Where will you start?

You wrote the book. You had it professionally edited. Your mom, your dad, your S.O. have read it and they all agree you’re the next Zora Neale Hurston. So you go ahead and send it off to an agency–or if you’re bold enough, directly to a publisher–and to your dismay, you’re denied. And denied… And denied. Before I go any further, I must admit: I’ve probably sent you a rejection letter and didn’t tell why. I’m willing to offer some insight, here and now, as to why your book query ended up in my “pass” pile.

1. Your Sample is Your Best Chapter… Not Your First

When you go to see a movie in the theater, you buy the ticket and whether you like the movie or not, you probably won’t see that money again. Well, think about how we shop for books these days. Practices like “showrooming” allow customers to read the first few pages in the bookstore and then buy them at a lower cost online. Even if a reader has their heart set on buying a hardcover from their favorite indie bookstore full price, they’ll probably read the first few pages before purchasing the book. There’s a lot of risk involved in acquiring a manuscript. This means if you want to sell your book, it’s absolutely crucial that you capture them (agencies, publisher, and readers alike) with your first chapter. I’ve learned that it’s the first 750 words in fact that will hook a reader. So when you’re contemplating what chapter is best to include in your query or proposal make sure your first chapter is your best chapter.

2. You Forget to Put Your Business Savvy Cap On

Particularly for nonfiction and memoir where you have to write a proposal, some remain in creative mode. It’s not your writing alone that will convince a publisher why they should buy your book. And more often than not, they’re not experts on the subject of your manuscript. It’s your job to enlighten them. Your nonfiction proposal will usually include sections on competition, publicity and marketing, and audience; make sure you’re providing facts and figures, not hopes and dreams. Educating your agent or publisher on the climate of the marketplace you’re attempting to infiltrate will help the publisher gauge your book’s potential.

3. You Entice With…

A cliffhanger is an effective device to keep your reader reading. However, if you’re trying to get your fiction represented, putting cliffhangers in the synopsis is just plain mean. Pretty frequently the people reading your query have been scorned by countless submissions with alluring cliffhangers that do not pay off when they read the manuscript. It may not be as romantic, but putting the entire synopsis–no spoiler tags necessary–in your query allows for your prospective agent or publisher to avoid surprises, good or bad.

4. Your Target Audience is Everybody

Well, of course you want to convince agencies and publishers your book will sell and what better way than to say it’s for everybody? Unfortunately that’s not the best practice. Its not realistic that a 16 year old emo high school student and an 80 year old conservative veteran would read the same book. Is it likely? Oh absolutely! But if you can’t readily identify your target audience then that’s just symptom of how confused your book might be. Narrow your audience (primary and secondary) and narrow your genre too!

5. Your Query Ends Up In the Wrong Hands

Say you do everything right and still you get rejected. Well, it could be that your idea just doesn’t resonate with whoever you’ve sent it to. It’s the hard truth but your book won’t appeal to everybody even if they recognize the value in your idea. If an agent or editor enjoys your writing but not the plot of your book, it can be hard to get behind. Do your research! Make sure you’re pitching to someone who actually specializes in your respective genre. And don’t stop submitting! Some of your favorite books got about a million rejections from agencies and then publishers. Eventually they found the agent that would best rep their book and the publisher that would make it a bestseller.


Keep in mind reading queries is a tedious task for those doing it. They often have to adhere to high, high standards in order to get through them quickly. So be smart and make sure your submission shines!

Photo Cred: Original Photograph by Nic McPhee

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