Thursday, November 11, 2010

Your Writing May Be Good But...

Agents receive a ton of submissions daily. Obviously some more than others. I think, however, it is important that writers understand why we want to look at more of some projects and pass on others.

Frequently, writers will stare at that rejection dumbfounded. "How could Scott have passed on the project when he hasn't seen the writing?" Or, "He only read part of the story and decided to reject it. I don't get it?"

There are several things to consider here. First of all, and this is something I have brought up before on the blog, readers are not going wait around for the story to get good. The story has to hook us early on. This can be with great description, great dialogue, fantastic action... it really doesn't matter. Something has to do it. Now, obviously if the writing in those early pages isn't strong, or we see some trends and patterns in the writing, we will pass on it.

I will say there are some times when we keep reading because there is something in it that still keeps us thinking there might be something there but we can't put our finger on it. This, unfortuntely, is not the norm.

But what about those situations when a writer only sends a query with no manuscript. Maybe they just send a synopsis. How can an agent pass on that project.

In this case there are several reasons for this - the premise isn't something we represent or can market, or it is something that just doesn't intrigue us. In other words, we don't care how good the writing is, the premise is the thing working against you.

Obviously, if you send me a project that I don't represent, then a rejection is easy. At Greyhaus, I don't represent many genres. The rejection is an easy one. Sometimes though, a writer sends us a story that does fit that genre, but the idea behind the story is something that editors might not be looking for, or is simply not marketable. Remember this is a business and we are dealing with market analysis. In other words, a story can't just be well written, we have to be able to sell it.

The other issue with a story not working with us deals with a gut instinct or just a preference. This business is very subjective and what works for one person may not work with someone else. As an agent, we have to really love the idea behind a story to want to sell it and push for it. When I see a story premise that just doesn't sound exciting, then I won't be able to fairly represent it.

I know that many of you writers might be saying, "Well, I'm just not good at writing a query. Maybe I just didn't explain it right."

I have two things to say to this. First of all, you are in a profession that requires "effective communication skills." It is your responsibility and obligation to convey an accurate message to the reader. Secondly, if you can't tell me what your story is aboout, the basic premise and idea, then you may have an equally large problem with your manuscript.

Rejections are tough - both to write and to read or hear. But it is the nature of this business.

Hopefully this perspective will help some.



  1. Thank you for writing this blog - rejections still suck. I take them far too personally, and I know I should not.
    It was good to know giving rejection is just as difficult as receiving it!

  2. I shopped my last MS around with varying degrees of success. Nearly everyone who saw five pages along with the query asked for a partial or a full - then ultimately rejected it. Nearly everyone who only wanted a query rejected it right off the bat. I finally re-worked it into a category and got a very nice rejection from Harlequin American saying they liked the writing but just couldn't sell the premise. After looking at my MS again, I could tell they were right.

    I kinda wish one of the previous rejections had mentioned that - it would have saved both me and the agents a lot of time!

  3. "He only read part of the story and decided to reject it. I don't get it?"

    Ok writers, look at this way, would you buy a book if the first paragraph and blurb didn't interest you? It's hard when we've spent so much time on a novel.
    Consider this, would you want an agent who thinks your novel is okay or do you want an agent who, hands down, loves your work? I'll take the latter.

    So, the next time we hear from an agent, "I just didn't get excited enough.", we should be thankful for their honesty and move on.

    Another interesting blog.....

  4. I'm actually not commenting on yesterdays post. It was great, don't get me wrong.
    BUT I have my coffee and am here to read this mornings post...
    And there's nothing here :)
    Hope you're feeling well and will check back in a little bit.
    Thanks for being part of my morning routine - and helping me write my best! -