Monday, January 16, 2017

Why I Pass After Only A Query Letter

One of the common responses I hear from authors after I pass on a project is, "If you would just read the story, you would come to a different conclusion." While that might be the case, the odds are, I will still end up with the same decision, even after reading either a partial or the full manuscript. When we read the query letter, we are looking at many different things before deciding to read further. I should note that, yes, I know that many editors and agents just simply say to send everything with every submission, but in all honesty, I am not sure what the point is. A) our In-boxes will be flooded; and B) those stories will still likely get a reject with little reading.

So, the question is, what do I see in a project that would cause me to reject based on the query alone?

(Please note this list is in no particular order)...

The query shows a lack of professionalism. I have talked about this one in the past, but this is personally a big one for me. When I read a query, I am also trying to decide if this is a person that I am going to want to work with for a long period of time. As an agent, this is going to be a commitment. I am not going to see serious results until several books down the line (unless it is an amazing one hit wonder, and those do not happen much). If this person appears to be some random person who really has no clue, this will be more work than it is worth. Not only do I have to work on the project, and make it ready for market, I have to also teach this person to be a professional writer.

The story is not something I represent. Again, this is one of those things I complain about the most. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know this. Pop quiz here... What does Greyhaus Literary Agency represent? Answer: ONLY romance and women's fiction. The guidelines are clear. In fact, I am frequently getting emails from writers thanking me for being so specific. So, when you send me a screenplay for a collection of erotic poetry set in a sci-fi thriller atmosphere that is also a memoir, the answer will be no. Pubtip #1 - Read submission guidelines.

The premise has questionable material in it or things that I personally do not like. Because we want to spend time talking about the project to others, we have to like the content. This is an extremely subjective business and frankly, there are some things we are not going to like. For example:

  • I don't mind hot scenes but sex for the sake of sex is not going to work.
  • Adultery is not something I want in my stories.
  • Teachers getting it on with their students (I am also a college instructor and I am sorry to say this people, even grad students having a relationship with a professor will lead to A) loss of degree; and B) someone getting fired).
  • Psychic romantic suspense. Sorry but this is just an easy answer to prevent having to find the killer.
  • Etc... I think you get the idea. 

The story has a limited market. I want to create the most opportunities for you. If your story is going going to work for one line, or one editor and that is it, then we are over after that first rejection. Taking on a project like this means that we will spend a lot of time gambling on one thing only. Not worth the investment unless it is that one hit Great American Novel, and even then...

The author thinks he or she is the greatest thing since sliced bread. This one goes back to the professionalism, but telling me that your story is clearly one of the greatest stories ever, or that your story is better than that "Hack Nora Roberts" (and yes, I had someone say that once in a query) you will get rejected. Sorry, but just because you wrote a story does not mean you are a Nobel prize consideration. I had one author tell me Oprah was seriously considering his book. Look, just sending in the project to the company does not mean it is in consideration.

This also extends to those people who have been self-published and then claim amazing sales and followings. Look, being the #1 book on Amazon for romantic fiction set in the stone age with paranormal elements and in Manga form is not really telling us much.

The story is an imitation of other projects. When we read the story and say, hey, isn't this...??? If it is a time travel set in Scotland and the girl is coming from the 1940's, ummmm, I think it has been done. If it is a coming of age story set in a school of witches and the young girl is going to fight the greatest sorceress in the world,.. ummm, I think it has been done. And no, you can not say it is a variation on a theme.

You didn't follow the guidelines. While this is not a deal breaker, I have pretty clear guidelines of what I want submitted.

  • In an email, send just a query.
  • Using the form, follow the directions
  • Sending it snail mail, query, synopsis and only first three pages
When you attach the full manuscript, embed the first three chapters and synopsis, or fill the form out adding material that YOU feel is relevant but is not what I asked for tells me you have a hard time following directions.

The point is, that query letter and your premise do say a lot. Think before you send things out. Follow those directions and be careful. As the Head and Shoulders commercial says, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."

Or, to quote the hit musical Hamilton, you don't want to "throw away your shot!"

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