I just mailed out a bunch of rejections this morning, which is never very fun. Based on what I read today I wanted to add a few quick faux pas and some general advice!
Many agents will take electronic queries these days (I prefer them). You can save yourself postage and reach out to those agents electronically. You might also get a more timely response. With agents that don’t read e-queries, be sure to follow their instructions and contact them appropriately.
If the agency is easily found and you have my contact info, then you should know I’m not “Sir or Madam.”
I don’t rep novels. Maybe someday, but not now. This is noted everywhere you might find my info except maybe in Everyone Who’s Everyone in publishing. I do want to see queries for memoirs, narrative non-fiction, how-to, reference, technical titles, design and photography, and anything of a western regional bent, including travel.
Keep track of your queries. If I turned it down once I will turn it down again.
Make sure the correct letter goes into the correct envelope.
Don’t quote your rejection letters. We know you need an agent before Scribner will read your manuscript. If you include five “positive” rejections you’re just telling the agent you’ve already shopped this and nobody bit.
Please don’t despair if you see a short rejection letter or even a form letter. Most often “it’s not right for me” is just that, even if your project might be great for someone else. You want your prospective agent to love your project, so it’s vital to weed out those who don’t. The history of publishing is filled with rejection. We hear it too on our side of the fence.
Good luck!


Did you know the plural of faux pas is spelled the same but pronounced “foe pause?”

I’m overdue on cataloging the violence done to good ideas in non-fiction book proposals, so I figured I’d add a few tips and tricks to the catalogue and maybe learn to count to 100 in French while I’m at it. If my advice sounds snarky, I’m just copying you know who.

un – Please don’t tell your editor or agent that the market for your book is “everyone.” Last I heard, everyone doesn’t even read, and I know from personal experience that everyone doesn’t watch Oprah, and editors don’t really care that everyone you’ve talked to just loves your idea.

Instead, try to be specific about your market and your reach. Good: Fly fishermen spend $500 of their disposable income each year on equipment, flies, and books. Better: 15,000 fly fishermen read my blog. Best: 30,000 fly fishermen belong to my email newsletter and 20,000 bought my last book.

deux – “Oh, maybe not everyone but certainly everyone in the 90210 will buy my book,” Sorry, it ain’t gonna happen and you’re only going to irritate whoever is reading your proposal. Most often that’s an instant no. Same thing goes for “every Mac user,” “every fly fishermen,” and just about every “every” you can list up to and including every AA member or evangelical end-timer. Be realistic. Study the numbers of some other bestsellers.

trois – Here’s one I see all the time: “This book will sell like gangbusters if it’s on the counter next to the register.”

Sure it will. That’s why you’ve seen some publishers make an entire business out of small point-of-purchase books. But it’s not as easy as all that: how much better would your book sell than someone else’s? And how much money is your publisher willing to pay for that real estate? Because your publisher will have to pay for that display “dump” and space rental, and/or for co-op advertising in exchange for a window display.

March is one of my favorite months because I know for sure that B&N, Borders, and even some independents will stock some of my “for Dummies” books stacked on a table right inside the front door, because the publisher has paid for this promo (Dummies month) for more than ten years now, and worked hard with its booksellers to make it a successful promotion every year. Shelving doesn’t happen by accident.

quatre – RBGS, Another one I see more than you’d think. Really Big Google Stats.

Google statistics are are often meaningless. Model Airplane Plans return 23 million hits on Google. Heck, Heart Attack Prevention only brings up 13 million or so hits. Matt Wagner brings up over 8 million pages, and that’s cheating because my famous namesake, Matt Wagner, the comic book artist, eats up a lot of space.

More targeted searches, or Google Trends, for instance, might provide some interesting statistics, especially with tech topics. For instance, check out the Google trends for Ajax.

cinq – A book proposal is not a book report. Avoid boring overviews, avoid passive voice. Don’t start a string of five sentences in a row with “this book.” I don’t want to hear that “This book will examine the business of divorce in America. This book will help the reader crack the legal code….” Be direct and original, “From the therapist’s couch to the courthouse, divorce is big business in America. The Divorce Code will help readers crack the code and help save them time, money and self-respect.”

It’s okay to refer to the book as Article (da book, dis book, dat book) but do it repeatedly and your reader will fall asleep. Agents and editors are your first readers. Don’t bore them.

six – Marketing folderol does not equal information… Breathlessness is not effective sales copy…Ellipses don’t put me on the edge of my seat…

sept – Use one font. Please. Unless maybe you’re a crackerjack book designer or have one on staff, please refrain from using multiple fonts or underlining, italicizing and bolding every important word. It’s okay to stress some points, but moderation is key.

Okay, I only got to sept. And I don’ t have a clue on how to pronounce it. Still, that’s a start. I’ll make this a category of its own and maybe someday I’ll make it to one hundred — that’s cent in French.