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Most of the time when I explain how authors can increase their chances of getting a major publisher, I talk about how agents work, what they want, and how to give it to them. That’s because that can dramatically increase your Odds of Getting a Literary Agent.

And that advice applies to authors of all book genres trying to get new book agents as well as the Best Literary Agents working at the Top Literary Agencies, including NYC Literary Agents, in our Literary Agents Directory.

However, there are things you shouldn’t worry about, that are a waste of time. I’m not talking about agent or industry standards and protocols. I’m talking about personal preferences. If you understand the difference, it will save you time and anxiety.

What Literary Agents Want and the Confusion It Creates

The following list is comprised of some completely contradictory reasons agents often cite for passing on the opportunity to represent projects.

An agent might say your book:

  1. Is too accessible or easy to read, or too “smart”
  2. Is timely, or isn’t timely enough
  3. Is too edgy/graphic/gritty, or isn’t edgy/graphic/gritty enough
  4. Is funny, or too serious
  5. Is too long, or not long enough
  6. Is too plot-driven, or too character-driven
  7. Has a unique voice, or has a voice that isn’t unique enough
  8. Explores meaningful themes/issues, or doesn’t
  9. Has too many characters, or not enough
  10. Too scientific, or not scientific enough
  11. Too academic, or not academic enough
  12. Rhymes, or doesn’t rhyme (children’s picture books)
  13. Is written in first person, or third person
  14. Is written in past tense, or present tense
  15. Doesn’t have enough dialogue, or has too much dialogue
  16. Reads like a movie, or doesn’t
  17. Doesn’t have enough action, or has too much action
  18. Is too fast-paced, or isn’t fast-paced enough
  19. Is contemporary, or historical

What agents should say, instead, is that a book is too much or not enough of “such-and-such” for them, and that another agent(s) might see it differently. Sometimes literary agents say it that way. Too often, they don’t. They act like their way is the only way.

It’s not.

Of course, if/when multiple agents cite the same reason for their rejections, you should put more weight on those comments. But, even then, a steady stream of rejections citing the same “shortcoming” doesn’t mean you should change anything. It might just mean you haven’t queried the right agent yet. I know I’m talking out both sides of my mouth here, but that’s just how it goes with this topic.

It’s complicated.

What Literary Agents Want–Conclusion

Take your time reflecting on feedback from agents and have someone in your corner you can ask about it–whether it’s a writing partner, freelance editor you’ve worked with, a coach or consultant like me, etc. Don’t rush it, and make sure the feedback is accurate and really matters before you spend months making revisions.

If you understand and follow the above,
you’ll have an easier time
navigating rejection.

You’ll also have an easier time if you remember that every single book I ever sold as an agent (and the hundreds of books–201 as of this week–I’ve helped authors place with agents and/or traditional publishers in the last 9 years via Author Coaching) were all rejected by other agents and publishers.

Usually, lots of them.


At a certain point, you need to stick with what you think/feel is best for your book. An agent or publisher is going to get it, or they aren’t. And, as you can tell from the examples above, you absolutely can’t please everyone.

Even if you’re willing.

It’s not possible.

So, stay open, and read rejections carefully–but you can’t please everyone. You just need to make one agent happy. And, with a good book and a little/lot of hard work to make sure you leave no agent unqueried, you might enjoy a happy ending.

* * *

Author Coaching – Get a Literary Agent for Your Book

Click here if you want help to give yourself the best chance to get a top literary agent, publisher, and book deal. Register for an Introductory Coaching Call to get 1-on-1 feedback and improve your pitch material and/or writing.

Question or Comment?

Click here (no charge) to see The 50 Questions Authors Ask Most (along with answers to the questions) and/or post your question or comment. Click here to see our Guide to Literary Agents. And, click here to see some of our best tips to help you Find a Literary Agent and/or Get a Literary Agent.

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