The confusion behind literary agents’ rejections has paralyzed many writers. However, if you understand that you and you alone ARE the sole master of your work, rejections should NOT be a deterrence in your quest to let the world know about this great accomplishment. You can interview many important personalities in the publishing industry, they all will tell you that it all comes down to an agent’s taste—his opinion or how he has fallen in love with the manuscript. Of course, a writer should query his book to agents and publishers who represent or publish the genre under which his book falls. If you’ve written a YA book, you won’t waste your time pitching it to agents who only represent historical fiction writers. This is just an example. Remember the wise words of J.K. Rowling? “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously you might as well not have lived at all.”
Below are some of the conflicting or ambiguous motives literary agents often refer to for passing on the opportunity to represent your project. This list was produced by the literary agents website.
An agent might say your book:
Is too accessible or easy to read, or too “smart”
Is timely, or isn’t timely enough
Is too edgy/graphic/gritty, or isn’t edgy/graphic/gritty enough
Is funny, or too serious
Is too long, or not long enough
Is too plot-driven, or too character-driven
Has a unique voice, or has a voice that isn’t unique enough
Explores meaningful themes/issues, or doesn’t
Has too many characters, or not enough
Too scientific, or not scientific enough
Too academic, or not academic enough
Rhymes, or doesn’t rhyme (children’s picture books)
Is written in first person, or third person
Is written in past tense, or present tense
Doesn’t have enough dialogue, or has too much dialogue
Reads like a movie, or doesn’t
Doesn’t have enough action, or has too much action
Is too fast-paced, or isn’t fast-paced enough
Is contemporary, or historical
What agents should say, instead, is that a book is too much or not enough of “such-and-such” for them, and that another agent(s) might see it differently. Sometimes literary agents say it that way. Too often, they don’t. They act like their way is the only way.
Of course, if/when multiple agents cite the same reason for their rejections, you should put more weight on those comments. But, even then, a steady stream of rejections citing the same “shortcoming” doesn’t mean you should change anything. It might just mean you haven’t queried the right agent yet. I know I’m talking out both sides of my mouth here, but that’s just how it goes with this topic.
Note: These tips can be found the book editor website.
Ardain Isma is a novelist and editing manager at CSMS Magazine. He heads the Center for Strategic and Multicultural Studies. He also teaches Introduction to Research Studies at Embry Riddle University. To see his books, click here.