I have been on the querying journey for a few years now. I started querying in 2016 (prematurely). I stopped, edited, queried again in 2017 (which is when you and a few other agents gave me some great advice) so I stopped and edited some more. Then queried again in 2018 with a few partial requests and then one full request in October. The partial requests were rejected without any feedback. The full request was just rejected and I'm not even sure the agent read the ms, she referred to it as a "sweet romance." It's not a romance. It's very obvious. She also called it "standard fare." Which stung. But in none of these rejections have I heard anything helpful to go back and work on the way I had before.It is "cowgirl lit," to borrow your term, so I don't know if perhaps my audience of agents is particularly narrow? I'm writing a new project, 50K words in. I just won an equestrian voices writing contest. I know I'm a good writer. But what do I do with the great big void that I keep throwing my manuscript into? I said I wouldn't give up on the ms until I queried 100 agents, and I'm a ways off from that, but I don't want to keep querying something just for the sake of numbers.What do you say, oh wise and mystical literary one?Signed,
Cryin' In My Cowgirl Boots
Standard fare is a pretty helpful, if awful, phrase.
It means you didn't surprise the agent at all.
That's death in a query and pages.
It doesn't have to be some zippity new plot point. You don't need Sharknado meets Little Bo Peep.
You need deft turns of phrase, compelling metaphors and descriptions that make me gasp at their beauty.
We've talked about this kind of thing before. If I don't put your manuscript down at least once, just to revel in the gloriousness of a phrase, or sentence or plot twist, it's probably going to be a pass.
I don't need things that are as good as the current front list. I need things that are different. And better.
So, what to do?
This is where you need to pay for some expert eyeballs.
Often you can do this through a writing conference, or through a charity auction of some sort.
Agents and editors often donate services for a good cause.
What you want is someone to look at your query and first 20 or so pages. Very often there's a problem you're not aware of, but you can fix when you know about it. I see this ALL THE TIME when I do one on one sessions at writing conferences. Most often the book starts in the wrong place. I've sent writers to their car to get the full ms so we can figure out the better starting point.
And often you burden those first few pages with set up and backstory. More than one writer has been left with five pages marked "ditch this" and one opening paragraph that I like.
The real question is how do you figure this out for yourself?
Well, one good way is to read a LOT of debut novels. See how those start. See how the story unfolds. Some will be better than others.Take notes about what works and what doesn't. Often what doesn't work is more instructive.
Why debuts? Cause those are the books that got bought. Everything after that can be published for reasons that aren't "this is a good book and I want to acquire it."
A side note: Be VERY careful of which agent or editor you bid on at a charity auction. I recently heard from an author who paid a chunk o'dough and the agent never delivered.