The following article is provided by Keller Media as a public service. It is intended to help, support, guide and inspire writers to achieve their publishing goals. Wendy Keller is a Literary Agent who wrote this list for writers of non-fiction. However, after reading it, I would say most of her points apply to fiction writers too. I would advise every writer to read it, and make sure they aren’t doing anything on this list – regardless of your genre of writing. Enjoy!
It breaks my heart when would be authors write me back after my agency has rejected their forlorn book or book proposal. They often say, “What’s wrong with all you agents? Don’t you know good work when you see it?” Those are the angry types. Or the misguided but hopeful ones tell me, “I read that Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield were rejected (fill in the blank with any number) times before ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ became a worldwide best seller…I’m going to keep sending this out until one of you…”
Jack is a client of mine and he and Mark are both friends. I know some things new writers don’t know – basically, that they improved the content AND proved the concept by selling books themselves before Health Communications even took a small chance on them. Of course, there are several dozen stories of other authors throughout history whose books went on to be hugely successful despite original rejections – e.g., Dr Seuss, William Saroyan, etc.
Here’s the big difference between those eventual successes and 99.9% of the rest of the continually rejected books: those authors DID something (other than complain) while they were being rejected. And at this point in the publishing industry, the something you should be doing includes building a platform.
My agency sees many thousands of projects per year but I sell only 25-40 books per year – because most of what we’re sent is economically worthless. Why are so many rejected? I’ve noticed that most of the books we reject are rejected by all other agents and publishers too. There are REASONS for this!
Here are the Top Ten Reasons Authors Get Repeatedly Rejected:
1. You are writing on a topic that is glutted already – and you are saying nothing that is NDBM (New, Different, Better or offers the reader something More)
2. You are offering your content to agents who do not handle books like yours. This happens when you think bulk sending is going to increase your success.
3. You are a poor writer, use poor grammar or your work is rife with errors. We are professionals, you be too please.
4. You are evidently crazy. About 20% of everything my agency sees falls into this category. “I am channeling Elvis and he has an opinion on World Peace…”
5. You have no platform. That means you came up with your book idea inside your own ivory tower. You have not taken the effort to test it against the real world by building a social media following, getting paid speeches, doing any blogging or columns, etc. on the topic. (I’d say 80% of the nonfiction most agents reject happens for this one reason.)
6. You do not have any credentials related to the topic of your book. While the fact that you are now a successful immigrant to the USA may be amazing to your friends and family back in your native country, the fact that you bought a house, a car and put two kids through college doesn’t make you an expert on how to succeed in America unless you actually have helped others to achieve similar goals. Likewise, the fact you survived a bad divorce doesn’t make you an MFT or an attorney or even an expert on the topic.
7. You believe your life story has worldwide appeal. Writing a book as a way of sorting out your own personal history is an excellent therapeutic technique. It is rarely worthy of publication, however, unless you have been able to build a platform/association/charity/group of others who are helped directly by your story and/or methodology.
8. You are vehement, negative, angry, dismissive, rude, impolite, condescending, curt, vituperative, or churlish in the way you approach agents. We work on straight commission – nobody will put up with your behavior.
9. You plead and whine. This includes the surprising number of people whose (bad) book idea we’ve rejected who write back to beg, “If you sell this, I’ll give you DOUBLE the commission.” This one makes me smile, because $0 x 2 = $0.
10. You haven’t done a speck of research. You don’t know the competing books, you don’t know how to market a book, you don’t know how agents work, you don’t know how publishing works, and/or you have no clue how to prepare a book proposal. This a profession. The lone fact that your native language is English doesn’t mean you will succeed as a published author.
Here’s the weird corollary: Agents typically scramble and even politely “fight” over projects that are salable. If no one is even interested in – much less fighting – over yours, there’s a 100% chance that one of the ten reasons above applies in your case. As salespeople in a highly competitive industry, we are always urgently seeking new inventory. Provide it, you’ll get our undivided attention and a nice offer from a good publisher.
Wendy Keller has been a literary agent since 1989. In that time, Keller Media, Inc. has been pitched on +250,000 book projects. Writers who insist that she’s “wrong” about any of the 10 reasons above are typically those who fit into one of those categories themselves – and who end up unsuccessfully self-publishing or just grumbling for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t have to be that way! Adapt, learn and achieve your dreams!