Did you know that 96% of authors seeking agents are rejected? Flip it around, and it can be said that only 4% of them land an agent. Peruse through Writer's Market and you'll see that right alongside an agent's address is their acceptance rate.
reason for rejections typically comes down to a few key issues. Follow
these solutions, and my bet is doors will start opening.
Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography
1. Problem: Failure to Follow Submission Guidelines.
Every literary agent has their own, specific submission guidelines.
Failure to adhere to these guidelines will often put your query letter
in the trashcan, either the virtual one or the metal one, faster than a
shooting star disappears into the galaxy.
Pay close attention to each agent's individual submission guidelines.
Visit their website and click on Submission Guidelines. Read them in
detail and find out the answer to these types of questions: Do they only
want a query letter? Do they want a query with the first five pages? Do
they want a query and the first three chapters? Do they only accept
queries via e-mail or via snail mail? Are the submission guidelines the
same for e-mail as they are for snail mail?
Once you know their guidelines, follow them to a T. Remember that each
agent has different guidelines, so expect to spend a lot of time
2. Problem: Genre Confusion.
Not all men prefer blonds and not all women prefer tall, dark and
handsome. The same rings true here. Not all agents want whatever genre
you're selling. Sending a query for a romance novel to an agent who only
accepts nonfiction genres is a huge waste of time. Not finding out what
genres grab an agent's attention will only set you up for rejection.
Use resources such as Writer's Market or AgentQuery.com
and perform a search of agents who represent your specific genre. From
there, visit your selected agents' website and verify that their bio
matches what the resource says. Agent information from an outside
resource can differ from the agent's website; therefore, always defer to
the agent's website.
3. Problem: Let's Face It: Your Query Letter Sucks.
A bit harsh? Consider that in a recent informal survey I did on
Facebook, 10 out of 10 people said they hate writing query letters. The
reason was unanimous...because they simply aren't good at writing them.
If someone is not good at writing them, I am certain agents will agree.
I am the minority in that I embrace the query letter challenge like a kangaroo to her joey in the pouch.
A rock solid query letter needs a few components to grab the attention of an agent.
opening paragraph should not rave about how your book is the next (fill
in the blank famous book/author). Instead, the opening paragraph is
meant to stylistically make a pitch regarding your protagonist and book
in a way that the agent will fall in love with them.
paragraph ought to provide the synopsis. Do not include every little
detail like the color of the protagonist's hair, what day of the week
she gets her manicure, or all the friends she meets along the way. The
synopsis is meant to summarize the essence of the obstacles she
overcomes. Stick to the big picture details.
The third paragraph
is all about you. What relevant credentials, honors, and awards have you
or your books achieved? In other words, why you and not the next author
in their inbox?
Lastly, the closing paragraph should recognize the agent's submission
guidelines, why you felt they were a good fit for your novel, and an
action to take...i.e. requesting the full manuscript.
Note: Include all of your contact information: address, e-mail address, and phone number.
4. Problem: Nonfiction is a Different Beast than Fiction.
you know that 70% of nonfiction books are ghostwritten? What most
people don't know is that rather than hiring a ghostwriter to write
their entire book, what they really need first is a complete book
proposal, three sample chapters, and a cover letter. A book proposal is
made up of many components, such as an overview, competitive titles,
marketing, etc., and runs at least 10 pages.
The problem in this
case is that most people don't know that to pitch to an agent, they need
a proposal and only three chapters written, not the entire manuscript.
Once the book sells to a publisher, the rest of the book is written.
a nonfiction author is going to write their book rather than hire a
ghostwriter, they're best served educating themselves on how to write
and pitch a proposal to an agent. Alternatively, they can hire a
professional ghostwriter to write their proposal and sample chapters.
Because 70% of nonfiction books are ghostwritten, agents expect a
nonfiction author with a big platform to hire a ghostwriter for their
5. Problem: Spelling and Grammar
shouldn't have to state this, but I will. If you're submitting a query
letter to agents, ensure that all spelling and grammar issues are
resolved. This industry thrives on the written word, and typos or
shortcuts are a turnoff.
professional (not your Aunt Rose) to read your letter. You should also
read it out loud. It is amazing how many errors you can catch when you
read material out loud.
The query letter editing and reworking
that I have done with clients has increased their agent response rate
from almost 0% to at least 75%. Many of them have gone on to land agents
and multi-book deals. Following these five guidelines ought to help
increase your odds of landing an agent.
One last note. Patience
and persistence are a huge part of being successful in this industry.
I'm sure you've read enough about all the big authors who were rejected,
but, it was their persistence that paid off in the long run.
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This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.