Dear Miss Snark,
I was interested in your comment this morning that a manuscript containing dead kids would be a no-no for you and I hope this isn't a completely nitwitted question but I was wondering why. Is it simply that you wouldn't want to read anything so harrowing or is there more to it - is the death of a child is something that people tend to use in a sensationalist way, perhaps, or is it something that people tend to write badly about? Are there any other subjects (apart from cruelty to dogs, obviously) that you feel similarly about?
I hope I won't sound really callous for asking this. In my defence, I've got two young kids and I know that I'll never be able to watch "Don't look now" or "Sophie's Choice" again, but I'd definitely re-read "We need to talk about Kevin" because I think it's a brilliantly written book.
There are several things I will not read in any form. Every agent has at least one. Mostly they aren't on the websites. You just have to take your chances.
The reason I don't post an "ewww" list is because I think it will give other queriers the wrong idea about what I'm looking for.
For example: I will not take on fiction of any sort that features a pedophile priest, not as a hero, not as a villain. Never. I'll make this choice without reading the pages. I don't care how good it is, it's literally not right for my list.
Is that on my website? No.
Why? First, I don't want to seem disrespectful to people who've written those kinds of novels from their own pain.
Second, I don't want people to conclude I'm a prissy agent, ie don't send me your lewd fuck-filled vulgarity strewn fiction!
Third, I have shake hands with Father Santo every Sunday after Mass and I don't want to hurt his feelings by having a book like that on my list.
(Please don't write anti Catholic screed to me in the comments section)
A couple auto-no's for most agents: dead kids, torture, child abuse, sex abuse. They are auto-no's for as many reasons as there are agents.
It's one of the few places where "good writing trumps all" doesn't apply.
In this case you just have to query until you find the agents for whom these topics are not an automatic no. That's one of the ways I justify my prejudice to myself: there are a LOT of other agents in this biz and if you write well, there is someone for whom these issues aren't a problem. You just have to find them.