Kristin Nelson offers her top 10 list of why adult and children’s science fiction and fantasy query letters get a rejection:
Reason 10: Generic descriptors of the story
Reason 9: Overkill on World Building details and not enough about the story itself.
Reason 8: Explaining that unlike already published SF&F novels, your work has character development
Reason 7: Popular trends (such as Vampires, Werewolves, or Zombies) with no unique take clearly spelled out in pitch
Reason 6: No mention of or insight into the characters who will be driving the story
Reason 5: The manuscript is 250,000 words (or more!) and this is unpublished, debut author
Reason 4: The work is called SF&F but it sounds more like a mystery or thriller or something else.
Reason 3: Convoluted Plot that I can’t follow in the pitch paragraph
Reason 2: SF&F stereotypical archetypes as the “hook”
–the mysterious object
–the unexpected birthright
–the villain that has risen again
–exiled to another planet
–mayhem on spaceship to new planet
–Androids with heart of gold
–The main character as the key to saving the world or species
–the just discovered talisman
Reason 1: No hook—or mention of a plot catalyst that is new or original in this genre
Interestingly, despite it’s being #3 on the list, she ultimately decided that a convoluted plot that can’t be explained in the pitch paragraph was the top reason for rejection. Does that mean you can’t find an agent for a book with a complex plot? I don’t think so. However, if you can’t clearly sum up the plot in a paragraph, your chances of getting the agent to ask for sample pages appear to be greatly reduced.
That can be a serious challenge. Think you can summarize Lord of the Rings with its three concurrent story lines, multiple characters (some of whom are plant life), and the entire world of Middle-Earth in a paragraph? I’d love to see a hypothetical Tolkien query letter for that.
Still, if you’re a frequent reader of Kristin Nelson’s blog Pub Rants, like I am, then you know that she is someone we should all listen to. Her agency represents a lot of successful authors, like Gail Carriger, Jamie Ford, Linnea Sinclair, and Ally Carter. No one can argue that she’s not credible. I’m going to have her top 10 list (and the next day’s follow-up post) handy next time I work on a query letter. Maybe that will be the letter that convinces an agent or editor to ask for the full manuscript of one of my books. And that would be very, very sweet.