Friday, April 14, 2017

Wait...who looked at this?

I recently received a rejection on a full.

Here’s the blow-by-blow on how reading that rejection went:

“Hi Robert,” 
Phew, good sign, she read my name!

"Thank you for sharing XXXX with me. I've had the chance to consider your manuscript,”
oh crap, this is a rejection.

“And discuss it with our editorial board.”
What??? I thought this was a rejection?

“There's a lot to admire here in your imaginative and musical novel, but,”
Crap, this really is a rejection.

“It just wasn't coming to life for me on the page.”

So I’m confused. First off, I thought editors and publishers were the ones with editorial boards. Why does an agent have an editorial board? And I know you are always telling us not to read to much into a rejection, but I can’t help it. Does this mean she read the MS, wanted to sign, but her management killed the idea? Does this mean she read the MS, didn’t like it, so sent this response to make sure I wouldn’t submit to other agents at the agency? Does this mean… I know, I have to stop this. But seriously, do you have any insight here?

As an aside, she then went on to say, “I'm afraid I just felt the writing was uneven and didn't always feel on point for YA.” At this stage in the query process I have the hide of a 50-year-old rhinoceros and am really thankful for any criticism, especially if it comes from an industry professional.

I politely emailed asking if she could share any additional notes or suggestions. I didn’t necessarily expect to hear back and I didn’t. As it stands, her criticisms are not helpful. Sometimes the writing is rhythmically uneven and there are abrupt tempo changes reflecting the pace of the action. At one point the content is a little edgy for YA. These are deliberate and aspects that other readers have really liked, but balanced against the opinion of an agent…

I’m torn between doing nothing (tossing her comments off as her subjective opinion) and ripping the novel to shreds trying to find a fix. I’m tempted to see a psychiatrist, but that can get expensive. Any sage advice?

In my quest to torment writers in new and interesting ways, I may need to adopt some of this for my own (evil) use.

The first question - does an agent have an editorial board? - is easy to answer: she really doesn't. What she's got are other people in the agency reading the manuscript, or assessing what she's saying about the manuscript. She's getting what you've heard called second reads.

I also get second reads on manuscripts I'm considering,  particularly those that don't easily fit into a neat category; for manuscripts where I may not have read enough in the category; to see if I'm reading with rose-colored spectacles, and in fact this ms is dreck and what the hell is wrong with you SharqueForBrains.

And I also get reads from our foreign and film departments to see what they think of a manuscript's potential in those areas.

This is certainly not an editorial board because none of those people can say "nope, you can't sign this." Unless she is a very junior agent, my inclination is she doesn't need permission to sign something either.

So, my guess here is AgentTasteless got some second reads and the manuscript didn't resonate enough with them to overcome her hesitations.

What that probably means is you are toast for other agents at the agency BUT unless their website says one and done, there's no cost to you to query them. I don't think it's likely you'll get an offer, but yanno, I didn't think the current occupant of the Oval Office had a snowball's chance in Hades either, and look how wrong I was about that.

As to the other questions, there's no way to know if she's on point or not. Just cause she said it doesn't make it a fact. It's always and forevermore her opinion. Give it as much weight as you choose.

If you think she assessed your style accurately but you chose that style for a reason, well, you might want to think about changing up.  I've had that exact conversation with clients and it did make a difference (I was able to sell the revised novel, and then three more.)

This is where you can benefit from one of those critiques that are periodically offered by agents for charitable causes. Of course, you're just getting another opinion, but two is better than one.

Bottom line: keep querying. One agent's abrupt is another agent's tautly paced.

 MY editorial board has an opinion on your-too-edgy-for-YA stuff too:

Janet's Editorial Board


Kitty said...

It sounds like your manuscript generated enough interest to be considered, and that's good. If you're not quite ready/convinced to make changes, remember that even some of the literary classics were rejected at first:

No Thanks, Mr. Nabokov
In the summer of 1950, Alfred A. Knopf Inc. turned down the English-language rights to a Dutch manuscript after receiving a particularly harsh reader’s report. The work was “very dull,” the reader insisted, “a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions.” Sales would be small because the main characters were neither familiar to Americans nor especially appealing. “Even if the work had come to light five years ago, when the subject was timely,” the reader wrote, “I don’t see that there would have been a chance for it.”

Knopf wasn’t alone. “The Diary of a Young Girl,” by Anne Frank, would be rejected by 15 others before Doubleday published it in 1952. More than 30 million copies are currently in print, making it one of the best-selling books in history.

Good luck, opie!

Theresa said...

Oh, those pups!

I'd never heard of an editorial board at an agency, either. Thanks for decoding, Janet.

Kitty: I love reading those kinds of rejection letters.

OP, good luck with your querying.

BJ Muntain said...

Recently, a friend of mine said she didn't want to write YA because she liked to write R-rated stuff. I was under the impression that some YA (older YA, especially) sometimes got kind of racy. I don't know, though. I'm not much of a YA reader. Nor am I much for reading R-rated stuff.

Of course, you're also assuming her comments are about the issues you mention. It's impossible to say that, really, without more information from her. So, if you're happy with what you did purposefully, and without any more detailed feedback, I'm not sure what you could really work on. It's possible that another agent may have similar comments, but will be willing to work with you to edit your manuscript. I wouldn't stop querying, in any case.

It sounds like a really nice rejection, by the way.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Ha! Love those dog eyes.

Opie: Best wishes as you ponder and discern and run the hamster wheel to decide which direction to go--keep querying the MS as is, change it up, or get an editorial reading.

Seems to me, as I read these questions Janet posts about querying, that each time there's a rejection, there's also always the second guessing.

When I finished writing my second non-fiction (I know, I know, I should have created a proposal but I didn't know that 7 years ago), I sent it to the small press that published my first non-fiction. The Project Editor liked it, shared it with his Publishing Manager and she liked it, shared it with the Publishing Committee. screeeeeech. The committee thought it too similar to other books they had recently published and the company was still struggling with the after-effects of the 2008 economic freefall.

By then I was tired of the non-fiction and started my story, which I'm still working on as novels are a whole different beast from non-fiction.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Um, I love the picture of your editorial board on the morning of November 9th. Hey, you brought it up I didn’t :)

Anyway, here’s my advice and believe me, I know about as much about ‘fiction-novel-writin’ as I do about changing a transmission.

Take into serious consideration the comments made by the agent. Be careful though. Don’t stomp, tread lightly. You have been given a gift from the traditional publishing gods. Use it wisely.

Colin Smith said...

The thing that jars in my head with this is the use of the term "editorial board" by the agent. Unless this particular agency is the oddball agency that has a review panel they call an "editorial board," then such language is confusing--misleading even. In fact, even if they do have an "editorial board," surely an experienced agent would know this is unusual, and using the term outside their own agency is likely to cause confusion? My bottom line: To someone in the know, this sounds like the agent is either having a joke with the writer, or doesn't know what she's talking about. I have never heard of an agency with an editorial board, so my initial thought was that an intern or a very junior agent had written this, and had consulted with more experienced agents on the team, calling that consultation the "editorial board."

The actual advice, as Janet says, you can take or leave. Maybe getting a second professional opinion would help (e.g., pay an editor, or do the charity agent critique thing), if you're concerned the agent may be onto something, but you're not sure.

All the best to you, Robert! :)

Colin Smith said...

BJ: In my experience, YA can be steamy, but backs away from descriptions of sexual acts, and will often simply imply such acts happened rather than go into details. A few novels cross that line (John Green's LOOKING FOR ALASKA describes a sex act that, frankly, took me by surprise), but most don't. I can't say I've encountered a lot of gory violence either, but I've only read a few novels where that would have been relevant. So with sex and violence, I'd say YA goes there to an extent, but there's a line. When it comes to profanity, however, there are no lines. Teens can be potty mouths, and the genre reflects that.

That said, not all YA novels will turn the air blue. I don't recall much by way of sex or profanity in either the DIVERGENT or the HUNGER GAMES series. HARRY POTTER either, for that matter (in fact, when Molly called Bellatrix a b**ch in Book 7, I was shocked!). Marissa Meyer's LUNAR CHRONICLES keeps pretty much within PG-13 boundaries (though FAIREST and WINTER have some violence and discomforting moments, as I recall). And there are plenty of others.

I'm sure others better read in YA will chime in, but I hope that's helpful. :)

Sherry Howard said...

Well, OP, congratulations on getting that far. It may not feel like it, but that's a good sign. And feedback will be so different from different readers, and agents are people. I tend to listen to agents, who would know the marketplace better than I, because I want an agented book. With that said, if this agent didn't request a revise and re-submit, I'd consider what she said for future revisions if a pattern of feedback begins to show. Otherwise it may just be a matter of taste. Congratulations and woohoo for getting this far!

Donnaeve said...

I love the expressions on QOTKU's editorial board! I'd listen to them any old day.

Congrats on the full OP, but yeah, that choice of wording = hello confusion!

Editorial boards exist at publishing houses, not agencies. This is the group who decides/finalizes on acquiring a ms at a publishing house (among other things).

For example, an editor at said pub house reads ms, and wants to acquire it. This editor doesn't have carte blanche over that decision, but must have input from marketing, sales, higher ups, etc, i.e. an editorial board meeting - or better yet, The Acquisitions Process. (even typing it is so exciting!) The editor will then pitch it to all those folks, and if the rest nod their heads, then Yay! They can make an offer to the agent, who then tells the author who then screams.

It sounds to me like the agent was doing exactly what a few others have mentioned, using a term loosely when it really only meant others at the agency read the ms too. Maybe the agent feels their decision carried more weight with you by tossing in a recognized industry term as a backup to why they said no.

IMO, this terminology is similar to when a writer says, "I'm on submission," when sending queries to agents. Yes, it's true, they've submitted a query, if you want to get in the weeds about it. But when you say, "I'm on submission," it really carries another meaning to someone in the industry - because being on submission in reality is your agent sending your ms out to a list of editors for consideration of an offer.

A nit maybe, but true.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I feel for you, Robert. I had a similar experience with last book. An agent wanted it to be YA because young protagonist. She wanted me to add a romantic element. Inappropriate for my MC and for the story. I ended up putting that book in a drawer and writing another. I will resurrect that book later. I do not wish to write YA.

So I went and reread a ton of books in my genre (fantasy) to better understand what placed them on the fantasy shelf instead of YA fantasy. Colin has the right of it. As usual.

Good luck. There is some good advice here, but it boils down to your gut. You have done well to get agent attention so you know you can get more of it. It may be a matter of right fit or just a little bit more work to do on book or some combination of both. Let it rest and see what you think after you let the rejection go.

nightsmusic said...

I want to work with QOTKU's editorial board!

Perhaps, said agent's 'editorial board' is the way they refer to the collective employees in their office and has become the norm so that's why she used it. Maybe she was getting second opinions to see if a rewrite of some sections could make it saleable at their agency. The thing to remember, your query worked, you got a request for a full, now it's time to take a really good look at your ms and see if what this agent said about the story coming to life on the page is true or simply true for her.

Good luck!

DLM said...

At my house, the Editorial Board is Gossamer the Editor Cat. The PR specialist is Penelope the Publishing Pup. I am eminently well staffed, as long as you allow for MY definition of terms (including eminent).

As far as OP goes, I can add no wisdom everyone else has not provided, so I shall offer ice cold Cokes to all. The bourbon part shall remain up to you; it is early in the day where I stand.

Complete aside to my nerdly compatriots hereabouts: am I the only person who can handle being older than James Bond, but hearing this morning that Sarah Michelle Gellar is turning FORTY is brain-bending?

In closing: ugh, Weimerarners. So. Bloody. Gorgeous.

Colin Smith said...

Diane: I don't drink sodas (or pop, or fizzy drinks, or whatever you call those kinds of beverages in your part of the world), so I'll just take the bourbon. Thanks! :)

A defining age moment for me was when they cast someone younger than me as Doctor Who (i.e., David Tennant).

Susan said...

Diane: I love your Editorial Board! In my house it's Moxie the Marketing Maven and Riley the Rum-Getter. They often work in tandem. =P

DLM said...

Colin, I just call a Coke a Coke (and so on - Dr. Pepper, Sprite, whatever). I think MAYBE sometimes people do use the word soda around here, but it's pretty rare.

When I moved to the Midwest at eighteen, I found the idea of discussing "pop" all but disconcerting; I had never encountered the word outside of a children's book I'd had in about 1972, probably written in about 1952 - so I thought it was meant to be a funny/childish term. (By the time people started calling pizza "za" at me, I nearly transferred universities. Don't even ask me about that one guy who insisted Ohio was on the East Coast.)

Susan, I love him too. :) And your staff's names! They take such good care of us, no? (And now I'm forgetting all about today's pic and just gazing at my lil' Goss-in-a-bucket to the right. He has been super extra disgustingly lovey-baby this week, and I am digging it like a double-wide grave.)

Amy Johnson said...

Congratulations on the full request, Robert. I think Elise makes a good point. "Let it rest and see what you think after you let the rejection go." It's funny how with a little time rejection letters seem to say something else (still a pass, but different).

Diane: Thank you. Much obliged.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Oh, my! Those pups. I LOL'd. Janet, If you ever need a photo of a horse looking agape, let me know.

Back when I was querying a work of women's fiction, one of the rejections I received said, and I'm paraphrasing-it was awhile ago, "Thank your for your interest in XXX Agency. Unfortunately, I just couldn't relate to the main character, and that's really important to me."

No worries, said I. I get it. She can't get behind a single 30-something Atlanta executive workaholic with OCD who discovers she's the result of an affair her father had, and she's now inherited the rural farm and the horses that belonged to the birth mother she never knew. That's cool.

Around this same time, several online writerly friends queried the same agent. One ms was YA, one was mystery. Completely different genres than mine, but genres the agent was looking for. To make a long story short, after comparing notes... the agent's "couldn't relate to the main character..." appeared to be a form rejection. Our rejection letters were exactly the same, including our individual names in a larger typeset than the letter.

I found this offensive. Not so much the use of a Norman - people are busy, a Norman streamlines the workload, I understand. But to Norman with a specific, pinpoint objection? To me, that's just wrong.

But, ever onward, right? This is an interesting journey. I think it's important not to become mired in the things you can't change. This is hard work, but don't let the hard work fracture your goal. Focus on making your writing the best it can be. Never stop learning, growing, improving.

Today, I'm polishing up a recently completed ms. (My ATL executive with the newly inherited horse farm is "resting" in a cyber drawer)

DLM said...

Melanie, I don't know; it seems like that would be a really common reason an agent would not connect with a work, so it's not really offensive. Is it that you thought you'd gotten individual feedback, but it turned out to be boilerplate? Again, though, even if she has the same issue so much she's created a macro to respond to it, that doesn't mean she didn't mean what was said.

My problem is tension. I think any number of agents who saw AX when I was on submission (hee, Donna!) would have said the same thing - and I think they all probably see the same problems day in and day out. "Great writing/didn't connect" is all but industry standard in form rejections. I had a similar experience to yours once, too - in fact, with the very first agent who ever requested a read from me. She happens to have close ties with the writing community I'm part of, and I've seen other rejections from her and discovered my individual, encouraging and apparently sensitive note from her is HER boilerplate.

When somebody is reading hundreds of queries a week, and writing issues are as predictable as they can be, I think we need to really decide whether getting offended is worth the energy, when it becomes clear someone is saving their own energy.

At least that one responded at all, right? Which means, she was NOT a NORMAN - you got what you came for, which was a response. Not the one we want to see, but you did get it.

Okay, I think that's my three comments today. Perhaps I should feel bad for wasting them on puppies and Buffies and philosophizing. I don't. Ciao, all! Happy Friday! (I'll leave some Cokes in a big cooler.)

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I see what you're saying, Diane and agree with you. I wasn't actually 'offended' personally... it takes a lot to offend me. And it wouldn't even dawn on me to be offended because someone didn't like a story I'd written. I just felt sending a norman with a specific objection wasn't helpful. But I can view this with fresh eyes, thanks to your input.

Julie Weathers said...

This will probably be a multi-part answer and most likely it will not be grammatically correct. I have not have coffee.

First off, Robert, congratulations on getting this far. That's a good sign. It certainly doesn't hurt to ask the agent to expound on her thoughts.

I finally got the guts up to email Big Time Agent and ask him if he could give me some more thoughts on his rejection and he did, as I've said before. Surprisingly, he remembered in great detail the story, but it's best to strike while this is fresh.

Two: Some agents do have editorial boards because they have gotten into publishing. Now, I would be surprised if said editorial board is anything like traditional publishing, but what do I know? They offer it as a service to their clients who decide they want an indie publisher. I think its rife with possibilities for conflict of interest, so I've avoided checking them out.

Three: I love those dogs: I wish I had a dog who looked surprised occasionally. Gage the Wonder Dog has been in perpetual depression since we left Oklahoma. There are simply no gophers in my yard to spend hours tunneling after like some kind of trenching machine on speed. Instead i have a foot warmer or maybe Grayfriar's Bobby. Let me check my pulse.


The racy bits is what BTA wanted me to take out of Far Rider if I decide to turn it YA. I have one sex scene that's over the top, not with her, but with her present. Some agents are not going to take it even if I change that part because there's implied rape in the book. It's a torture chamber people. Not nice things happen there.

He thought it might do well as YA not only because of the age of the MC, but because of the story and the voice. Someone mentioned a few weeks ago I may be one of those authors whose voice changes according to what I'm writing and apparently it does. I'm not sure that's a good think to be a chameleon, but it's who I am.

Back to Robert only you can decide if you want to make changes even if she gives you some concrete suggestions. Does it feel right for the story?

I'm taking Rain Crow through the Books and Writers workshop now even though it's first draft and unfinished. Some people want the dialogue and narrative to be perfected and others recognize the words and patterns are part of the era.

I wouldn't have normally put up chapters this soon, but they were trying to jump start the workshop again. Anyway, I've gotten some valuable feedback, but any person needs to learn which to take and which to politely discard.

Colin Smith said...

Melanie: There's also the consideration that not all agents are as articulate as our beloved QOTKU. And that's okay--it's not their job to be writers. Finding the correct words and using them is our job. For a non-writer agent, finding words that are appropriate in general terms is sufficient. Especially for a work they are rejecting. Now, if they're on the fence, they might prefer to call you and talk through their issues, and in the course of dialog, specific points may come to light. But agents are primarily readers, not writers. Their skill is being able to spot, promote, and manage talent. We should be careful not to project the literary skill of some on to all, and expect more than is reasonable. :)

Julie Weathers said...


NORMAN means no response means no interest. You got a response even if it was a form letter. Also, several agents have said they have different form letters that apply to different situations. They don't use just one. I'm not sure that this is the case here, but it's not a norman.

Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Colin, thanks for your best wishes. I have had eerily similar experiences with agents!
Perhaps the thing that set OP most off balance is the lack of specificity. Agent feedback is wonderful when it can be tracked back to elements of writing style that can be improved or pacing/plotting problems that can be fixed. But, if we can’t find the problem we can’t fix it. Hypothetically, if I got this criticism on my manuscript I might immediately suspect it refers to deliberate cadence changes leading up to the discovery of a sexual assault about to happen (which might also be too edgy and off-point for YA), which might have jolted the agent right out of the story. That kind of feedback would be really useful. But scenes like that take three chapters to develop, unfold, and resolve, a tiny fraction of an entire novel. The agent’s actual words “I just felt the writing was uneven and didn't always feel on point for YA,” sound like they refer to more than just one spot, or even the entire manuscript, especially considering that the comment is in response to a full. I’ve had that kind of broad feedback too, but it usually came in response to an initial query (with a very short writing sample), or on a full but with specific supporting examples, (e.g. “sometimes the writing was uneven, such as the scene where…”). This takes ten seconds longer to include but makes the feedback a thousand times easier to understand and use.
Otherwise I agree with the other comments. OP is lucky to have had the full request, and lucky even get a response, never mind one with some feedback, no matter how broad! I have one full on which I have not heard back a single peep. Another where I’ve heard back to a nudge that she’s still interested, but that is now 8 months in waiting.
I have learned from this blog though, be patient, be persistent, keep writing, keep querying.

Julie Weathers said...


Keep writing is correct. It might be good to get some fresh eyes on it if you can.

"Perhaps the thing that set OP most off balance is the lack of specificity."

Exactly. You don't know which way to jump. I loved your writing, but it didn't resonate with me and similar things don't help.

Unknown said...

Julie, I want to read your books. I know I have said this before. From your excerpts and blog excursions into so many truly ridiculous and extraordinary tales, I really (REALLY) want to read your books. And I want to read them when they are published. If you are writing naturally in a YA voice then maybe you need to go with it. It probably is your voice. And YA readers are it. Not only do they buy more books, but they read really crazy stuff, and they love it. See John Green. Just saying...

Julie Weathers said...


Well, your lips to God's ear. I took down the war of the roses comment because it seemed self-serving.

I am flipping FR to YA, but not now. I have enough on my plate and that will take a major rewrite. Not the voice, but expanding the magic system and some of the characters. I know what he wants. He was intrigued by the glimpse into the mage academy and it will take some work to grow it and not let it take over the focus of the book.

Anyway, I have to breakfast is over. I need to go poison my MC with strychnine-laced lemon sauced cake. Who knew a symptom was a restless desire to pace the floor?

Susan said...

Julie: To add my (unsolicited) two cents...I'm a YA author, but that wasn't my intent. My books are coming-of-age stories because that's what I love, but I personally call my work nostalgic fiction because although they feature teens, I tend to write recent-historical with adults in mind--adults who like to reflect back on their youth. But I've been told that with my writing voice and characterization, my stories lend themselves to YA. Even my middle grade book I didn't originally classify as middle grade, even though it clearly is. Sometimes the market finds you.

What I love about YA these days is how mature and philosophical it's allowed to be--which is what I personally want to read. I think of my favorites, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn and The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter and I realize that what I'm writing mirrors these books. Smith and McCullers didn't set out to write books for young adults, but young adults gravitated towards them. Twelve year-old me gobbled them up. They're more mature in content and even the ages of the characters change, and they heavily feature adult characters. Yet they're shelved with YA.

Go with your gut on the voice of your book. How does it want to be written, regardless of categories (which seem transitory, anyway). I'm sure there will be a place for it.

Diane: I hope we get to see more pics of both soon! Especially doing their jobs--one must be held accountable in this business, you know ;)

Unknown said...

Julie, Ack! NO! we love your comments. All you other readers chime in. I know you agree with me.

" I need to go poison my MC with strychnine-laced lemon sauced cake." Oh man, I nominate this for next weeks blog header.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Terrific input/insight. I sure appreciate you all. I'm still learning about rejections. (How much I want to learn is another matter).

Speaking of which... Julie, Ooopsie on the misuse of the word Norman. I actually knew it meant no response, but my brain misfiled the info. And, like Robert, I really want to read your books, too.

RosannaM said...

How frustrating feedback that is not specific enough can be. What I got from the comment, "uneven and didn't always feel on point for YA" could mean that in places the writer slipped into a more adult viewpoint, with phraseology, world view, or something that made it feel like uh, oh, there's a grown up in the room.

OT: EM Didn't comment a few days ago because it was late far as your book storage dilemma. Rather than get a storage unit (expensive and just think how many books you could buy with that money!) can you think vertical? Like above a doorway or window, some small shelf could fit, and about the right height for books. Also, flatter totes can fit under beds. And an ottoman with storage. Ah, books--I love walking into a house filled with books!

GillyB said...

First time commenter, long time listener!

Gotta say, as YA reader, when I hear things like "too edgy for YA", my spidey senses tingle--and not in a good way. Lots and lots of YA is very edgy. The topic of sexual assault is definitely one that gets discussed in quite a few YA novels. When I hear an author say that, it makes me think the author hasn't read enough YA books in their category (because YA runs the gamut from fluffy, light, young YA, to "literary" YA and dark YA which can deal with very intense subjects indeed, and touches on every possible genre. It's what I like best about reading it.) I hate to agree with mystifying mystery agent, but it might behoove you to read a bunch of similar YA titles and see what it is about their tone and style that you're missing.

Not that you should radically CHANGE your style, of course, but YA is one of those tricky things where you know it when you see it. It's just got a FEEL.

I wish you luck with your query process! Clearly the agent, though she confused the heck out of you (and me, tbh) saw enough good in your MS to share it with other people.

John Davis Frain said...

Hey Robert (unless that's a pseudonym to hide your identity),

Quick tale from personal experience. I had an agent response similar to yours. She read my ms & got a "second read" in her agency before rejecting. Tore me up for 48 hours. Soooo frustrating.

Then I went back and dissected it a couple days later. Tried to put myself in the agent's shoes. Not a cursory attempt, I'm talking full immersion. I read my ms with the goal to come out of it with her exact thoughts. And behold -- I saw what struck her. I made a major change that significantly improved the story.

If that hadn't worked, my next plan was to show the comments to a beta reader and have them look through the ms to get the same feel.

Take your time. Pretend you MUST change your ms and try to imagine what that would look like. If it's an improvement, go through the work and make the change.

You've got a good story and a good query. Keep working. And congratulations on your progress so far.

(Did I say "quick tale?" Sorry.)

Steve Stubbs said...

OP: The editorial board dodge is known technically in the negotiating world as Appeal to Higher Authority. This is a great technique and one you might have occasion to use yourself sometime. The way it works is, "It's not my call, because my editorial board says no, so don't blame it on me, and we're still on to have dinner at Per Se at your expense, aren't we?" Another way of saying it, (I am stealing this from an old boss of mine) is: "Harry Truman I am not. The buck doesn't even slow down here." There is no point pestering her because the editorial board has spoken. Whether she has one or not is irrelevant. No mrans no.

As I said, Appeal to Higher Authority is a great technique and one worth studying. You can use this buying a car or negotiating a starting salary for someone you are hiring - lots of situations.

There are numerous other negotiating techniques, too. You will probably see those when you get offered a seven figure advance and a movie deal. If you want to be a pro, this is a field worth studying.

The statement that, "I just felt the writing was uneven and didn't always feel on point for YA" is probably good advice. It is not specific since it does not reference page numbers, etc., but it is advice you can use.

One way to get a really authoritative opinion is to set it aside and write another book. When you get the next one one, re-read this and prepare to be amazed at what you see.

Karen McCoy said...

I'm a bit late to the party on this, but oh, those dog eyes! Made my day.

I'm really glad this being addressed, because I'm at the point with my novel that I'm getting a lot of "It's well-written, but..." which is basically the worst thing you can say to a recovering perfectionist.

Question: What is the difference between submitting something that's not ready and something that could be ready but might have some minor (fixable) flaws?

(I recently subbed to an agent with typos in my manuscript, so my track record thus far (1 for this manuscript) isn't stellar...

Joseph S. said...

Donnaeve's comment about a book being on submission reminded me of a true life incident. A colleague who was was great at self-promotion but shallow in substance wrote and submitted an article to many law reviews. He asked me to read his paper. It was – let’s be kind - weak. I was in his office talking about it when the University president made a rare visit to the law school and stopped to speak to us. We mentioned we were discussing my colleague’s article.

“It’s being considered by UCLA Law Review,” said my colleague. Sounded good, but all he had done was mail it to them. Since they had not yet sent back a rejection card, in his mind they were “considering” it.

P.S. Now that I’m thinking about it, I sent a query letter to a dozen agents for my novel in 2014. Six of them still must be “considering” it.

Joseph S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph S. said...

Lisa wrote “novels are a whole different beast from non-fiction.”
I say “Amen. Ain’t it the truth.”

DLM, Make my Coke a Diet Dr. Pepper (I’ll bring my own peanuts to drop in it).

Amy Johnson said...

Not long ago, I came across an agent who says she sticks with a policy of not providing feedback when she passes on material. I have mixed feelings, but I think I can see where this could be a good policy, perhaps for both the agent and the writer.

When an agent tries to be helpful by taking the time and thought to provide comments, a writer may respond by taking a very long run on the hamster wheel or might even get angry with the agent. I wonder if an agent might feel she's in a darned if you do, darned if you don't situation.

Stiiiiilllll, it sure could be useful to get feedback from a professional in the field...

Julie Weathers said...


As you know, many times in the south a person will order a Coke and the waitress will say, "what kind?"

"Oh, I think, orange."

Or at least they used to. There are so many Yankees flooding down, waitresses might be more literal now.

Then there's the, "What kind?"

"Oh, give me one of those R O C Colas." Which is Royal Crown Cola.

When Will got to Iraq he used to do a lot of the supply ordering for the base and convoys that went out. The focus shifted from Cokes and Pepsi to Dr. Pepper. The supplier asked him one day, "What's the deal with all the Dr. Pepper?"

Will said, "These are all Texas units that got shipped in," as if that explained it all. Dr. Pepper used to be bottled only in Dublin, Texas before Snapple got so grumpy.

Craig F said...

I'm from so far south that we ain't southern no more. There are still places around with RC Colas and Moonpies though.

Getting a response from a rejection only happens once in a very blue moon. It is always worth trying for it but don't really expect anything.

On Editorial boards: Doesn't everyone have one. Mine is a 1944 Walking Liberty silver dollar. Heads for yep and tails for nope.

Hats off to Big Bill Lister for that song RC Cola and a Moonpie go to the festival sometime. It is a blast.

Joseph S. said...

Julie, Semi-Interestingly (oops had to take a break - Brigada jumped on my chest for a I want to be held and petted and to paw you sessions), Anyway, I think the only times I want a soft drink when i eat out it's at place with a multi-choice dispenser. If i have a waiter or waitress I order water or tea (or sometimes but not often a beer or margarita).

I think Dr Pepper is taking over the South (Alabama anyway)

When I was kid I pronounced orange "Nehi," grape "grape" and Strawberry "Strawberry."

If somebody at my table asks for a Coke and the waiter asks what kind I usually say "Coke Coke."

Joseph S. said...

Craig and Julie

RC Cola and a moonpie and a small bag of fritos were a typical lunch back in the day. Coca Cola was a standalone drink or a fountain drink at Dugan Drug's (Or better a vanilla Coke or Cherry coke or a coke float (which easily could be a root beer float).)

Then suddenly and inexplicably, without warning or announcement, Pepsi came from nowhere and shoved RC Cola out of the picture. My little kid mind (and now my grownup mind) never quite understood how that happened.

Janet Reid said...

Welcome to the comment pile GillyB! I'm always glad to see new voices popping up.

Lennon Faris said...

Crazy day and I am skimming comments on 5 pm lunch break... only one thing to add, can I meet Janet's editorial board??

And Robert, don't go crazy.

The Sleepy One said...

One of the things I love about the YA is that it has such a wide variety of subject matter. Like there will be a book in which a first kiss is a big deal. But then there are heavier books, like some of Ellen Hopkins' work--that deals with serious issues like drug abuse, incest, cutting, you name it. Her books aren't for every teen, but they're great for teens dealing with serious, heavy issues. It helps them know they're not alone. It might even give them a voice. Or there's something like Louise O’Neill's ASKING FOR IT, which deals with gang rape and the fallout of it. Or there's Courtney Summers' heartbreaking and gritty CRACKED UP TO BE.

From my reading, I'd say that YA tends to fade to black in heavy moments, at least as far as sex. Rae Carson's GIRL OF FIRE AND THORN series (which is *amazing*) has some authentic early love (kissing) scenes. Once the character has matured over the trilogy, and has matured into a strong leader, and decides to moves beyond kissing with the man she's in love with, it doesn't describe the act itself but does talk about the emotions. Most of the YA I've read follows this pattern (focuses on the emotional impact of the decision versus describing the physical act).

Anonymous said...

I don't have anything to add on topic, other than to congratulate Robert for getting this far in the process. Requests for a full seems like a far off dream, some days. Good for you for being at that stage! Also, what everyone else said.

But I want to thank Colin and GillyB (hello and welcome!) and The Sleepy One for the discussion about what YA is and isn't. Or what it includes or doesn't. Or whatever. I'm in the process of revising a story that's unlike anything I've ever written and it occurred to me it might be YA, sort of by mistake. I went through a period of being sort of stuck and wondering whether I should try to make it either more or less like that "genre" (category?) and pondering just how much reading of YA that was going to involve (not something I generally read) and felt overwhelmed. I ultimately decided to just tell the damn story and let someone else decide what it is. Or isn't. So this side discussion helped, especially the detail that profanity isn't prohibited.

Colin Smith said...

Janet: "Comment pile"? Don't you mean "Daily anthology of wit and wisdom from the finest corners of the literary universe"? No? Oh, okay... :)

Welcome aboard, GillyB! I'm glad your long-time reading of the comments hasn't dissuaded you from joining in. :) Let me know if you want to be added to the List of Blog Readers and Their Blogs, or if you have any published works you'd like me to add to our list of Reider's writings, or any other gems you think should go in the Treasure Chest. And, of course, if you have any questions about rules and decorum, feel free to ask Donna, Elise, Julie or one of the other classy people here. I don't know nuffin' 'bout rulez 'n' decorum. :D

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Welcome to the Reef, GillyB. Wade on in, the water is fine. Colin is the key master. I'll be damned if I know who the gatekeeper is. And Janet is our Queen. As you probably have already surmised.

This is a hospitable bunch with more than enough scars to share and outright brag about. Be wary of John of the Manuscript Frain. That one always has murder on his mind or crows on the brain (always get those confused). Anyhow, welcome, welcome.

Steve Stubbs said...

Karen McCoy said...

"I'm getting a lot of 'It's well﷓written, but...'"

I have been struggling for some time to understand why this happens to obviously talented writers, and this is just a theory, but ...

I am wondering if it is possible for a book to be well-written AND not commercial or commercial but not commercial enough for some reason. The agent wants to sell the thing, after all, and the publisher must sell it or disappear into the Sargasso Sea of publishing.

It is not obvious, but if it is well-written but not commercial, improving the writing is not the solution. Commercial and well-written are two separate issues.

There are numerous reasons why superb writing may not be commercial.

I read this recently on Kristen Nelson's Pub Rants blog:

"Your opening pages might be in trouble if Your novel opens with prose problems, such as flowery or overly descriptive verbiage."

This one floored me because I read an opening page by an obviously talented unpublished writer very recently which has that very problem. I interpreted that to mean that literary and commercial fiction are different species.

Sending it to a critter who tells you how great the writing is will not be the solution if quality is not the problem. I hate to give my secrets away, but the the solution may be to ask yourself every time you write a page and every time you proof a page: "Will thie grab a reader? Is this commercial writing?"

If the answer is not just no but Tartarus no, revise the grab factor instead of the flowery factor.

Books which sell well are commercial, but may be badly written. There are plenty of published examples of what works.

Julie Weathers said...


Welcome to the reef.

Who knows what it takes to get published these days? I obviously haven't figured it out. I wish I could dash of some sweet little book and be done with it, but my brain apparently doesn't work that way.

As you said, when a person reads something, they recognize it. I couldn't wait for the Hunger Games books to come out.

I hope we see you around more.

Now, back to doing whatever I'm doing. Killing someone I think or praying. I get confused.

nightsmusic said...

GillyB Welcome to the Shark's group of Remoras. Hope to see you around often.

Julie Weathers said...

Remoras is nice. It's better than a flamboyance of flamingoes.

Megan V said...

Welcome to the reef GillyB :)

AJ Blythe said...

I hadn't realised Janet's editorial board were so adorable. My editorial (and really, just plain sounding) board is currently asleep at my feet where he always is when I'm at my computer. He's ignoring me at the moment because I accidently said the 'w' word (walk) out loud before and then didn't rush out the door with him in tow.

Sam Hawke said...

Ha, AJ, one of my dogs hid from us all morning (including refusing to come over for her breakfast, just watching us from across the yard, tail wagging) yesterday because I stupidly mentioned 'we should give them a bath while the weather is still so nice'. I forgot she speaks perfectly good English. She had breakfast at 2pm when spouse had gone out with the kids and she obviously decided she wasn't at risk of being bathed with me home alone.

GillyB, welcome!

Robert, congrats on getting so close. I know it's no good telling you this, because we all do it, but don't try parsing out everything agents say in these letters. It just isn't worth it. Unless you're seeing the same thing over and over, I would just try to file it away under 'nice ole rejection, move along' and forget about it.

french sojourn said...

Welcome to the reef, GillyB, no shallow end here, just the deep dark shark tank. Enjoy.

Karen McCoy said...

Steve Stubbs, thank you. And yes, you've touched on a lot of great points. Commercial can also mean that the beginning can't resemble too much of what's already out there...

I've found that each book has its own set of issues. I have to remember that it's about story first.

roadkills-r-us said...

Colin: I think you are being too rigid in your definition. I can easily see where some people would call such a group an "editorial board". It's not like there's a legal definition as to what this means. Informally, it's a reasonable choice of words.

BJ, Colin, etc.: WRT steamy YA, I agree with Colin. I forget whether it was Lauren Oliver's Delirium series or Heather Anastasiu's Glitch trilogy, but one of these had some pretty steamy scenes, although I'm pretty sure they never quite got to actual sex. There's a pretty broad spectrum within the genre.

As for soft drinks, there was a geographically diverse group in my dorm who often hung out together. It was always entertaining when someone went to get a drink and offered to get drinks for others. "Hey, who wants a {soda, pop, Coke, soft drink, etc.}?" It could take 30 minutes of arguing before the originator could get away to get [drinks].
In the south (and Texas, which is sorta south, sorta west, and mainly Texas), it's best to just order by brand name. They'll correct you if they don't have it. Otherwise, you may or may not get asked, depending on where the server is from. So if you want an actual "Coke", order a Coca-Cola (or in Atlanta, a Co'Cola).

Unknown said...

I started querying for my first novel on the first, and I can say wholeheartedly it is the most stressful thing I've ever done. I'm not worried about the quality of my work, but I come from very humble beginnings, and writing is all I have. I wrote most of it at the public library. A life, a career, years of planning, and crafting. Reduced to a yes, or no that stretches out for weeks at a time. I'm a patient person, but with my anxiety. This makes me shrill. I'd kill just for a answer. To know what i'm doing wrong, or right, but that's not how the industry works. So I take turns watching my work being rejected, waiting for just the one a'okay. I've only had three rejections, and that I don't mind. It's the time wasted, the not knowing, the stagnate drone of it all. It feels like a crawl. While I watch the world race around me, but I chose this cup that I drink from.