Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Query Rejections

After reading a batch of e-queries, I tracked some of the biggest reasons they received a rejection.

I think the number-one reason is that the query just didn’t interest me. The book was in one of my genres, but the story didn’t feel different or special enough. For example, it was a mystery that didn’t have a hook or felt very similar to every other mystery on the market or a romance that felt like something I’d already read before.

There were also a number of queries that felt either like pre-queries or felt very incomplete. They were queries that told me nothing about the book, often times going on and on about the author’s credentials in a completely different field, or they were queries that simply fell short.

As always there were a number of queries for books that just aren’t for me at all. Sometimes I think they are queries that would be better for Jacky, but since she’s no longer in the business, the author decided to simply send it to me instead. Examples of books like this would be nonfiction spirituality or new age titles. These are areas that Jacky previously handled that neither Kim nor I represent. Now that Jacky has left I get a number of queries for books like this and they are automatic rejections. I also received queries for screenplays and children’s books, neither of which anyone at BookEnds has ever handled.

Believe it or not I get a number of queries that I just do not understand. I think the biggest problem with queries like this is that the author is too much in her own head. She knows the story so well that she forgets she’s talking to an audience who knows nothing. It’s either that or the query has been edited so much that the author left in only her favorite lines and they don’t necessarily match or make sense.

Jessica

23 comments:

Sheri Larsenッ said...

Stuck in your own head is a great point. That's why having another writer, who's been through the query process, read yours is so important. Automatically, they pick out the holes. Not saying the holes are an easy fix, but at least the writer knows and can work on it. ";-)

Anonymous said...

Whoops – so my screenplay, based on my children’s book which is similar to Potter but unlike Twilight - and even though I am a world renown author of Lithuanian text books – is a no go - aw shucks.

Jaycee Adams said...

This sounds like a job for a prominent link to the Query Shark!

Kimber An said...

"the story didn’t feel different or special enough"

This is a case of 'damned if you do and damned if you don't.' Too different or special and an agent won't bite, because it's not a sure-sell. How's an author supposed to figure out the happy medium? Writing an 80,000 word novel takes months and months. It's not like whipping out a few cookies and asking, "Here, taste this? And this one? How about this?"

"author is too much in her own head"

I *think* we all have this problem. The cure is a *critique group.* It's painful at first, but you get used to it. My favorite is

www.critiquecircle.com

Elizabeth Flora Ross said...

Very interesting insight. Thanks for sharing. I'm surprised by how many people do not do their research before querying an agent. But even if you, there is so much about the process that is subjective. I'd rather have an agent reject my work than represent it if they just aren't that in to it, however.

Philangelus said...

You're so right about living in our own heads. When I first posted a query in a critique group, the response I got was "But what happens in the story?"

Ah--I'd described the book but left out the plot. :-D I guess I'm not the only one.

GhostFolk.com said...

the author left in only her favorite lines and they don’t necessarily match or make sense.


Sounds like everything I've ever written, Jessica.

R.M.Gilbert said...

I find it helpful to read agent blogs and also get constant feedback from critique groups. Growth happens fast when you surround yourself with those who have/are doing it.

Earlier this year, I queried my first completed manuscript and sent out less then 30 query letters. Of those, I've had a number of requests, which I am waiting to hear back on. This is a win for me and not bad for a first time out.

It truly pays to do your homework. As a matter of fact, I'll admit to having a request from Bookends at the moment, and I'm thrilled. However it turns out I did enough homework to get this far.

The nice thing is, if you do it right everyday you grow.

Great post, Jessica.

Tracy said...

The biggest problem I had when I first started crafting a query letter was understanding it's okay to let go of some of the mystery.

When you first start, you feel that if you lay the ultimate dilemma out in your query, than you've taken all the thrill out of the story. Hence the reason first draft queries, almost always sound ridiculously vague.

Lisa_Gibson said...

It's so important for the writer to do their homework. It's not good to send something that you don't represent, wasting your time and theirs.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Sometimes I wonder whether it's comforting or not when an agent doesn't want to see your book because the query just didn't interest them. One could view it as not meaning the book was bad, just not this one agent's cup of tea. Or one could view it as "your book is not interesting," which has to be discouraging as all get-out.

Amen to what everyone is saying about getting stuck in your own head. I think it's inevitable for this to happen after you work on a project for months, and you have to consciously avoid it. It's so easy to forget that readers can't see between the lines to all the backstory or logical connectors that you know exist but didn't make it onto the paper. Critique groups can help. So can just walking away for a long time, then coming back to re-evaluate the project or query letter with fresh eyes and a not-so-fresh memory for the details.

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

Thanks for the insight into some of the reasons queries are rejected. Knowing your own story so well that you can't see where you may lose or confuse someone receiving it is no easy task. If you share it with those in your critique group for feedback, you run that same risk because they also know the story. Perhaps, it is better to have someone review your query who has never read your manuscript. Thanks again!

Kelly said...

I agree with Sheri; no matter how much you've learned or how many years you've been doing this, always ask at least one experienced writer whom you respect to read your query.

Anonymous said...

"It’s either that or the query has been edited so much that the author left in only her favorite lines and they don’t necessarily match or make sense."

I've seen this before.

Or, it could be the person querying just doesn't know how to communicate well, which means they probably shouldn't be writing in the first place. Or, at least learning how to write before they start querying.

J.D. Roa said...

It's frustrating when a well-written query doesn't interest me. This is a really big problem because I have to sit back and scratch my head sometimes, and ask myself: "Why the heck didn't I like this? The story is captivating, the query was fascinating and brief... what is going on?"

What I think is most important is that the author truly understands and appreciates her own work. It's tough. Writers get mired in this whole publishing thing - sending out hundreds of queries, researching, worrying. To make matters worse, there's an emotional wall between writers and agents. Writers see agents in this really high, unreachable tower and get an unhealthy sense that agents ONLY want to sell, sell, sell. Yeah, agents need to make money, but they're also in the business because they want to see writers make it. They want writers who are proud of their work. They want writers who work hard to make something truly enjoyable. They want writers who enjoy writing. Queries can get so gimmicky that, even if they are well-written, they do not ring with a note of truth, humor, enjoyment, or the sheer joy of sharing the story. A writer's pride and love should be evident in her query. If she loves and understands her own work, it will be much easier for the agent to also love and understand her work.

After all, talking to an agent about your piece is like talking to someone else about your baby. The amount of love you show your baby reflects in that baby's development, and also in how he or she is received by others. - Sell, but don't sell yourself short!

Kimber An said...

"It's frustrating when a well-written query doesn't interest me."

Here, here, on my last novel, I wrote the query and thought, "Ahhh, perfection." And then, immediately, "Booooooring." I rewrote it. The result was less perfect, but definitely more interesting, I think. But, it really is so hard to find that happy medium ground, even with a lot of help.

Anonymous said...

I believe I have written a terrific book; but who am I, I am only the author. The few people who have read it tell me it is perfect for a book club. (My first readers were not friends and family but readers, writers, and an editor.)
It is a wonderful story about a young woman's bravery, change and love.
To think that a year of work, on and off, must be presented as a one page yea or nay to a stranger who has no clue what the story is about other than a log line and a paragraph is heartbreaking.
After reading this post I want to quit, why try, if I can't even get past one damn page.
I have wasted too much time.
I'm even posting this a day late, go figure.
Maybe I should take up tennis...what a racket.
C

Anonymous said...

I believe I have written a terrific book; but who am I, I am only the author. The few people who have read it tell me it is perfect for a book club. (My first readers were not friends and family but readers, writers, and an editor.)
It is a wonderful story about a young woman's bravery, change and love.
To think that a year of work, on and off, must be presented as a one page yea or nay to a stranger who has no clue what the story is about other than a log line and a paragraph is heartbreaking.
After reading this post I want to quit, why try, if I can't even get past one damn page.
I have wasted too much time.
I'm even posting this a day late, go figure.
Maybe I should take up tennis...what a racket.
C

Anonymous said...

So what kind of books are you looking for in terms of nonfiction?

Stephanie McGee said...

Always interesting to see the trends in why queries get turned down. The point I take away from this post is to do your research. Not just looking for the e-mail address to send your query to. But research how to write one, research what agents represent so you can find the best fit, etc, etc, etc. Research is the operative word of the day.

LivelyClamor said...

Tracy, you said:
"it's okay to let go of some of the mystery."

I am nowhere near ready to query yet, but soaking up all I can about the process. As a newbie I want to explain the BrandNew OriginalIdea that would make my work different than AllThoseOtherOnes - but not sink it because it Doesn'tQuiteFit Anywhere...or give away enough that someone else doesn't run off with my idea !!
Hmmm....what to do? Will keep lurking!

Bethany said...

Absolutely on the "stuck in your own head" thing. ...And with the editing/reducing-to-her-favorite-lines. :D This post is funny in the "because I'm guilty of that" way.

Lisa R said...

I think you make some excellent points and it is great to hear the other side i.e. the agent's perspective. I just have to say that as someone sending out queries and doing research before hand it is frustrating when you go to the agent's website or their publishers marketplace page and it says that they represent "mystery/thrillers" and you send your query and they write you back saying, "We don't represent these types of novels". I always look at the client list just to be sure but sometimes I STILL get that response.