Monday, February 3, 2014

It Still Comes Down To The Story

This was an interesting weekend. I read a couple of articles and heard a couple of writers all saying a lot of the same things when it comes to submissions and pitching. In one of the articles, the author wrote that if an author is receiving requests from those first submissions, then obviously the query is working. I also heard several authors getting really excited about getting a request after pitching to editors and agents. I don't want to get all negative here, but we have to really stop and think before we start proclaiming "we're getting closer to being published!"

Now, before I go on, I don't want to downplay the excitement here for an author. Getting requests is certainly a great thing and when moments like this happen, we have to be excited. But once we get that out of our system, it is time to bring in a little bit of reality.

Let me start with how I approach submissions here at Greyhaus Literary Agency. When I look at an initial submission, I am essentially working with a pitch, just like I would hear at a conference. This is all I have. I am simply looking at the premise of the story. Is this something that A) the market wants; B) is something I could sell; and C) is this something I could get attached to. Based on this, I may or may not request more material. Sometimes I request more because there just isn't enough information in the query to really make a decision.

But that request simply means I need to see if the story and the writing is really going to be there.

We do the same thing with pitching at conferences. Again, we are just listening to the story idea and that is it. In cases like this, since you don't have the chance to submit a synopsis, or really go into detail with your story due to the limited time of the pitch, we often request more from the author.

But again, that request simply means I need to see if the story and the writing is really going to be there.

Let's take this in a slightly different angle. There are many times when the person listening to your pitch, or reading your query letter is looking at the story for not just their own line or representation, but maybe for other people at the agency or publisher. In cases like this, that editor or agent might not really know EXACTLY what the other editor or agent is looking for in a story. For example, an editor might request more material from an author, not for their own individual line, but potentially for another editor at another line. In cases like this, the editor (or agent) is thinking, "It isn't working for me but might work for X."

But in cases like this that request is not necessarily a step closer. It is just a chance to look at that writing and then really make the decision.

What it all comes down to is if the writing really is good or not. Do the characters leap off the page? Does the plot suck the reader in? Does the conflict keep the story moving?

Is the writing good?

1 comment:

  1. I've seen fellow writers spend more time polishing their queries than the actual novel. Not to say the query shouldn't be anything less than perfect, but the novel needs that much focus as well. Feels a little like hiring a pro to paint a house whose walls are about to collapse.