Every agent and/or editor is different, but these ten writing mistakes will guarantee a rejection!
Writers face a massive amount of rejection–it’s part of the package if you’re making a career in writing. But there are certain things–habits, rookie mistakes, red flags, call them what you will–that can cause an editor or agent to toss your manuscript in the “NO” pile almost immediately.
Many of these are repeat suggestions and bits of advice from editors and agents. They often say the same thing because they see a lot of writing!
This is probably the biggest piece of advice I’ve heard from editor and agents. Time and time again they comment on how many pieces they see that just aren’t ready yet. It needs more revision. Do not submit your work until you know it’s your absolute best. Tighten every scene. Develop all your characters. This isn’t a task for “the editor”, it’s your job to make sure your writing sparkles before it lands on an editor’s desk.
Not Following Guidelines
I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but I must: Follow. The. Submission. Guidelines.
You are not the exception. You don’t get a pass because you wrote a great book or have a bunch of initials behind your name. Be respectful of the agent/editor’s time and guidelines. If they say they want just a query, send just a query. If they want the full manuscript and a synopsis, send exactly that. No more, no less.
Not Studying the Market/Magazine/Agent
Wherever your submitting, study the market. Don’t send your picture book to an agent who doesn’t handle picture books. Don’t send your essay on divorce to a child’s nonfiction magazine! Learn what magazines publish your style of writing. Learn which agents are looking for your exact book. This isn’t just being respectful of people’s time (although it is that), you are far more likely to get an acceptance if your chapter book about dog superhero’s lands on the desk of an editor of children’s books who wears a Superman tie and loves dogs!
Everyone is going to had a mistake that they just don’t catch. It happens. I’ve seen published books with missed commas or typos.
You should do your absolute best to make sure that every period, comma, semicolon, etc. is in place. Every word is spelled correctly and used correctly. There are no dangling modifiers or confusing pronoun antecedents. Make it incredible hard for someone to pass on your work by making it pristine!
Trying to Be Cute
Some writers try and get the attention of an agent with creative and unique queries. Whether it is sending a chocolate cake with your query letter or writing it in some insane font, these attempts to be cute or quirky inevitably fall into the reject pile.
Be professional. You can still show your unique personality through your writing, but you don’t need gimmicks or tricks if your writing is good and your story will sell. Keep working on your craft, be professional, and stay away from cutesy queries.
Addressing the wrong agent or editor
Yes, this happens, and it’s so embarrassing for everyone involved. If you’re going to take the time to study the market, pay attention to whom you’re addressing! And for the love, please do not use “Dear Sir or Madam.” That is basically code for: I didn’t bother to take the time to learn who will be reading this. “Dear Agent” or “Dear Editor” are just as bad. Do your research (see above) and learn the names of the people you’re addressing.
The one exception I can think of is with magazines. Editors move around a lot, and you don’t necessarily know which editor will be reading your manuscript. Do you address the editor-in-chief or the associate editor? And sometimes that information is very hard to find! To be on the safe side, a simple “Greetings” or “Hello” is safe, and not offensive to busy editors.
Sending a mass email
I didn’t actually realize this was a thing until I read a blog post by an agent I was researching (see! research!) She shared an experience where she had received a query letter, was very intrigue by the book. She was going extend a request for the manuscript, until she noticed one thing: the author had sent a mass email query with the entire list of agents in the same email!
Don’t do this.
Agents understand that you will be submitting your book to other agents, but even if you use the same query letter for every submission, at least email each individual agent separately! This is such a basic curtesy.
I’ve already talked about misspellings in your manuscript, but I want to address a few other areas you might not be paying attention to:
- The name of the agent or editor
- Your name (yes, this has happened!)
- The name of the magazine
- The name of the agency or publishing house
Homophones are words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. (Look for an upcoming Writer’s Workshop!) Their easy to miss because when your reading it, the words sound the same. (Did you spot the homophone mistakes in the last sentence? Comment below if you caught them! If you didn’t, we have work to do!) Homophone mistakes scream poor editing and revising, so watch for them!
Common homophone mistakes include:
Taking too long to make your point
Specifically for a query or pitch letter. Agents and editors are busy. They don’t have time to read all of your wonderful backstory or that your second grade teacher thinks your book is the best thing ever written. The purpose of a query letter is to be a BRIEF, enticing summary of your book that makes an agent or editor want to know more. They may ask for a few (key word: FEW) sentences of your background, but the word count should be around 250 words for your letter. Anything more than that, you have taken too long, and they will release you to the “decline” pile.
Being a writer is hard enough. Don’t make it harder on yourself by committing one of these writing crimes that will guarantee a rejection.