Tuesday, September 10, 2013

When Premise and Writing Collide, Why We Need Both

Responding to new submissions can often be a pretty challenging task for an agent. It is not necessarily because of the sheer numbers. Instead, it is often a matter of finding that happy balance between a great concept for a book and the quality of the writing. I do believe it is often easy to miss one of the two of these when writers look at their own work.

When we are making decisions about a book (and yes, editors do the same thing here) we have to look at both the actual idea of the story and the execution of that concept. Since we often start with a simply query letter, the premise is the first thing we are looking at. In this case, this is where there are many authors out there who scream on their blogs that editors and agents are "only looking for the next million dollar book." They seem to believe that if the book is not 100% unique, we won't sign it.

First of all, we would all love to find those books. In reality, many agents never find that single book and when one agent does find it, we all drool at the "score of a lifetime." Secondly, we are looking for something that stands out amid all of the other books out there. We don't want something that becomes a "copy" of the other stories out there. In some genres, especially romance, this can be a difficult challenge. Again, this is probably a reason why many on the outside believe that romance writing is following some standard template. In reality, we are looking for something with a unique spin to it. Something that makes us say, "Hey, that's kind of cool!" I always describe this as the "Wow Factor!"

Now, here comes the challenge. We often find those unique gems in the query letters, but then, we end up not signing the author. Why is it? This is where the quality of the writing comes into play. Regardless of how good the idea actually is, if the writing doesn't make that premise stand out and shine, then it simply isn't going to work. As an agent, I personally believe this is the toughest thing to deal with. We get really excited about some of the queries that cross our desks. The idea sounds incredible! But then, for some reason, the author just couldn't make it work.

When we talk about that quality of the writing, this is where we look at the approaches the author took. The dialogue, the narration, the voice, the pacing and so forth. Sometimes we see authors who know what techniques work in stories, but end up using the wrong techniques to showcase the writing. This might be things such as telling a story in 1st person when it would be better suited in 3rd person. Stories that seem to be disorganized because the author wanted to get "the villain's perspective in the story."

I should also note that we do see the reverse of this as well. Writers who really have a command of the art of storytelling and writing, and yet, when it comes to finding that unique plot idea, it just never surfaces. In these cases, there is a great potential hidden in the author. It is just a matter of finding a way to get that idea out of the author.

Understand that we are really thinking about stories. It may seem as if we aren't giving the queries time enough to work, but please know we are really thinking about them. For many, it may simply be missing one of those two elements.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sure it's frustrating when you hear of a fantastic premise and the writing doesn't measure up (and vice versa).