Blogger: Michelle Ule, filling in for Wendy Lawton while she and Janet Kobobel Grant attend meetings and Book Expo of America, in New York City.
More on Queries 101! Yesterday I gave you five pointers for writing good queries. Today I’m going to try to explain why sometimes even the best queries get rejected. Or, in the case of Books & Such, why the writers don’t receive e-mails asking for a proposal.
I’d like to emphasize one overwhelming thing you need to keep in mind: a query and a proposal are business decisions. This is NOT about YOU personally.
1. We already represent a project like the one you pitched.
Books & Such has a lot of clients, and our first priority needs to be to them. You may query us with a terrific idea, but if we already have a writer working on the same type of project, we can’t ask for yours. It would be a conflict of interest.
2. We don’t believe your project is marketable in the current publishing climate.
We all see the publishing world from our own point of view, but an agent’s angle tends to be broader than most. At our agency, we know what publishers are looking for, and your story about a boy wizard who plays with vampires may be extraordinary. Unfortunately, we think that genre is receding, and so your project would not be of interest to our particular agency.
3. Your idea is popular with a lot of writers, and we see many queries on your subject matter.
Many projects need to be written by their authors for a variety of reasons, but that does not mean they need to be or even should be published for the general public. This is why it helps to do your homework and examine the market for your type of project before you ever sit down to write.
For example, we get many queries for breast cancer survivor stories. We rejoice that you survived cancer and are thankful you’ve used your recovery to write about your experience for the good of others. Unfortunately, a lot of cancer survivor books have been written. We may love your project, but we just can’t represent another cancer survivor story–unless something tremendously unusual takes your story to a new level. The same is true of abuse survivor stories.
4. You don’t have a big enough platform to catch the interest of publishing houses.
We see many fine projects we’d love to represent but whose authors aren’t well enough known to interest a publishing house. If you’ve done your homework, you understand how challenging the current marketing climate is for books. A savvy writer needs to prepare him or herself to help market the project by building a platform.
If a writer has a marketing platform or a guaranteed sale rate for whatever reason, publishing houses will be more interested in your work–and thus we will too. Particularly on a nonfiction project, the first question the publishing house asks us is, “How big is the writer’s platform?”
5. You don’t have credentials.
One of the parts of a proposal we look at is the author’s credentials. You don’t need to have degrees per se, so much as expertise in your subject field. We receive lots of queries from writers writing on spiritual issues. If you’re putting together a Bible study, we need to know what makes your project different from anything else out there and why you are the best person to write that project. Some of the wisest Bible teachers we’ve met weren’t professionals with Bible degrees, but if you don’t have the necessary qualifications to demonstrate expertise in your field, publishers will not touch your project.
Similarly, if you’re writing a manuscript about something that seems far removed from your day-to-day life, you should be able to explain why you’re the best person to write the book–or at least make a good case why you can write knowledgeably on the subject matter. Would you expect someone who never had children to be able to write well on life with toddlers?
These are only five reasons why otherwise fine projects get rejected. Publishing is a for-profit business. To stay in business, we have to limit our representation to writers whose project we believe we can sell. Unfortunately, that means we have to reject far more than we can accept.
Can you think of other reasons perfectly good projects might be rejected?