Why Was My Submission Rejected?

From Day One as a big, important literary agent, the least favorite part of my job—by far—has been saying no. It’s the worst. And it makes me feel like I’m the worst. Feel sorry for me yet?

Seriously, the process of reviewing one submission after another, expecting to find one shining sterling silver needle in the overwhelming haystack, is a sure way to bring down my spirits. I try to respond to every submission, though it takes a lot of time to do so, on top of the already-time-consuming task of reading far enough into a submission to discern each one’s relative value. I even try, when possible, to explain and even encourage and guide those who submit to me, though of course I can’t do so in every instance.

But this is another case of those who read this blog getting a jump on everyone else, because in a recent round of reviews (and, alas, rejections), I noted briefly why I said a polite (I hope) “no thank you.” Admittedly, this is a random sample. It’s only one day, only one round of reviews. And (alas and alack), it was a group of submissions in which there was no proposal that made me think, This could work, with a few changes and improvements. That does happen, though it doesn’t always lead to me offering representation.

Still, I offer the following unscientific list of twenty-six submissions that came through my inbox and the reason or reasons for rejection:  

  1. This wasn’t a distinctly Christian book.
  2. I don’t “publicize,” “promote,” or represent a previously published work.
  3. I don’t represent that genre.
  4. This wasn’t an appropriate book for the Christian market.
  5. Much I liked, but the topic wouldn’t be received well in the Christian market.
  6. This wasn’t a distinctly Christian book.
  7. The author’s fiction skills need work.
  8. Interesting, but much too-modest a platform.
  9. Meh. This just didn’t do anything for me.
  10. No Christian content.
  11. This author’s claims were hyperbolic … or borderline insane.
  12. An unoriginal idea and unpublishable length.
  13. This was thoroughly unprofessional in presentation.
  14. I don’t represent this genre.
  15. Another not-distinctly-Christian book.
  16. The author’s fiction skills need work.
  17. Too “niche-y.”
  18. This was a full manuscript, not a proposal; I consider only full proposals (and reiterated that to this writer in case he/she cares to resubmit).
  19. Too “niche-y.”
  20. This was a query, not a proposal (again, alerted this writer to that in case he/she cares to resubmit).
  21. Meh.
  22. Not a book that would be well received in the Christian market.
  23. This one contained theologically questionable concepts.
  24. This was a book that ignored the requirements of the genre.
  25. Another book that showed little knowledge of the genre.
  26. Meh.

I hope this list doesn’t make me seem like a horrible person. I’m mostly not. But it’s not an atypical overview. And, keep in mind, the above list reflects the reason I felt confident declining at the moment I made my decision; it’s quite possible I would’ve found other reasons for rejection if I’d continued reading further. And it’s also possible (but much less likely) that I may have found some reason to continue the discussion or even offer representation if I’d read further, in which case, oh well, it’s my loss.

My hope in sharing this list is to shed some light and open some eyes. Not so much on my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad life as a literary agent (though I will accept condolence cards and gifts), but on the all-too-common reasons we writers sometimes make our jobs more difficult than they have to be, and the all-too-common reasons agents (and editors) say “no thank you.” And if that helps to prevent and overcome such missteps among this blog’s readers, then “Callooh! Callay!” it will have been worth the extra effort.

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A Literary Agent’s Wish List

People often ask me, “What are you looking for?” It’s a natural question to ask a literary agent, even when the questioner knows that the agent has offered a detailed answer on the agency website (here, for example). After all, something could’ve changed. I may, since updating my interests, have …

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Are You High Maintenance?

by Steve Laube

Last week I was asked to define what is meant when an author is deemed “high maintenance” by an agent or a publisher. The more I thought about this the more I realized how difficult it is to quantify. Any attempt to do so is fraught with potential misunderstanding because most people are looking for specific rules to follow.

Normally “high maintenance” is a description of someone who is difficult to work with or is constantly in need of attention. It can be anyone from a “diva” to a “rookie.” The best way to express the issue is in the following word picture:

When you contract with an agent or a publisher you are granted a large measure of “Good Will” in the form of a bag of gold coins. You are free to spend these coins however you wish during the course of the business relationship. The cover design is completely wrong? Spend some coins. The marketing plan appears weak. Spend some coins. And as time goes by and positive things happen you receive more gold coins for your bag.

However, many authors make the mistake of spending their entire bag of coins the first time something goes wrong. And then the next time they need a favor or a special dispensation there isn’t any “Good Will” left.

I think there are three areas where these relationships can break down.

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What if You Get a Book Deal on Your Own and Then Want an Agent?

One of our readers asked this via the green “Ask us a question” button.

What happens if you get a book contract before you have an agent? What if, by some miracle, an editor sees your work and wants to publish it? (1) would having a publisher interested in my work make an agent much more likely to represent me, and (2) would it be appropriate to try to find an agent at that point (when a publisher says it wants to publish you)? My fear is that querying an agent and receiving a response could take several months, but I’d need to accept a potential contract with a book publisher right away (I would think). Is it appropriate to ask the editor to speak with an agent on your behalf to speed the process?

This is a great topic but there are a few questions within the question. Let me try to break it down.

Many times have had authors approach us with contracts in hand and seeking representation (happened just last week). Of course this will get an agent’s attention immediately. But there are caveats:

a)      Who is the publisher? There is a big difference between a major company and your local independent publisher. Not all publishers are created equal (see the Preditors & Editors warnings).

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Do I Need an Agent?

The “Your Questions Answered” Series __________ I would love to hear more advice about finding an agent or if we really need one. I’m planning to teach a Zoom course on this topic through ACFW on September 18. Here is their link: ACFW conference. If you are planning to attend, I’d …

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Prayers of a Literary Agent

I prayed about becoming a literary agent. My friend and agent, Steve Laube, had asked me to consider it. So I told him I’d pray and think on it. Doggone it, I did; and just over three years ago I joined The Steve Laube Agency as not only a client …

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