Top 3 Reasons Your Query Letters are Being Rejected

literary agents sign saying they are the gatekeepers

There are three main reasons your query letters are being rejected

If you ignore these 3 things you risk suffering a long dark spate of continual rejection. The good news is, you are a writer, and so you are capable of improving your craft and increasing your odds of winning that all-important ‘requested material’ email.

The reasons literary agents reject your queries:

  1. Lack of a hook (A hookless letter catches no agents)
  2. Lack of originality (agents are big time readers—they’ve seen it all before)
  3. Lack of style (or voice or tone)

Let’s elaborate, shall we?

Literary agents should but do not usually give this vital tip: ‘Impress me in eight seconds or I’m tossing your letter into the slush pile and moving on.

Lack of a Hook:

Sending out queries that don’t feature a hook to lure in agent interest is like setting a mouse trap without baiting it—you’re just not going to catch anything. Your hook is the feature of your story that makes it stand out. It is the clever twist on a familiar theme or tale. It is the reason you wrote your book. Even if all the plotlines and characters seem familiar, you can be excused for writing something recognizable so long as it boasts a great hook. This should be what you open your letter with. (Either this, or letting the lit agent know how you are familiar with her and why you are querying her specifically. If you open with this throat clearing technique, which many agents like because they are human and enjoy being praised, be sure to follow that short paragraph up with your introductory hook.)

struggling writer with a mountain of paper wads

A hook often ties in with the second reason. A good hook is often a result of originality.

Lack of Originality:

We’re all familiar with the archetype of the callow orphan boy discovering he is the offspring of royal or legendary blood and has powers he never knew about. Variations on this theme run the gamut: Shannara, Pawn of Prophecy, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Fantastic Beasts, etc. Point is if you’re writing something like this, you better make darn sure you have a hook. Something that makes your archetype stand out, stand up and demand to be read. This bit of originality, your own peculiar spin on a familiar theme, is what agents are looking for. (TIP: Don’t make your poor orphan boy a poor orphan girl ‘just because,’ because that’s lazy; there must be a reason for your gender choices, not just excuses.) If he/she is dying of some horrible disease and decides to use their suddenly discovered powers to cure this disease and prevent anyone else from suffering, there’s your original hook. Open with that.

slush pile is a mountain of rejected manuscripts

You should be able to whittle this original hook down to one straightforward sentence. If it takes you entire paragraphs to draw in the agent, you’ve already failed. If their interest isn’t piqued by the first sentence, the hook, they won’t finish reading.

Best tip of all time for query letter hooks (subjectively speaking):

Make it unusual. If it is something they’ve never heard before, or something bizarre, it’ll make them want to keep reading. Don’t be afraid to shoot for the stars here. They read dozens of these things every day, so make yours stand out!

Oftentimes a great original hook is all that’s necessary. An eye-catching, ear-pleasing, mind-luring hook can carry the entire letter, drawing the agent in and making them salivate for more of your originality, as displayed by your hook. Once you have this winner, make sure to give just as much intensity of thought to the rest of your query.

You have your originality, displayed beautifully through your hook. Now you need to focus on the style (or voice or tone) of your query letter.

Lack of Style:

Style (or voice, depending on who you ask, but these terms seem almost synonymous—or is the word interchangeable?) is that indefinable quality of sound that makes your work memorable in an almost indescribable way, knowhatImeanVern?

Great examples of original voice in manuscripts are as follows (remember: whatever style or voice you have in your manuscript, you should mimic in your query letter):

  • Lord of the Rings. Read this aloud, you’ll notice how pleasing the sentence structure is to the ear. Almost poetical in its diction.
  • Anne Rice novels are all written in a voice that oozes sultriness.
  • Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is bleak in its structure, elegantly mirroring its world. This style is simple, unadorned, again, like its world. Memorable.
  • Read Gormenghast and you’ll know what style and voice are.

The best way to know if your manuscript has style and a catchy voice is to read it aloud.

So remember:

  1. Lure them in with a great Hook
  2. Be original by being bold
  3. Show your style

You have what it takes, so go and take what you don’t yet have. Go and earn that ‘requested material’ email. Agents want to read and represent great new manuscripts. They are looking for them. It’s your job to show them one.

A few more Query Letter tips:

  • Be personable and professional
  • If you don’t have any publishing credits, don’t mention it. Just focus on the 3 Tips above
  • Get the agent’s name right and follow their submission rules to the ‘T’
  •  Like your first draft, let your query ferment for a few days at least before taking it out to submit it. This will reveal tidbits, small flaws in your letter. Fresh eyes make the best editors
  • Be memorable

a bald man wearing a fedora


Successful Novels That Break the Rules of Writing

magical forest in a library

You know there are hundreds of excellent novels out there, but even among the great ones, few stand apart as truly unique.

These are the bold books, whose authors took risks and broke rules to create something original and refreshing. Of all those I’ve enjoyed, there seems to be three distinct types:

  1. Those that don’t open with a hook
  2. Those with outrageous or made-up dialogue
  3. Those that defy conventional novel construction

(1) Hookless Books

Almost every agent, publisher, and writer will tell you that if you want to draw readers into your novel, you must open it with a hook! But on rare occasions (and we should probably not attempt to follow these exceptional examples), extraordinary books open without a hook, starting slowly like an elderly person shuffling down a store aisle. These books often repel the impatient reader.

But for those who stick with it, those who perceive the confidence with which the author is writing, will be rewarded with an amazing story. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, and Tad William’s The Dragonbone Chair are two of the most conspicuous examples of great fantasies without opening hooks. Both start off slowly, tediously even. They take 100 or 200 pages to really get into the meat of the story. But for hungry readers the rewards are munificent! Jonathan Strange is one of my Top 5 favorite books. I lose myself to its magic once every year.

(2) Oh it was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh

Novels featuring screwy dialogue that should not have worked truly bamboozle me. I mean, one of the Unwritten Rules of Writing is that ‘You do not type out accents or make up words!’ That is amateur hour, a sure way to have your work rejected.

And yet, Irvine Welsh committed this very sin in his masterwork Trainspotting. His Scottish characters have thick accents, and he felt he needed to convey this by writing it out phonetically. I couldn’t trudge through one page of this unintelligible claptrap, but I know there are those who swear it is the bomb.

Ah dinnae ken. Try it and decide for yerself, ya wee scunner!

man shaking his head

A Clockwork Orange is another example of this type. Anthony Burgess did something new when he wrote this . . . dystopia? For Alex and his droogs, he created an entire sub-language, a sort of advanced gutter-speak that lends an entirely unique tone and structure to his novel. He was also clever enough to give his youthful anti-hero a respectable trait: a love for classical music, especially of Ludwig Van. And so this work has become a cult classic—because Burgess was bold enough to take a risk.

(3) I Will Not Be Quantified Novels

Even more of a standout from the first two, are those novels that simply refuse to be classified. These sensational buggers defy narrative. The Road (which I am currently reading) has enough substance and tonality to have been published on these merits alone. But Cormac McCarthy decided to take it one step further; to mirror his bleak created world, he made his writing bleak and gray, like the ash that covers everything in his dystopian world. No quotations marks, no indentations for new paragraphs, giving the visual appearance of the same bleakness on page after page, just as the father and the son see nothing but the same bleakness everywhere they go. In place of comma’s McCarthy often uses ‘and’ multiple times in one sentence. This lends the book a monotonous straightforward sound—again, just like the world his characters inhabit, silent and unsettling.

bird box woman blindfolded

Bird Box by Josh Malerman is another example of a defiant novel. This bizarre and oddly engaging work completely disregards all narrative convention. Here, I’ll prove it:

  • It has no beginning, middle and end, but simply wanders back and forth fluidly through time
  • It’s antagonists are not seen (that’s the gimmick)
  • No explanation is given for the appearance of the baddies and we do not know their agenda other than to terrorize because . . .
  • The protagonist does not go through a journey of change. She does not discover something new about herself or the world, except perhaps that nowhere is safe.

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino knocked me for a loop years ago when I read it, and I have not forgotten it since. It is IMHO the most original novel ever written. It defies classification and its author makes no attempt at following any Rules of Writing.

Despite all that (or perhaps because of all that), it was published and has remained in the public consciousness.

If on a winter's night a traveler book cover

The books distinctive attributes include:

  • Being written in 2nd Person, a rare and slightly discomfiting find in a novel.
  • It does not follow a straightforward or linear narrative.
  • Many of its successive chapters are actually first chapters of different books in different genres and different styles
  • You are both reader and writer of these stories
  • You are both a male reader and a female reader at different times
  • Each chapter is interrupted at a moment of heightened suspense, and you are then led on to the next chapter (or book)
  • You find yourself attracted to the other reader, and vice versa
  • There’s no clear resolution or ending
  • It is a love poem of reading and an ode to the art of writing.

The moral here, I believe, is that if you are struggling to find your style or voice, don’t be afraid to break some rules of writing. You never know what magic you might conjure up. So read and be inspired, and take risks with your writing. What do you have to lose?

schwarzenegger giving thumbs up

Social Engineering Exposed

Dear Readers,

Tonight I tear aside the curtain of lies and misinformation to reveal a truth kept in the dark for too long. More importantly, I share with you the method for healing this broken nation. What I suggest here will seem avant-garde, drastic even. And while I am certain it is the answer America needs, I am just as certain that no one will ever implement it.

But you decide for yourself.

Through systemic studies of our history and in reflections of current events, it has become clear that most of the protests, riots, revolutions, cultural battles, suicides and wars are caused by a single evil.

This evil has always existed, has always caused unrest in every facet of human existence. But not so long ago it was given a huge boost, exponentially increasing its potential for harm, all under the guise of social advancement.

Just a few years after 9/11 this boost emerged through the creation of a new medium.

At first it seemed a godsend, a tool promising to unite a disparate nation. ‘Connect with friends and family, share photos, and send messages.’ We dove in, embracing it with vim and vigor. It wasn’t long before we became addicted, and in the span of a few short years it became our de-facto god. We learned to rely on it for current information and news, for trends and ‘relevant’ topics. Inevitably, trolls and clever shysters began to use this system as a powerful means of broadcasting their opinions and diatribes and agendas, passing off the hate they gave as new-age gospel. They thought of themselves as broad-minded, their messages as intelligent manifestos for a changing world.

Shortly they formed cliques and groups, applying labels and demanding they be taken seriously, all while gathering vast influence.

And so, what began as a noble attempt to unite multicultural masses into one cohesive world wide web of humans, has been twisted by a few ignoble individuals, until today it is nothing less than a breeding ground for trolls, a cesspool of hatred. It has become the Cult of Personality. ‘Like me’ they say. ‘Friend me’ they plead. But there is no like, there is no genuine friendship promoted.

  • I sell the things you need to be
  • I’m the smiling face on your T.V.
  • I’m the cult of personality
  • I exploit you, still you love me

In select cases, social media provided a voice for those who were better left voiceless. And those already with a voice hijacked it to boost their influence; Fortune 500 companies now us it as their primary mode for setting trends, spreading agendas; and through their unchecked illicit technologies they are steadily turning it into a libertarian state with anarchist tendencies.

Those few who run the most influential platforms have become Thought Police, each secretly striving to convince the teeming masses that their opinion is gospel. They would have us believe whatever they say is ‘truth’. They use mass media to flog their propaganda, each delivering their own big lie, using the art of spectacle to sway whole populations into drinking their brand of Kool-Aid.

Their social engineering techniques are honed to razor sharpness. They know what they are doing, as the devil knows what he is doing. And next to the devil, the greatest evil in our world is indubitably influence.

Perhaps it began innocently enough—but then, the Black Death began with a single rat and a few fleas.

What is social media if not the broadest and most successful attempt at social engineering in history? Continue reading “Social Engineering Exposed”