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5 Reasons A Literary Agent Might Reject Your Book…that have nothing to do with your writing

Want to hear a little secret? Rejection does NOT always = bad writing. I know; I was surprised when I learned that too!

5 Reasons for Rejection that have nothing to do with your writing

As writers (and human beings), we are taught that rejection means you are not good enough. Someone doesn't make the soccer team? They must not have the skills. Rejection from the college you applied for? Must not have the grades. So, after we pour our blood, sweat, tears, and time into a book only to have it rejected, we can't help but feel like our writing is not good enough, and by extension, we are not good enough.

But the truth is that SO many factors go into agent decisions.

In this blog post, we will explore five reasons why literary agents might reject your book that have nothing to do with your writing. 

What does a literary agent do?

Literary agents wear many hats, but if I were to simplify it, they are representatives of authors. It's their job to take an author's manuscript and pitch it to acquisition editors at publishing houses...but that's to put it simply.

They also:

  • Represent authors and their manuscript(s)

  • Negotiate book deals and contracts

  • Advocate for authors' best interests

  • Provide editorial suggestions when possible

  • Stay updated on publishing industry trends

As you can see, literary agents tackle a lot; they split their time evaluating queries, editing, creating pitches, pitching unpublished work to editors, negotiating book deals and liaising between authors and publishers, and doing editor outreach while working with their authors.

For literary agents, no two days are ever the same. They can't predict what might happen to derail whatever was planned for the day, whether that be a call from a prospective editor or a concerned author.

My own day as a literary agent is a bit all over the place:

  • The creative side: hunting for new clients, reading EVERY submission that comes in, and requesting/reading full manuscripts, editorial work on authors' manuscripts, and drafting proposals that capture the essence of the story just right.

  • The people side: meeting with editors to understand their preferences and participating in events or writing conferences, contacting editors to submit books, and much more!

  • The business side: includes signing new clients, more submitting and selling books, and negotiating contracts.

How do I get a literary agent?

The short answer is you need to query them! Here's how to do that in 4 simple steps.

5 Reasons an Agent Might Turn Down Your Book

After all that work is done, you've written the book and researched potential agents, only to get rejected. It hurts; there's no other way to put it. 

From one writer to another, rejection used to send me into a downward spiral. I have wanted to throw the pen and paper (or keyboard) in a closet and be done forever more times than I can count. Often, our works are extensions of us, and putting them out there makes us feel raw and vulnerable, making rejection so much more challenging. But I am here to tell you that a rejection is not always what you think it means. Here are five reasons an agent might pass on your manuscript: 

Reason #1 - The agent doesn't have the right contacts

Every literary agent has different professional relationships in the industry, so when they're considering your query, they'll start to think about which publishers would love a manuscript like yours. If they can't think of any, that could be a big barrier for both you and the agent, and therefore, they may choose to pass.

Reason #2 - The agent already represents a book with a similar concept

When a literary agent pitches manuscripts to publishers, they can typically only send one manuscript to one editor at a time (unless there's an agreement otherwise). This means that if you have a fantastic educational picture book about tomatoes, but the agent already has an educational picture book with a non-human character, offering representation to you would mean pitting two of their clients books against one another. They would have half the places to send each manuscript right off the bat, which doesn't serve the agent or any of the authors well.

Sometimes people think that "too similar" means there is a book out there just like theirs. But really, it often means that some of the big-picture elements are similar.

Reason #3 - The "chemistry" isn't there

There are some incredibly popular books on the shelves right now that might not be your cup of tea, and others that give you goosebumps. Books that keep you up at night, or you have to read straight through, while others, you set aside and forget. Agents are professionals, but they are also humans living regular lives. They have personal preferences and reading tastes just like you do! So sometimes, they pass on a manuscript just because it's not for them.

Reason #4 - The pitch doesn't do your book justice

If your pitch isn't engaging, thought-provoking, or attention-grabbing, what does that say for the rest of your book? Plus, if you can't sell the agent on your book the agent is going to wonder: "...will I be able to sell this?"

Reason #5 - The timing or the market is off

Literary agents don't get paid until a book successfully sells to a publisher, so for them to invest hours and hours in your manuscript, they need to feel confident that they can sell it. Otherwise, they'll never see payment for all that time worked. But just like anything, trends change. What might be popular one minute might not be the next. For example, food-based picture books were all the rage a few years ago but agents and publishing houses quickly became saturated with them. While this is impossible to predict and there are exceptions to every "rule," this could be a reason that an agent passes on your book.

Books are art, but publishing is a business. The sad fact is that it does not matter how incredible a book is - it also needs to be right for the current market and publishing climate.


So, don't get discouraged!

What it comes down to is that there are lots of reasons why your manuscript might get a pass from literary agents, but your writing isn't always the culprit.

No matter what, never give up!

Kidlit Query Kit

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