Are You Trying To Publish Your Book? Well...Meet The Rejecter, A Blogger and Assistant at A New York City Literary Agency, Who Rejects 95 Percent of Query Letters She Receives
Her Advice To Writers: "The one thing that is just insulting is arrogant people. If you think your novel is great, it's better if you don't say so in the query letter."
Commitmentnow.com: Tell us about your blog "The Rejecter." What do you write about? What is the purpose of your blog?
The Rejector: I started writing this blog fairly early in my career in publishing. Prior to working in publishing, I was one of the people who submitted to agents and got 30 rejections, and now I was the person rejecting people. Most people just need a few words of advice to get their act together and they'll have a much better package to sell and a lot of people are more intimidated by the process than they need to be, so I started writing about my job.
Commitmentnow.com: At the top of your page, you wrote, "I don't hate you, I just hate your query letter." Tell us what makes a bad query letter.
The Rejecter: Oh, so many things. Most of the time the idea for the book is just uninteresting, or not interesting enough, or we've seen too much of it recently. What makes a query letter really bad is when someone is arrogant or crazy (or preferably, both). Not only is that an automatic rejection but it's also more fun to read.
Commitmentnow.com: What are your best five tips for new writers who hope to write a winning query letter?
1. Give us a decent idea of what your book is about.
2. Be polite and concise.
3. Do not assume you know anything about publishing.
4. Submit the correct genre to the correct agent.
5. Send an SASE.
Commitmentnow.com: As an assistant at a literary agency, what makes a proposal stand out to you and motivates you to put it in that small pile of potential books to be published?
The Rejecter: I would say it should be something we haven't seen before, but we've seen everything before except a few obscure non-fiction topics that I usually put in the maybe pile because I haven't seen them before and then they eventually get rejected like everyone else. Like, say, a historical fiction set in Estonia. We don't get a lot of that. Then again, I don't know a lot of people who would buy historical fiction set in Estonia, so you have a problem there.
We need books we can sell to publishers.
I know the words "concise" and "intriguing" are not helpful in describing a query, but they would describe every query I haven't rejected. Also, no gimmicks. We've seen them all.
Commitmentnow.com: In your opinion, what are the biggest turn-offs when you are reading query letters and proposals?
The Rejecter: Gimmicks and crazy people, though sometimes it means free stuff. I like it when people send me free coasters with their novel's name on it. It doesn't mean their novel will get accepted, but it does mean I get a free coaster. I like coasters. I got a lot of use out of that one. An increasing number of people send us to websites, or give us promotional material they had done at Kinko's. We're not going to go to the website and we're going to junk the material, though I do have a nice collection of bad cover art people have sent in.
The one thing that is just insulting is arrogant people. If you think your novel is great, it's better if you don't say so in the query letter. If you think your book will be a bestseller, inspire a spiritual revolution, or cure cancer, that is definitely something to leave out of the query. Don't tell us what you think of your book (it's great) or what your relatives, however well-informed, think of your book (they think it's great). Just tell us about your book and we'll draw our own conclusions.
Commitmentnow.com: Should a query letter have a certain look (type of paper, font size) or does that not matter at all?
The Rejecter: Standard white paper and font size that isn't really small should do it. Some people send everything on stationary and that's fine as long as we can read it. Once we got a query letter that was printed over a page with the author's cover design as a really strong watermark, and we literally couldn't read the query. Also, whatever you do, don't send anything handwritten.
Commitmentnow.com: What advice do you have for someone who wrote a book, but has no experience in the publishing industry?
The Rejecter: Most people who write and publish books have no experience in the publishing industry until they get published, and even then they only know what is required for them to get published and remain published.
Your average author cannot understand a royalty statement as it relates to the terms in their contract and doesn't need to. That's the agent's job. The author's primary job is to write a great book. The secondary job is to be willing to edit it for publication. Beyond that there's some publicity stuff an author may or may not be asked to do - but probably not, as less and less money is allotted to sending authors on book tours.
Commitmentnow.com: What is hot right now in the publishing industry? And what is stone cold?
The Rejecter: True crime is hot and vampires are pretty much always hot, though sometimes they go through periods where they are only 'warm.' Historical fiction is doing pretty well. Popular science is also a big seller.
Stone cold: A lot of editors have too much zombie material on their lists. Also there was this week last month were about 50% of all submissions to the office were about an adolescent discovering they have magic/supernatural powers. Don't send that in. Please don't send that in.
Commitmentnow.com: Do you plan on being a literary agent someday? If so, what does it take to do this job well?
The Rejecter: I could easily be wrong, but I don't see myself being an agent. I don't really like doing deals, which is what the agent is primarily responsible for. Ideally I'll be able to live off my own writing and maybe do some teaching, or I could end up at editorial at a publishing house. Editors are responsible for deals, too, but they're salaried. An agent's livelihood depends entirely on their ability to sell books and for a lot of money. I'm not a saleswoman.