Avoiding Red Flags in Your Submission

I’ve written two posts on top reasons why submissions are rejected (part three to come soon!), and so I thought I would also write a short post on red flags in the slush pile.  I wouldn’t immediately pass because of a red flag, but too many strongly hint that the author hasn’t done their research, and so the MS probably isn’t ready. But for agents/editors who are flooded with submissions, and are looking for any reason to say no, these may be a deal breaker.

  1. Thinking we’re a literary agency. Sometimes we get queries from authors”seeking representation.” Most of the time, I assume it’s just a copy/paste error, but it does also make me question if this person thinks we’re a literary agency (which means they haven’t done their research). So always double check to make sure your query is addressed to the right person.
  2. Wrong category/genre. This is another sign the author hasn’t done their research. I’ve seen submissions pitched as YA that I could tell from the first chapter were clearly Adult. So it’s important to research and understand the different categories/genres. Of course one of the best ways to do this is to read books in the category/genre you’re writing in. I’ve heard several people say “I write _____ but I don’t read it,” and I’m pretty sure a large black question mark appeared above my head.
  3. Word count. The word count can be a red flag if it’s too high or low. 200,000 words is way too high, and a sign the MS needs some serious edits/cuts.  The appropriate amount will depend on your category/genre. If you’re writing a YA fantasy and it’s  only 50,000 words, that’s too low. The word count for fantasy is higher because of the world-building.
  4. The query letter. Most of the time, the red flags are within the query letter itself.
    • Author doesn’t mention title, category, genre, and/or word count.
    • Query letter is just a list of the novel’s themes.
    • No stakes/vague stakes. This is probably the most common one. The stakes need to be high and specific.
    • Written from the perspective of the MC.
    • Typos/Grammar mistakes.

Again, I won’t recommend a pass based only on these reasons, but I will make note of the red flags, and more often than not they tell me the MS/author isn’t ready.

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