Agents get a lot of queries, way more than we can represent. That means a lot of competition for querying writers. Believe me, I have plenty of experience querying as well and understand the frustration. Sometimes being an agent and knowing how it all works soothes the rejection, but not always. Rejecting queries is my least favorite part of agenting. I know how those rejections feel having been on the other end of them. But when it comes down to it agents might only take a handful of new authors a year but receive hundreds of queries. Currently I’m building my client list with vigor, which means I’m hungrily looking to fill out my list, but even then I still get way more queries than I can represent.
So why do I reject queries? A lot of people assume the majority of rejections are due to bad writing or us hating the queries. Most queries where the writing falls short just need another round or two of edits or are newer authors who will improve with time. Often a project needed one more round of edits before querying, but there is too much editing needed for me to feel comfortable taking on the project. I’m a big fan of Revise and Resubmits because if this is the case but I love the project, I’ll request a R&R to see how the author handles the edits. Being able to edit well is a key to success as an author.
While the writing might not be bad, the query could be. Bad queries I reject are bad because they don’t tell me what the books is about. Instead of plot I get emotions and themes or a ton of information on the writer and barely anything about the book. How can I know if a project could be for me if I can’t even tell what it’s about?
Another major reason comes down to that the thing that drives everyone crazy in this industry: subjectivity. Often I can tell just by reading a query if the concept appeals to my personal tastes or not. Think of your last trip to the bookstore. How many books did you pass on in favor of others? Being an agent is a lot like that. We get a lot of projects to choose from so we pick the ones that match our tastes the most. I keep my goodreads account updated to give authors a better sense of my tastes since only so much can be gleaned from a bio. I also post book reviews on here.
The project would be too hard to sell. I’ve written adult historical myself, a genre that can be a hard sell currently so I’m all too familiar with this issue. Sometimes I know I will struggle to sell a project and unless I absolutely love it, I’ll pass. This could be due to several reasons. The project might be too niche, in a genre that isn’t currently selling well, or deal with matter that many editors shy away from (like strong depictions of rape and other sexual violence, especially for books with a lot of it). The book might simply be too similar to other books in the market meaning it won’t stand out enough (more about that here). I’m a historical fiction fanatic, a hard genre to sell, so I have to be picky about the projects I take on in the genre.
The query is an age group or genre I don’t represent. I get a lot of MG queries, probably because I’ve edited it as an editor. While I sometimes request MG that really stands out to me during pitch parties, it’s not something I’m otherwise looking to acquire. I’m mainly a YA and adult agent.
The word count is too high or low. I see way too many queries where word count doesn’t match the genre or age group. Having a word count that is too high or low often means the project is going to need a lot of edits. I often see really high word counts in fantasy. Know the word count standards for your genre and age group. Don’t give agents and editors a quick reason to reject you.