or the public.

You need to let go of your 'baby' and get honest, constructive criticism. Are these pages not just publishable but do they scream 'buy me.'

Unless the answer is 'yes.' You are going to be waiting for that phone to ring... for a very long time.

Now what about the final category of people. Those that do get 10% or more requests for the full novel but then still get a final rejection (no matter how nice)?

Well, it depends on the reason. If you are getting specific notes back in your rejections that sound similar, then it is worth a re-write. If however the agent's notes are all different or you get back 'great work I just can't take you on right now," then you might want to look into self-publishing.

The number of books that actually get printed versus the number of great books out there is just a fraction. Digital eBooks are making up the difference.

Head over to @indiebookIBC if you are even entertaining


  1. I would agree with most of what you say here, except the advice to send the first 3 chapters even if the agent says they don't want them.

    The top agents get bucketfuls of queries a day. The first easy cut is to reject submitters who can't follow the rules. As much as it might be a marketing document, your query is also a business proposal. And part of our job as writers of queries is to show our best professional face.

    Sure, there are individual stories of folks who 'made it' by breaking the rules, but for the majority of us, we'll never know if the quick rejection is because the material wasn't right for the agent or because we didn't follow the agent's basic rules.


  2. First three pages are priceless. As an avid reader if the first few pages does not hook me I have a hard time reading on. I need a rockstar query lesson to brush up on the sizzle.