Having finished the manuscript for No Tears for Old Scratch, I’ve been hard at work trying to find an agent to represent the novel to publishers. I have already self-published my work, including one collection of short stories and several e-books, with a great distribution network for an independent author, but for this novel, I wanted to take it to a larger audience. I feel it’s a bigger book (and a nice step up for me as a writer). Thanks to a little hard work on a well-crafted query letter and working some connections with publishing industry friends, I’ve actually been getting very good responses from agents. As anyone who has gone through this process knows, the usual response to a query is:
“This is not for me – but thanks for the opportunity!”
I always like when an agent responds with enthusiasm (!) when rejecting a query. Or there is the British version:
“Thank you for your submission, which we have read with interest. Unfortunately we did not feel enthusiastic enough about it to take this further. We are sorry to give you a disappointing response but thank you for thinking of us in connection with your work.”
Or the even shorter:
“Not for me, but thanks.”
Thankfully, I’ve actually been receiving very few of those. What I have been getting are requests to either read a sample or the full manuscript. And the response has been both surprising and interesting. In many ways, a lot of the agents like the manuscript, even going into detail about what they think works in the manuscript. And yet, there are no takers yet. What I find fascinating is the range of reasons that an agent ultimately decides to pass on a manuscript. Sometimes it’s the sell-ability of the novel. Other times, the tone. Or sometimes they feel they are just not the right agent, even if they like the story.
As an exercise in sort of documenting the whole process, I thought I would start posting some of the responses I receive from agents (anonymously of course). I’m not looking to slag them. These are just their opinions and most are actually well thought out. But for fellow writers who know the process and even curious readers, I thought it might be an interesting look at what writers go through in order to sell a manuscript.
So without further ado:
Here’s a response I received yesterday.
Query response: Agent asked to see the manuscript after a query e-mail was forwarded to him by another agent in the same agency
Response time: 49 days. Agent didn’t actually respond back until I e-mailed to see if you had time to read the MS and had any feedback.
You do an excellent job describing Knobs End–I felt totally immersed in this small town. Along the same lines, your writing carefully crafts a feeling that the town is vulnerable to outside corruption. Each horrific event that takes place in the town furthers this haunting atmosphere and, at the same time, creates a sense of thrill. In addition, the way the story touches on religious and political points of contention, like abortion, adds a depth and cultural relevancy that works well and is thought-provoking.
That being said, thrillers are part of an incredibly crowded market, and I worry that the writing lacks a certain narrative cohesion. While the concept is strikingly original, I sometimes felt that the story could unfold more quickly, and that certain aspects of the plot are overwhelmingly detailed to the point of confusion. I also had a difficult time connecting emotionally with the characters. There are some fine moments and gripping twists in this novel, but in the end, I didn’t connect with the material quite viscerally enough to feel that I am the right person to champion this project for you.
I think those are all fair points. After all an agent is not selling on writing ability, but on sell-ability. Your MS is a product. And this agent’s take on the novel is that it would work as a thriller. So they are reading it with that mind set. The interesting part is that the novel is not a thriller. It’s a literary novel, it just has a lot of murder in it, including one particular murder that serves as the eye of the storm for the book. However, agents, especially this one in particular, will read this with an eye to how they think they can sell it. In this case, the thriller aspects are what attracts the agent, but for his/her taste, it’s not thrillery enough. Again, interesting feedback and part of the reason why I’m fascinated by the process.
Keep checking back. More to come…