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Top 10 Reasons Why BookEnds Rejected Your Query

At the suggestion of a reader I polled the Team to see what everyone had to say about why queries are most often rejected. These are in no particular order, although I have highlighted one that I think is probably the number one reason.

Since we were on a roll, expect a post later in the week on submissions.

1. An overdone concept–a hook or idea that we’ve seen a million times. The trick with this is that often agents see the same hook a million times even if it’s something that’s never (or rarely) been published (like cloning Jesus or real estate agent sleuths).

2. You spend all of your query time talking about yourself and no time talking about the book.

3. Your query blurb is actually a full synopsis of the book indicating to us that you don’t know how to summarize, edit, and tighten. A bad sign for what’s to come.

4. Trying to sneak your query in under the wrong genre. Query Manager allows each agent to set the genres we want to see queries in. There’s a reason you can’t find SFF in my genre selections, I don’t represent it. So querying your SFF as a thriller just to try to sneak it in won’t help you.

5. You spend all of your time talking about character backgrounds or themes, but never actually give us a description of the plot.

6. You’ve already self-published the book, but have no impressive sales.

7. Word counts are way off. Every genre has a word count range. Know it.

8. Plot is either overdone or just doesn’t sound special. If we had to pick a #1 reason, not sounding special would probably be it.

9. Putting down the genre, “all romance/books/SFF/YA is terrible so I decided to write my own.” As representatives of authors of the genre you’ve just demeaned we take particular offense to this type of logic.

10. No understanding of the genre and what makes it work. In every genre there are certain things a reader will expect, as the author it’s your job to present those things in a new an exciting way.

Category: AlvarezBlogBookEndsCampbellFaustFerraraHarrisLionettiMarchiniMorrisOur Team

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9 comments

  1. Excellent list. I don’t think I fit in anywhere, though, other than, maybe, the overdone plot but I’m not sure. After some experience with querying, some success and now gaining experience so fast it makes my head spin, I do have “special” plots – plots that also turn me on. But the thing is, right now I have a whole story very much alive in my head, and I just HAVE to write it, even though it’s a bit off genre for me. Medieval romantic suspense (medieval not my forte but long live Laura Kinsale and all the reading I’ve done by her), but the story comes on to me so strong I wrote the outline in a few hours. Almost every single scene is outlined. Plot-wise I don’t think it’s very special, but can I let it go when the need to write it is so strong? I don’t mean to sound esoteric here, I’m aware we’re authors, so we’re business people. Therefore this is a business question. It’s like asking: Should I put my money in real estate (where everybody does) even though world demographics is going to h*** and we might have empty skycrapers in the next 30 years? But heck, this opportunity, it’s so cheap and well-placed, my bank account itches. Same with my story. Should i invest in it even though it might be overdone (not sure here)? I’d be grateful for advice 🙂

    1. So to summarize, in large part the writer must know the writing biz as well as the agent?

      Jo mien leew etj saje! (“Oy vey!” in Plautdietsch. Or, “Well in that case I am screwed!)

      In ringette (to pick a sporty hook so fresh you’ll have to Google it) many of the top players are strong, great skaters, smart as hell and just as tough. Many coaches are too–or used to be–or could be if they wanted to but had a family to feed, a student loan to repay, etc., and opted for the coaching path.
      (Unintentional snarky awkwardness partially avoided?) The point is they know what it takes and the exceptional ones can lace’em up and light the lamp. (Again, sorry, and also please Google these versatile hockey borrow phrases.)

      My point is that my wife and I live beside a (mostly) frozen lake in a forest in Canada. I can work on skating and shooting and my metaphorical physical play (Janice Pearl is a load in the corners!) but… I need smarter, experienced, invested, city-dwelling, industry vets to round out the weak spots in my overall game.

      OT

      I am not against learning all the industry insider-savvy right down to the sub-sub-genre. I am learning and will continue to do so over time. However, so much of my day has to go into *creating good work* (stuff that is less sh*tty than the last batch) that I find myself wishing my literary betters would just give me a helpful, empathetic, knowledgeable hip-check and tell me what to do with all that other writer verisimilitude and fake writer verisimilitude. (Starting with the definition of verisimilitude.)

      Sorry for offering my opinions as facts (Mitchsplaining, according to Janice Pearl, the big bully) and belabouring a sports metaphor. (Kinda sorry. It was so fun.)

      P.S.–I thought it was cool that “Number 2” above, was, in effect, “Number Two”, in poo-speak. Also, I am guilty of both.

  2. Reading this, I’m feeling pretty lucky you saw past my “overdone” concept, liked something about the manuscript enough to ask me to revise, and offered to rep!

  3. Fascinating insight. Rather stunned by #9 (I mean, really?) and your #1 is surprising. I didn’t realise there would be hooks that are overdone just at the querying stage. If it is a saturated market (like vampires) would an amazing premise still get interest?

    #2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, & 10 aren’t ones I have to worry about *phew*.

    #8 is a little bit scary. I think my plot is special, but I wouldn’t write the story if I didn’t think it was. Does that mean an agent will think the plot is special? I hope so, but I guess I won’t know until it’s been rejected a few hundred times. Jessica, what sorts of things make a plot special? Unique twist/setting/characters? And would #8 be determined from the query or from pages?

  4. Good info, but I spotted a typo in your article. Hint: it’s in the last sentence. If my attention to detail has impressed you, perhaps you’d like to read my unpublished MG novel! It’s about a girl, a bear, a book, a bully, and an endangered forest. Just let me know.

  5. One of the hardest things a writer can do is write a successful query. When I read those that helped a writer get noticed it all seems so easy but it’s not. We need to take our time, ask for help…..a lot of help if needed. The query is the first thing (correct me if I’m wrong) that an agent will see. It is the first impression therefore it must be handled with great care.

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