The Top Reasons Your Nonfiction Proposal was Rejected

Agents review nonfiction with a different lens than we review fiction. Because selling nonfiction is a different beast. Typically nonfiction is sold on proposal (instead of a full manuscript) and always the author’s platform is weighted as heavily as the idea itself.

So while I’ve discussed all of the things needed in a solid nonfiction proposal, let’s look at why I might be rejecting those in my Query Manager.

1. Idea not Different–This is likely the number one reason you’re getting rejected. I represent books in the areas of leadership, personal development, and business and so many of the books I get sound like everything else I get and, more importantly, everything else already published. The first step to success is finding the new spin on the old idea, bringing it up to date in a way that no one else has yet. Or, even better, giving me something I’ve never seen before.

2. Platform–Easily the second biggest reason I reject things. It amazes me how often authors don’t even include this in their query. Publishers are buying your book because they want to know what you bring to the table outside of just your idea. Who are you? How many readers/buyers are you bringing? What makes You and not just your book stand out.


3. Idea is not big enough — The idea for your book can’t actually carry a book–this happens a lot. The idea might be interesting, but it really sounds like it would be just as good as a magazine article or blog post. This could be because you haven’t shown us that it’s big enough for readers to want to spend $20 on. It could be because it’s not. Often this happens when the idea is a little too niche–too narrow in focus.


4. Outside of agent interest — I’m pretty particular about my nonfiction. I am very specifically looking for books that will help make me a better person. If you’re writing a humor book or a book on raising gerbils I’m not your person. It doesn’t mean it’s not a viable (or hilarious) idea. It just means I’m not the right agent for it.


5. Lack of proposal — One of my biggest pet peeves is how many nonfiction authors seem to want to test out their proposals by querying first. I see it all the time because all the time I request something that never arrives. I cannot make the decision to represent you on query alone. I need to see in detail your marketing plan, platform, book idea, and sample writing. As an extension to this, taking six months to get me that proposal doesn’t help your cause either. By that time I might have lost interest, lost faith in you, or received another query (with a completed proposal) for that very book, or at least something similar.


6. Writing — Just like the idea and the platform need to be there, so too does the writing. Don’t rush through it because you queried first. I still expect to read something compelling, interesting, and well-written.

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