If you are submitting query letters into the sea of literary agents and editors and you aren’t getting any bites, the reason could be one of these below. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that your query is one in hundreds that agents or editors receive each month, so the competition is fierce.
Here are four reasons your query might be passed up:
1) You’ve written about a perennial topic without a unique angle or strong platform.
You decided to write about parenting, marriage, prayer, dieting or some other large topic but you are not the expert in the field and/or you don’t have a unique approach. It’s extremely difficult to find a unique angle on these overdone topics, so approach perennial topics cautiously. If you aren’t an expert with a large following, your time and energy might be better spent writing something else.
2) Your query letter is poorly written.
Maybe you didn’t take the time to spell check or to ask some beta-readers to take a look and give you feedback. Or perhaps you didn’t follow the query guidelines listed on the agency or publishing house website. Maybe you wrote the entire letter with CAPS LOCK on or you didn’t do justice to your story in your brief description. If you don’t do well with a one-page letter, how confident is an agent or editor going to feel about your ability to write a quality book?
3) The topic wasn’t right for the agent or editor you submitted to.
Sometimes your query is beautifully written and on a great topic and it is still rejected. Most of the time this is because the story or project didn’t grab the interest of the agent or editor. They might have been mildly interested, but they might be mildly interested in 50 of the query letters that came that month. You need to find the agent or editor who really gets your idea and this can take time.
4) You wrote your book for a niche market.
I received a query last week for a book that was heartfelt and powerful, but it was specifically aimed toward a support community for one type of cancer. This book was unlikely to be salable and so I couldn’t take it on. Publishing houses are always looking for books that can appeal to a broad readership, so be careful about limiting yours. There are some publishing houses that do publish books for specific niche markets, but your best bet is to keep your potential audience as big as you can.
How do you make sure your query is the best it can be before sending it out into the world?
Kristen Joy Wilks
Thank you, Rachel. These tips would help us as we write our proposals, too! I have to say, as someone who enjoys shopping for resume paper, I miss being able to hold that paper query in my hand and look it over before I send. I suppose I could still print it up on resume paper (yes, I still have some) and just hold it, ha! It would probably help me to spot any forgotten typos to see it in a different medium.
That’s actually a great idea.
There will be no queries now
for me, not any more.
My hand no longer guides that plow,
and (mixed metaphor!) closed that door.
But I look back with certain fondness
to those bright and bygone days,
when I descended into Blondness
to try to find the ways
that would make an agent smile,
like querying in rhyme,
or using rapping writing style
to showcase my sublime
command of this, our common tongue,
by way of the unique I brung.
Well, OK, some say my whole life is an extended Blonde Joke… but I have dark hair.
Lol, Andrew, I can totally see you writing a query in Rap.
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