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  1. #1
    Dee Power

    Reasons for agents rejection

    As part of the research for our new book, "The Making of a Bestseller," Dearborn Trade March 2005, we have surveyed over 100 agents and editors.

    The most common reason agents (70%) said they reject a writer as a client is 'poor writing.' That's what they told us. Editors also say the most common reason for rejecting a fiction manuscript is poor writing.

    The second most common reason agents say no is that they don't represent that particular genre.

    Agents receive nearly 5000 unsolicited query letters/proposals/partials a year and only accept on the average 11 new clients a year. That's 2 new clients for every 1000 queries. Those odds are discouraging. You can see more about the survey at our online journal

    What's your take on this?


  2. #2

    Re: Reasons for agents rejection

    Well, do you mean queries that are rejected or full manuscripts that are rejected? If it's just queries, I'd imagine the % of off-targets would be higher--so many people use the shotgun approach.

    I think another reason would be poor timing. Like if you wrote the best book ever about cows, but the agent just sold a cow book, and the market is flooded with books about cows, you'll get rejected too.

  3. #3
    Laura W

    Re: Reasons for agents rejection

    It all sounds about right to me. I don't doubt most manuscripts are rejected because of poor writing. I'm just surprised it's not more than 70%.

    I think it's pointless to view this process in odds--saying 2 out of 1,000 queries doesn't mean much. This would be significant if all 1,000 queries were loaded into on lottery ball spinning thing and only 2 popped up to be winners. Good writers with excellent projects really do find agents. It just takes a lot of hard work and time.

  4. #4

    Re: Reasons for agents rejection

    Just read your site. First off, at many agencies, submissions are read by assistants. And it certainly would not take 15 minutes do determing if writing is poor--more like half a second.

    Again, it's still unclear if it's the queries or manuscripts that you're talking about here.

  5. #5

    Re: Reasons for agents rejection

    So... take away the bad writing and the entries not represented by that particular agent, and then what are their reasons? We've got poor timing. What else? Anyone?

  6. #6
    Laura W

    what else

    The agent might like to the manuscript but doesn't think it can sell. Or the agent knows she doesn't have the right contacts to sell the book. Or she thinks it will take a lot of work to sell the book and she has some more mainstream projects that are likely to pull in large advances, and she'd like to focus on those. Or she likes your manuscript but isn't wild enough about it to take it on when she's so busy. Or she likes what she sees but the writer has absolutely no credentials or previous publications/awards/media hooks.

    Basically: the agent doesn't think she'll make money from your manuscript.

    Unfortunately, I think the majority of writers trick themselves into thinking it's one of the above reasons (and it really could be) when really the writing is just bad. I'd put out a conservative guess that 80% of unsolicited manuscripts are very poorly written. None of those writers would ever believe it's her writing that is so terrible. It's always someone else.

  7. #7
    Laura W


    I certainly wouldn't get all upset about this article, by the way. I agree with Wonky that the 15 minute thing is bull. There's no way agents (or assistants) spend a full 15 minutes on each query (even if the agent likes the query). Probably not even 15 minutes on each partial.

    I also noticed some "poor writing" and other false reasoning:

    Since most major publishing houses will not accept unsolicited manuscripts directly from a writer, but only from agents, does that mean some of those agents really canít tell poor writing from good writing. It would seem so.

    And again, I disagree with the reasoning that half a percent of people trying to get agents succeed. It's just a useless way to look at it.

    While I am intrigued to learn to results of such a survey aimed at editors and agents, I'm not going to pay much attention to the analysis of this one. Writers have so much to discourage them--we don't need something like this to pull us down.

  8. #8

    Laura W

    Laura, the poor writing was the first thing I noticed about that article. Faulty reasoning was the second. Seeming lack of knowledge about the publishing world and submission process is quite obvious. The results are not discussed in any detail at all. I used to teach writing classes and this would get a C- if I were in a good mood. I didn't want to say anything, but well, too late for that! What are the author of this article's goals, anyway? Is she prepping us for a pitch for some kind of "service?"

  9. #9
    Pal Joey

    Re: Laura W

    Fifteen Minutes! That sounds charitable. I've had occasion to time some of my e-mail rejections. The fastest return was 27 seconds! Not a solitary example. And not enough even to read the introductory letter.
    Pal Joey.

  10. #10
    Dave Kuzminski, Preditors and Editors

    Re: p.s.

    Having worked as a fiction editor before on a monthly publication, I can attest to the fact that 80% of the submissions were written poorly. Most were so poor, I couldn't follow the story, let alone reach the ending. Having also participated in several workshops for novelists, I easily agree that this translates into similarly poor statistics for novels.

    What this truly means is that a writer who knows how to writer clear sentences and a story with good continuity, as I call it or a beginning, middle, and end as others say, has the best chances of seeing publication.

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