Thursday, August 8, 2013

Why I Request, Why I Pass, Do I Read Material?

I thought I would address an issue that came up yesterday in my emails. I had an author who was a bit angry that I passed on the project that was sent to me. In simple terms the response was that I apparently had not read the material and I only sent out an automated response because I didn't want to be bothered.

It is always frustrating when I hear authors that believe this. Editors and agents do read through material that was sent to them. Maybe there are some that never touch the manuscripts, but I do believe this number would be pretty small.

So, let me address some of these issues:

I have addressed this before here on the blog, but let me say again. I request material based on the initial query if I think there might be something there in the project AND if it is something I am actually looking for. Now, in reality, we can't really make a decision on the blurbs in the query letter or the initial submission. Often, we only have the title, genre, word count and a paragraph blurb.

When I consider that query, I consider several elements. First of all, is this story something that really demonstrates a unique and different approach to material currently out there. Seeing a story that is just a carbon copy of other projects is probably going to be a pass. Why? Because we already have something like it out there now.

Secondly, I look at the premise of the story to determine the marketing potential. This ties in partially to the prior comment, but it also looks at whether or not this genre is selling right now. Sometimes the market is so flooded, regardless of how good the writing might be, the story won't sell due to the saturation.

Next, I do consider the subjective side of the submission. As I stated, before, projects have to be something we truly fall in love with. Sometimes the story doesn't connect with us because of the topic or the genre. You want an agent who is as passionate about your writing as you are. When this happens, we work really hard with it.

So, if I liked something and requested more, why would I pass on it?
First of all, there are a lot of stories that sound really good in the pitch, but for some reason, the execution of the story isn't there. This might be the character development, the approach the author took with the plot, the voice of the story? Any number of factors.

Remember, if I requested something, I thought there might be something there. Please note I have used the word might. We simply cannot tell until we see the project. Again, we are initially only working off of a paragraph blurb. Getting that additional material gives us more of an insight.

In most cases, you might not be able to give me the full storyline with the extra tidbits of plot element to give me a clear picture. That's what the synopsis is for. In some cases, when I look at the synopsis, I see some additional layers that might turn me off personally, might not connect with me, or might make the story something that could be unmarketable, either because of the topic or the condition of the writing.

I also pass on stories if the writing is not that strong. Usually, I can spot those writing problems in the query. If I see grammar issues or, for lack of a better word, elementary writing, in the query, the odds are the actual story will have the same issues.

When I do have writing that might be weak, or a premise that might not be there, I do consider the project on a cost-benefit analysis. Is this something that could actually be fixed? Is it going to take one round of revisions or are we looking at months worth of work?

Obviously from the comments in the prior section show, I do read the material I request. As we stated, we cannot make a strong decision on a project until we see the writing. With that said, how much do we read? Let's say I request a full from you from the initial query. This means that you had something in the premise AND, it was so unique, OR I know an agent out there has been looking for something like this.

At this point, I start reading. If the story falls apart in the first chapter, I scan later chapters to see if the problem is still there, but for the most part, the reading stops. The writing just didn't work. In other words, we read until we find something that says this project is not going to work. That could be 1 page, 3 chapters or even the full story.

I also look at the synopsis of the story, especially when I have only a partial to look at. In this case, I read it to see if the story is really heading in the right direction. Sometimes those first three chapters are amazing because you have worked the pages over A LOT. We also see great opening chapters because of the feedback we get from contests. But can the story maintain that pace? That is where the synopsis comes into play.

As far as the writer who questions why we request things we aren't even interested in, I can only speak for myself. I do question why editors and agents would request things they aren't going to consider. Some have said it is because they can't say no to the author in person. I really don't know.

What I do know can be summed up in a comment Martin Luther King said in his "Letter From The Birmingham Jail."

If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. 

Editors and agents spend a lot of time doing what they do. We work with current clients. We right and review contracts. We market your books. We deal with proposals for future projects. AND... we read submissions looking for the next great author. But we certainly would never have the time to everything, but we try.


  1. Honestly, I find it arrogant that any author reacts like that - as if their story were THAT GOOD, that of course you should have requested material. They don't understand that writing is subjective, and maybe they did write something good, but it wasn't what you were looking for. Or, hey, maybe what they wrote was actually terrible.

    During the query process, I was thrilled when agents requested partials or fulls. I never took rejections, form or personalized, personally. People need to learn from rejections - either that wasn't the "right" agent or maybe it's time to write a new book.

    I guess it's amazing to me that so many people still do not understand this.

  2. I don't think it is so much of an issue that writers think their writing is "THAT GOOD." I think it is more of an issue of really questioning if the person read the project. You get comments back that don't quite fit with the way "you saw it" so you question.