An Agent Rejected Your Submission?

One thing you should be prepared for though; agents are absolutely inundated with submissions. They probably will take a while to look at what you wrote and may very well return your submission. Few are accepted. If that happens – don’t give up, try a different agent. I’ve seen reports that an average agent accepts just 2% of authors who approach.
The chances are that sooner or later you’ll probably get discouraged by rejections. At that point you should take a serious look at what you’ve submitted.

Five points you need to check:

  • Does it have that ‘hook’ to catch interest? In other words does it catch your interest in the very beginning? Think of how you browse for books in a bookstore. Would you buy your book based on the content of the first three pages?
    Here’s the opening paragraphs from ‘The Power Trip’ by Jackie Collins as an example:
      The couple on the bed had sex as if it was their final act. And for one of them it was.
      Neither of them heard the door slowly open.

    Would that make you want to keep reading?

  • Get someone else to read the synopsis you include. Do they find it interesting?
  • Does it have a prologue? If so get rid of it. For many agents a prologue is an instant turn-off. Oh – before someone points out that those Jackie Collins lines come from the start of a prologue, it seems a very short prologue – more like a very short chapter which Jackie didn’t dare call ‘Chapter 1’.
  • Is the story the right length? It should be 60,000 -120,000 words. Any shorter and publishers will be reluctant to publish it because setting it up will be too expensive. Any longer and it will be too expensive to edit and they’ll be reluctant to invest so much in an untried author.
  • Is your accompanying letter good enough? Try including in your cover letter a one paragraph story synopsis starting with ‘When..’ and using this formula. 
    [Protagonist] who finds himself/herself in [situation] from which he/she tries to free himself/herself by [goal]. However, the [antagonist] wants to stop [protagonist] from this, and if successful, will cause the [protagonist] to experience [disastrous result].
    Here’s an example of its use:
    When a young girl moves to live with her father in a small town in Washington, she meets the boy of her dreams. He has a dark secret which she discovers. In doing so, she finds herself at risk of death from people like him. She is rescued by her new boyfriend, but still is at risk from others like him who want to kill her. She knows that all will be solved if she shares her boyfriend’s secret, but he is reluctant to allow this since he fears it will turn her into a monster.
    Recognize the story? Twilight?

If you are confident that you have met all these requirements, continue making multiple submissions to agents at the same time rather than one at a time. Agents don’t really like you doing this but often it’s the only way to cut submission times from years to months.

The one thing you shouldn’t do is to allow yourself to be discouraged to the point where your book is never published ‘because it isn’t any good’. Repeated rejections are quite normal. Few authors ever find success immediately. I know of one successful author who bound all her rejection letters into a long roll and when she’s asked to speak about the process dramatically allows it to unroll across the room.
By the time you’ve had 30 rejections it’s time to consider going down the self-publishing route. Maybe you should have done that first?

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