Wednesday, July 12, 2017

No one says anything is wrong, but they're also not saying yes

Since completing my third novel (it is the first one I queried with, because no author would ever query their very first novel, right? Right??), I have received over 9 full requests (seeing as how I queried just a little over 60 agents, that's a decent number of full requests).

Each agent has had wonderful things to say about the novel: "creative and awe inspiring", "most imaginative writing I have read in a while", "very talented writer", "amazing detail and incredible world building", "I found myself loving the characters as if they were my own kids", "Please tell me this is a series in the making!", "smart writing", etc., etc., thank you, thank you.

Great, right?

Although their responses back had so many nice things to say, each one of them ultimately turned it down. Not one of them wanted to take a chance on the MS. In EVERY SINGLE case (requesting agents), there wasn't anything wrong with the novel that they put to paper - nothing that involved a R and R or extensive plot changes or character revamping or hair pulling or binge drinking/brownie scarfing/late night red bull fueled editing please stop crying you'll ruin your laptop sessions - they just didn't think it was a fit for them/their agency "at this time".

So my question(s) is/are, why would agent after requesting agent keep turning it down when they seem to like it so much? Am I to assume that the market isn't in a place right now that could support this kind of book (upper MG fantasy) and that is why they ultimately turn it down? I know that agents aren't immune to rejection themselves - it can take them months or even a year or more to find a publisher too - so why wouldn't they want to sign me and gamble with the market in hopes trends will swing or that a publisher will love it as much as they do and buck the whole market trend thing? (BTW - I do NOT/WILL NOT write for market trends - that's what a writer does. I am an author. I write for me and for the stories in my head and that will never stop regardless of all the rejections. Ok, moving on...)

While I appreciate the accolades, I'd like to see this "creative and awe inspiring" book of mine on the shelf!

Any help/insight/agent mind reading would be ever so appreciated!

My first guess, and this is just a guess, is that your upper MG fantasy is well written and wonderful but too much like everything else that's on the market right now. Part of any pitch to an editor is how a book is new and fresh. If the book isn't, well, that's not a book I'm likely to take on.

I don't tell that to writers because there's almost nothing they can do to fix it. And this is a subjective assessment. I don't know if you'll get rep tomorrow and then read MY scathing analysis out loud at a conference someday (or post it on your blog.)

My second guess, and again this is a guess, is that your book doesn't surprise the reader in any way.  That's an often overlooked key to any book (and it ties in with my first guess.)

Surprise me in a good way of course, not by having something happen that doesn't make sense.

My third (and most awful) guess is that something is really wrong with the book and no one is telling you.  I have been guilty of those kinds of rejections myself.  The reason I NEVER put that on paper is that (again) this is a subjective assessment, and my "you gotta be kidding" can be another agent's "gimme that now, I need to sell it right away."

And lest you think I'm exaggerating let me just say I beta read a manuscript that had an offer on it; suggested a pass (which we did) and found out the offering agent was not only a pal of mine, but someone whose taste I admire.  And that kind of thing isn't rare.

You've got a problem but my job is finding solutions, not just telling you what's wrong.

Time for some outside eyeballs on this.  You don't need a class most likely. You need a good critical eye.  This is where you need an editor who has worked for a big publisher, and is now doing freelance consulting.  You don't need an edit. You need a beta read.  Ask them to read as if they were reading for acquisition, and for notes about why they wouldn't buy it (or maybe they would, in which case, YAY.)

What you're looking for with this beta read is if the reader is surprised at any point in the plot, and if the book feels fresh.  If the answers are no and no, well, now you know.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

So...your cadre is telling you your outfit is stunning, imaginative and runway worthy and yet no one has the balls to mention that the hem of your skirt is stuck in the back waistband of your underwear. Or...if you’re a guy, you zipper is down.

OP, you wrote it, what’s your gut saying? Listen to it. Because you asked the question I thing you already know.

CynthiaMc said...

I've gotten some of this type of letter, usually with "Please send us your next thing." At the time it frustrated me. Now I've graduated to "Hurrah! They think I can write."

Great advice. Checking my stuff for the "good surprise" factor.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Wow, that is tough. This is definitely not a business for the timid, is it? I did the freelance editor thing with my current book. And now I am fishing for beta readers who can tell me the sort of thing an agent might not once I am done with latest revisions. I love the book I have written, and it sounds like that is the case with you, OP.

Some of my compatriots might have better advice than me as I would defer to Janet on this. Get some trustworthy beta readers. The other advice that had worked well for me is read widely in and around your genre, especially things that are publishing now. This does not mean writing toward trends. That would be foolish. Trends change on a dime, but it does help show what sells and what agents said yes to and were able to sell. It also helps your writing. Although that is true of all reading.

Good luck, OP. Keep writing.

Unknown said...

If the agents gave you more than a paragraph of feedback or in anyway indicate that they got through most of the book I'd say a responding email thanking them, and asking (nicely) if they had more particular and negative feedback is in order. I've done this several times, and it worked on most. It also lead to a long string of fun dialog and (I hope) a soft landing for my next MS. Otherwise I after with getting more beta-reads. Make sure you ask for a sharp and critical review.

Donnaeve said...

OP, that's a crystal ball conundrum. Meaning, don't you wish you had a crystal ball so you could intuit what the heck it all meant? Without a doubt, you can write, and write well. I gotta believe, like Janet said, that the story is great, but too much like others.


Most of the comments from these agents, (IMO) seem to belie that. Plus, why ask for a full if they suspected it was too much like what they already had - meaning - wouldn't your query have given them enough insight to know that?

Either way, yeah, a critical beta read by a freelance editor who's worked in a big pub house might be your answer. It's a real head scratcher to me.

OT: Y'all remember that word scapegrace Ms. Weathers plopped out here several weeks ago, and which Janet chose to use in our 100th FF contest?

Well, lo and behold, I ran across that very word in the book I'm currently reading. When I saw it, it made my mouth drop, and I was like "well how about that!" Then I tried to remember the explanation Julie gave about the word - or if she did. Anyway, the book is PEACE LIKE A RIVER, by Leif Enger, and I have to tell's the BEST book I've read since I don't know when. It's told from the perspective of a young boy, Reuben Land. Anyway, love it - and it had scapegrace in it!

S.P. Bowers said...

Thank you. I was in a similar situation with a lot of agents requesting and lots of good things said about it but ultimately each one said something along the lines of 'I just didn't love it enough'. Now I've got some ideas to keep in mind for next time.

Theresa said...

OP, I hope something breaks for you after you take Janet's advice. It must be so frustrating to get so close.

Donna: Scapegrace was also a Merriam-Webster word of the day recently. And I adore Enger's novel, too.

Amy Johnson said...

Congratulations on the interest and the compliments, Opie! And thanks, Opie and Janet--I'm in a similar situation. (Though none of the rejections on fulls have said anything like my writing inspired awe.)

The part about author vs. writer is interesting. Are novels, paintings, compositions, etc. the creators' best, most creative work, or are they what was salable so the bills could be paid? I know I'd be creating stories in my head even if I never tried to make a career of telling stories. However, because I am trying to make a career of it, I do consider salability before spending a whole lot of time on a project.

Colin Smith said...

Opie: First, CONGRATS! on all the agent love for your work, and your writing as a whole. How wonderfully affirming to have industry pros tell you how good your work is and how well you write!! But I understand totally where you're coming from: you want the ultimate affirmation of "I want to be your agent!" and "I want to buy this novel!" Until someone in the industry is willing to love your work enough to pay good time and money for it, the accolades are all just nice words. (That sounds a lot more dismissive of "nice words" than I intend. Believe me, I like praise as much as anyone, and I firmly believe in building each other up and encouraging one another with genuine compliments. They really do help.)

There has to be something going on here, though. Maybe, as Robert suggests, you should write back and ask if there's a reason why the agent loved the novel but wasn't willing to take it on. However, I would only do this if you've exhausted your query list, and you have a good rapport with the agent. I too am a bit puzzled. My experience has been that any agent that offers praise also gives a reason why they're saying "no"--even if it's "I liked it but didn't love it" or "I loved it, but not enough."

How frustrating! You have my sympathies.

Kregger said...


Classic advice: If you hear crickets from your's the query...change it.

You've passed that test.

If you hear crickets from your MS...draw your own conclusion.

The rest is smoke up your skirt or kilt.

If I remember correctly, Ms. Reid's statistics from last year were fifty requests yielded five offers for rep.

Again, draw your own conclusion.

Ms. Reid hs given you every option available. Keep writing project #4, querying is done on the side while you write. If you love your MS as it stands and you've exhausted every agent that reps MG (approx 300), then revise and resend and damn the query police.

*returns to rodent wheel*

Marc P said...

It's a tricky one... some of my favourite books, that I actually love and re-read over and over, are far from the best written ones I have read. It is the ineffable often that makes the strongest connections. And quality of writing 'craft' is a tangible thing, a 'commentonable' thing. It can of course be surprise as Janet says. Sometimes the surprise can be my 'word is that the time...' because you have been so drawn into the world of the story that you lose yourself in it. For me when I am watching film or TV with my scriptwriting hat on... if I start commentating on great shots or great design too often.. it is not a sign of the story transporting me.

This is all just to say that it comes down to the personal choice or interaction... and when people reject in glowing terms it is the hardest to take. They haven't pinned it down in the letter because it is that 'magic something' that they personally weren't feeling. Which also comes back to the truth that it is all 98 percent luck anyway. The amount of unharnessed artistic talent in the world could power the universe. But as you say you write for yourself and the business world is a hard nut to crack. All any of us can do is generate as much luck as we can by being as good as we can and as persistent as we can. Throw enough darts in a crowd and sooner or later, and it may takes years, you are going to land one in the backside of the right agent. (It also good to recognise your own flaws of course and personally I am trying to work harder on my metaphors)

Matt Adams said...

Opie, just keep querying. The book either works or it doesn't.

Here's why:

1) If Janet's right, adding surprise -- which I take to mean not a twist but something the reader wasn't expecting -- you can't do that without a major revision. And if it's not intrinsic to the plot you've already laid out, it will feel fake. So people telling you that won't do anything but tell you the book is struggling to create surprise.

2) if you hire two editors, I can almost swear to you you'll get two different answers as to what's wrong.

3) If Janet's wrong and you hire an editor to tell you what's problematic about the book, you can end up changing it and making it a book you don't love as much anymore, and you still won't be published, Only now you'll like your book less than you did before the editor got a hold of it. And given the tone of your question -- which seems to imply there's something cowardly with the publishing world for not wanting your MS -- you're either going to disagree with the suggested edits or you're going to resent them. I did both, and I like my book a lot less now than I did before I trusted the editor. Not that she was wrong -- she may have been very right -- but I resented taking out and changing the key parts she suggested.

4) Agents lie to spare your feelings. So do acquisitions editors.They say nice things to make you go away feeling okay about the process, but they may or may not believe what they said about your world, your writing, whatever. And even if they do believe the nice things about your world, your writing, whatever, they don't want to offer anything that suggests hope to you if they don't want to rep the book. So a specific criticism might lead to a specific response, and they've got enough to do worrying about the books they do want to rep. So they say nice, vague things, hit send and move on.

5) All of this boils down to a simple sucky fact. Sometimes a book just doesn't work. it may work to you and your friends and family, but outside of that circle, it's just not engaging enough for the rest of the world to care about it.

So all you can do is hope you find an agent who likes the book as much as you do. There isn't a fix for that, and chasing one will make your poorer and frustrated. Just keep querying; things will work out or they won't. Good luck.

Craig F said...

Maybe you just queried during the wrong phase of the moon. Seriously, so much about publishing is subjective so the same book might fly like an eagle in six months. The ebb and flow of publishing seems to be cyclical and seems to change quarterly.

Some books lend themselves to certain seasons. Is your book better for summer escapism or is it better at quelling the dysfunctional of the holiday season?

Keep querying, it may be time for that annual change in focus. Maybe this one will do it for you.

Sarah said...

Popping out of lurking for just a moment because I was reading the comments and ohmyword, Donnaeve! I remember the first chapter of PEACE LIKE A RIVER literally leaving me breathless. Such an amazing story and the prose was enough to make me want to hide my WIP in shame.

But I digress.

One of the best readers I have is my sister. She doesn't write. Can't discuss the ins and outs of craft with me. But I give her what I'm working on and ask her to tell me when she's ready to put it down. Or when she starts skimming. And that moment where she stops is so. freakin. helpful. And on point.

I have many betas who are writers, and they'll stick with prose that's well written, even if the story's not so good. But I've found some non-writers like my sister can pinpoint where the story stops working. They can't really tell me why, but I find the input crazy helpful, nonetheless.

Wishing you all the best, OP!

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I am tempted by the idea of an acquisitions editor telling me exactly why they wouldn't acquire my book. That would be most useful info.

Got lucky and got into #menteeshelpingmentees just before #PitchWars. Mine said "this and this and this" about my first ten pages. I was all duh, why couldn't I see that before?

Extra eyes who know what they're looking for can really help.

BJ Muntain said...

I'm sorry. I have to disagree with OP's definitions of 'writer' vs. 'author'.

A writer is a person who writes. They could write anything from catalogue copy to award-winning literary novels.

An author is a person who has written something (some might argue that it has to have the author's name on it, for them to be considered having authored it). It could be anything, from a short story to a scientific treatise.

I'm a writer. I'll write whatever I need to, whether it's the fiction that lies deep in my soul or the brochures and tech manuals that bring in money.

I'm also an author. I've written (currently unpublished) novels and short stories (one set to be published soon) that lived in my soul, but I've also authored articles, reports, and tech manuals. (Yes, some of those tech manuals had my name on them - people like to know who to blame if something isn't right.)

As for writing to the market: That is always a bad idea, unless you're writing articles or even short stories - items that get published fairly quickly. When you're writing novels and you write to a market, you're writing to a past market. You need to write for a future market - and no one knows what that future market will want. Writing to a market is no guarantee of being published (after all, if everyone wrote to that market, the market would be flooded, and that happens far too often to ignore), any more than writing from the soul guarantees best-sellerdom.

Colin Smith said...

Hey, Sarah! Welcome out of lurkdom. :D My First Reader is my wife. She can write, but she's not a writer, yet she reads a lot and has excellent taste (she enjoys Gary Corby, just finished Jeff Somers' WE ARE NOT GOOD PEOPLE, and says she likes my stuff). She will also give me good, honest feedback, much like your sister. For the last short story I handed her, she told me it was good, BUT the characters aren't likeable and she couldn't figure out why they did what they did... that kind of advice. Very helpful. :)

BJ Muntain said...

To OP specifically:

Traditional publishing is not easy to break into. Being the best writer in the world does not guarantee you'll get published. Writing the perfect novel, of best-seller quality and literary ideals, the exact right genre, the exact right plot, with the best writing ever... will not guarantee you'll be published.

Really, getting published comes down to getting your manuscript on the right desk at the right time.

OP, it may be that you're querying the wrong agents. Are you sticking to big-name agents, or extremely successful and/or experienced agents? They may have a very full list, and thus may pass on 99.99% of anything - including fulls - though they stay open in case just the right manuscript hits them at the right time.

If this is the case, you may try querying younger agents, who may have more time to take on more clients. You don't necessarily have to go to brand new agents, but younger agents, who are at the beginning or nearing the middle of their careers. I also see more younger agents repping children's books than older agents, though my research sample is admittedly suspect.

Are you only querying agents that rep MG Fantasy? Or are you querying any agents who rep MG? Perhaps you might spread your net wider that way.

Do you belong to SCBWI? They may have resources you can tap to find more likely agents or even an editor, as Janet has suggested.

It's also possible that there is something very subtly wrong in your manuscript, that doesn't feel right to the agent, that they may or may not be able to name. If they can name it, they may not be willing to say it because it just might not be a less-desirable thing to some other agents (as Janet mentioned.) Maybe your writing is beautiful, but just not quite on age level. Maybe it's too literary for the agents you've queried, but they think there may be other agents who love more literary children's books. Maybe they've seen a lot of novels recently with your theme, premise, or ideas, but a) they already rep some like that, b) they're just tired of that, or c) they've been unable to sell that.

Ah, that 'I love it but I can't sell it' situation. If this is the case, at least you're not the one they've tried to sell, hanging on every submission to see if this editor is THE ONE who will recognize it's wonderfulness. That's got to be just as heartbreaking as the querying process.

Keep going, OP. Get whatever insight you can on the problem, keep querying, keep writing. Good luck with your career!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Donnaeve My TBR grows evermore. Why did I not know about this book? I will have to come out from under my rock more often.

Jessica said...

OP, what a tough situation to be in. Publishing is so heartbreaking, and sometimes you genuinely did nothing wrong. I'm so sorry, but keep querying! Even if you don't find something that's surprising (like, what can that mean??) in your novel, clearly it's well written (and your query works :) ). You only need one yes.

Follow up question: I'm in a similar boat (nowhere near nine requests though. WOW). Three fulls sent, three rejections. But what if the feedback is all different? Rejection #1- loved the characters and world, too predictable. Rejection #2- Loved the writing style, characters not developed enough. Rejection #3- Loved the premise, hate the writing style. So uh...what do I do?! Does this mean I'm close (because subjectivity?) or does it mean I'm doomed because there are a slew of problems?? This is a nightmare haha

Joseph S. said...

Since I’m nearing the end of my major revision, entries like today’s result in great anxiety.

Hiring an outside editor sounds like a good idea.

Surprises? I’ve worked on my current project so long nothing about it surprises me anymore (except how much time I’ve put into it). Yeah, there are surprises and unexpected moments, but are they BIG enough?

So many unanswerable questions.

One good thing: I think my book is very good (on most days).

Joseph S. said...

Oh Jessica - I share your disappointment and confusion and frustration.

BJ Muntain said...

Jessica: The feedback may be different, but it's not as conflicting as you might think. Writing style is subjective. For 'predictable', follow Janet's advice to the OP and see if you need to surprise the reader. For the characters - a person might love the characters, even if they're not developed enough. You might look more closely and make sure your characters are all unique people with their own, detailed background, even if you don't delve into that background in the novel. It could be the 'surprise' you need can be included into a character's personal development through the novel. Since I haven't read your work, this is, of course, only an example of how two problems could be fixed at once.

In your case, I think a good critique group or even an editor's critical eye may help you figure out just what's wrong. Of course, you may belong to a good critique group already, in which case, you might look around for fresh eyes. After all, once a critique group has read your work, they'll bring memories of previous incarnations to subsequent readings, which can influence their critiques.

If you're getting full requests, though, something must be right. I'd say that's a sign that you're 'close'. :)

John Davis Frain said...

Who was it that said getting published was easy?

Oh, right, nobody ever said that.

I feel for you, OP, as do so many people here. But don't forget to spend some time looking at how far you've come since those first two novels in your drawer. Maybe this ms will be published second, after the next one you write. You've got the chops. Now you need to demonstrate you've got persistence. (I know, easy to say, harder to do.)

Lots of people pulling for you, and lots of people confident you'll get there. Don't let us all down!

TS Rosenberg said...

OT, but picking up on the OP's distinction between writer/author and BJ Muntain's followup to same - I got married in Scotland, and on the official forms, I put my profession as 'writer'.

I was told I couldn't. Because, you see, in Scotland, or at least in that particular context in Scotland, 'writer' means 'writer to the Signet' - a super special lawyer in a society that dates back over 400 years, with 'a personal commitment to the exceptional standards of competence and integrity expected of those associated with the historic seal of Scotland’s kings and queens, known as the Signet'.

Which I'm not. I'm kind of sad about that, since I'm sure they have secret handshakes, and candlelit dinners in Gothic castles, and awesome robes.

Plus a Signet.

But 'author' was okay, and that's on my marriage certificate.

Unknown said...

I'll second Donna's emotion about Peace Like a River.

Amy Schaefer said...

I'm not so sure about the advice to go back to agents and ask them to explain their rejections. Yes, some agents will. But time has value. You're essentially asking someone to give you a gift - to spend their time analyzing the flaws in your work and give you the benefit of their experience, and this after they have already chosen not to devote their time to your project. You can ask, but if all you get is silence in return, that shouldn't reflect badly on the agent.

As for different opinions from different agents/editors/beta readers, that's standard. You have to judge what feedback works for you. But when everyone starts telling you the same thing, then you should listen with extra care.

Jen said...

Hi OP,

After seeing all the full requests you've received, as well as all the positive feedback, I wonder if it's simply a matter of the huge supply of MG and YA fantasy in the market right now. I follow a lot of agents on Tumblr, and every one is saying the market is glutted in that particular genre. None of them are taking on new authors who write in that genre.

I really feel you on all this. I wrote a rom com mystery right as the market tanked for that genre. I, too, got a lot of great feedback, a ton of full requests. Heck, I was even lucky enough to get an offer of rep! Cue the tinker-tape parade complete with marching bands, I was on my way!

But my MS never sold. And once the market fully tanked, he stopped sending it for submissions b/c no editor wanted to see that genre anymore.

Are you in the same leaky boat? I'm not sure, but I do know you shouldn't give up. If you feel strongly about your MS, fight for it. If you have something new to write, fantasy or otherwise, write it as you continue to query. You can't control the market, but you can control what you do in the meantime.

Good luck! :-)

Unknown said...

This is a great reminder that positive feedback is nice, but specific negative feedback is the real gem. Don't get me wrong, I resist negative feedback just like everyone else, but I have to concede that:

1) It's what actually helps me make my manuscript better.

2) It takes a skillful reader to provide specific, concrete, helpful negative feedback.

3) People stick out their necks when they give negative feedback. They know there it is a risk it will be poorly received, and sometimes in a way that will cause problems for them.

4) It is rarer than positive feedback, mainly because of #3 & #4.

Good beta readers and CPs help a lot. I have also found workshops with agents to be extremely helpful in providing perspectives that my beta readers and CPs don't have. I enrolled in these workshops precisely because I couldn't get specific negative feedback through the query process. (I got plenty of non-specific negative feedback, of course, in the sense that my request rate was low!)

The workshops I did were online group sessions where everyone critiqued everyone else's pages and the agents chimed in and participated in a conference call at the end. I know agents also provide feedback at conferences and through charity giveaways, which would seem to be great options as well.

It sounds like you are doing great, OP. Keep on plugging, and best of luck!

Karen McCoy said...

It may depend on the kind of fantasy it is. Is it based in Europe? Something else that's done a lot? Mine takes place in an alternate Greece, but it still starts out with ball gowns, which a very astute agent informed me was pretty much done to death. See what elements are tropish--and see how yours breaks the mold. I'm sure it does in some capacity.

And I sympathize. I'm querying myself, and I also write fantasy. However, I think my husband put it best--you won't win the lottery unless you buy a ticket. Keep writing, keep querying. And I will too...

Jessica said...

Thank you BJ for your comment! I didn't think of it that way. I have a good critique group, but we're all preparing for PW so I didn't want to bother them haha. I hope I get some requests from mentors there, and maybe they can tell me what's not working.

I think I was so surprised because the second one, the characters aren't 3D enough, blindsided me. Not a single one of my readers said anything about it, and in fact said that was one of the book's strengths! So I'm wondering if it's the difference between beta readers and agents. But I can't afford an editor right now :(

literary_lottie said...

As Jen (11:32) pointed out, upper MG fantasy is a really saturated market right now. I imagine that trying to sell a debut novel in this category is similar to trying to sell a debut YA 2-3 years ago: publishers' lists are full of the stuff and you're competing for your audience with established best-sellers. Market segmentation is a real thing and it's the reason publishers won't take a manuscript on if they've already got multiple books in that category on their list. I know it sounds harsh, but you have to ask yourself if your novel would be able to stand apart in a genre dominated by juggernauts like Rick Riordan and Ransom Riggs...because I can guarantee you that the agents in question asked themselves that exact question.

And for the record, there's a difference between writing to market trends and paying attention to market trends. Letting trends guide your writing is futile because what's being published today was sold two (or more) years ago, so you're already behind the curve. But paying attention to trends means being able to recognize when a genre or type of story is glutting the marketplace, and realizing that choosing to write in such a crowded lane means you can write a darn good story - maybe even one that agents praise - and still not be able to secure representation or sell a manuscript, because publishers simply aren't buying anything new in that category.

I'm not saying don't write for yourself - the heart wants what it wants, and you should be passionate about what you write - but eschewing taking what's selling and what's not into consideration isn't a virtue. This is your career, after all - why approach it with one hand tied behind your back?

Beth Carpenter said...

I recently stumbled across a Mark Twain quote, "I can live for two months on a good compliment." OP, frustrating as this situation is, you know professional people believe you can write. And that's a valuable thing to get you through the hard times.

So if this story doesn't sell, you know you can write another and another until the right story meets with the right agent and the right publisher - and the market and phase of the moon and timing all align - and your miracle happens. And we'll all cheer.

Donnaeve said...

To those picking up on the PEACE LIKE A RIVER part of this, it truly will go down, at least for me, as a favorite book of all time. (Much like THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE, also with its smidgen of magical realism.)

I only have about 1/3 left.

Leif Enger is my hero. Like Sarah said about being left breathless with regard to the writing, well, that's the way it's been for me the entire book. With regard to my own writing, I have got such a long way to go.

Sorry to keep on and on...but rarely does a book gobsmack me like this one.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I'm with Mark T regarding specific negative feedback. Yes, to that - I love constructive criticism.

I've been devoting a lot of time to educating myself about the world of MG. Still have much to learn, but one of my activities has been hanging out in well-stocked bookstores and reading the opening chapters of MG titles. Story after story (after story after story) is fantasy. I suppose there's a reason for's selling? Must be. But in my own unimportant little opinion, enough already.

Donna, Julie, Shortly after the 100th FF contest, I attended our local Friends of the Library book sale. Perusing the titles I came upon The Scapegrace. I don't recall the author, but it made me smile. (I may have already shared this).

Morgan Hazelwood said...

OpieCongrats on those frustratingly beautiful rejections.

Reading the comments is now having me try not to despair that my category (YA Fantasy) is overwhelmed with queries for me to be weighed against.

Colin Smith said...

Kate: OT BAKING TIP! Sarah says if your frosting melts, it means your cake is too warm. She put hers in the freezer for a little while before applying her superlative cream cheese frosting (which she assures me is really simple to make... yeah right!)

Kate Larkindale said...

I'm a devotee of PEACE LIKE A RIVER too. One of my all-time favourite books, and one I re-read every few years, just to remind me how beautiful it is. In fact, it must be round that time again….

And thanks for the tip, Colin! The cake wasn't warm when I iced it - I'd refrigerated it over night. I think maybe the office was too warm (which seems incredible, given we're in the throes of a bitter winter storm right now) and I hadn't given the icing enough time to set before I took it into the warm room.

Unknown said...

OP, yours is a really tough spot to be in, and while I congratulate you on the fantastic feedback (it really is wonderful, and you can be very proud!), I completely understand your frustration. Janet's suggestion to hire an editor makes sense -- but it can be pricey. FWIW, I hired one once, and she ended up echoing some feedback I'd heard before. She didn't help me find a solution to the problem she identified, but I felt more certain about what I had to fix, and I ultimately found an answer (and an agent). Also, she only read the first 25 pages, which was quite affordable -- a good option if you don't want to shell out a lot for what can be a crap shoot. Finally, you might put away your ms for a bit -- stop querying and work on something else -- then come back with your own fresh eyes.

Whatever your next move, I want to add my name to the list of those cheering for you on the reef. All my best wishes as you move forward!

Barbara said...

Congratulations, OP. You are obviously doing more than one thing right. Here's a thought that I haven't seen mentioned. Subject matter.

I had the same thing happen to me. I received glowing 2 and even a 3 page letter telling me how wonderful my novel was, but in the end, it was never right for anyone. It took me years to figure out why no one would bite. My book was YA, and dealt with race, and nobody wanted to touch it with a ten foot pole.

While you are writing fantasy, are the themes or ideas expressed in the novel considered controversial? Not politically correct? If so, that may be the issue.

Megan V said...

Op- You are in the spot I've recently dubbed the slushee station. Your ms made it past the point of being slush in the pile. An agent chose to sample your mses flavor, thinking they'd like the flavor. Ms was siphoned from pile to cup. After consuming the ms slushee, they decided they liked it or maybe even loved the flavor. But now that they have an empty cup they don't think it's a slushee they must have again, right now, before anyone else decides to steal the entire machine. Maybe it's because they've had similar flavors all month. Maybe they think it's missing some zing. They aren't turned off by your slushee, they'd be willing to try another one of your slushees from the station the future. What can you do? 1. Wait for another agent to try your slushee. 2. Change the slushee flavor a bit with the help of expert flavorists 3. Invent a new slushee flavor

It's painful to be told you're attractive when what you want to hear is that you're pretty. But you're clearly doing something right. Be careful about asking for more feedback though. That request is not always welcome and if handled very poorly may burn bridges.

Best wishes to you!

Ot: I've been searching for a book I read once that I'm dying to read again. It involved a serial killer and the author used his/her family's own experience with being targeted by a killer/hitchhiker when writing. Unfortunately I read too dang much and my TBR lately has made my head feel like I've been collecting TNT instead of books!

Colin Smith said...

Megan: Yay for attractive slushees!! Though, I'd rather have a smoothie. Fruit. Or chocolate. Mmmm. Anyone else hungry, now? :)

Steve Stubbs said...

Yes, I agree with Ms. Reid. You need a critique.

My take on it is that no means no. "Gosh, you are the greatest writer since Homer, but I think I'll pass" is a no. Even an agent contract is not a yes. Even editorial interest is not yet a yes. An advance is a yes. When you blow Louise Penny from the NYT bestseller list and you are battling paparazzi, that's a "Hell, yes." When Oprah comes out of retirement just to have you on her show, you're going places. When you get invited to Oxford University to lecture the English Department - well, you get the idea.

It ain't cheap, but you can get a crit from Writer's Digest.

John Davis Frain said...

It occurs to me that the Comments section is similar to agent responses. Lots of differing opinions. What do you decide to go with? Contact the agents who rejected the full or will that burn bridges? Hire an editor or is that throwing money away? And on and one.

I hope you don't think this is a setup for the answer, cuz I got nothin'. Just making an observation. Sorry.

Megan, I wonder if you're thinking of Greg Iles' 24 Hours?

MA Hudson said...

No author would query their first novel? Hmm. Well, after working on mine for 7 years, rewriting it dozens of times, I'm certainly going to try! However, seeing as I've written an MG fantasy, I won't hold my breath, just gotta get working on the next book.

Good luck, OP. Sounds like you are sooooo close. If this novel doesn't get you repped, then surely your next one will. Also, have you read 'Writing the breakout novel' by Donald Maass? Might be worth a gander.

Megan V said...

Colin smoothies are definitely higher on my list, and now you've got me hungry.

JD Ms Frain Nope. But thanks for the additional TBR!

Lennon Faris said...

All I want to say is, good luck, OP! Not seeing what is 'wrong' is the worst feeling.

And of course, thanks, Janet! I never knew the importance of surprises (even little ones) until I started writing FF here. The list of benefits for writing FF just keeps getting bigger!

Anonymous said...

I think I'm finally past the "marked for death" stage of this cold/flu, although I'm not yet quite ready to cancel the moirologists. So I thought I'd (belatedly) weigh in on this.

OP, I've seen this happen often enough it might apply to you: Sometime along the third or fourth novel, we learn enough about craft that we polish that sucker to death. We're so intent on getting it "right" and making it "great," we lose sight of the fact that flaws are interesting and rules are meant to be broken.

We forget we're in the entertainment business. We adopt a veil of pretension and begin to insist we're "authors" and forget we're storytellers. [The best distinction re this came from a now-forgotten source, a bestselling writer, who said: "I call myself a writer. Author is what other people call me."]

My advice is to shelve this ms for a while. Read the 5-10 currently top-selling books in your genre. Pay attention to what makes them entertaining, what makes you want to turn the page. Then drag out your first two novels. Yes, you'll see all your mistakes. Ignore that. Find the things you loved about those stories, all the things you did right, what made you write them. And then, only then, re-read your third ms with an eye for what you're still doing right versus what you've smoothed over and dulled in an attempt at "perfection." It might or might not be fixable, who knows, but you will have learned from it. Write the next one.

Wishing all the best of luck to you.

Megan, this is biography, not a novel, but I wonder whether you mean Katherine Ramsland's, Confession of a Serial Killer. Toward the end, this NYT article [] talks about her family's brushes with violence: "Violence seemed wound into Ramsland’s life as much as — if not more than — Rader’s. “Sometimes I wonder if I’m a psychopath,” Ramsland said." Creepy stuff.

Sorry for being less than succinct. I'm sure the fevered coughing fits will prevent me from commenting again until next week.

Peter said...

Just wanted to de-lurk for two comments: 1) the dreaded 'glowing rejection' does NOT go away after publication. I have two published novels and am now collecting glowing rejections and have yet to sell a third book. I get to worry about 'sales figures' being a reason as well as any unnoticed issues in the manuscript I and my beta readers and my agent might have missed that are causing the rejections. Which leads me to number 2) where does one find 'an editor who has worked for a big publisher, and is now doing freelance consulting' because I'm willing to try after three straight submissions have gone into hibernation after receiving 'glowing rejections.'