I’m in the happy position of having sold all my recently submitted projects. Love when that happens. It also means I’ve got nothing in the pipeline to send out.
I’m doing a lot of reading in the next couple of weeks to see if anything wonderful comes my way. I’ve also recently hired an outside reader that I trust to help with the requested pages inbox. Angie was at the Publishing Institute with me back in 2002. We have similar tastes and the same good eye. She’s not interested in being an agent but she loves reading the sample pages and she’s never wrong. She always forwards exactly what I want to read and makes the right judgment on passes. She’s worth her weight in gold!
We devoted all of last Monday to reading the inbox. I imagine we went through at least 50 or 60 submissions and didn’t request a single full manuscript. Sometimes it happens that way. Other times, I see two or maybe even three things I want to read more of.
But we both felt the same way about some of the stuff we did see last week, and I thought I would share.
I wrote an article that touched on some of these points for Backspace: The Writer’s Place. Feel free to read the full article if this catches your interest.
What gets a request for a full manuscript?
1. Great writing, great voice, with a great original story line.
2. As I’m reading the partial, I’m excited and can already think of four or five editors who would love what I’m reading.
(Hint: How can you as a writer get the same feel for the market? Read the deals posted on Deal Lunch at Publishers Marketplace. You do that for several months and I promise you, you’ll have a good sense of the general market and what is selling.)
What’s going to get a pass?
1. Fresh storyline but the writing isn’t strong enough.
This is so heartbreaking. Often I’ll see partials where I’ll think, “this is a terrific concept,” but then the writing just isn’t strong enough to carry the story. Time is too scarce to work with an author to see if he or she can get it there. There are too many other possibilities out in the world.
2. Sharp writing with a tired storyline.
This is heartbreaking too. I can tell the author is talented but the story has been done (and done, and done again…) I just passed on representing an author for a YA work because it had a reality TV storyline. I loved the characters, her voice, and thought the story was very fun. I just think that plot device has been done one too many times, so even though she has great talent, I passed.
3. Average writing with an average storyline.
This is true of a lot of Chick Lit sample pages I’ve read recently. The writing isn’t bad—it’s just not blow-me-away great. The storyline won’t excite editors who will only buy in this field if the novel is unlike anything that has hit shelves before now.
4. A beautifully written but boring work.
I hate when this happens. The author is clearly talented but has a story that I just wouldn’t buy if I were in the bookstore. Clearly, I’m not the right agent for this novel. Even if you are writing literary fiction, I do think there needs to be some kind of commercial hook to propel the story. Even GILEAD (a novel I blogged about so you know I love), had the hook of an elderly father writing a letter to his seven year old son so that his son wouldn’t remember him solely as that doddering old man. That’s a great hook—and her writing was so gorgeous…).
5. Poorly written material regardless of story.
Here’s another secret I shouldn’t be revealing. Sometimes these partials are highly entertaining. Angie and I were in tears over a science fiction partial (that was not requested by the way) that was so “good” we read aloud passages to each other. I’m a nice person but this partial was almost like a parody of writing. Even nice people get snarky when pushed!
6. Stories that clearly don’t fit in the market.
I’ll get a cover letter that will say something like this: “my story is a blend of science fiction and romantic comedy with elements of suspense. It can be called Chick Lit.” Huh? It is only the extraordinary writer who can outrageously defy genre boundaries and become a phenomenal success. It just doesn’t happen often. You need to know where your novel fits in the market.
7. Partials with demanding or unprofessional cover letters.
I pass just on principle. If an author seems difficult in tone, and trust me, this is apparent in cover letters we have received, I’ll pass because I just don’t want to deal with that personality. Life is too short to deal with negative and demanding people. Assertive and pro-active authors, now that is a different story.
And before I sign off, Angie has a request. Please, no using the word “resplendent” in your opening chapters. It’s an automatic NO based on principle alone and since she’s reading in front of me, you might want to take that to heart.