Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What Is It That Catches My Attention In That Initial Query

As I was reading submissions this weekend, I started to really stop and contemplate what it was about the projects that made me say, "Yes, I want to see more of this." and certainly those that I said, "I want to see a full of this project." While it is easy to say it is about the story, I did start to notice that there was a lot more. I also felt as if this was important since writers often hear at conferences during those infamous editor/agent panels "We are looking for stories with great characters and great voice." Really?

As I look at projects, obviously I take a look at whether or not the story is something that a reader would be interested in seeing. If the story is so obscure or deals with a topic that readers would bypass if they saw it on a shelf, I will pass on it. I don't care if the writing is good or not, we have to look at the basic premise.

I also look for what I like to call the "WOW Factor." In other words, when I read that submission, I can say to myself "that is something certainly new and unique." What I would see is the author has taken a chance to find a new direction with a project or concept. Of course, in some cases, that direction may be so far off the beaten path that the project becomes unmarketable.

I noticed also that I really tended to lean toward projects that really had a sense of direction. In these situations, the author really seemed to know what they wanted the readers to walk away with. There was a sense that the characters and the action in the story really had a purpose for being there and not just a device to make something happen in the plot. There is a sense of honesty, authenticity and a quality of being "real." Too often the stories just come across as being fake.

Because I deal with romance and women's fiction, the stories have to be about "real" people, "real" relationships, and "real" issues. The readership has to be able to fully relate to the characters and what they are going through. If these elements come across as characterizations, or the situations are so extreme or over-the-top, then it becomes too easy for a reader to say they can't connect with the story. I don't care if the characters are imaginary, that human quality has to come through.

Finally, and this one is really subjective, is the element of whether or not I personally like it. While all of these above ideas might be great, if the story is something that personally doesn't resonate with me, I will likely pass on it. This is really a tough one for the authors to handle, but I think you will understand why I take that approach. As an agent, I have to really be in love with a project to want to market it. In other words, if I'm not in love with it, I won't have the enthusiasm I need to really fight for it. We say this all of the time, but this business is subjective and sometimes that factor is enough.

Hope that provides some insight.



  1. I equate agents choosing which manuscripts to pursue with how I choose which books to read. All those factors you mentioned come into play.

  2. Very nicely said. I could compare it to a time in my life when I worked in sales. The products that I used and loved, were the products I sold the most of. Ones that didn't impress me, sure, I sold a few, but not as many.

    Great post to start the month of with :)

  3. Thank you for the most honest (and most helpful) statement I've ever read from agent's blog...that you have to personally like it. Whatever agent I sign with, I want them to be over the top, head over heels, in love with my writing. If I don't inspire that kind of passion in them for my work, how could I possibly expect them to be a passionate advocate on my behalf to sell my work. You have to love it to sell it. Thank you again.

  4. This was perfect,Scott, thank you. When I've received a rejection after a request for a full or partial (as you did), I don't just throw the rejection in the trash, but rather, I read it and carefully consider the suggestions for much needed insights. Then, I go back and take a closer, harder look at the finished product to see if the comments can be used to strengthen the material. If the rejection is just based on "not for me", fine, but if an agent gives ANY feedback, that's gold.