Thursday, September 26, 2019

"Why don't people want to rep the book? "

Here's the situation: My coauthors and I had a 23% request rate from our query letter. I thought this wasn't high enough.

So we hired a (highly recommended) editor to review our entire submissions package and she thought it was so good she changed very little. While this is encouraging, it wasn't really helpful. Our request rate also didn't go up.

So far, many agents have sent us nonform rejects in which they say only positive things (great voice, great plot, unique concept, solid hook, they gasped out loud, they loved specific things), but that it wasn't a good fit for them. Beta readers have also been solidly positive, with some minor edits on pacing we incorporated and little else.
But we've also received a few rejects that say the agents weren't drawn into the narrative as much as they hoped or that they don't emotionally connect to the voice. Two of these rejects came from agents who'd only seen the pages the editor had edited and loved! (I don't know how to edit the first chapter anymore. I just don't.)
So what's wrong? Why don't people want to rep the book?
A handful of people have said it's because it's too diverse (that there should be one minority main character, not four). I've also been told to make the main characters white.
Not only are those people idiots, they should be banished from polite society.
Feel free to quote me.

It's not, as with your July 12, 2017 post, that it's like other books on the market; the plot is unique, though there are market comps. It's contemporary YA with a criminal justice plot.

Advice? Is it the voice and other agents are just saving my feelings when they say the voice is good? I'm thinking of hiring another editor to go over the whole novel (or at least the first pages again), but that's a bit expensive for my budget.
What does it ACTUALLY MEAN when agents say it's "not a perfect fit for them" or they "didn't fall in love," though it's a "great novel" they're sure another agent will want? People keep saying that, but we're not finding that agent who's supposed to love this.
And how many full rejects is too many?

Thank you very much! I just need some shark wisdom.  

 I'm sure it's very frustrating to hear "it's great but no."
What you need to remember is the no one, NO ONE, is going to tell you what the problem is unless they are asking for a revise and resubmit.

They won't for two reasons. First,  because if you get notes, you'll "fix what's wrong" then resubmit, even if the agent doesn't want/didn't ask. And the one or two things an agent notes are generally NOT the full scope of the problem.

Second, because agents don't want their rejection letters "this sucketh the almighty lemon" read aloud at a writers' conference, or posted on a bestselling author's neener neener page. Not even thick skinned, healthy ego, I don't give a rat's asterisk what you think, shark.

So, the problem here is that you think it's a given: if the novel is good, you'll get an offer.

What you've left out of the equation is the sales aspect. I see a lot of good novels that I  don't think I can sell.

Assuming you're querying agents who sell contemporary YA (versus agents who sell adult NF) why would an agent think this isn't something she can sell? There are four reasons.

1. It doesn't add to the shelf. That is, it's not fresh and new. It's something I've seen before, or it just feels a bit shopworn.

2. It isn't interesting. There are a lot of well-written books I don't want to read anymore: alcoholic love bedraggled detectives who must solve the heroine's terrible travails. Blah blah blah.

3. The market isn't growing. This is when you hear "no more vampires; no more police procedurals; no more medical thrillers.  Those books might be on the shelf, and there might be a steady stream of books being published but the audience is not GROWING. Demand is saturated. (Yes, this is why you took econ in college; it's not all dangling participles and Moby Dick at agent school.)

4. Something else is wrong and you don't know it. Agents are now, as a matter of course, stalking potential clients online. What does your social media face tell me? If you look like a douchecanoe, you're up a creek without a paddle. And I'm NEVER going to tell you that.

So, what to do?
You don't need an editor, and you really do not need whatever a publishing consultant is.

You need an agent's eyeballs on your ms, and your query.
You can get this at a writers conference.
You can often get these in charity auctions.

When I see these opportunities, I try to retweet them on Twitter.

Good books don't win the prize more often than you'd think.

In a nutshell, it's the Miss America contest.  If you've ever watched the pageant, you've seen each of the young ladies, from Miss Alabama to Miss Wyoming is lovely to behold, accomplished in a skill of some kind, and usually damn articulate.

What's wrong with any of them?
Absolutely nothing.
You'd be an idiot to think that.

But only one wins the sash and sceptre.  The contest isn't who's accomplished and talented and lovely. It's who is the MOST accomplished and talented and lovely this year, from among these assembled contestants. You might be Miss Idaho. Which is not to say you are Miss Potatohead.


Sharyn Ekbergh said...

This is an excellent post about uncomfortable truths.

You may write a good enough book or a very good book that there is no market for. You may write a decent book that just doesn't grab people. You may be writing something that just isn't different enough to market.
Harry Potter was nothing new but the characters are so wonderful readers love them. Billions of readers.

I just read a new book by an author whose earlier books I loved and I thought, hmmm, this is just not great. I think the author made a blah choice of new characters right from the beginning and should have tossed it and started over.

Writing a book is art, getting it out to people is marketing. I look at Louise Penney's marketing and I am impressed with her book tour and the enthusiastic crowds and her energy. The books won't stay on the lists for months like others. Yet her fan base is solid and our library carries every book.
Who is going to want to read your book and who is willing to pay for it?

I used to read a lot of YA fantasy and now it all looks the same to me, I pick up a book and can't get into it. For me much of YA is boring, much of MG is silly. But kids love silly and it sells like crazy.

The only reason to keep writing is because you love it. Write the best book you can but don't ignore your real life because you think you're a genius and the world will recognize it and reward you.

KariV said...

I agree with Janet and even guessed what she was going to say. You need to get to a writer's conference end get your query/pages in front of agents. The charity auction is a good idea too. I do see them occasionally on Twitter.

If this were me, I might book into a conf then put the manuscript and novel away for a while and write something fresh. Come at your work in three months with fresh eyes. There might be something there you didn't notice before, being too close to the work.

Janet - I think there's a typo. Do you means the paragraph to start: "Second, because *no* agent wants their rejection letters ... "?

S.P. Bowers said...

I was in a similar situation. Good ratio of full requests, each agent came back with 'just didn't love it enough'. All said good things about it. One agent said they'd probably kick themselves later because some one would snatch it up, but she just didn't love it enough. No one did. I took it to mean that I was getting close, but just wasn't there yet and needed to up my game. I'll be querying again soon, about a matriarchal, nomadic, goat herding society. Hopefully they'll all love this next one.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I spent the morning thinking about this post as I am about to jump into the query trenches (I know, I know, I keep threatening). I know I have written a great book. It is all a writer can do. But I will be faced with heavy shelves. It is a fact of my genre.

My daughter does not care that much for fantasy/sci-fi which is what I write. So to change her mind, I gave her Ursula Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness, some few years back. She loved it. Nothing else I loved really hit her until this summer.

I gave her N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth series (multiple Hugo awards and various prizes). It is so freaking amazing. I can't even describe. You will only get it if you read it. Anyhow, my daughter finished the first book of the series and was ransacking my bookshelves to find the second. She is obsessed.

This is the kind of reader reaction all writers dream of, and I thought, wow, it is such a high bar in fantasy now. There is so little shelf-space, virtual and actual, and the competition is intimidating.

I realize what I have created is not the genre-bending, mind-blowing epic of Jemisin. It's good but who knows how agents will receive it? Agent reception of my work is so far out of my control.

I do know I have written a book that I really enjoy, that is both dark and funny. I believe there is a substantial audience for it. I have done all I can do.

Writing a good book is all you can do, OP. Then you query and query and write another book while you are querying until you find the agent that gets you and believes in your work. I believe Janet has implied that one hundred queries is not unreasonable. Good luck and keep pressing forward.

LynnRodz said...

I'm wondering how many agents has OP queried, 20, 50, 100? Do as Janet suggests, and remember, it only takes one yes. Keep going, Opie!

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

S.P. Bowers, I want to read your matriarchal, nomadic, goat herding book! I have a photo from France a friend sent me that looks exactly like me, herding goats. It is a precious possession. I think of it as my other life.

CynthiaMc said...

I was in one pageant. I ended up as first tunner up. A year or so later I was chatting with one of the judges at a luncheon and he told me that I actually had the most points but one of the girls was 6 feet tall and the rest of us were petite, she was dark, the rest of us were blonde, so they thought it would make for a better picture if she was queen (it was a queen and court thing for PR appearances for a year).

It's not always you.

K. White said...

"If you look like a douchecanoe, you're up a creek without a paddle."

Recently, I attended a workshop taught by a big time lit agency. They drove this point home. One of their NYT bestselling thriller clients was accustomed to standing-room only book signings. When a small indie store failed to promote the signing only 7-8 people showed up. The author blasted the indie bookstore on social media. It became so bad his publisher told his agent, "Restrain him or shop his next novel elsewhere."

The author ate a lot of crow to salvage his career. Best to follow the advice "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

CynthiaMc said...

I swear there's a typo gremlin.

1st runner up

Fearless Reider said...

Does having multiple co-authors on a project increase the challenge of snagging an agent? I’m gleaning there are at least three (maybe four?) authors involved, and while that kind of collaboration could yield brilliant and unique work, I imagine it also opens potential pitfalls in the agent/author relationship and in the manuscript itself. If I had to pick just one from a line-up of similarly talented, smart, and poised potential Misses America, I might pick the one whose reign is least likely to be complicated by unknown knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.

Since E.M. invoked the incomparable Ursula K. Le Guin, I have to say I knew I was probably in the wrong writers’ group when I pulled out my dog-eared copy of STEERING THE CRAFT and half of the group had never heard of her. But lucky them — now they can read her and fall in love. Best of luck in the query trenches!

Craig F said...

It is not knowing that your baby is ugly that keeps humanity alive. If we knew it we would have drowned most of them at birth.

All babies are ugly until they are groomed some. Sometimes those kids still come off like Honey Boo Boo.

If you think your 23% request rate is abysmal, I think I see part of the problem.

Accept that the market sees the world differently than you. Keep querying and try to find some objective eyes to read your work. Who knows, maybe next week you will find the one that sees you work as you do. Publishing mores get changed like underwear.

This is because we all see the world from a different slant. Take the beauty pageant thing. Some look at it like this

Eileen said...

I'm simply going on the record that I would be proud of to wear the sash of Miss Potatohead. I feel there have been at least a few times I've even likely earned it. Great post and will share with my writing students.

S.P. Bowers said...

Sharyn Ekbergh, if I work hard enough and have a little luck we'll all be reading it!

Bethany Elizabeth said...

This was one of the things that made me put away the first novel I tried to publish. The problem wasn't the terrible writing - although I can definitely say I've gotten better - it was that there was nothing unique about it.

It was also a fantasy, and I'd say the sub-par fantasy market is pretty saturated. The excellent fantasy market is ALSO super saturated (much to my chagrin).

KDJames said...

I agree with Fearless about the multiple authors concern. I mean, I know we writers, especially debut writers, are just THE best, most reasonable, agreeable people EVAR [ahem], but taking on a debut writer has got to have some learning curve that requires more work for an agent. I can't even imagine taking on three or more inexperienced writers on the same project. Have you all written other work together? Do you work seamlessly as a team? Will you designate one person to be a spokesperson/decision-maker? Maybe adding something to that effect might mitigate the concern (IF it's a concern)? IDK

Another problem might be voice. I'm not sure how you can achieve a consistent voice with three (or more?) authors. I don't mean character voice, I mean an overall authorial voice that readers will find compelling. I co-wrote something once and I remember deliberately "toning down" my voice so it blended more smoothly with the other person's. But we weren't writing fiction. I imagine multiple writers could result in a more "bland" voice overall. Or it could be the opposite, a very choppy feel, depending on how you edit.

I do also think you can edit a story to death. Especially if you have editors who tell you not just that there IS a problem, but also how to fix it. And if you apply their fixes verbatim instead of coming up with your own, a big problem with newer writers who are eager to please (and get published). It's a quick way to dilute or destroy your voice without even realizing it. Maybe go back to some earlier drafts (I assume you kept them?) and see whether they seem fresher or more compelling, even if they have flaws.

I think you have some unique issues with this project that might be making it a harder sell. But I also think those issues might make it a vastly more interesting project once it gets published. Best of luck to all of you. Chin(s) up. Persevere.

[Ooops, this got too long. Sorry.]

KDJames said...

Clarification: When I say "inexperienced writers" I don't mean you're inexperienced at writing -- your comment makes it clear that's not true -- but that you apparently don't have experience with the traditional publishing process. I could be wrong. Happens all the time.

jerrianneh said...

I have received rejections with almost the same wording -- "I wasn't drawn into the narrative as much as I had hoped" and "I didn't connect emotionally to the voice/story/protagonist as I had hoped" -- from agents to queries re: picture books and a YA novel. An editor also used the wording that she didn't connect emotionally with the MC as much as she had hoped after reading the full of the YA novel. While an actual reply beats crickets any day, I think rejections with that or similar wording is just a form letter.

Erin Parisien said...

Umm, okay... and here I was, rather proud of my 12% request rate. I'm just going to leave it there, because Craig F said what I was thinking way more eloquently than I would have.