Pub Rants

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

#2 Reason I Pass Even If The Writing Is Good

Status:

Mad sprint to finish up everything before we close on Friday, Dec. 11. Even though I’ll still be working the following week. It’s good to have a goal!

Listening To:

WINTER WONDERLAND by Kenny G

Writers tend to assume that good writing trumps all when it comes to getting an offer of representation. Not true. Here is the #2 reason I will pass on a full manuscript even if the writing itself is stellar (for any of you who don’t read my blog, Pub Rants, see the #1 reason here):

Lack of story conflict for the protagonist.

To put this another way, the main character doesn’t have enough at stake to drive the story.

I recently read a full manuscript in which the writing and world building utterly charmed me. I loved spending time in the space the writer had created. But I arrived at the end of the novel and realized that being charmed was all there was to it.

Even if the writing and the world are charming, no stakes means no conflict. Why is that a problem? Because no conflict means no story. Conflict—or what’s at stake for the main character—is the engine writers use to tell a good story.

In this particular case, I did write up a lovely but short revision letter outlining my concern. I shared that with the author, along with an invitation to revise and resubmit. I’ll be delighted to give that one another look.

Still, the novel would have been stronger had the writer nailed this necessary element the first time around. It’s harder for an agent to read with “fresh eyes” the second time.

So remember, writing talent + story conflict = masterful manuscript.

Photo Credit: Ken & Nyetta


5 Responses

  1. Eric Stallsworth said:

    This is interesting and good to know. On the one hand, I’d guess this should be obvious but shouldn’t good beta readers and/or critique groups help the writer avoid this problem? Kudos though, for providing the person with guidance as to how they can improve and resubmit. That’s really cool.

    1. Karen said:

      Beta readers might help–people who read the whole book after it’s been writen but before it goes out on submission–but even a good critique group won’t necessarily help with book-level story. They often don’t read enough of it to know. It just depends on how the group operates. One of mine read only ten pages at a time, once a week. It was great for scene analysis and building more elegant sentences but would not have helped with a larger project.

  2. Sylvia McIvers said:

    Now I am worried that my POV character has no conflict… well, aside from taking over the job of someone who was poisoned on the job, and freeing her friend who was taken prisoner, and pater-family thinks she isn’t old enough to marry her boyfriend, and the King is rounding up beautiful woman so she’d best marry right now … maybe conflict happened while I wasn’t looking 🙂

  3. Harold Peysen said:

    What if you have a amazing story, but you’re not that good of a writer? Can you still be successful?

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