Peter just sent me the following question. And it’s a common one, so I thought I should answer it right quick.
“I sent my query letter out to ten agents, and I got ten rejections. I worked really hard on my pages, and I think they’re great. What am I doing wrong? Why am I only getting form letters?”
I don't think you suck! Quite the opposite!
What are you doing wrong indeed? Firstly, everybody gets rejected – so don’t feel bad. It’s part of the process. But that being said, let’s talk about a few of the reasons you might be getting those disappointing form letters instead of requests for more pages. There are typically a few specific reasons why this happens. Ask yourself:
1) Are you committed the sin of the premature submission? Are your pages really ready to be seen by anyone other than you? Be honest! Get second reads if you have to. I’m a big believer that this is one of the main reasons writers get rejected.
2) Are you sending your work to the right people? Who are you sending your queries to? Have you confirmed that they represent books that are in fact a good match for what you’re writing?
3) Does your letter do your work justice? Are you highlighting your voice, your story and yourself properly? Are you letting your voice shine through in the letter? Are you making the very easy mistake of being too businessey? Ask yourself if your memoir matches the tone of your letter.
These are three of the most common reasons people don’t hear back from agents – with the news they want anyway. And remember, in my book I talk about acting like a person that an agent wants to be in business with. That means being professional, a class-act! I realize it’s tough out there, really tough – and the bottom line is you might have to just keep at it. Or revise and keep at it. It’s par for the course. . . hang in there.
Question? You can email it. . . firstname.lastname@example.org
Current number of messages on my voice mail = 36.
This agent is thinking evil thoughts about YOU.
If you are ready to get an agent (and more on THAT later). Please, do NOT call them on the phone. I’m sure you’re perfectly lovely, but I promise that whoever told you that if you “just get them on the phone you’ll be able to convince them that you’re book will be huge” was doing you a massive disservice. We really don’t want to spend our time answering questions about your submission. If you do have a question about the submission process that you can’t find the answer to online DO YOUR BEST TO FIGURE IT OUT. The thing is, a submission to an agent is kind of like a quiz. If you do a reasonably good job of it, it’s only going to help your overall grade. More importantly, if you’re writing is amazing, we’re not going to say “oh wow, this writing is the best thing I’ve read since INSERT TITLE OF MAJOR BESTSELLING AUTHOR HERE” but too bad he used Helvetica instead of my preferred Times New Roman font. Really, we’re all reasonable. That being said, just don’t do anything crazy such as:
- Use so much tape, packing material (really, are packing peanuts necessary? It’s paper people!) that we can’t open your manuscript.
- Send flowers or some such other gift. It’s totally creepy.
- Use a freakishly small font (we’re all half blind).
- Single-space your manuscript (see previous comment regarding eyesite).
- Punch holes in it and stick it in a giant binder. Unwieldy!
- Use double sided paper.
If you’re debating sample chapters vs. no sample chapters, just take a guess – BUT DON’T CALL. Getting more sample chapters than we’d like is a million times less annoying than getting the call asking if we want them. Trust me on this one. And more importantly, trust yourself! If you’ve figured out how to write an entire book proposal or manuscript, chances are you’re a pretty smart cookie and you can navigate this part of the game just fine. It takes patience my friend. Stick those pages in the mail, sit back, read a book or start thinking long and hard about what you’re going to write next.