Monday, July 8, 2013

Frequent Reasons I Reject Stories

I saw a twitter post from one of the other agents before the 4th of July describing how many submissions their agency had received, how many stories they requested more of and how many they signed. In this case,  according to the Tweet, the Bradford Agency received around 900+ submissions during the month of June, Out of those they requested 5 partials, and 1 full. She also added that in June she made 1 offer to rep.

I think for authors, these are pretty eye-opening numbers, but in reality, these are pretty consistent across all of the agencies out there. We get a lot of projects and turn down a huge percentage of those. Here at Greyhaus, I just signed a new author (welcome aboard Lynda Schuessler) in June and you had to go back over a year ago to an author I signed from the Chicago conference. Just to let you know, we just sold that book so that one took a year to get to a publisher!

The thing is that we do reject a lot of authors, so I thought I would take some time to highlight the top 5 reasons I tend to pass on projects :

1) Not romance, women's fiction, or something I acquire This is the biggest one and is always the one that shocks me the most. I have tried to be very clear in the material I put out there about what Greyhaus acquires, and yet, I find myself writing so many stories that are not romance or women's fiction projects. This also includes genres and sub-genres that I don't acquire. As an agent, this is probably the most frustrating of all the rejection letters I have to write. The frustration isn't so much of what I have to say, but the fact that it takes time to read the query only to find that the project isn't something I want. And then there is the time it takes to write the letter, record it in the data base... Ugh.
2) Not right for me personally Out of all the rejections, this is the one that I think happens more often than not with most agents. As I have described it here on the blog, this is that subjective nature of the business. As an agent, we have to really fall for a story or the voice of a particular author. Sometimes that connection is just not there. There isn't much an author can do with this one other than to try another agent. As much as you might want to work with one given person, sometimes the story just doesn't fit. Does this mean the writing is bad? Absolutely not. Does this mean the story will not sell? Nope! It just didn't work for me.
3) Poor execution of the story In the middle of the pack of rejections is this one. I find this one happening a lot after I read just a query letter or hear a pitch. Sometimes authors have a great ability to pitch a story, and it sounds awesome. And then, when it is time to read the writing, it just falls apart.
For me, I often find that in those first three chapters (the size of my normal partial I request) the character development isn't enough to really get me hooked.
In some cases, the problem is an issue of the author just telling us what is going on instead of showing us. This happens simply because the author has all of this information in his or her head that they believe the reader needs to know right now! In reality, it just bogs the story down.
4) Premise not marketable In this case, I am looking at whether or not this is something I can sell to a publisher. No here, we have a lot of different potential variables that come into play. It might be a story that is simply going to be a tough sale. When that happens, I may still sign the author but make it known that it will be tough going. That was the case with Jean Love-Cush's story we just sold to Harper Collins. ENDANGERED had to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right editor. In other cases, it is an issue with the word count. Too short or too long becomes an issue. Finally, regardless of how good the writing can be, if the premise is something the market is just not going to want to deal with, then we pass on it.
5) Poor writing In this case, I often don't ever see the manuscript. In most cases, the poor writing comes across in the query letter. Poor grammar, lack of knowledge of basic grammar skills and what not is an immediate problem. As I said, I can catch most of these with the query letter, but in some cases, the author can sneak it past me and I don't catch it until the actual partial comes in.

I think the one thing you should notice is that we are pretty open to a lot of projects. We do keep our eye out for that great story that will make the world stand up and take notice! Laura Bradford's numbers I think are a great testimony of this. We really are looking for some great stories.


  1. If you like a story premis but reject a manuscript citing that the writing didn't personally connect with you which reason does your rejection fall under? Is it truly that you don't relate to the book, or is it that maybe more character devlopment is needed?

  2. It really does depend. If it is the case that the character doesn't work with me, then I often state that. In many cases, it might be the general picture of the story that doesn't work. In other cases, it might be the plot that doesn't connect. I wish I can give you a clearer answer here but it really is a case by case basis.