5 Submission Red Flags: Why Literary Agents Turn Down Manuscripts

June 1, 2018

 Summertime means vacations on crowded beaches, out-of-this world humidity, and submissions. Lots and lots of submissions.

 

It makes sense. You have more time now to work on that query letter. You can spend  a couple hours refining those first three chapters.

 

Here's the problem:

 

Summer also means most publishers and agents will attend writers conferences, letting their inboxes fill and overflow. Or, they'll let an intern try to weed out submissions with obvious mistakes such as misspellings. 

 

When the agents and editors actually get to the submissions folder, they'll feel overwhelmed and will skim. If your first sentence does not grab them, they will likely not continue to read. 

 

Consider the following red flags to make sure your submission stands out from the hundreds of submissions they receive each day.

 

1. No Platform

 

We find a lot of good writers who stumble into our inboxes. But, more often than not, they have no online presence . . . so with great pains, we send a rejection letter. Some don't even have social media accounts. 

 

As much as I wish we could revert to the days of publishing where one could Emily Dickinson themselves and write poetry from the comfort of one's room without social interaction, that age has long since past. 

 

Now, even authors with multiple book sales and no online presence struggle to have a publisher take a look at their proposals. 

 

2. Blatant Errors

 

By this, I don't mean you put in one adjective too many in the third paragraph of your third chapter.

 

We're talking about:

 

1. "Dear Sir or Madam," in the query letter (and, yes, this still does happen). 

2. my buk is reelly goood. U shuld reed it (blatant misspellings in the query).

3. Not adhering to the specific guidelines of that house or agency. Some, for instance, will have you put QUERY in the Subject head. If you don't, an easy control find can weed out the ones who didn't follow those instructions.

4. Pasting the entire book into the email (it's happened).

5. Sending a book in the genre the agent says he will not read and clearly states he does not take it on. 

 

3. "My Book is the Next Harry Potter."

 

No, it's not. Even if you could garner that sort of audience,  you don't ever want to be the second-best author. We want the first-best authors. We want future authors to compare their books to yours.

 

"My book is the next Purple Moon."

 

"My book is the next Den."

 

Not Harry Potter. Or, Stephen King for that matter (looking at you, horror writers).

 

4. No Future Book Plans

 

Although you could get away with a one-hit-wonder at a publishing house, literary agencies want you to stay with them for the long haul. Often, authors do not excel at their debut. But they may in their second book . . . their tenth. And agents take chances on authors in hopes that the future books will do exceedingly well. 

 

5. Multiple Emails

 

This excludes follow-ups after a 6-8 week period (to an extent). 

 

Keep in mind, agents receive hundreds of emails a day. If you send three, four, five emails about one book, an agent will start to grow irritated about the even-more saturated inbox. Although persistence helps in publishing, so does patience. 

 

 

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