Articles Tagged with literary agent advice

The Publishing Echo Chamber

Echo and Narcissus (1903) by John William Waterhouse

I recently read an interesting post on Pub(lishing) Crawl by Patrice Caldwell about the importance of shutting out external noise in order to better focus on your writing. (Fyi, Pub Crawl is a fantastic resource for writers. Y’all should be following.) This post really hit home. In particular her discussion of “echo chambers,” and how your support circle can become one, and because of this actually fail to support you. It’s so true, and not just for writers.

As a West Coast literary agent, the majority of my work happens online. Online, the echo chamber becomes more pronounced. On social media I follow and interact with a lot of publishing professionals. My feed is full of success stories, major deal announcements, and “advice to writers.” My mornings are spent browsing Publishers Marketplace and answering NYC-based emails. When I’m not reading submissions, I’m reading those books that recently “made it,” Newberry award winners, Hugo award winners, NYT bestsellers etc. Podcasts such as Print Run and blogs like Pub Crawl and Jane Friedman fill my subscription inbox. It is a lot of cyclical information.

These helpful resources are full of supportive and amazing people.

And yet.

There is constant competition within this echo chamber. Everyone wants the next big deal, and we want it now. We want to be a part of the exclusive inner circle where magical connections spark best sellers (spoiler, there is no inner circle). Tweets that go viral and books that get buzzy film deals. Instant gratification in an industry that rarely gives anything instantly. It’s a constant tease that there could always be a bigger, better opportunity around the corner.

It’s so easy to lose sight of the reason I became a literary agent.

That love of reading. A passion to bring amazing words to more readers. To champion under-represented voices. To change the world as only literature can. To reach that shy girl who spent her nights with a nose pressed into a book, reading about a world so much bigger than the limited one she was growing up in. That teenager in the throes of hormonal depression reading that she was not alone, that young woman traveling to faraway places because she had been inspired by the words on a page. To the grad student having an internal feminist revolution with experimental fiction, and the new mother fighting drowning in post-partum blues with beautiful prose. They are why I’m here.

It’s important to step away from the noise, to take a breath and remember why we do what we do, as I am reminding myself right now. If you are online (maybe your agent made you start tweeting, so potential editors could stalk you) try to filter the noise the best you can. Go to bookstores and libraries, meet people in person and have face-to-face conversations. Remind yourself that what you see online is only a small piece of the big picture.

Don’t get lost in the echo.

Mary C. MooreMay 8, 2018

 

Mark your calendars, I’m hosting a live webinar for Writer’s Digest on Thursday, June 14 at 1pm EDT. We will be discussing reader immersion, natural world-building, and polishing your writing all through a SFF lens. And bonus, there’s a 750 word critique! For more details and to sign up click the link below:

Wizards, Robots, and Ghosts: Navigating Narration Within Sci-Fi & Fantasy

 

 

 

Do Literary Agents Reject Your Submission After Reading One Line?

I often get asked, “what makes you auto-reject a submission?” This is difficult to respond to as the answer is complicated and multi-layered. There isn’t a magical rule that will somehow make your submission “safe” from being discarded after the first glance. Anything from personal taste, to current list space, to the market can factor into a quick rejection. This is why a chorus of agents and editors and published writers are always singing “don’t take rejection personally.” Easier said than done, right?

There are many things you can do to ensure your submission has the best chance of being considered further. There are posts upon posts on how to write a decent query (including one of my own). Follow each agency’s submission rules, know your comparable titles, have an online presence, present yourself as an appealing client, and so on.

Of course none of this matters if the sample pages fail to reel us in. If your pitch does happen to snag my interest, I’m reading the sample. If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve passed the query auto-rejection phase. Congratulations! But now those pages have to hold my interest. Yes, I have rejected a submission based on the first sentence and yes, it happens more often than I’d like. But how could you possibly know from the first line? you ask.

Because it’s our job to know.

Sounds arrogant, sure. Believe me, I’ve been there on the other side, thinking it wasn’t fair that agents claimed they rejected a sub based on that first line. But after years of reading the slushpile, editing manuscripts, shopping clients, etc., I’ve been trained to see the level of prose based off that first line. Other agents will tell you the same.

That opening line tells us multiple things about your manuscript. A few examples:

  1. There’s a grammar/spelling/typo mistake
    • you’re inexperienced with basic writing rules or
    • you’re lazy and don’t proofread or
    • you’re impatient and don’t proofread
  2. It’s a poorly constructed sentence
    • same as above
  3. Your character is waking up
    • This is done all the time. It shows your inexperience.
  4. Rhetorical question
    • You have to get the reader to care first before asking them a question. Indicates you may not understand narrative characterization yet.
  5. Your character is running/fighting/breathing hard
    • We don’t know your character yet, so we don’t care what action they are doing. Shows you may not be able to create tension without using action.
  6. There’s a dead body (or another cliche)
    • It’s not shocking as we didn’t know the person before they were dead. Plus it’s been done. A lot. This tells us you may write in a lot of cliches.
  7. The weather is being described
    • I did this in my first novel! *cringes. Shows you may not be able to streamline your world-building using only important details.
  8. A vague “deep” philosophical statement is made
    • Same issue as the rhetorical question.
  9. It’s dialogue
    • This one you’ll get other agents that disagree, but I’m not a fan of dialogue-heavy prose, so the first line as dialogue doesn’t go over well with me. Plus you run the risk of “floating head syndrome.”
  10. Your character sighs, purses their lips, looks at something, shrugs, grins, raises their eyebrow or some other filler action
    • I dislike these filler actions in general, but in that first line they are the biggest tension killers of all. If a filler action is used in the first sentence, no doubt the rest of the manuscript is filled with them.

I could teach an entire semester on the first line, and I’m still fairly fresh in the publishing industry. Imagine what editors and agents who have been reading for 20+ years could glean from that sentence.

Of course, the disclaimer, many writers have done all of these things in their first line and their books are hugely successful. I mean hell, the first client I signed and sold did one of them. But in general, these are a few of the reasons I pass on the first line. Before you get too frustrated, hear me out. It’s not a final judgement on your writing. If your opening line causes me to pass on your project, despite being intrigued by your pitch, it’s not that you are a bad writer, it simply means the pages aren’t ready, or that you aren’t ready.

On a sunny note–if you nail it, that first line can result in a request.