Posted by: Kerry Gans | November 29, 2011

Five Reasons For Agent Rejections of a Manuscript

If you’ve ever submitted a query or partial or even a full, you have likely gotten back a form letter stating that your work isn’t bad, but the agent doesn’t want to represent you. But keep trying, and someone will love your book sometime!

This well-intentioned form letter is nice to receive, but it can be frustrating, too. It doesn’t tell you anything useful, does it? Was there something fixable in the manuscript? Or is it totally awful? It leaves all of us writers screaming into the void: TELL ME WHAT I NEED TO IMPROVE AND I’LL DO IT!

Well, you can stop screaming.

Author and agent Marie Lamba shared some thoughts as to why she turns down manuscripts that have merit but simply don’t rise to the level they should.

1) The book that’s too familiar or overdone. One reason you never want to chase a trend is because the market becomes glutted and agents and editors start wanting to poke out their eyeballs when they see the Exact. Same. Concept. over and over and over.

2) The book that never takes off. Some books sound promising in the query letter, but then the manuscript comes and the interesting concept is not found in the first 20 pages. Or 50. Or 100. Get that plane up in the air as soon as you can; don’t leave the agent trapped on the tarmac for hours with nothing but a pack of peanuts to eat.

3) The book that falls apart. This is the opposite of point #2. Some books have fantastic openings…and then they crash. Many writers spend a great deal of time polishing and getting help with their openings, knowing how important they are. But if the rest of the book can’t measure up to that wonderful opening, it’s not ready to be sent out yet. Sweat over the rest of the book as much as you did the opening.

4) The voice you can’t relate to. While this does have an element of subjectivity to it, there are just some people that grate on your nerves. Think about a person you know whose voice or personality makes it hard to talk to them for more than a few minutes. Now imagine hearing that voice or being with that person for the hours it takes to read a book.

5) The too exciting book. But, wait, you say, tension is good, right? Donald Maass says there should be tension on every page, in every scene. Yes, but he meant to modulate the tension, not that every scene had to BE SO EXCITING THAT I’M GOING TO SCREAM AND OMG THERE’S ANOTHER EXPLOSION AND A CAR CHASE AND THE KILLER’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!!!!!!!

Those are some reasons (I’m sure there are more!) why a manuscript that has merit might be turned down by an agent. No matter how beautifully written, a manuscript will not pass muster if any of those problems are there.

So do yourself (and your potential agent) a favor. Take a long, hard, honest look at that book you’ve been slaving over and are dying to send out. If any of those tips above ring a bell, settle down to revise yet again.

After all, you want your agent to see the most stellar work you can produce. Don’t be afraid to take the time to do it right.

Your agent will thank you for it.


  1. Very useful information for those of us who could paper our house with rejection letters.


  2. […] Writer Kerry Gans posted a piece featuring Five Reasons for Agent Rejections of Manuscripts over at her group site The Author Chronicles. This is a great craft-oriented blog, and this post highlights five common reasons why manuscripts I read are rejected, even if they have merit. Literary agents WANT to find great work, and it’s kind of heartbreaking to get excited by a piece only to have to turn it down because it didn’t live up to its promise.  I’ve been an assistant literary agent for the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency for a few month now, and it’s amazing how many times I see these mistakes EVERY DAY.  So if you’re in the process of trying to get an agent, definitely check out Kerry’s post by clicking here. […]


    • Thanks for the link, Marie! Hopefully you will be sharing more reasons with us very soon!


  3. Thanks for passing along Marie’s sage advice, Kerry!


    • You’re welcome, Kathryn. The hard part is recognizing those flaws in your own work, even when you can find it in other people’s!


  4. It seems you’ve zeroed in on the main reasons manuscripts are rejected. Good reminders. Thanks.


    • You’re welcome, Diana! I’m sure Marie has more reasons, and hopefully she will continue to share them with us!


  5. I think I must have writer’s guilt. I found that some of the points you made could be true of my own work. What is interesting though, is that there are some agents that do not even give an explanation but a generic rejection.


  6. […] 9. Five Reasons for Agent Rejections of a Manuscript […]


  7. […] “Five Reasons For Agent Rejections of a Manuscript” by Kerry Gans on The Author Chronicles.  Before you think about querying, read this list first.  […]


  8. […] 17. Five Reasons for Agent Rejection of a Manuscript […]


  9. […] 5. Five Reasons For Agent Rejections of a Manuscript […]


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