Why Literary Agents Reject Queries (And What to Do About It)

If you’ve ever sent a query to a literary agent who rejected your proposal, you might have been tempted to tell yourself that the agent was “mean” or “just didn’t get it.”

And while that point of view makes a soothing balm for the ego, it will not get you a different result with the next agent, or the next, or the next.

If you want to get a “yes,” you will need to look at the whole process with a new perspective.

Let’s start with the basics.

Literary Agents are People Too

People have wants, needs, fears, and desires.

Your desire is to share your ideas with the world through a traditional book publisher.

Great. Terrific. Good for you! It takes guts, and a lot of work, and the fact that you’re willing to do it is marvelous. It’s how we change the world. But you will never get that opportunity if you don’t also consider the wants, needs, fears, and desires of literary agents.

To get that coveted “Yes!” you must understand the primary obstacles that agents confront each day and create a proposal that removes them.

Let me break it down for you.

Literary Agents are Inundated with Mostly Unpaid Work

A literary agent has two primary hurdles that they face with every workday. First…

An average agent gets around 2,000 submissions each year

A top agent may receive that many proposals each month. This requires a substantial amount of time just to look at the cover pages. To read every proposal from beginning to end is simply not practical.

If you want your pitch to receive an agent’s full attention, then send a proposal worth reading.

Help them thin the pile

One way you can ingratiate yourself to an agent is to make it clear that you’ve checked them out first. Only send a query when you’ve confirmed two things:

  1. They represent the type of book you want to write.
  2. They are accepting new clients.

Deliver a great proposal

Some key traits are: presents a compelling, relevant, new idea, is well-written and engaging and makes the reader want to know more, and is properly formatted to industry standards with all the expected elements already in it.

If you send a proposal with anything less, you can expect a rejection.

This brings me to the second obstacle agents face daily.

A Legit Literary Agent Only Gets Paid When They Sell Your Work

That’s right.

If an agent charges you to work on your book proposal before they go pitch it, then they are not legit, and you are probably being scammed. So, when you send a query to an agent with a book proposal that needs a lot of work, they most likely will pass. They may see the value of your idea but can’t justify the time it would take to help you get your proposal in shape.

Think about it. Would you want to read 2,000 poorly prepared proposals to find the few that (after doing a lot of unpaid work to help the author rewrite it) you might be able to sell to a publisher and take your 15%?

I wouldn’t.

The Bottom Line:

Before you query literary agents, consider the biggest challenges that they face, and do your best to remove those obstacles first.

P.S. We have a 100% success rate with this. So far, everyone who’s completed our process (and done everything we say) has landed an agent and a book deal. Want that story to be yours? Go here to fill out an application.