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The Myth of the Publishing Gatekeeper

A Reader Says:

Publishers and editors are looking for diverse stories written by diverse authors, yet when we submit our queries to Bookends’ agents all we get is “not the right fit” or “didn’t feel strongly enough to request pages”.  This dismissal of our efforts is based on a query letter only since we are not allowed to submit even one page of a manuscript.   I really hope that publishers and editors are aware of this policy which does not help get diverse manuscripts into their hands.

I think of this as the myth of the publishing gatekeeper. The idea that you would definitely be published if it wasn’t for those pesky agents blocking your way in the door.

Believe it or not, pesky agents actually know what they’re doing and while I have definitely passed on books that went on to sell to publishers that didn’t mean it was because I was too blind to see the truth, but because I was not the right agent for that project. The same holds true of a publisher who passes on a project only to have that book later sold to another publisher.

On the other end of that spectrum, I have offered representation on books that never sold, the authors however eventually did, because we stuck together and worked hard on the next book and sometimes the next book after that.

I fully understand how discouraging rejection can be, especially when it’s on the query alone. I’ve faced it as an agent. However, agents are readers first and if we read the back cover copy (aka your query) and it doesn’t grab us enough to want to read the rest then we aren’t the right audience for your book. Having a diverse and own voices story is something we, as many in publishing, are actively looking for, but one aspect of what we’re looking for isn’t enough. We also need to find a story and voice that will grab us and that we believe will grab editors and readers.

All BookEnds agents do offer the option of including sample pages with your query and, often, especially when I’m on the fence, I will read those sample pages before making a decision on the query.

Querying and breaking into publishing is a difficult process, staying published and building a career isn’t any easier. If you are consistently getting rejections on your query I would consider that instead of blaming the gatekeepers you take a look at your query to see if you can strengthen it and then take a look at your book to see if that could use a rework as well.

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5 comments

  1. I don’t k iw why I am so star struck on Bookends!! I read all the posts, and I have sent a query letter (maybe more tham once!). There is something written in the stars for me with Bookends. I guess it will not materialize with my debut book, ( now available on Amazon) I will try again when the next one is completed

  2. I’ve been querying for more than a year now on three books. I’ve viewed the process as collecting rejections, while fine-tuning my queries by reading query blogs and recommendations from agents.
    My current novel has also received a steady stream of rejections. However, I’ve taken away some positive reactions from some of the rejections and have thanked the agents for their interest.
    One of the frustrating things about the querying process is the agents who never respond to receiving your query. I want to say I’m grateful to those who respond. At least I know they read at least part of, it not all of my material.
    On a positive note, my latest campaign has netted an agent request to read more. I sent the agency 50 pages and will wait 3 months. If it ends in rejection, I’m okay with that. I am pleased that my efforts to tweak my one page query has finally harvested some fruit. My takeaway is I’ve improved my query methodology. I believe my novel has commercial potential and I’ve finally garnered the attention of someone who may share that hope.

  3. I’m just starting towards that stage, I’m in what I hope is the last go at self editing, pending another leave it alone then re-read. So I’ve also started drafting query letters and blurb/synopses.
    I’m working on the theory that a book often needs more than one re-write, even a CV, needs to be carefully written and rewritten. A query and it’s attached bits, isn’t going to be much different.

  4. I think it’s important to find an agent who represents authors who write in the same genre. The author can be confident in the agent’s approach and experience. My readers enjoy books written by many of your represented authors and I have the opportunity to network with your authors at conferences. Hopefully, one day we’ll connect.

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