Well, for one, most publishers are no longer reviewing un-agented manuscripts. It also behooves you to work with someone who has intimate knowledge of the business when it comes to editing your manuscript or proposal, submitting your work, and negotiating your deal. I can’t tell you how often we hear from clients that they wouldn’t have thought to question or negotiate particular aspects of their contract.
I do a lot of different things! I scout new projects, read queries, correspond with editors and clients, review and track contracts and payments, edit manuscripts and proposals, and generally add my voice in where I think it may be of assistance, whether that is regarding a publicity campaign, submission list, or even a title choice.
You'll hear this a lot, but publishing is a very subjective business. I may look at a query and see something that completely wows me, where another agent may look at the same thing and immediately pass. It all depends on how your writing and story work with that person's individual taste.
That's why I can't emphasize enough that you do some serious research before sending a query out; you'll have a better chance of connecting with the right business partner that way.
Aside from what I mentioned above and the obvious gaffes (lack of personalization, keeping 30 agents on copy, etc.) it is without a doubt not telling the agent what the main conflict of your story will be.
Oftentimes, authors tell me a lot about the world they have built, but I have absolutely no idea who the main character is, what they want, what obstacle gets in the way of that want, or how they plan to overcome those obstacles. This means I don't really know what the story will be about!
I work with two fantastic mentors, senior agents Brianne Johnson and Rebecca Sherman.
Yes! You can take a look at it here.
Thank you for thinking of me—seriously! I feel incredibly honored when writers select me out of all their options to submit their work to.
Please send your personalized query letter along with your first ten pages (pasted into the body of the email) to me at alevick (at) writershouse.com. Bonus points if you can tell me a bit about the intention behind your work.
I think you need to take some time to evaluate your situation. Look at how people are reacting at each stage of your project: are agents requesting your manuscript based off of your query letter? Great! That means your query letter is working—it's getting your story in the door. If they aren't requesting at this stage, you may need to work on how you are pitching your work.
Now, are they responding positively after you've sent sample pages? If not, why? What might be turning them off at this stage?
I would suggest throughly analyzing the reactions you receive at each stage of the submission process. Keep track of the feedback you're receiving and look for patterns. That can give you a great idea of what is working and what you might want to adjust in the future.
Also, don't be afraid to set a project aside for a while if it isn't working right now—everyone has their drawer projects.
Internships. Check out the postings on Bookjobs.com and PublishersMarketplace.com, and of course, ask around!