The road to publication, just like the road to hell, is paved with good intentions. Most writers don’t intend to shoot themselves in the feet, but somehow that gun just seems to go off when they least expect it. While the crippling shot may occur during the actual writing of the manuscript, it often occurs during the query or the submission stage. Either way, it can undermine the best of intentions and derail the publication train before it ever leaves the platform.
On the other hand, some writers seem deliberately determined to shortchange themselves and their chances, particularly when querying agents. They don’t accidentally shoot themselves in the feet; instead, they appear to intentionally pull the trigger and fire as many shots in rapid succession as possible. So, if you’re one of those writers who fears success – who wants your query letter to exuberantly leap into the large “rejection” pile instead of finding its way into the much smaller “please submit” pile – this article will give you helpful hints for achieving rejection.
Tell your potential agent or editor you’ve written a fiction novel. Even though a novel is fiction by definition, calling it a fiction novel allows you to destroy, up front, any confidence they might have that you know what you’re doing. Better yet, call it a fictional novel – that means your novel doesn’t actually exist and they can send a fictional rejection.
Tell your potential agent or editor too much about yourself. Sure, they’d like to know what writing experience you have and how your background gives you credibility for your subject, but I’m not talking about that kind of information. I’m talking about information like this from an actual query: “I’m 34, having trouble finding work & am living with my parents.” George Costanza, is that you?
Tell your potential agent or editor that your book is a surefire bestseller. Or tell them how much money you’ll make for them. “Send for my screenplay, read as much as you like, then when you see how great it is and how much money we’ll win, put it on your schedule to market it. I would like at least $800,000. (It’s that good.)” Most agents move e-mails like these into a special mailbox along with other “special” e-mails. Then, at the end of the day, they’ll sit back with a steaming cup of Kona coffee and read about winning the UK lottery, opportunities to help Nigerians invest money in the U.S., and the promise of untold wealth from commissions off your future bestseller. They’ve already got the money spent.
Badmouth yourself or your own work. This is the converse to the previous tip. I saw one query that said, “I never made it out of high school and have been in the army since the age of 17 so my actual writing skills may not be up to par with what you would be used to.” Another said, “My writing style needs a lot of assistance, please do not reject the story based upon my ability to tell it on paper.” Yet another said, “I do not consider myself a good writer, my key board [sic] skills are poor, my spelling is awful and I have forgotten most of what I learned about punctuation.” Need I point out the irony of these correspondents seeking representation as writers?
Misspell as many words as possible. Pretend your computer doesn’t have Spellcheck. Consider this actual e-query: “I have just complete my frist drama script of a series of twenty. I want an anget who can work with me until it gets to the move production house.” Or consider this: “I, am writeing ahorror story. Ti is about a teenage girl that is hoving dream,s about people walking to her with there arm,s out crying asking her to help them.” I pitty the pour riters who kan’t spel or punkchuate any better then that.
Conversely, rely too heavily on Spellcheck. A writer who was writing about the world of magic wrote: “My family holds patents on some elusions reviled in this novel. They were performed during their world wild acts.” I’m just guessing, but I think the writer meant “illusions revealed.” I’m open as to whether “world wild acts” is correct or should have been “worldwide acts.”
Don’t follow submission guidelines. One query started, “Yes, I know it was recommended that I not exceed one page. However, I do not believe the ‘four or five sentences’ of the ‘preferably one paragraph’ is enough to communicate what I am asking you to consider.” Just look at the genius of this statement: This writer went so far as to let the agent know he was intentionally disregarding the submission guidelines. That way the agent wouldn’t think he was simply making an innocent mistake. Genius, I tell you – pure genius.
Respond unprofessionally to rejection. Don’t just accept rejection with grace and dignity. No, instead fire off a reply that says something like “Your loss” or “Your mistake” or better yet, “You strike me as pathetic.” (So what does that make the writer? After all, he’s the one who got rejected by the pathetic.) Or perhaps best, “I’m a 69 year old retired man, who used to chew people like you up and spit them out for practice.” Yikes! I’m not ashamed to admit I actually trembled when I got that one. I still tremble today when I re-read it.
Be overanxious. If you haven’t gotten a response to your e-query within 48 hours, send something like this: “Is it that no one reads e-mail or you just don’t answer any? I find your agency to be totally lacking in business ethics – typical of an attorney who couldn’t make it in private practice.” What a low blow – attacking an attorney when he’s down. That one made me weep. Even today, my self-esteem is so low I can’t look myself in the mirror. Excuse me – I’m getting a little misty here.
Be partially incoherent: “I Am A Freelance Journalist and Columnist writes to YOURS from remote India REGARDING FOR HELP FROM YOURS LITERARY AGENCY HELP – FOR A BREAK TO MY FUTURE AND RECOGNITION FOR MY WORKS.” I think I know what this writer is asking. It’s in the subtext, you know. Plus there’s that subliminal thing of slipping the word HELP in there twice HELP. And don’t we all want a break to our futures and recognition for our works?
If being partially incoherent won’t get you rejected, try being totally incoherent: “Writers address learning, personal &fundamental issues. Some plagued by elusive,idealized understanding. Fears, doubts &mystery . . . Not able to find &use worthy self-venture set-void in endeavor often-obligated &omenous-pulled in,unsettling intent of a writer. In a difficult outstandingly, taught world.” No clue what this one means. Then again, I am a mere mortal and perhaps not on the same intellectual level as the writer. I particularly liked the creative spacing and punctuation. Are mind-altering drugs at work here, perhaps? Groovy, man!
This is by no means an exhaustive listing of ways to ensure rejection. After all, success isn’t for everyone.