Are literary agents and publishers prejudiced? In other words, are some books rejected because of the authors’ gender, age, race, politics, religion, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc.? Of course, but it’s not as often as you might think. It’s also not as simple as you might think. This articles explains.

Reasons for Rejection by Literary Agents – Prejudice?

Anyone with any sense will correctly assume that some literary agents and publishers are prejudiced: sexist, agist, racist, etc. It’s a fact of life because literary agents and publishers are human. And, human beings are flawed. We sometimes form favorable or unfavorable opinions and feelings about things, and people, beforehand, without any knowledge, thought, or reason behind our opinions and feelings.

It’s stupid, and it’s not always conscious, but we all do it.

And that’s the very definition of prejudice.

The good news, however, is that, most of the time, literary agents and publishers don’t reject books based on prejudice. However, there are three other reasons for rejection you need to know about. These three things have nothing to do with prejudice or writing quality per se. And, if you understand these three things, you can increase your chances of becoming a more successful author.

Lack of Commercial Appeal or Relatability

One reason for rejection by literary agents and publishers is a book’s lack of commercial appeal or relatability. Simply put, some authors work hard to write in a broad, inclusive way. They’re very conscious of their prospective readers, and they labor to make their writing understandable and of interest to as many people as possible. The opposite of that approach is “preaching to the choir”. That’s what authors do when they include content or write in a style that will only (or primarily) appeal to members of the minority or subculture represented in their work. In political terms, you might think of this as “appealing to one’s base”, giving little thought or consideration to those who don’t already understand or appreciate your position.

I’m not saying that one approach is better than the other, inclusive or narrow, they’re just different. My job, as I see it, is simply to help you get more clarity about the difference between the two approaches, as it relates to you and your work, so you can: write more consciously, reach the audience you want to reach, and achieve the goals you set for yourself as an author. Many authors are completely, or somewhat, blind to the above. That’s why, as an author coach, I’m often able to help authors see where they are, currently, on their “subculture spectrum” and make adjustments based on their vision and mission. No matter who you are, what you’re writing about, or, what your agenda is, conscious writing is more likely to be successful.

For example…

If you’re a male or female author and you want the opposite gender to read your book, is it written in a way that will attract both sexes? And, are you keenly aware of those things in your book that will elicit a negative reaction from the opposite sex? Here’s another example. If you’re a faith-based person, do you want your book to appeal primarily to the mainstream, or people who already share your beliefs; and, is your book truly written to achieve that effect? Similarly, if your writing is multicultural, do you want your book to be of interest to people who don’t share your ethnicity; and, have you written your book in a way that will really have that appeal?

Making a book more inclusive and commercial is partly a matter of dividing your attention. You need to focus on the unique details and perspective of the subculture your book represents–those that make it interesting and different–but you also need to focus on the universal themes that build bridges between you and your readers. For example, a story about racial tension caused by a black student attending a white school could be interesting and insightful to people of any ethnicity. But, only if it’s not “too black” or “too white”. In that type of book, an inclusive writer views the details regarding the black and white subcultures as secondary. The main focus, instead, is the clash of two different cultures, period. The deeper the author digs into that, the more universal the story becomes.

Lack of Curiosity or Interest

Another reason books are rejected is a lack of curiosity or interest regarding the content or style. In other words, a literary agent or publisher might reject a novel about dogs because she simply isn’t passionate about dogs. It doesn’t mean she dislikes dogs or is prejudiced. She just doesn’t care about dogs. Total lack of interest or curiosity. Maybe she’s a cat person. Or, maybe she’s not interested in animals of any kind. Again, that’s not prejudice… it’s personal preference. Everyone’s entitled to decide what they like or want to read about. You probably don’t want people telling you what YOU should read, watch on TV, or eat for dinner. Agents are no different. By the way, the only thing you can do in an attempt to overcome this obstacle, when it exists, is make your pitch materials as interesting as possible.


The third reason for rejection by literary agents and publishers that has nothing to do with prejudice or writing quality is experience. In other words, let’s say you’ve written a novel featuring talking dogs as the main characters. But an agent reading your query tried to pitch a book with talking dogs five years ago and failed. Common sense ought to tell you that he might be wary of taking on something “similar”. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. This type of bias can also work in your favor. An agent might look favorably on a talking dog book if he had success nine lives ago selling a talking cat book.


My Prejudice and Bias

I don’t care if you’re male or female, where you’re from, how old you are, what political party you belong to, what your relationship status is–or anything else. Well, that’s not completely true. I care. I’m just not going to use it against you, judge you, or try to put you in a box. And, it goes both ways. In other words, don’t ask me about my personal background and beliefs. All you need to know is that there’s nothing about my background or beliefs that will get in the way of me helping you reach your goals as an author–unless you’re writing books promoting prejudice.

In that case, don’t bother contacting me…

I’ve helped authors of all ages (from 15 to 97) and many ethnicities (from all around the world): Black, White, Native American, Indian, Muslim, etc. Check out my recently updated wall of success stories here and you’ll see a rainbow of young and old writers represented: Mark Malatesta Reviews. Just don’t be like the knucklehead who once asked me why there isn’t more diversity there. I’ll tell you right now. It’s simple. Minorities are, well, minorities. So, you’re going to see more “vanilla” testimonials on my website than all the other flavors.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t like variety…

What You Should and Shouldn’t Say When You Pitch Literary Agents and Publishers to Prevent Prejudice

Don’t talk about your gender, age, race, politics, religion, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc. when pitching literary agents or publishers–unless it’s relevant to the project you’re pitching. And, in case you’re wondering, yes… sometimes it’s smart to hide one or more of those things to prevent prejudice. I sometimes advise my coaching clients to go out of their way to mask their age, gender, ethnicity, location, etc. when I’m concerned those things might be used against them. It’s situational though, so don’t ask me what you should do in the comments section below or on the FAQ / Ask a Question part of one of my main website. Click here, instead, to Schedule an Introductory Coaching Call.

Find Literary Agents Who Aren’t Prejudiced

If you haven’t already done so, use our Directory of Literary Agents (no charge) to find literary agents interested in your type of work. You’ll find agents interested in all types of work, including Black Literary Agents, and other agents interested in multicultural and ethnic books. The Directory of Literary Agents™ has been called the most comprehensive and up-to-date list of literary agents available, in print or online. It contains detailed biographies, profiles, and contact information for all literary agents in the United States. When you enter the Directory of Literary Agents™, you’ll also get free, instant access to our article and audio library with additional information to help you get a literary agent, publisher, and book deal.

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Mark Malatesta answers questions about literary agent

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