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Kristin Nelson's top 10 reasons for rejecting SF/F books
Nevena Georgieva
Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2013 11:14 AM
Joined: 2/9/2012
Posts: 438

For those of you about to send your query letter into the world, here are agent Kristin Nelson's top 10 reasons for rejecting SF/F projects. Let this be your query checklist. Before you finalize your letter, make sure you're not guilty of one of the following: 

Reason 10: Generic descriptors of the story

Reason 9: Overkill on World Building details and not enough about the story itself.

Reason 8: Explaining that unlike already published SF&F novels, your work has character development

Reason 7: Popular trends (such as Vampires, Werewolves, or Zombies) with no unique take clearly spelled out in pitch

Reason 6: No mention of or insight into the characters who will be driving the story

Reason 5: The manuscript is 250,000 words (or more!) and this is unpublished, debut author

Reason 4: The work is called SF&F but it sounds more like a mystery or thriller or something else.

Reason 3: Convoluted Plot that I can’t follow in the pitch paragraph

Reason 2: SF&F stereotypical archetypes as the “hook”
–the mysterious object
–the unexpected birthright
–the quest
–the villain that has risen again
–exiled to another planet
–mayhem on spaceship to new planet
–Androids with heart of gold
–The main character as the key to saving the world or species
–the just discovered talisman

Reason 1: No hook—or mention of a plot catalyst that is new or original in this genre

Here's the link to the original post on her blog: http://nelsonagency.com/after-200-webinar-pitchestake-2/

Good luck!
Nevena Georgieva
Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2013 11:19 AM
Joined: 2/9/2012
Posts: 438

Herb Mallette
Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2013 1:19 PM
Joined: 6/28/2011
Posts: 188

Nice pointers. Thanks, Nevena!

Nevena Georgieva
Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2013 2:54 PM
Joined: 2/9/2012
Posts: 438

No problem, Herb! Happy to help.
GD Deckard
Posted: Sunday, April 21, 2013 6:51 AM
WoW! This I will definitely be reading and re-reading. Thanks,Nevena!
Mimi Speike
Posted: Sunday, April 21, 2013 11:30 AM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1014

This sort of industry view is so fascinating! And helpful, even if you don't write Sci-Fi. This post in particular crystalizes my own thoughts on the subject. 

More of this, please! Keep it coming! I believe that we live in our bubble of choice, we insulate ourselves from reality, we tell ourselves, my thing is astonishingly innovative, it will not fail to impress.

It's good when someone in the know pops our bubbles and frees us from our head-in-the-sand delusions.  

Nevena Georgieva
Posted: Sunday, April 21, 2013 7:44 PM
Joined: 2/9/2012
Posts: 438

Hehe, I'm glad you guys find this helpful. Kristin Nelson's blog Pub Rants is full of such gems: http://nelsonagency.com/pub-rants/

Also, be sure to check out agent Jennie Goloboy's guest post, in which she dissects the query letter that led to her partnership with our own Jamie Wyman! http://www.bookcountry.com/Industry/Article.aspx?articleId=140178

Happy writing,
Nevena Georgieva
Posted: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 5:34 PM
Joined: 2/9/2012
Posts: 438

Mimi, Herb & GD--


I have more SF/F query info to share! Check out the Q&A I did with Kristin's partner at the Nelson Agency, Sara Megibow. Here's an excerpt from the Q&A where she talks about SF/F specifically. Enjoy!


I wish it were as easy as saying, “anything with a dragon gets a request for sample pages and anything with a vampire gets an automatic rejection.” Sadly it’s not that cut and dry. What I can say is that anything displaying superior writing and a unique concept will earn a request for sample pages and everything else gets a rejection. But, let’s see if I can cobble together some more concrete bullet points, yes?


Science Fiction and Fantasy submissions that stand out (this info applies to query letters, sample pages and full manuscripts):

  • A story that demonstrates unique, interesting, thoroughly-crafted and expertly-integrated world building (whether that world has magic or aliens or anything in between)
  • A book with complex, authentic, engaging characters (like Skyler from THE DARWIN ELEVATOR, an epic science fiction and the very first book by Jason Hough. THE DARWIN ELEVATOR rocketed straight to the New York Times bestseller list the week it released and I think that is because Skyler is such a unique and authentic hero)
  • A submission with tons of personality—we might call this “superior narrative voice” and it would be something like GEEKOMANCY by Michael Underwood
  • I do happen to love dragons—I wasn’t entirely kidding on that one. ;)
  • A book that is well-edited and really, really, really ready to be seen by an agent. This might seem obvious but unfortunately I see too many submissions that are just not ready yet. These are books that need more editing, more development, more polish. My slush pile isn’t filled with crap as many people think—rather it’s filled with good and even very good books. Unfortunately, with all the competition in publishing I can’t sell a “very good” book—I need an exceptional book. And no, I don’t tend to do much editing once I’ve offered representation for a new client —I’m looking for books to sell, not books to work on. Many agents are also wonderful editors, I’m just not one of them. That’s ok—I’m very good at what I do, I’m just not the right agent for a new author who wants an editor/agent in one.
  • A plot that avoids cliche—we’ve seen elves and dwarves go on epic adventures, we’ve seen young wizards learn they have a mysterious power, we’ve seen shape-shifters and vampires and mystics who help the police solve cases. I wouldn’t reject a submission based solely on these elements, but I am extra inclined to ask for a full manuscript for a story displaying a unique set-up.

--edited by Nevena Georgieva on 12/4/2013, 5:34 PM--

Mimi Speike
Posted: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 8:35 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1014

Very, very interesting. I don't plan on contacting agents, My thing is so difficult. I will self publish and hope a few readers discover it. All of these points also pertain to work that is for sale in the marketplace, the unique voice and the unique concept being the essential components.


So much to think about.




On second thought, I may be wrong about that. There are many unexceptional works doing fine. I guess it's a balance, and it probably depends on the genre. Much out there has neither unique voice nor concept. It's mildly entertaining. I look for more. There's too much terrific stuff around to waste my time on pretty good, even for the so-called 'beach read'..


--edited by Mimi Speike on 12/6/2013, 9:20 AM--


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