The confusion behind literary agents’ rejections

The confusion behind literary agents’ rejections

pub agent 1Ardain Isma

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 your book is too much or not enough of “such-and-such” for them, and that another agent(s) might see it differently. Sometimes, you may find a literary agent or an indie-publisher who speaks the true. Too often, however, they don’t. They act as if their way is the only way.

It’s not.

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 being too loud here, but that’s just how it goes with this topic.

It’s complicated.

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.

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