Sometimes writers wonder why they get rejections so quickly, like maybe the next day. How can they have even read my query? It seems so unfair. But if you understand the process and especially the pressure the average agent/publisher is operating under, you can get some valuable insights into how not to get that rejection letter.
I once worked as an editorial assistant in the magazine group of a publishing house. My job was to weed out queries that screamed AMATEUR before they even went to the editors’ desks. Mind you, I wasn’t looking at subject matter, writing style, or suitability to the magazines.
I was only looking for clues that told us reading any further would be a waste of time. Here are some common mistakes that will get a rejection and what each one indicates to an agent/editor.
- Spelling, grammar or formatting mistakes. Misuse of common words like their/there/they’re or two/to/too reeks of amateurism. If a writer misspells words or uses punctuation incorrectly, it indicates she doesn’t know her craft, and she isn’t going to be considered. Make no mistake about it—writing is as much a craft as an art. Polish your query letter until it shines.
- Addressed to the wrong person or misspelling the agent/editor’s name. This indicates a lack of research. If an author can’t be bothered researching the right person to query or their name, how good can their research into their topic be?
- Unprofessional approach. I once read a query that started out, “Hey there! Have I got an article for you!” Approaches like that tell an editor/agent that you don’t understand the publishing business. It’s a business. You wouldn’t write to your bank manager about taking out a loan with an opening like that. Don’t use it in the publishing business.
- Ignoring the submission guidelines. If your prospective agent/editor asks for 12-point Times New Roman font (industry standard), don’t send a query in Lucinda Calligraphy in an effort to be noticed. You’ll be noticed, but it’s not the kind of notice you want.
- Querying an agent/editor with the wrong kind of material. If an agent says she represents YA, MG, sci-fi and horror, don’t send her a cozy mystery with cats and recipes. You’re wasting your time and hers. Again, it indicates you haven’t researched sufficiently, and it tells publishing professionals that you either aren’t serious about your craft, you’re lazy, or you just don’t care enough about what you do.
As I said, these things caused queries to be rejected before plot, characters, theme, or writing ability were even considered. It’s hard enough to get noticed by an agent/editor. Don’t knock yourself out of the game before the opening kickoff. Your query letter says so much about you. Make it your very best effort.