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Interpreting Rejection Letters

One of the biggest struggles for the querying author is trying to figure out why you’re getting rejected. The sad truth is that agents are usually telling you exactly why you’re getting rejected. The book isn’t right for them. That being said, I do have a couple of suggestions for using rejections to your benefit.

This question from a reader came through on my post on Query Mistakes that Won’t Lead to Instant Rejection:

Could you address the following questions sometime? Rejection letters are ‘soul-lacerating,’ as Isaac  Asimov says, but they would be much less so if only one knew WHY one was being rejected. It’s agonizing trying to work out what aspect of your book wasn’t good enough. It would be so helpful if agents could say something like, oh, the plot is too jejune for me, or the dialog is flat, etc.  An agent once rejected me because I used the word was on the first page, but so did Dickens, for that matter, so did Rowling I wanted but did not say.

It would be nice to know because then we could make it better.

First, I highly doubt an agent rejected you solely because of one word. She might have made it sound that way, but one word is pretty easy to edit out if the rest of the manuscript is singing. As much as we’d like to think that agents are that ridiculous and short-sighted most of us really aren’t. I mean, we do have vision enough to represent the thousands of books we represent.

If your query is getting rejected repeatedly without any requests there is something wrong with the query. I strongly believe that every good query (even for a bad book) should be getting requests. If that’s not happening you need to take a long hard look at the query.

The Query

Before analyzing the blurb, look at the query itself. Are you writing a query? There are authors who, instead of using a professional query format, choose to just toss out a sentence or two. I will try to direct them to writing a query and if you don’t know what a query is it’s time to learn.  You can learn basic query structure in my post on The Art of the Query.

After you have determined that you do in fact know how to write a proper and professional query letter it all comes down to the blurb.

The Blurb

Does your blurb read like back cover copy? If someone were to walk into a bookstore and read it would they want to snap the book up? Is it different? Does it have a hook? What are the key elements in your book that make it stand out from other books?

If your blurb does contain all of those things it’s time to look at the book.

The Book

Agents, like readers, judge a book based on the copy they read. In a reader’s case, this is the cover copy. In an agent’s case, this is the blurb. If the blurb isn’t grabbing me then maybe the problem isn’t the blurb, but the book itself. Does it have an enticing hook? Does it grab me? Does it sound different from the 300 other queries in my inbox?

There are a number of elements that go into selling a book, for the agent, for the publisher, and for the writer. We need to entice readers away from the thousands of other choices in the bookstore and to do that we need both a compelling blurb and a compelling book. If you’re getting rejected it pretty much comes down to that. Once you’ve written something compelling enough to grab a reader’s attention it’s going to come down to the book itself.


Category: Blog



  1. I don’t think being more specific would help, any more than getting a more specific breakup reason leaves you satisfied after a breakup. In both cases “this just isn’t working for me” saves the recipient’s pride and saves the speaker an argument when the recipient inevitably disagrees…

  2. When viewing query vs agent I look at it the same way one would view pitcher vs batter. If a pitcher is constantly striking me out I need to adjust in order to get a hit. A writer needs to do the same.

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