Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Literary Agents, are you listening?

What is the magic ingredient that agents and publishers look for? Does anyone know? Do agents and publishers know that they want?

I am sure there are thousands of well researched, well written books flooding through their letter boxes and inboxes every day and most of the writers receive no more than a polite thank you, but no thanks.

It can be disheartening. It can be soul-destroying. I heard someone say of Mills & Boon that they make "nice" rejections, because they are kind people and they don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.

That can be bad, too. The next agent, perhaps pushed for time, may tell the plain unvarnished truth of the same submission: this is total rubbish and unpublishable. Which is the kindest in the long run?

What would help, and is virtually impossible to receive, are concrete facts on what publishers want. I think the truth is they want the next bestseller but don't know it until they see it. A bit like me searching the dress racks rejecting them all and then pouncing on one item: thats it!
But what do you think a book needs to make it that hot certainty?
Clarity of prose? Accurate research? a good story? or does it come down to the real nitty gritty - no adverbs, no past tense, no passive sentences?
Must we follow fashion and write in the first person or the present tense? Must there be a cliff hanger at the end of every chapter - or, as I read somewhere last week, at the end of every scene?
How much luck is involved? If I am writing a book about Merlin (I'm not, but let's imagine I am!) and a new tv series on Merlin starts to rapturous ratings just as my manuscript hits an agents desk, will that do it for me?
H'mmmm. If so, I'd better buy a crystal ball.


Anita Davison said...

A hook at the end of every scene? How much adrenalin do these readers want? That's what roller coasters are for! What happened to the quiet read by a cosy fire and escape into a gentler, kinder world with a cup of cocoa at your side. Ye Gods1

Anne Whitfield - author said...

It's the million dollar question isn't it, Jen?
I've no idea, I wish I did.
Querying agents and receiving rejections just sucks the creative process right out of you.

Jen Black said...

Not keen on the cocoa Anita, but the cosy fire and the quiet read sounds fine to me. I am coming to the conclusion that there is a vast difference between the requirements of US and UK publishing houses, and even US and UK readers. How do you find it in Oz, Anne?

Glynis said...

I am confused by what is required of me, so I will just write, edit and take a deep breath. I will turn a negative into a positive when I receive my rejections, at least my MS got as far as someone's desk. LOL

Linda Banche said...

As far as I can tell,agents and publishers want what will sell. And just because something is selling today, doesn't mean the same things will be selling tomorrow.

I really don't know. I read a lot of new mass-market paperback romance authors and I'm bored. Most have a thin story and lots of sex. Maybe that's what it takes to get into mass-market.