Whether you are submitting a short story to a token-paying ezine or a completed manuscript to an agent, the chance of receiving a rejection letter is still exponentially higher than receiving an acceptance. I like to look at the bright side and say that we can always learn from a rejection letter and that everyone gets them, but let’s be honest: it’s still a lousy feeling to get your query turned down.
No matter what you hear about platforms or networking, the final decision of an editor to accept your story or an agent to represent your novel is based on the quality of your work. (Or at least how the decision-maker judges the quality of your work.)
And nothing you can do will change that.
So what can you do?
Well, “nothing” isn’t an appropriate answer to that question. What you can do, is increase the chances of getting your query or submission read. It may sound blatantly obvious, but you’re submission won’t get accepted if it doesn’t get read.
Get your submission read
While you can’t influence how an editor will respond to your query, you can increase the changes that they will actually read it. Now some of this may sound like common knowledge, but it’s important to repeat it. Agents and editors will take your query more seriously if you present yourself as a professional who knows what they are doing.
So make sure that with ever submission you do the following:
Follow the guidelines
Yeah, I know. I say that all the time. So does everyone else who has a blog like mine. But we have to keep repeating it because so many writers out there simply don’t follow them. Seriously, this is the most important thing about publishing you’ll ever read. Follow the guidelines!
- If an agent says they don’t accept children’s picture book, then don’t send them a children’s picture book.
- If an editor says don’t send an attachment, then don’t send an attachment.
- If and editor says 5000 word max, then don’t send them 5003 words and consider it close enough.
- If an agent says send a query and synopsis only, then don’t send them a complete manuscript.
Nothing says “Ignore my query” like blatantly ignoring guidelines.
Do some research
If you’re submitting to an agent, look at some of their other clients. Does your novel seem like a good fit? This matters because certain agents have relationships with certain publishers. The genre and style of novels they have already sold should give you a clue of what types of books they are comfortable representing, and which publishing houses they have the best chance pitching too.
If you’re submitting to an editor of a publication, make it personal. It’s doesn’t take more than a minute or two to find out the name of the real life person reading your query. If you address them specifically, they may be inclined to give you a few more paragraphs than a competing “Dear Editor” might get.
And when you’re submitting short stories, by all means, actually read a story or two from the publication you’re submitting too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rejected a story to Theme of Absence simply because it’s “not a good fit.”
Write a great query letter
Literary agents get a lot of queries. The only way your query will get more than a few seconds glance before getting tossed aside is to immediately tell them what they want to know. (Hint: It’s not ‘what inspired you to write your novel’, how long it took to write, or how much your family loved it.)
Tell them what your book is about (in no more than two paragraphs), how long it is and which genre it can be categorized in, and one or two sentences about yourself or your publishing history. No life stories, no details about the book that aren’t completely relevant to main plot, and for the love of God, keep it under one page long.
Writing is your business. The last thing you want to do is look like an amateur or someone who just doesn’t care enough to at least put on a good show. In other words, don’t say anything you wouldn’t say in a job interview.
- No self-deprecating humor. You need to look confident and competent.
- But don’t be too confident. Don’t say things like “Future best seller” or “Next Stephen King.”
- Don’t put down other writers or anything else. No agent will be impressed by your scathing critique of 50 Shades of Gray. All they do is hit the delete button, perhaps pausing long enough to roll their eyes.
- Also don’t say things like “I haven’t written anything before, but X thinks it’s a great read.” If you haven’t written or published anything before, that’s perfectly okay.
- Don’t mention things like copyright, film rights, or anything involving money. None of that matters at the point of a query letter, and every agent or publisher has standards they follow for new writers.
Finally, you just have to remember that everything is subjective and while one person may not be interest in your query or submission, eventually someone else will. So don’t give up and sooner or later the right person will read see your work and offer you an contract.
So have you tried to increase the chances of getting through the first readers? What mistakes have you made? Feel free to share in the comments section!