Most agents accept only one or two percent of the queries and book proposals they read. They spend a lot of time saying no. The problem is that they don’t have time to tell you why they don’t like your book idea or you, and often their responses don’t shed any light. On top of that, you’re not supposed to ask for clarification when you do get a response, because once they’ve said no, it’s no.
Possibly the most stressful thing of all is how long literary agents take to answer. Many take a month to six weeks to write two sentences back about your beloved book proposal that you’ve spent months perfecting. And some don’t answer at all, so you’ll have to take that as a no.
As a result, many authors send their query or proposal to several agents at once, then sit back and see what they get. I probably shouldn’t say “sit back.” It’s hard to be in a relaxed state. Recently a client said she felt “physically ill” upon sending her query letter to four agents.
Here’s a list of top rejections from literary agents and my translation as to what they mean:
1. I’m not taking any new clients right now. Your book idea doesn’t send me, nor do you.
2. I just signed with someone who’s writing a book on the same topic. Your idea is popular, and many people want to write about it. Someone else I’m already working with — perhaps more successful than you — has a similar idea, and I’m betting on them.
3. I only contract with people who have television shows or retail stores, and preferably both. Yes, an agent recently said this. It’s a variation on a popular reason for turning down book proposals, namely: “Your platform isn’t big enough.”
4. Sounds like a magazine article, not a book. You have not made a convincing case for an entire book on this subject.
5. I’m probably wrong and you’ll find a good home for it, but this book is not for me. Kind of flattering, but see No. 1.
The authors who succeed are persistent, assuming they have done their homework and wrote a killer book proposal to begin with. They keep finding the next agent to send their work to, and then another after that. They might have a little pity party when they’re turned down, but then they move on.
Have you been through this experience of getting turned down? What did you tell yourself to keep going? Did you get a rejection that is not on this list? I’d love to know.
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