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My friend Rebecca suggested I write this post. She felt authors might be curious to look beyond the curtain of this agency and see the rationale behind the NO.

I agree, so here we are!

In my last post, I talked about nefarious publishing practices. In response to that, one writer asked me (politely!) why I have such a high threshold of platform numbers as I consider a client, and that their no was possibly based on the lack of those numbers. My response was that platform is a reality of publishing, and that if I want to make a living as a literary agent, I have to take on projects that have a strong potential to sell. But I said platform is not usually the reason I say NO. Read on for all the reasons my assistant Christen and I turn down a project.

Here are Seven reasons I say no

  1. Lack of platform. The author was right. My assistant says no if the platform numbers are low. This demonstrates to us that the author doesn’t yet grasp the business nature of publishing. You have to have a way to sell the books, and the first thing a publisher will ask is, “Will this book sell?” Now, I’m not tied to instagram numbers. I’m actually far more partial to an author’s email distribution list. The author’s relationships in real life matter too. Hear me: I understand how frustrating this is to read. It may make you want to quit. As an author, I’m really worn out from building a platform, and it sometimes pushes me to burnout. This is a tough industry. And although we hear a lot about the importance of platform, I’m not fully convinced it sells books as much as we’re led to believe. What really sells books is that elusive word of mouth. Platform is one way to have that, but it’s not the only way. Still, as a businesswoman myself, I have to recognize that I have a finite numbers of hours in a week. I can’t spend them on authors who I can’t sell, or Mary DeMuth Literary will fold.
  2. Already done. So many projects come across our query transom that are derivative or done over and over and over again. I will not look at a worth/identity book for that reason. And my assistant has become quite skilled at discerning whether a book idea is fresh and new. Before you pitch your book, do a search on Amazon or and see how many books like yours are already in the world. On top of that, we look at writing that is not laden with overused cliches, the same old illustrations, and language that doesn’t resonate with the next generation.
  3. I already have an author in that space. Sometimes the project is ticking all the boxes, but I am already representing an author in that same space. It’s not a good practice to have authors competing on my list, so we decline those.
  4. The writing is not there. Typos, bad grammar, immature sentence structure, weak verbs–all these signal to us that you’re simply not ready yet. If we give you this feedback, a good next choice is to hire an editor (if you have funds) or go to a writers critique group where other authors can read your work. You can also have your writing read by professionals at writing conferences.
  5. You come across as arrogant. Christen and I can’t tell you how many times we’ve received queries that are boastful and full of magical thinking. Promising your book will be a NYT bestseller is an automatic no. Comparing your book to a classic (unless you really are as good as Faulkner) is another indication that you’re not teachable.
  6. You don’t understand the industry. I often get direct messages from people wanting to publish a book, then asking me to publish it for them. A little bit of knowledge of traditional publishing would prevent a correspondence like that. Learn how the process works. First, query an agent. Query a lot of agents. Go to conferences. Once you land an agent, THEN your book is shopped in proposal form. If that book is picked up by a publisher, you sign a contract, deliver the manuscript a few months later, and then you’ll hold your book in your hand a year after that. I simply don’t have the bandwidth to teach you about the industry. There’s plenty written about the process for free on the internet. Learn. Don’t display your naïveté. You only have one chance to make a first impression with someone in publishing. Learn, then make it count.
  7. You haven’t done your research. I do not represent fiction, and I rarely represent children’s books or memoirs. I am also very cautious about the theological tone underneath the book. In light of that, you may simply not be a theological fit for me because I want to represent something that resonates with me. There have been times I’ve recommended an agent with a different theological bent simply because we’re not a good fit.

I hope that gives you a glimpse behind the whys of no. To be honest, we say no about 98% of the time, so please don’t feel bad about rejection. See it as a step toward growth and learning. I didn’t land the first agent I queried. In fact, it took me attending an in-person writing conference to meet face to face with agents. This industry is truly based on relationships, so meeting in person gives you a different chance than merely querying. I’ll be at this conference in March/April. Perhaps we’ll meet?

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