Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why So Many Rejections?

In the last couple of days, I have really worked through a marathon amount of submissions. Some were e-queries and some were the partials from prior queries. As much as I would like to say otherwise, the vast majority of those projects were rejections for further material. Now, the questions many writers have when they hear this is simply, "why did you request it in the first place?" or, "So if you liked the story, why can't we work to make it better?"

There are several factors here that come to play.

THE INITIAL PREMISE OF THE STORY WAS GREAT - In this case, the writers have drafted a fantastic blurb for their book. In this case, it is simply like reading the back cover of a book and saying "Wow, this sounds fantastic." But like books, how many times has the premise been great but when you start reading, you wonder how on Earth the book was even published. The same happens here.

In these cases, the writing was the weak element. One comment I frequently tell writers is that with today's market, the writing has to be both strong and have a great premise. You can't get away with just one of the two factors (until you become famous that is).

THE BOOK FELL APART - This situation is where the beginning of the story is really off to a great start, and then something happens. We have talked about this with writers that frequently submit to contests. Those first three are amazing due to the amount of time the writer spends on it, as well as the number of people who have critiqued it. Something happens though and the steam and energy of the story is lost in chapter 4 and beyond.

THE STORY ISN'T WHAT WAS PITCHED - In this case, the story blurb in the query was just a glimpse of the total book. When the author sends me the additional information for the story, either in the material they add to the cover letter with the partial, or with the full synopsis they send, I see what was left out. For example, I recently had a writer send me a great manuscript from a foreign country. I loved it. I was excited. But then I found it was already under contract with another publisher (in this case it was not a self-published author). This was a small oversight and certainly not something I would hold against the writer, but you get the idea.

So in answer to the questions we started with... Why do I ask for more material? The answer is simple. There was something in the initial writing that sounded like a story that would work. It is that gut instinct. In some cases, it might simply be a type of project I am currently looking for, either because I see a gap out there in the writing, or because an editor is requesting the material. Now, if the writing isn't up to snuff, then the rejection happens.

As for the second question of why we don't work with mediocre writing, that one is a bit tougher. Sure, there are writers that we will sign because we see something in the writing and we know we can fix it. But for the most part, agents cannot take the risk on working with an author that is just coming to us with an extreme outside chance. I have always like Miriam Kriss's comment that "a maybe means no." It may sound harsh, but with the number of projects we see, we simply can't take on all the maybes.

I think one additional thing to remember is this. Consider the demographics. Publishers have shifted more of the burden for "screening the slush pile" to the agents. There are far less agents out there than publishers. Combine in the fact that each agent will work with only a select number and you get the idea. Over 9000 writers in RWA alone and everyone is fighting for the same writing slots.

Yes, this might seem discouraging, but it is a reality. If you get a request, relish the moment. It doesn't mean you are closer to being published, but think of it as one small step. Sure you may get a rejection, but learn from it and move on to your next project.

Off to wrap up some more projects.


1 comment:

  1. It is always good to read what the reasoning is behind agent decisions.

    Posts like this help me build my writer file, the one that has the title, Learn From This. :)