Future Competition

My niece is writing a book. You know how everyone thinks their kids are the best? Well, I don’t have any kids, but my nieces and nephews rock. Claire just turned 7, and she’s one smart cookie. Today I thought I’d share her book with you:

Not bad, huh?

As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Query Letter Rejections

As previously mentioned here, my first rejection came just an hour after the agent received my email. I got one each day for the next several days, then they kind of tapered off. Those first rejections came in the form of form letters, which leaves me not knowing if they even read my submitted writing sample. Some later agents were kind enough to write me an email themselves. Here are some of the emails I got:

Dear Author:

 Thanks so much for letting us take a look at your materials and please forgive us for responding with a form letter.  The volume of submissions we receive, however, makes it impossible to correspond with everyone personally.

Unfortunately, the project you describe does not suit our list at this time.  We wish you the best of luck in finding an agent and publisher for your work and we thank you, once again, for letting us consider your materials.



Thank you very much for your query, which we have read with interest. Unfortunately, the project does not seem right for this agency, and we are sorry that we cannot offer to serve as your literary agent.

We also apologize for the form rejection.  The sheer number of queries we receive prevents personalization in order for us to respond in a timely fashion. 

We wish you all the best in finding more suitable representation, encourage you to query widely, and thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your work.



Dear Jessica,
Thank you for thinking of me for your work; unfortunately, it’s just not quite right for me.  As I’m sure you know, whether or not to take on a client is a very personal decision, and has as much to do with an agent’s personal preferences as it does an author’s writing abilities.
I wish you lots of success in your writing career.
All the best,
Dear Jessica,
Thanks so much for sending along the sample pages of Origins.  I’m sorry to say, though, that I just wasn’t as completely drawn in by the material as much as I had hoped.  What with my reservations, I’d better bow out. 
Thanks so much for contacting me, though!  I really appreciate it, and wish you the best of luck.  

Reasons An Agent Might Reject A Query

It isn’t personal. But that doesn’t stop it from feeling personal. It still hurts, trust me.

  • Maybe your genre doesn’t fit with what they’re accepting right now.
  • Maybe they signed clients recently with stories similar to yours, and just don’t have room for you.
  • Maybe your letter didn’t promote your book very well, so they didn’t even read it.
  • Maybe they liked your story well enough, but they don’t think it’ll sell to a publisher.
  • Maybe your story is okay, but it didn’t draw them in well enough.

I read a statistic that said less than 1% of authors seeking representation get signed. 1%! Some agents receive hundreds of submissions a day, and they are tasked with reading through each of them and picking out the best. It’s a demanding job, and if your work doesn’t catch their eye just so, then they’ll move on to someone else.

So, what can you do with those rejections start pouring in? Me, I took it personally. I got depressed. I moped. I cried. I wondered if it was worth it to keep trying. I convinced myself that I would never amount to anything.

Then I got up. I made concrete decisions about what I needed to do to move forward. I put that project away. I got back to work on my current project. I started this blog. I set new goals and new deadlines. I reached out to family and friends for encouragement.

Rejections feel like the end of the world. They’re not. Everyone tells you that, but you don’t understand it until you go through it. Mope if you need to. Cry if you need to. Then pick yourself up and keep moving forward.

Feel free to share your own experiences in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you.



Query Letter Review

I labored over this query letter. I researched (pretty sure I’m the queen of research), read examples, read so many articles titled “How to Write a Query Letter”, and then I pounded it out. I knew it wasn’t terrific, but I considered it decent enough. After all, I only needed to get one agent’s attention, right? This is what I ended up with (names and addresses removed, just pretend it’s done in official business-letter style):

Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for my debut novel Origins, an urban fantasy with a focus on werewolves. I found your name on AgentQuery.com and learned through your website that you were seeking new clients. With your interest in sci-fi/fantasy authors, I believe my novel would be a good fit.

Origins is just over 90,000 words and is intended to serve as a jumping off point for a further series. It begins with 3 college students in Chicago who are abducted by a team of werewolves and transported to a secret compound in the jungles of Peru. There, they are turned into werewolves themselves. Jesse and Dylan are made to fight other werewolves in the arena for sport, while Kate is used as an experiment on how the transition affects her unborn baby.

Told from the perspective of multiple characters, each chapter focuses on what one character is experiencing at that point in the story. In addition to the three initial protagonists, additional characters are granted chapters as they become relevant. On the surface, Origins is about survival and escape, but it also explores the nature of entrapment, the role of family, and what it means to be a monster.

As already mentioned, this is my first completed novel. I have recently completed James Patterson’s Masterclass and was chosen as a semi-finalist in his 2017 co-author competition.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.


Jessica Goeken

So, what went wrong? I have some ideas, and some of these are parts where I disregarded recommendations because I didn’t think the letter made as much sense without them.

Opening Paragraph

I actually think this is pretty solid. It’s fairly generic, but it states my purpose, my connection to the agent, and why I think my novel would be a good fit for them. It’s important to give them the name and genre of your novel here.

Paragraph 2

It’s important to quickly list your word count, too, so I did that right (yay!). But then I said that I planned for this book to start a series. Which is true, but not a good idea to tell them. I’m not trying to sell them a series, I’m trying to sell them a single book. That’s information better kept to myself until things progress further.

I also don’t think I did a good job introducing my novel. It sounds kind of boring, but I couldn’t come up with anything better to say. How do you condense something so big into a couple of sentences that accurately convey what your book is about?

Paragraph 3

I talked about themes. I couldn’t think of anything content-wise to follow Paragraph 2, so I tried to generalize what I wanted them to understand about the story as a whole. That’s another recommendation I skipped. Don’t tell them what themes are in your book. If you’ve done your job right, they’ll be able to tell. A better thing to focus on is what conflict your protagonist is facing, what decisions they have to make, and what hurdles stand in their way.

Paragraph 4

Writing credentials. I don’t have any. Not any that count, at least. I’m sure they don’t care that I had poems published in the Fall Foliage magazine in the fifth grade. I don’t know if they care about the co-author competition, but it’s all I have, so I put it in there.


Nailed this one. Polite, to the point. This is not where you beg the agent to read your book, or insist that it’s the best thing they’ll read this year. Obviously you think it’s worth something if you’re sending it to them, so don’t lay on the praise. Let your writing speak for itself.

So, those are the mistakes I’m pretty sure I made. I’ll never truly know, because none of the agents told me what made them reject my novel, but I think I have it figured out. This part, at least. And these lessons will help me to make my next letter better than this one.

Stay tuned. I think next time I’ll share some of the responses I got to my query.

My Agent Quest

I’m not planning to make multiple postings a day, but for now I’m trying to bulk up my content a little to make you want to stay and read more. Is it working?

This post is about the ordeal I went through to determine which agents I wanted to send my completed manuscript to. It’s tough. If you do a google search for “literary gents” you’ll likely come back with too many results to manage, and not all of them will be legit.

Agent scams are everywhere. How to tell if an agent is a scam: they’ll try to charge you money. They’ll make you pay fees for evaluating your work. DON’T! Real agents won’t charge you a dime. They make their money on commissions when their clients get signed with publishers.

I’d read a recommendation saying that aspiring authors should check the “Acknowledgements” section of books similar to their’s and find names of agents that way. I decided that was a good place to start and began a list.  I spent a couple of hours poring over books and furiously writing down names. And it was a huge waste of time. Yeah, I got some names (not all authors name their agents or even have an “Acknowledgements” section at all), but no way to contact them without further research anyway.

Once I was online my search went quickly. I googled “how to find a literary agent” and discovered AgentQuery.com.  I even have it bookmarked now. For the most part, this site contains information for nearly every literary agent in the U.S. It shows you if they’re currently accepting unsolicited queries, what agencies they work for, what genres they prefer to represent, what their submission guidelines are, and new projects their clients have coming out. I narrowed my search to “fantasy”, since my novel was an urban fantasy about werewolves, and received 159 search results.

I paged through every single one of those 159 search results. Some were easily discarded, and some seemed absolutely perfect. I ended up with a list of less than 30 names, a good size for my initial foray. I wasted a lot of time here, too. I was trying to be organized and efficient and put them all into an excel spreadsheet, with contact information and submission guidelines, but I was so nervous that I continually linked to their pages to make sure my information was accurate. After all, if you don’t send agents EXACTLY what they ask for, there’s a good chance they’ll discard it without a second thought.

Next time, I’ll make a much simpler spreadsheet, knowing that most of my work will be done through individual websites anyway. One good aspect is that it allows me to track when I submitted my queries, who has responded, and how long it took them to respond.

One thing I didn’t expect: nearly all of the agents I submitted to preferred or only accepted queries through email or through a specific link on their website. It was easily adapted to, and saved me a lot of money on postage, I just wasn’t prepared for it.

In my next post I’ll share my query letter with you and show you the things I’m pretty sure I did wrong. I’m still not quite sure how to fix it, but that’s a problem for another day.