STATUS: Today is about royalty statements, a submission, and a film deal in process.
What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHE DRIVES ME CRAZY by Fine Young Cannibals
Writers on submission always want to know the answer to this question: “Why aren’t agents just honest in their response to my sample pages?”
In other words, if we think the manuscript sucks, why don’t we just say so?
I’ll tell you why.
1. In my experience (and I can’t speak for all agents), any honest reply generates a response from the writer. Unfortunately, we simply can’t get in a dialogue with the thousands and thousands of individual writers who query us in any given day, week, or month. Better to send out the form letter.
2. Sometimes it really is subjective. I’ve passed on manuscripts that I literally hated. Thought the writing was terrible. Yet another agent has taken it on, sold it, and the book did well. Who was right and who was wrong? See? Subjective.
3. I know y’all will disagree but it’s not actually an agent’s job to tell you that your writing needs work. That’s why writer’s conferences can be important and why most writers need a good critique group. The key with critique groups is to find one with writers who you can trust to be honest but helpful with their feedback. I just did a critique workshop at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and it was amazing. I let everyone else in the room speak first to the writer being critiqued. More times than not, I simply said, “I agree with so-so” and didn’t have further comments to add. That’s how good the writers were in my group. I’d recommend them to anyone looking for real feedback.
4. It’s impossible to say something doesn’t work without explaining the why of it. And sometimes the why is so detailed (from grammar issues, to misplaced modifiers, to dialogue not working, to plot issues, to no character development) that my explaining of why would just take too much time. Simply easier to say NO via a form letter or via inclusion of one of the more generic response line. Sad but true. And sometimes, it’s really hard to figure out the “why” if the writing really isn’t ready
5. Where a writer is now is not where he/she might be a year from now. I’ve been to a lot of conferences over the years and have heard many a keynote speech from hugely bestselling authors. In their keynotes, they often will relay a story where an editor or an agent told them it was hopeless—to never write again. But here they are, X many years later on the bestseller list. Uh-huh. Where you are now is not where you may be in the future. Why should I discourage you if writing is your passion? If you’re planning to stick with it, then you’ll work on craft until you get it or until you discover that the cost of getting it isn’t worth it to you.
Granted, for some folks, it will be hopeless. They’ll never learn the craft but I certainly can’t know that from one submission read if the writer is one who can learn or one who never will.