Tuesday, March 5, 2013

When Maybe Becomes No

I sat on a panel with fellow agent Miriam Kriss a couple of years ago and she made a comment that has really stuck with me. She noted that when she reads a submission, the majority of the time, when she thinks "maybe" the answer she sends to the author will be a no. How true this is. Now, don't get me wrong here. When we do have a project that we do find ourselves questioning, we don't immediately throw the idea away. We spend time thinking about it.

I think the thing writers need to understand is that when agents find themselves sitting on that "maybe" fence, we start contemplating how much work it will take to get it ready to really market to editors. Will we end up revising the entire project? Is it the storyline that is bugging us or is it the writing? In essence, we are looking at a cost-benefit analysis with a submission like this.

In many cases, the "maybe submissions" are really a result of a poorly crafted query/synopsis. If that material is lacking depth, or enough information to make a decision, we sometimes find ourselves putting something into the story that might not be there. We assume the story or the characters are going to do one thing when the author really has the idea of it going somewhere else.

For authors, to help get around this "maybe" crisis is a pretty easy solution. As you look at the query letter or the synopsis, as you look at your proposal, put yourself in the shoes of the agent or editor. Are you giving us enough information to get a true feel of the characters, plot and voice of the story? Are you potentially leaving out information that might lead us to asking questions just to fill in the gaps?

Also, it is important to remember that like everything else with this business, everything is subjective. What works for one editor or agent might not work for someone else, and certainly visa versa. That "maybe" for one agent/editor may very well be a "yes" for someone else.

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