If you’ve been a writer for more than an hour, you know that there are a whole freaking lot of reasons why an agent or editor will reject your work. There are a lot more reasons for them to reject you than accept you. To start with, anything in their huge pile that’s better than your work.
Maybe it’s too long, too short, not in a style that’s consistent with the rest of their magazine. They’ve already been pitched three other books about carnivorous office supplies this week, and yours isn’t as creative as the first three. There’s just no end to that list.
That’s all really subjective stuff, though. If you’re rejected because your work isn’t the right fit, or because there were others that were better, that’s not a negative reflection on you. It’s just part of the game we play as writers. They say getting published is like winning the lottery. If you play, you really might never win. But you’re sure to never win if you don’t bother playing at all.
Of course, you’re also sure to never win if you buy a ticket and then toss it in the river. Or finger paint on it. At this point in the metaphor, I might have lost you. What I mean is, there are some sure fire ways to make sure your submission gets tossed, deleted, and possibly even scorned. So please, if you ever want to stand a chance of getting published, don’t do anything on this list.
* Don’t send your submissions in on anything at all besides regular white paper onto which you have printed your work in regular black ink. Do not send drives, no sensible person would put it anywhere near their computer. Don’t use some fancy stationary, don’t use any color but black ink. Seriously, this is a business venture, not a letter you’re sending to your buddy from summer camp.
* Don’t send anything an agent or editor didn’t specifically ask for in their submission guidelines. Usually they want a query letter, synopsis and maybe a brief author’s bio. They do not want pictures of you, little ‘gifts’ or really any other creative thing you might come up with. Just send what they ask for, because I promise you it is all they want to see. This also means things like perfume. Don’t spray your letter, manuscript, or any other thing you’re sending with anything. At best it’s annoying, at worst it’s an emergency trip for an agent with an allergy.
* Don’t do anything stupid with your manuscript. This was one I didn’t even know was a thing until I heard an editor complaining about it on Writing Excuses. Apparently some writers will do stupid things like turning a page of their manuscript backwards. I guess this is to see if the agent has read that far. I imagine that if I were an agent, and I was reading a manuscript, and I found a backwards page, it would just piss me off. You really don’t want an agent to be pissed off at you.
* Don’t fail to read the submission guidelines before you do anything else at all. Read them, take notes, and make sure you abide by them to the letter! There is lots of room for creativity and spontaneity in our field. This is not one of them! If an agent says he only accepts non fiction, don’t send him your fantasy novel. If an editor asks for paper submissions and you e-mail yours, it will be deleted, not read. If you send your full manuscript when the agent asked for nothing more than a query letter, it will be tossed in the trash and you will have wasted a whole lot of time and ink.
* Don’t pester people. If an agent hasn’t responded to you in the time she said she would, and she did not specifically say it was alright to contact her, don’t. While there is a chance that your manuscript got lost in the shuffle, it’s far more likely she read it, decided to pass, and didn’t have the time to send you a letter. That’s why most agents put on their site how long to wait. So you’re not waiting around for nothing if they just don’t have the time to respond to you. They’re just not that into you, move on.
* Don’t try to bribe them. Just don’t. It won’t work, it will make you look like a pathetic fool, and you will have burned a bridge before you ever set foot on it. If you really want to spend money to get published, just self publish.
* Don’t call an agent or editor, unless they specifically say it’s okay. Spoiler, they probably won’t. From the perspective of an agent, this marks you as a problem client. They assume, and they might very well be right, that you will be the sort of client who is a huge pain in the ass. Agents want to work with professional artists, not huge pains in the ass.
* Don’t go crazy with the fonts. My preference is the good old fashioned times new roman size twelve when I send in work. It doesn’t need to be that, but it should be professional. If you’re not sure a font is professional, don’t use it. Simple as that.
* Don’t tell an agent how much your sister, aunt, babysitter, best friend, husband liked your book. He doesn’t care how much some unnamed person liked it. Yes, your loved one is an amazing human being, and you feel for them the way Leslie Knope feels about her best friend Ann Perkins. No one else cares, unless you’re uncle edits The New Yorker.
* Don’t send a perspective agent your whole damn life story, unless you’re writing an autobiography about how you worked with Green Peace to paint peace signs onto baby seals to save them from the clubers. Many agents will ask for a bio, and that’s great. Give some colorful details about how you became a writer, and list some of the things that drove you to write this book. Then stop. Save the story for Ellen when she’s interviewing you.
* Don’t mention any work that hasn’t been published, any contests that you entered and didn’t win, or any of the agents you’ve sent your book to that passed on it. Never be ashamed of your failures, because it’s so much better to fail than to not try. But you do not need to brag about all of your attempts to a new business partner. On a similar note, don’t mention any books you’ve written other than the one you’re trying to get representation for. Lots of writers have written several books that just weren’t up to scratch. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, I’ve got three of my own. No agent will ever hear about them. If I mention them, an agent might be afraid I want her to represent them, instead of the awesome book I’m presenting her with today.
* Don’t lie, mislead, or try to over blow your accomplishments. It’s unethical, sleazy, and you will absolutely without a doubt get caught. You will also get blackballed.
* And finally, don’t send anything to an agent that you haven’t checked, rechecked, run by a friend, and then checked again.
The good news is this, if you avoid these fifteen things, you’ll present yourself as a professional writer who’s not going to be a huge pain in the ass to work with. Believe me, that will make you a very appealing prospect.