Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Querying after a pass on an R&R

I've been doing a lot of requesting and reading this year. From that has come, sadly, a lot of rejection. When passing, I try to give writers some sense of why the manuscript didn't work for me. Frequently I mention tension, pacing, character development. I think about these emails carefully. I try to mention published books, sometimes movies, as examples of pacing done well, or characters developed in a way that makes them compelling.

This sets up my expectation that when that author queries for a new manuscript (and many of them do) the problems I saw in the first manuscript are solved.

Too often they are not.  All too often on a new manuscript from an author I've read before, I get ten or twenty pages into the new book and it's deja vu all over again.

What you should take from this: if you're going to requery agents who've read your work pay special attention to what they said in the pass letter. Chances are they've got a copy of it and they'll remember your previous work.


CynthiaMc said...

I'm playing blog catch up. Congratulations Kathy Joyce and all the Nano people. Woo hoo!

For those who for Nano updates: I didn't hit the requisite word goal for Nano. With a full time day job and almost full time theatre gig I just wanted to see what I could do. What I did was 6102 words I wouldn't have done otherwise. I am continuing to sprint and enjoying every minute.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I can change. I can make the book better. The query? Well, I have an incurable case of QDS - Query Dysfunction Syndrome. It’s worse than writer’s block. However, latest revision feels really good.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Relationships, jobs, friends, habits and writing, "'s deja vu all over again."
How come change is so hard?
How come overlooking the obvious is so difficult?
How come ruts are so deep?
How come dismissing advice is so rampant?
How come I sound so wise and yet cling to my familiar like a monkey on a breaking branch?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I have a question...

Ok, writer gets mighty fine agent and goes on submission. Do publishers ask for R&Rs like agents do? And if so, what does agent do? Keep submitting or make writer revise once more? Or do publishers just say yay or nay?

Karen Baldwin said...

Recently, I had two agents comment on pages I submitted. Both mentioned pacing. So appreciated their input. You and any agent who takes the time to send feedback are sweethearts.

Steve Stubbs said...

You wrote: "All too often on a new manuscript from an author I've read before, I get ten or twenty pages into the new book and it's deja vu all over again."

No theory coming from here to explain it, but it is damn hard sometimes to implement advice that is well taken and enthusiastically received.

For proof of that, just watch a few movies. They pay the star $40,000,000 to spend one day on the set doing a cameo and the end result is totally crapulicious crapola. Storytelling is an incredibly simple skill, and yet everyone struggles with it.

With a few exceptions (THE SHINING, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, MISERY), immensely successful books by Stephen King go splat on the screen. You cannot write a check and buy quality.

But give me a few million dollars (US, not Rhodesian) and I'll see if I can prove myself wrong.

On your web site you say you are interested in Second Wave Feminism. It is already published, but Norman Mailer wrote a book on this called PRISONER OF SEX. I can't stand Mailer and the book struck me as misogynist (he tried to kill at least one of his many wives). But the book is informative and someone may get something out of it.

Karen McCoy said...

Elise, glad the last query revision seems to be working! I also like your question too.

This blog has a way of having perfect timing. And Steve hit the nail on the head too. This is the exact thing I've been grappling with. For me, it's not the query--it's the pages. Feedback from agents has run along these same lines: "I did not fall in love with this story as much as I hoped." (This makes me love that you give your writers a sense of why.)

Sometimes it's knowing what you need to do (I need to make my characters more compelling), but it's the how to execute it that becomes the problem. Similar feedback (from both agents and beta readers) is often received after trying to fix...only to find that the problem wasn't fixed at all, even after trying.

Right now, I am reading WONDER by R.J. Palacio, a great study in character development. And aside from giving characters more agency, setting up enough of a sense of who they are at the beginning (without too much data dump), and giving them conflict, choices, and a story, I'm not sure what else to do. I will keep reading up on this (I have more books about character development, like CHARACTERS AND VIEWPOINT by Orson Scott Card), but I am interested to know if my fellow Reiders have found ways to make their stories and characters more compelling based on feedback they've received.

Regardless, I am sure that this is something many writers struggle with.

Julie Weathers said...

Big Time Agent commented on Far Rider that I had ten pounds of story packed into a five-pound bag. I've tried to keep that in mind with Rain Crow. I pulled two arcs and some characters out. They'll go in later.

Hopefully it's enough. It's still a lot of story with a complex plot.

I try to be teachable. It's the best I can do.

Colin Smith said...

Typing on my phone so bear with me...

Karen: Writing compelling characters is an area I need to work on, too. My strategy is to think of all the most compelling characters I've read, and analyze why I found them compelling. How did the author write then? Was it the voice? Did the POV make a difference? Was there an emotional connection, or perhaps something about that character's experience or personality that resonated? Am I showing enough of the c character's emotion/personality for the reader to make that connection? It's also good to bear in mind that not everyone connects with every character. There are characters done people find compelling that I don't. I'm sure the same is true with agents.

OK, that's about as much as I can stand to swipe-type. Aren't you blessed? ☺

Karen McCoy said...


An addendum to my above post--sometimes it means seeing feedback with new eyes. In preparing for revisions, I looked again at the feedback I received--and realized, "OH. That's what that means." Sometimes it takes a few tries to truly understand what's being said, and how it can be applied; going back to the well a few times--and seeing it anew.

Karen McCoy said...

Colin: Wise words, and excellent questions. And you're right--sometimes it depends on which eyes see the material.

E. Berg said...

Hi Karen McCoy: regarding your comment/question about writing compelling stories and characters, have you read The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to write the story beneath the surface by Donald Maass? This is one of my favorite books on the craft of writing. Hope this helps. Power on!

Craig F said...

The path to almost every worthwhile endeavor has ruts in it. Many are at the start of the path and caused by inexperience. Others are due to complacence, but that is another story.

Most quickly figure out that it is almost impossible to get your cart out of those ruts alone. In writing, that is what beat readers and critique partners are for. Get help, real help. The most contentious of your fellows might be able to help more than someone just worried about your grammar.

Ben LeRoy showed me that grounding your story works better than jumping on an already bucking bronco. Get your readers comfortable before firing the first round and give them some spots to catch their breath along the way.

Unknown said...

Jeffrey Sommers (sp?) Tweeted today about developing characters by imagining a group of strangers on a bus. Essentially, make up lives for them. Not just descriptions, but whole lives. I've read too that you have to create characters as real people in your head. You won't use much of the material in your writing, but it will inform how the character acts, responds, etc., in a richer way. So, decide that your character fears spiders. There may be no spiders in the book, but that fear will make them react differently in a dark basement. Or, you can get more out of a boring driving scene by having a spider appear on the windshield. On the inside, of course. :)

Timothy Lowe said...

Keep writing. Keep improving. For me, every ms is different in style, character, situation. But I'd like to think there's a general progression upward, with peaks and valleys.

One of these days...

John Davis Frain said...

This is such solid advice. And if you think about it, you can use it in all walks of life. Except most people don't. Because active listening is almost as difficult as writing.

Slow down and listen to the comments. Roll them around in your mind. I suspect if you don't understand after giving it a decent thought, the Queen would be open to a well-worded question. (I've been fin-slapped on occasion, but have so far avoided the Carkoon Division of Tourism, so hopefully I'm not making plans with that remark.)

This was good advice that I think people should slow down to consider more than they first realize.

As evidence: "All too often on a new manuscript from an author I've read before, I get ten or twenty pages into the new book and it's deja vu all over again."

Joseph S. said...

Craig F.

I’ve had a Goldilocks experience with where to start.

I entered my first ten pages in a Writers League of Texas contest. The basic critique was there was too much set up and character introductions up front. I need to start with the action.

Okay – Got it.

The following year I entered again, this time starting with the action.The critique was the story started too fast. There was too much action and the reader couldn’t keep with the characters. I need to set up location and characters first.

Well, damn. Back to the drawing board.

I rewrote to introduce the main characters and some motivations.
Sent out query letters. Mainly no responses. One nice critique said in part - need to start with the action.

Goldilocks got to her “just right” moment. I’m still looking for mine.

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

I've also gotten the, "I didn't love it as much as I wanted to " line. You better believe I take specific feedback from agents seriously... if i get it. When I do, it's unique. I've never had two agents say the same thing. Wish they did.

Joseph S. said...

Followup to yesterday's promotion comments.

I received another Advance Readers Copy today. This one is "Baby Monkey, Private Eye." It's perfect for children learning to read,or a parent reading to children who love books, or former law professors. Really clever!

Oops - back to the topic - In its list of marketing & publicity campaign items is 'Animated Video Clips.' Yesterday I mentioned seeing TV Commercials listed on a marketing plan. Today Video clips. I can visualize these video clips(animated or otherwise) used on Amazon, or Goodreads, or Barnes and Nobles, and on Authors' and Publishers' webpages, even as standalones on YouTube, as well as traditional commercials.

Will this be a growing trend?

Lennon Faris said...

It is hard to follow subjective advice. The people following always think they're taking huge steps.

Joseph - Someone should make a writer's version of the fairy tale: Goldilocks and the Incalculable, Infinite, Perpetual, Head-banging-on-desk, Unending, etc. Number of Bears.

Joseph S. said...


That was funny. Thanks. I needed that on a cold, lonely, quiet, dark night. (and Robin too)

Karen McCoy said...

Oh, Joseph. I'm having that exact struggle with my opening. I think I have a fix for it--but no way to know if it's full proof until I re-enter the query waters.

Thanks also to everyone for the recommendations! I have that Donald Maass book--looks like I'll need to read more of it! :)

Beth Carpenter said...

In a book I read recently, the main character showed occasional flashes of personality, but mostly just trudged through a pretty good plot. I'm guessing in the writer's head, the MC danced and sparkled through her scenes, but somehow that part didn't make it into the story. I don't know it it was clever dialogue, surprising responses, sympathatic backstory, or what, but something was missing.

Craig F said...

I think Mr. LeRoy was talking about the feel that the book was the continuation of a series. The sense of something missing at the beginning. What I have added is a brief (three paragraph) addition that I hope shows a sympathetic character.

The original, almost, beginning was when the boat came upon the body floating in the water. Now that is at the beginning of the first page.

I think the problem is when you push too hard in either direction and end up with three pages of voice or three pages of action. If you start with action just give it a few paragraphs then develop the character and world a little. Too much of one or the other starts to drag and makes your mind wander.