I had a writer recently ask me why I would reject something after I sounded so enthusiastic about either the proposal or the partial they had sent.
That’s a fair question and actually fairly easy to answer, although there are several angles we can take with it. I want to answer this one from the proposal standpoint and then the partial standpoint.
THE PROPOSAL So a writer has contacted me, generally electronically with the information I ask for in a submission. If it is the form, it is a simple fill in the blank worksheet asking for the basics (title, genre, word count, and brief premise of the story). If it is an email query, it will be the same information except without the form (I am hoping they include all of the information). In this case, I really do look at the premise. Does the story have enough of a high concept to really say, “Hey, that sounds really intriguing!” Now, if it is something that I know I will simply have to read more from I just say send more, but today, we are dealing with that “Wow!” submission. The premise sounds fantastic. It might even be the type of story I am actively looking for. That is where the excitement comes from. So I ask for a partial or when I am really excited, I ask for the full.
THE PARTIAL In this case, the writer has sent me a snail mail query. With these, the writer is allowed to send the first three pages, the synopsis and the cover letter. Sure, you get to send more since you’re paying for it in postage. Now understand that I am still looking for the same thing. I am looking for the story that has that great twist to it. I am looking for something that, based on what you have sent, has some potential. So I request more.
This partial request might even be from the original proposal via e-query. In other words, you sent me an e-query and I ask for the first three chapters. If something still sounds interesting, I will ask for a full.
O.K. so here comes the no.
Your new material arrives and I take a look at it. What happened between I want more and I now say no? In this case, the list becomes pretty basic:
- The synopsis tells me the full story. This one comes from the proposal only writers. The pitch sounded great, but when I read the proposal and the premise at the end of the book things just fall apart. It is generally here that I see “the baggage” of the characters that you all know I detest so much. It is always at the end of the synopsis that writers hide all of those “soap opera” elements that ruin the great beginning. You know what I mean…”It was then she found out about his obsession with alien vampire bunnies and his revelation about how he was abused by Elvis, when he was in a rock band of vampire were rats…”
- Your pitch was great but not the writing. Again, this one comes from the proposal only writers. You might have this amazing story premise that comes across as being amazing, but when I read the actual writing, it just doesn’t live up to the hype of the original material. This is when writers get the comments of “no depth”, “showing not telling”, “didn’t hook me”. Remember that writing has to be both great and have a great premise in today’s market.
- Your pitch implied something different. This one is really frustrating. I read the initial idea and think the story is one thing and then I read the material and find out it is something different. In these situations, it always seems to stem around a confusion over the genre or misleading information about the word count. Sometimes it is the writer hiding certain details from me in the query. For example, the writer left out the fact that the book was previously published, or they “forgot” to tell me they are with another agent and still under contract with the other person.
- The bottom fell out in the story. In this case, the problem occurs after I have looked at a partial, then asked for a full. The no stems from the writing falling apart, generally after chapter 5. As most writers know, we re-work the beginning so much that it becomes amazing but forget about the rest of the story. Sometimes the end falls apart because the writer “just wants to finish it” and rushes the material or the storyline. For chick-lit, I always found the writing crashed after they ran out of D&G or Gucci jokes.
Writers need to know we are not trying to drag out the whole process. We are really looking for the best of the best. Sometimes it just takes time.
Scott C. Eagan