I love to say “yes” to writers who send me ideas, proposals and manuscripts, but, in reality, I wind up doing this less than two percent of the time. Why, I am asked often, do I turn down so much of what is presented to me for representation? In no particular order, here are some of the reasons I and many of my colleagues say “no” instead of sending out agency agreements:
A quick turndown is a submission that has obviously been sent to many other agents and editors. Most of the time, I simply don’t find this kind of wholesale submission attractive and, because there is so much else on my plate, as soon as I see that the material has been indiscriminately submitted to others, even to agents at my own agency, I pass and go on to the next idea.
Then, of course, there is the appearance of the material. Often, ideas or pitches are badly written and chock full of misspellings and grammatical errors. A pet peeve is those who refer to their work as a fiction novel. Again, these submissions fall into the “life is too short” category. If the author doesn’t care enough about his or her idea to present it only after carefully checking grammar and spelling, then why should I?
There are the non-fiction ideas whose author has not carefully thought out who the potential reader is (one of the most important questions any prospective author should address), or where the writer has no credentials to write about the subject he or she is suggesting. These days, rightly or wrongly, credentials and platform are everything and those without them are turned down by publishers all the time. Potential authors really need to spend time dealing with these issues before mailing off their queries.
And then there are the ideas that have been over-published. What is the point of writing the millionth dog training book (unless you’re Cesar) or Italian Cookbook (unless you’re Lidia or Giada) or knitting book (unless you’re the knitting guru to the stars)? We agents are looking for new ideas, creatively thought out and presented.
The novels I consider should be complete (partials are almost always turned down) and checked for correct grammar and spelling. If others have read and commented on them, it is often a good idea to include their opinions. Novels are the most difficult projects to find homes for and so we, as agents, are most critical of these. Again, with fiction, the writer should be able to identify his or her reader in a covering note.
Finally, and sadly, I turn down material that has previously been represented almost all of the time. Even if I like what I have read, because the material has been previously “shopped” my chances of selling it are greatly diminished. Spending time on projects like this isn’t fair to those clients whose projects I do think I can sell.
Having said all of this, I am out there in the market every day, looking for new, exciting writers and projects to represent and though I do turn down about 98% of what is presented to me, I try my best to say “yes” at least several times a week..