Friday, October 24, 2014

What Was That Agent Thinking? Understand how we decided on projects

We have all thought it before. We send a project out for consideration with an editor or agent and get a letter back with a rejection. OK That is part of the business, We get that. But then we hear that instead of your amazing novel you sent out, that darn editor or agent signed someone else and that book was terrible! Does that mean your book was beyond terrible? Was that editor or agent smoking something? Maybe they just sent the rejection letter to the wrong person and couldn't go back on the
contract once it was signed?

Nope! I am sorry to say this, but there were other reasons the editor or agent passed on your project.

So what are we really thinking when we read your submission? What criteria are we looking at to make that decision?

Here at Greyhaus I read projects in layers. In other words, I start with some pretty broad and basic ideas about the submission and then start moving deeper and deeper into the project and then eventually to understanding the author. I just keep reading and keep considering that decision until I end up with a "No" that isn't going to work or a "yes"?

I start first looking at the basics of the story. The title, genre, word count. In simple terms if the word count is unreasonable for any publisher, or if the genre is something I don't represent, then we are done. Surprisingly this happens far too often and honestly I haven't understood why. Submission guidelines for Greyhaus are pretty clear. The form you can opt to use is even clearer. And still I get screen plays, collections of poetry and some of the most bizarre non-fiction how-to books you have ever seen.

So, let's say you are in the ballpark with the genre and the word count. Now it is on to the premise of the story. Obviously, this is not going to give me a sense of your writing. What this does do is give me a sense of whether or not this is a premise that will work in today's market or with the editors I personally work with. In many ways, I am looking at this like you might look at the back-cover blurb for a book. Is this something you are interest in buying at the bookstore or not?

In this process, I am also looking to see if this is a story I would personally like. Yes, this is 100% subjective here, but there is a reason. We have to love the story enough to want to read it over and over again. We have to have that connection to the writing and the characters. This should not come as a shock to you, but we all don't like the same things. Yes, we fully understand we might be passing on a book that will do amazingly well. But for us, that story just didn't work with us.

The next layer I start to look at will be the writing. This is where I take the time to "start" to read the project. Knowing the basics about the book, I begin reading for the craft of the author and whether or not they can deliver what they promised. At this point, the writing has to be good. We need to see if the writing and the voice are natural or forced. We have to see if the writing gets us into that story fast. Remember that your readers will not give you the chance and keep reading until chapter 12 or 13. They give you through the first three chapters (if you are lucky). Editors and agents are doing the same thing. We know what we want and your story will or will not have it.

It is here where I am also looking at the grammar. You have to demonstrate you have a command on the basic elements of writing. We will give you some wiggle room with a typo or maybe a small grammatical issue, but when the problems become too much, you are done!

If you still have me hooked on the partial, I then dive into the synopsis. It is at this point I am going to look to see if the story really does finish up the way we think it will, or if you have suddenly taken to rambling and confusion. I will also say, there are times when I start with the synopsis, but I do this if the premise of the story is just confusing. I might look at the premise from the initial submission, think it is going to go one way but I'm not certain. The synopsis simply becomes a larger premise to work with.

At this point, I have to say very few authors have made it to this point. Most have gotten that rejection already for something that simply means this particular partnership isn't going to work. But assuming I have liked what I have seen, it is time to read the whole book.

When I read a full project, I am still looking at all of the elements we have talked about earlier, but now it is more of an idea of whether or not the reader can keep me turning the pages. I am considering the speed in which the words flow off the page, and how well the reader forces me to want to keep turning pages. I am also considering editorial notes along the way. I have to decide how much work it might take to get the project ready to be sent out to an editor.

The final thing we consider is who you are as a writer. Even if you have a great story, how much work are you going to need to get you ready to go to an editor? Do you have a clear sense of the business and where your writing fits. Often this is done through an additional email I might send, or simply a phone conversation.

I want you to leave today with a good sense that we are not just making random decisions about your stories. We do want to find great authors but we are not just leaving it up to the roll of the dice or our agent pet we have working with us. I promise you, Apollo is not making that decision, although yes, there are days I do consult with him about stories.

Have a great weekend.

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