Articles Tagged with literary agent advice

Blog Post Image by Mary C. Moore

Examining the “I Just Didn’t Fall In Love” Rejection

As I gear up to open to submissions for the new year, I’m once again faced with the task of whittling down the remaining fulls in my query inbox. I’d love to get down to zero, a fresh start to 2020. I have less than ten manuscripts to consider. Should be easy right?

Wrong.

As the pile of “maybes” gets smaller, the harder it is to make decisions on what to let go. There’s the young adult thriller I’ve had since spring, in which, although the plot is a mess, I’m in love with the narrative voice. The contemporary middle grade that’s been there since late summer, with the amazing concept and natural tension, but rough writing. The adult fantasy, just requested before shutting down my inbox, that is totally epic and totally up my alley, but perhaps not enough to break out in the smaller SFF market. The interesting women’s fiction from early fall, with the really cool author with lots of great experience and a huge platform, that doesn’t quite catch, but maybe could with some edits.

I can’t take on all of them. But there isn’t a good reason to reject them. So I start typing those dreaded words, “I just didn’t fall in love,” cringing because after months of considering a full manuscript, I know the author is going to be frustrated by this lame response. Sure I try to dress it up best I can, but the bottom line, is “it’s not you, it’s me.” I’ve gotten plenty of those types of responses from editors to know that wrapping it in a pretty ribbon of words isn’t going to make the seemingly arbitrary rejection any less baffling and/or disheartening.

How can I explain myself, and my cohort of literary agents across the country, for sending rejections we ourselves dread to receive?

So I emphasize once again, how in tune I must be with a manuscript and its author. My vision for what editorial the manuscript needs and who the target audience is should be crystal clear. Knowing those two factors, I can lay a path forward for myself and the author. My vision has to be strong, because that path will most definitely veer and fork and turn on itself. This business is a roller coaster at best and a human-eating monster at worst. As one of my favorite lit peeps Literary Agent DongWon Song pointed out in a recent Writing Excuses podcost:

Now, the thing is, publishing is a system that is designed to be extremely random. What makes a book work is highly unpredictable. What makes a book tank, also highly unpredictable. So when you’re thinking about this, there’s two things you need to keep in mind: always have a plan. But also be ready to throw that plan out the window at the drop of a hat. . . . You will go completely mad if you try to map the whole thing. So you pick your path, but then you’re ready to know, we can pivot wherever we need to. 

https://wetranscripts.dreamwidth.org/166134.html

So when I’m reading a particularly strong submission, I’m considering the biggest factor that will push me to make an offer: Is my vision for it strong and clear enough to survive through the inevitable roller coaster?

The writing may be excellent, the author may be fantastic, the story may be right up my alley, but could I take it the distance? If I give it more time, will my vision potentially solidify or should I let it go now?

The next time an agent hangs on to your manuscript for months and then all you get is a “I just didn’t fall in love” rejection, pat yourself on the back, you’re rising to the top of hundreds of thousands of submissions. It’s only a matter of time before you find someone who will “fall in love.”

And in the meantime, remember, it really wasn’t you, it was me.

Writer’s Digest Bootcamp is Back!

After a long hiatus, the agents of Kimberley Cameron & Associates are once again teaching a Writer’s Digest course. Sign up and you get to join an online forum where you have four hours over two days to ask me anything about publishing. I will be there in real time, and there are no stupid questions.

After the forum, I will critique your query letter and first ten pages (this does not count as a submission, it’s for you to improve your work, you can always submit to me officially at a later date after you’ve incorporated the feedback).

Even if you are not ready to query, you are welcome to join us and to get feedback on your rough draft.

Enroll here: https://www.writersonlineworkshops.com/courses/agent-one-on-one-how-to-craft-query-letters-other-submission-materials-that-get-noticed-boot-camp

*Note, although you will have access to all the KC&A discussions, whichever agent you are assigned to will be the one answering your questions on the forum and critiquing your work, so if you are looking to connect with one of us specifically, make sure you let WD know.

How To Query an Agent Workshop

I’m pleased to share that I’ll be heading an affordable and local workshop on how to query a literary agent this month! On Sunday, September 22, at 2pm during the Marin California Writers Club’s monthly meeting, I’ll be discussing the importance of the query, advising how to craft one, as well as answering questions and critiquing a few (anonymously) for the group (if you wish for yours to be critiqued, bring a print copy minus any identifying information).

The event will be held at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera.

Although it is hosted by the CWC, non-members are welcome as well. At $10 a person ($5 for members) this is a really good deal, when you consider attending a conference or online workshop to get the same information would be at least 20 times this price.

I’m always keen to share what I wish I had learned back when I was a querying author, and am strongly aware of the lack of affordable resources for writers. So please feel welcome, even if you’re not ready to query yet. This is a great opportunity and I hope to meet more than a few local writers there!

Agents Query Too

One of the most important and also hardest aspects of my job is getting a project past the publishers’ editorial front line. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the process: once an agent has sent a manuscript to editors, said editors will read and consider whether or not they want to take the ms to acquisitions. That means the editor has to be passionate about it enough to get their team to read it fairly quickly (all of whom are swamped with their own tbr pile), draft a profit and loss statement, convince a room full of people that the ms is worth investing in. Basically stake their reputation on it.

This excruciating process can take weeks, and it is a lot of time and energy away from current work (not taking into consideration the project going to auction). So an editor can like a project–they mostly do like the client work that I send, as I work hard to maintain a standard and appeal to individual tastes–but simply liking a project isn’t enough. So I have to do everything in my power to get them excited before they read it, which means creating a letter that indicates why they are a great fit for the project, and one that includes a powerful pitch, current successful comparative titles, and a clear author bio. Sometimes I will pitch in person or on the phone, but the power points remain the same. Sound familiar?

If it works then they go in primed to love the manuscript. Which gives it the best possible chance to make it past the front line. And ideally go further–then the editor will use those same power points when lobbying your manuscript to marketing, financial, the publisher itself. And those points will be part of the final decision, i.e. if you are going to be made an offer.

So remember, that’s the end game. Your query is not just a way of introducing yourself to an agent, but to show how your manuscript can be positioned positively in the market and that it has potential to sell. You’re clearing the road blocks, so the decision gets down to the writing itself.

Don’t be intimidated by this, we don’t expect new authors to navigate the market with years of experience and execute the perfect query letter (that is why you’re looking for a literary agent after all), but at least understanding why these concepts are important can only benefit you on your road toward publication.

And even if you do pull off everything perfectly, you will probably still get rejected. It’s incredibly frustrating and heartbreaking, but you’re not alone, and we feel it too. Every agent has a few of those projects that they’ve never forgotten and were stumped as to why they didn’t sell.

But you can and will navigate the process with more confidence and knowledge and eventually there will be a project that will get that yes.

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.