Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

#1 Reason I Pass Even If The Writing Is Good

Status:

Finally got to post Laurence MacNaughton’s first publishing deal. So so excited for him.

Listening To:

BECAUSE OF YOU by Kelly Clarkson

I’m not sure this has ever been said aloud….

For submissions, I’m pretty certain that writers assume that if the writing is good, an agent is going to be interested in offering representation to the author.

No doubt–good writing is essential but as an agent, I’ve passed on any number of submissions that exhibited some stellar writing. Why? Doesn’t talent trump all? Nope.

The #1 reason I pass on manuscripts with good writing is because of a lack of pacing.

Just recently, I read a submission where I thought the writer was extremely talented. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think that the beginning seemed ponderously slow. I gave up before page 100 despite some lovely lyrical prose on the page. I glanced at the query letter again and there it was, the word count for the story. It was well over 100,000 words for a project that needed to come in more around 80,000 words.

Yep, that confirmed it for me. The plot pacing was way off. Sadly, I just didn’t have enough time in my schedule to try and take on such a big edit to fix it.

So remember, writing talent + pacing = masterful manuscript.

Photo Credit: Marc Falardeau


11 Responses

  1. Holly said:

    So are you saying that if a manuscript is 100,000 words, it’s too long and you think the pacing will be off? Should novel manuscripts only be 80,000 words long? I understand that you mean that an author should keep an eye on pacing because it’s a critical facet of a book, but some stories need to be longer to be told properly, don’t they?

    1. Robin L said:

      No, she doesn’t think a 100,000-word manuscript is too long because she has read and represented those kinds manuscripts. It’s when pacing is off that she will not take on the 100,000+ manuscript. That is fair because one of the skills authors should have at the query process is pacing.

    2. Ash said:

      I interpret the response as saying the particular conflict in that particular story could have been developed and resolved in 80K words. 100K doesn’t necessarily mean your pacing is off. It all depends on the individual story.

    3. Elissa said:

      I agree with Robin L and Ash. The length is important only in how it relates to the pacing. I doubt Kristin would have even checked the word count if the pacing had kept her enthralled with the story.

      Well, she might have checked it if she thought she wanted to offer representation. But at that point, the count would probably have not resulted in a pass. In this case, the pacing plus the length meant too much work.

      Another agent, especially one with fewer clients than Kristin, might think completely differently. That’s why all writers should heed the advice to query widely and often.

  2. Marc Goldberg said:

    What the author has said is that this project needed to come in around 80,000 words, but was submitted at 100,000. In my limited experience, which is in non-fiction, the publisher gives the author a guideline on desired word count based on acceptance of a book proposal. That’s a bit easier than fiction where the author must have a sense of timing before considering the work finished. Again, my experience is limited, but I believe 80,000 words in fairly typical for a major work.

  3. Jearl Rugh said:

    This does pose a question. I’m nearly through the final rewrite of a sci-fi YA novel. I’m currently at about 95,000.words. As far as pacing, the entire novel, written in first person present tense, covers a period of 12 hours. Thus, the pacing is a sprint not a jog. Is 95,000 words too much for such a project?

    1. Ellen Seltz said:

      I’m not sure the timeframe of the story necessarily reflects the pacing. One could conceivably write 100k words about a single hour in which very little happens, and it would be excruciating. Plot pacing is about how soon the reader cares about the protagonist, when their story goal appears, and how the conflict escalates. If the reader starts wondering, “how long is this thing,” then it’s too slow.

      1. Jearl Rugh said:

        Thanks for your thoughts and I agree. I read a Stephen King novel a few years back where I was on page 75 before I ever figured out for certain who the story was about (even though her name was in the title) and began to get a glimpse of what the conflict was.

    2. PublishedAuthor57698453 said:

      That length seems very normal (not that there is an exact normal for word count. Like ever) for YA Sci-fi/paranormal

  4. Greg Hansen said:

    My problem with writing, is that I tend to focus too much on crafting that “perfect” sentence, as opposed to developing the narrative. Pacing to me means, what do you add or subtract from your story, in order to keep your audience engaged till the end. Or put another way, how do you keep your readers satisfied until the end?

  5. Katherine Locke said:

    The best tip I learned for pacing I learned from South Park writers in a clip posted online. The beats of your story should be connected by the invisible words “BUT” or “THEREFORE”, not “AND THEN.” “AND THEN” means your pacing is wrong, your tension falls off, and your story’s boring. BUT or THEREFORE keep the story hurtling forward, even if it’s a quiet story. Just a tip for all the comments here!

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