Making it Easy to Say No

Awhile back, someone asked me, “What are the Top Do-This-and-You-are-Dead mistakes people make in pitches, queries, and book proposals?” My answers:a Bore me.a Pitch something I don’t represent.a Pitch something that sounds derivative, been-there done-that, nothing unique.a Show me that your writing isn’t yet up to publishable level.a Approach it with the attitude: What the Christian world needs is… (your book, of course).a Criticize other Christian books, saying they all are trash but YOUR book is a work of literary genius.The following mistakes don’t necessarily ensure you’ll be dead. But they definitely drop you down a notch and make it easier to say NO.a Tell me there are NO other books like yours.a Tell me your book is great or amazing or that I’m going to love it. (You need to show me, not tell me.)a Address your query to someone who’s not me. (I just got a letter addressed, “Dear Judy.” Innocent mistake, I’m sure, but it doesn’t make a great first impression.)a Address your query in a way that shows you have no idea who I am. (Dear Sir/Madam or To Whom it May Concern)As you can see, some of these are about your attitude and your approach, not about your book idea at all. Agents and editors have to decide not just which books to acquire, but which authors they will be able to work closely with over many months or hopefully, years. If your first approach seems arrogant or overly-self-important, we usually don’t have much hope for a positive working relationship. This is a relationship business.So… whenever you’re approaching agents or editors, try to use common courtesy and remember that you’re trying to establish a relationship.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. free axe samples on May 22, 2012 at 2:29 AM

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  2. Carroll B. Merriman on March 25, 2012 at 2:39 PM

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  3. Rachelle on July 18, 2008 at 7:45 AM

    >Pam, Lea Ann…

    Common sense, okay? Do your best to find out the editor’s name, and if you can’t, just follow their guidelines.

    Note that agents are DIFFERENT. With an agent, you always find the name. Don’t just send to an agency. Every agent’s website lists their agent’s names, while publisher websites rarely list editors’ names.

    My guidelines in this post are from the perspective of an agent. So, always send your query to an agent personally.

  4. Pam Halter on July 18, 2008 at 7:40 AM

    >I’m curious about the same thing Lea Ann said regarding the websites/writer’s guidelines which say, submit to the Acquistions Editor.

    I hate sending a letter to an anonymous person, but what’s a writer to do in this situation?

  5. Deborah on July 18, 2008 at 12:12 AM

    >I just read Michael Hyatt’s blog about his reading habits. He reads about 200 blogs a day, and included a link to the list of them.

    Guess what? Your blog is one that he reads!


  6. Kat on July 17, 2008 at 4:25 PM

    >Dear Judy Gardner,

    (Hey wait a minute, Richard is right, that does sound a lot like Judy Garland.)

    How are you? I am fine, especially now that I can tell you about my future bestseller. It’s a fictional young adult scifi fantasy thriller novel about a kid who slipped through a portal only to discover he’s the savior of the universe.

    This book will change lives. It beats the pants off of The Chronicles of Narnia. There’s nothing else quite like it. I know you’ll love it, so make like Nike and just read it!!!!

    Later Tater,

    Joe Book Writer


  7. Anita Mae on July 17, 2008 at 3:06 PM

    >I agree, this is great advice.

    (Tiny lines appear above Anita’s brow.
    ‘Hey Honey,’ she yells to her hubby. ‘Can I take Morning Dancer to the ACFW conference?’
    ‘What for?’
    ‘I’m worried that Rachelle might be bored with my presentation, so I’m gonna tuck my one-sheet into a Pony Express bag, ride in, and slap in on her table.’)

  8. Chatty Kelly on July 17, 2008 at 2:28 PM

    >Thanks for the great no-nonsense advise.

  9. Lea Ann McCombs on July 17, 2008 at 10:44 AM

    >The only one of these I have a tender spot for is the “Dear Sir or Madame:” greeting. We hear all the time not to do that, yet, on many publisher’s websites, they give no name to send it to. The site says to address any query to the Acquisitions Editor.

    I even tried one time calling a publishing house to get the name of an editor to address my query to, but the receptionist sent me back to the generic greeting.

    Soooooo…what are we to do?

    A bit of humor: Once (long ago)an editor I had submitted to sent me back a harsh, scolding email, berating me for my carelessness in misspelling his name.(I left off one of the many double-letters in his long last name) He chided me for not being more professional (said nothing about my proposal)then in what I’m sure was an oversight, judging by the haughty tone of his email—he had misspelled MY name in his greeting!

    I longed to shoot a letter back and point it out, but took the high road and crossed him off my list–permenantly!

  10. Eric Dabbs on July 17, 2008 at 7:32 AM

    >In my last proposal, I think I toned it down a notch as far as hype is concerned. I tried to emphasize the points of the story that would hopefully stir up interest to read the book. But it wouldn’t surprise me if I broke a rule or two.
    I think I’ve gotten away from the “God inspired me to write this”, “This book will blow your socks off” and “There is no other book out there like mine.”
    When you go back and see mistakes like that in your first few queries and proposals, you suddenly realize why you got shot down so fast. And hopefully you learn from it. I know I’m trying.
    I’ll have to go back and review the last proposal I sent and double check it for those types of mistakes. But I can see how an agent who has read so many queries and so many proposals might get bored with the same old ideas all the time. Thanks for tips.

  11. Richard Mabry on July 17, 2008 at 6:54 AM

    >Thanks for the view inside the head of an editor or agent. Nice to know that it pays to do your homework before pitching. And “Dear Judy?” Can’t figure that out.
    Oh, wait. Didn’t I see you in Wizard of Oz?