1.09.2006

If you can't spot the sucker at a poker game....

I only recently found your site and I think you rock. I love the fact that you pull no punches, but you're fair. (And funny. Some of your responces on the Crapometer had me giggling like Renfield from the original Lugosi Dracula.) Okay, on to my question: My work is good. I don't mean to sound arrogant with this statement. I'm not claiming to be the best thing since Faulkner or anything, but I'm as good as much, if not most, of what's on the shelf at your average bookstore today. And I'm better than a quite a bit of it. After numerous revisions, I have crafted a damn fine query letter. The same is true of my synopsis. Yet, after a couple years trying, all I have to show for my efforts is a growing stack of rejection letters, mostly form responces. And so my question is this: What does it take to get the attention of a literary agent, if just being good isn't good enough?


Well I'm glad you picked up on the fact that I don't pull my punches cause I'm about ready to slam one into your ego. Ready?

You're not as good as you think you are.

Now the question you really want to ask is "WHAT is holding me back", not "why don't they recognize my quality." I assure you, agents are on the hunt for good work. Yes we miss things. Yes we miss things more than once. But if you're consistently getting form rejection letters, the problem is you.

Did you send anything to the crapometer?
Do you belong to a good critique group?
Can you attend a writers conference for feedback?

I can tell you the problem is you, but I can't fix it here.
That's up to you.
Now get busy.

11 comments:

Karen said...

Not to mention you spelled it 'responces'.

I worship at the altar of snark ...

December Quinn said...

When's the last time you read you work? Read it all the way through, as if you were reading it for the first time?

I ask because I set a ms aside for almost two years. A book I was, and still am, very proud of, but for one reason and another didn't submit anywhere.

I re-read it recently and, while I still think it's very good, I was horrified at the amount of passive voice I was using, at the times I overexplained things, etc. Once I'd distanced myself from it, I was able to see those problems I'd missed the first few times I edited it.

Just a thought. Might be good to really look at it again and see where you can tighten it up, especially those first three chapters, since nobody's requesting a full. (Unless they are, and you didn't mention it. Re-edit the whole thing, of course, but concenrate on those first three!)

Good luck!

Kelsey said...

Don't feel bad, fellow writer, it's totally me, too. :P

Anonymous said...

I sympathize. I got divorced last year, and no matter how many babes I hit on, absolutely nobody will go out with me. The trouble is that women are spoiled by cheap sex symbols such as George Clooney.

Karen Dionne said...

The problem could be not the quality of your writing, but your subject matter. I know a very talented literary fiction author who wrote FIVE books before he finally hit on an amazingly commercial story. After years of being unable to generate agent interest, he signed with a top-notch agent when he was just 38K into this novel. His dark literary fiction is finished now, and so far, three editors have asked for exclusives.

If your writing really is that good (and it may well be), you might rethink your stories with an eye to commerciality.

Anonymous said...

I suppose it's possible that his work is just too literary, but wouldn't his rejections reflect that? He said "mostly form" rejections in two years of submitting. If he had terrific writing, he'd get agents saying, "The writing is terrific, but I can't sell this particular book. Send me another one sometime."

kj said...

Lovely support here--but I think the odds are, Miss Snark is right.

kj said...

Lovely support here--but I think the odds are, Miss Snark is right.

kathie said...

Kelsey, you're cracking me up.

Karen Dionne said...

Actually, at the risk of being blunt, I wasn't suggesting that this person's work might be "too literary," I was suggesting it might be too boring.

Terrific writing isn't enough. The story's got to be compelling as well.

When I worked as a lit mag editor, submissions fell into three rough groups: those that didn't have a prayer because either the story or the writing was lacking (or both!); those that were good, even very good, that made it through the slush pile, but that ultimately didn't stand out enough to make it into the magazine; and those that sang - the ones the editors got excited about as soon as they read them and posted to the staff list: "you have to read #34861! It's marvelous!"

All I was suggesting was the possibility that this author fell into the second group, the "good, but not good enough," and if that's the case, they should give serious thought to the kinds of stories they're writing.

Think of all the synopses Miss Snark posted here recently. There were only one or two out of the hundred in which her response was "I'd read this in a heartbeat," and it wasn't solely because of the quality of the writing. In those rare cases, there was something about the story that spoke to her as well.

My friend rarely got the least bit of positive response from agents after querying for his novels for years. While I'm sure on occasion it happens, it's not an agent's job to nurture aspiring writers by encouraging them to send them something else simply because their writing is good. Their inboxes are already overflowing.

My friend was about to give up (five unrepresented novels!) when he got the inspiration for this last story. He knew it was going to be the most commercial (read "saleable") literary fiction novel he'd ever written. He posted a three-sentence description of his work-in-progress to his writers' group, along with a link to two gorgeous chapters on his website. One of the members read it, loved it, sent the link to their agent ("you gotta read this!"), and wham-o - three days later, my friend had an offer of representation. He didn't even query. The writing is so good, and the story so instantly 'gettable' (iow 'commercial,' that his agent was even willing to submit to editors with just the first 100 pages, but my friend wanted to finish the novel first.

Those three editors who asked for exclusives did so before they'd ever seen a word of my friend's writing, because the story excited them.

So that's all I'm saying. Fantastic writing isn't enough. You also have to have a fantastic story. If this author who wrote to Miss Snark has been beating his head against agents' doors for years with no results, and his writing really is as good as he says, the lack of an exciting, compelling, instantly gettable story might be why.

archer said...

What Karen Dionne said. In retrospect that was the main thing about the Crapometer--to actually see and experience (as in "Ouch") the principle of "fresh and new" as it operates in the business.