"Not Competitive"

Dear Miss Snark,

I've had a few partial requests for my novel and most of them sent back rejections saying that although my writing was good and the story interesting it wasn't competitive enough for the market. I'm not exactly sure how I'm supposed to make it more competitive. Do I polish my voice more? Make the writing tighter? Tweek the plot? A combination of all of them?

In a market this tough I'm not sure which direction to go. I've heard that voice is everything, well there's no discounting the plot, but does competitive equal voice?

Thank you for any help.

I'm assuming these are agents saying this, not editors. If it was editors "not competitive" means they don't think they can sell enough.

For an agent "not competitve" means you aren't distinctive enough. This is where the dreaded fresh and original comes in. I see quite a few books as partials or fulls that are pretty darn good but there's nothing there that makes me say "aha!" I have to be able to answer the questions "what makes this stand out from the crowd" "what is going to surprise me" when I send this to editors. Business as usual will not do that.

I suggest stepping back from the project for a bit. Work on something else for awhile. Then go back and really look at your characters and plot. You have to be able to look at your work with an objective eye. That's the single biggest weakness in writers: they can't see how their own work looks on the literary buffet.

It's not easy sometimes to see this when you are in deeply involved in it. It's a little like the third date with Mr Wonderful: everything about him looks perfect and you're thinking how fun a summer wedding will be but by June you've discovered he reads Danielle Steele and thinks poodles are merely decorative. Time for renovation or removal.


SherryD said...

Not all dogs are wonderful, but so far all the poodles that come into the hardware store are fabulous. They sit in the shopping carts like small children with good manners, and they are friendly when they get to the cash register. I'm learning some of the repeat-customer-dogs' names, and if it's okay with their owners I give them doggy biscuits from under the counter. Working at a hardware store provides a lot of interesting characters for writing : )

Jenny Barnhart said...

Thanks for the answer. :) I'll step back and think on it. It's been almost six months since I sent the first query out and I have started a new project. Once I finish, I'll do a read through and figure out what direction to take.

RkBall said...

Wouldn't it be preferable for a writer to "tweak" the plot?

Anonymous said...

I suggest stepping back from the project for a bit.

What a magical thing this can be, but hard because we obsess so much with what we're working on. I knew something was wrong with my novel, but it wasn't until I stepped away from it to write another that what needed to happen happened. When I finally revisited it I still loved it, but one after another, ideas came--and they made all the difference.

Must have been the old sub-conscious, free to work undisturbed.

Anonymous said...

So my question is, is it possible for a manuscript to stand out too much from the crowd? Become to difficult to place into set genre?

Thanks to all,

Desperate Writer said...

AHA--I get it.

PUB: We are looking for something with that certain spark, something unique, fresh and original. Something JUST LIKE so-and-so's vampire, stiletto heel-wearing Frankenstein killer series that made all the bestseller lists last year. Something just like that, except fresh, unique, different...

AUTHOR: Dear PUB: Here is my submission of The Vampiress Wore Jimmy Choo, Until They Got Sticky With Frankenstein Guts and She Changed Into Her Manolo Blahnik's. This completed 100,000 word manuscript is similar to So-and-So's except in addition to slicing up Frankie, she puts him back together again with a new set of vampy dentures.

PUB: Dear AUTHOR: Not right for us that this time. Please keep in mind this business is subjective. Good luck in placing your work elsewhere.

Another PUB: Dear AUTHOR: This is similar to another one we just bought, so we will be unable to consider your work at this time. Better luck elsewhere.

Another PUB: Dear AUTHOR: We regret we are unable to consider your manuscript at this time. We feel the market is saturated with stories of this nature at this time, and no slots will be available.

PUB at Conference of Your Choice: Knife wielding, stiletto-wearing Vampires that kill Frankenstein novels are dead. What we are looking for is such and such, just like So and So's, only unique, fresh and different....

Anonymous said...

I just finished judging my local RWA chapters contest and saw this in more than one entry. Technically there was nothing wrong with them. They were good solid stories but they had no spark.

For lack of any better analogy, they were like workhorses, not race horses.