If you’ve ever submitted a query or partial or even a full, you have likely gotten back a form letter stating that your work isn’t bad, but the agent doesn’t want to represent you. But keep trying, and someone will love your book sometime!
This well-intentioned form letter is nice to receive, but it can be frustrating, too. It doesn’t tell you anything useful, does it? Was there something fixable in the manuscript? Or is it totally awful? It leaves all of us writers screaming into the void: TELL ME WHAT I NEED TO IMPROVE AND I’LL DO IT!
Well, you can stop screaming.
1) The book that’s too familiar or overdone. One reason you never want to chase a trend is because the market becomes glutted and agents and editors start wanting to poke out their eyeballs when they see the Exact. Same. Concept. over and over and over.
2) The book that never takes off. Some books sound promising in the query letter, but then the manuscript comes and the interesting concept is not found in the first 20 pages. Or 50. Or 100. Get that plane up in the air as soon as you can; don’t leave the agent trapped on the tarmac for hours with nothing but a pack of peanuts to eat.
3) The book that falls apart. This is the opposite of point #2. Some books have fantastic openings…and then they crash. Many writers spend a great deal of time polishing and getting help with their openings, knowing how important they are. But if the rest of the book can’t measure up to that wonderful opening, it’s not ready to be sent out yet. Sweat over the rest of the book as much as you did the opening.
4) The voice you can’t relate to. While this does have an element of subjectivity to it, there are just some people that grate on your nerves. Think about a person you know whose voice or personality makes it hard to talk to them for more than a few minutes. Now imagine hearing that voice or being with that person for the hours it takes to read a book.
5) The too exciting book. But, wait, you say, tension is good, right? Donald Maass says there should be tension on every page, in every scene. Yes, but he meant to modulate the tension, not that every scene had to BE SO EXCITING THAT I’M GOING TO SCREAM AND OMG THERE’S ANOTHER EXPLOSION AND A CAR CHASE AND THE KILLER’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!!!!!!!
Those are some reasons (I’m sure there are more!) why a manuscript that has merit might be turned down by an agent. No matter how beautifully written, a manuscript will not pass muster if any of those problems are there.
So do yourself (and your potential agent) a favor. Take a long, hard, honest look at that book you’ve been slaving over and are dying to send out. If any of those tips above ring a bell, settle down to revise yet again.
After all, you want your agent to see the most stellar work you can produce. Don’t be afraid to take the time to do it right.
Your agent will thank you for it.