Why Could Literary Agents Be Rejecting Your Query Letters?

Even some the most famous and celebrated authors have been rejected many times over before finally finding the right match — so if you’re desperately searching for that one literary agent who will help your writing career take off, you’re in good company. The agents who have reviewed your query letters might just have been too busy, or not right for you. As an aspiring author, you might also, on the other hand, be making rookie mistakes that are holding you back. 

Let’s take a look! Why are literary agents rejecting your query letters, and what can you do to fix that and land the right partner to get your book published? Landing a contract with a literary agent is a lot like job hunting, so with that paradigm shift in mind, here are some tips to consider.

You’re submitting your queries to the wrong agents

All literary agents have their own niches, so to avoid wasting anyone’s time — not to mention to put a stop to that endless rejection cycle — aspiring authors should thoroughly investigate what kinds of authors the agents they are sending queries to actually represent. Just like you wouldn’t apply for jobs that you’d never actually be able to do, you shouldn’t send query letters to agents who simply don’t work in your genre.

You think landing an agent is a ‘numbers game’

Your odds of landing the perfect literary agent do not increase with the number of letters you send. Authors hoping to get published don’t only need to make sure to research which agents would genuinely be a great match for them, but they also need to make a personal pitch. By sending the same generic, cookie-cutter, query letter to all potential literary agents, you miss the chance to truly connect. The agents who read your letter will pick up on that, and confine your pitch to their trash as effortlessly as you hit the “send” button. 

Personalize your query letters, and before you reach that point of no return by sending it, never forget to comb over the agent’s submission guidelines. Once you do, follow them. Don’t send in your first chapter unless the agent asks for it, and definitely don’t share your entire manuscript. This, again, has a lot in common with sending out resumes and cover letters; something no savvy job hunter would do without tailoring their application to the employer in question. 

You fail to help your book stand out

Here’s a sad fact — unless you get your query letter and synopsis right, your book is extremely likely to sound just like countless other books already on the market today. Literary agents are exposed to more book ideas than anyone else, so unless you rock at explaining what sets your book apart from all the others, they’re more likely to fall asleep at their desk than to feel excited to work with you by the time they reach the end of your letter. To grab an agent’s attention and keep it, make your book stand out, just like you need to sell yourself and your unique skills as you apply for jobs.

Your query letter is bad

If your query letter is sloppy — littered with typos, word echos, and lazy sentences — any literary agent who looks at it will assume that your book is going to be much the same. They won’t make it to your pages or even your synopsis, because agents will think you’re just not up to the job. We all know it’s intimidating to write query letters, as well as that excellent writing skills don’t necessarily make you a master marketer, but literary agents are simply too busy to contemplate those facts. The moral of the story? Never send query letters before important people in your life have reviewed them!

Being rejected doesn’t necessarily mean that you are doing anything wrong, however. The literary agents who have been reviewing your query letters, your synopsis, and your first pages could also simply have disliked your style, plot, or characters. In that case, you should be glad that you were rejected. You want to land a literary agent who is every bit as passionate about your work as you are, after all!