Ask Daphne! About codewords

March 6th, 2009 • Kate

Really eye-catching shoes, but how do you walk in them? for Pablo, who wants to know:

What does it mean when an agent rejects a manuscript and says, “I didn’t make a strong enough connection with the manuscript to offer representation.” I’ve had three agents say that to me after reading my manuscript, all complimented my writing and none pointed out specific flaws that were deal breakers. Two asked to see future work. I sent one agent my second novel. Again he complimented the writing but said that he did not make a strong enough connection with the manuscript to offer representation. What does this phrase mean in terms of the quality of writing? I’m torn between pulling back and revising or continuing to query with my two completed novels. Right now I have eight partials and one full out with agents. I’m at work on a third novel so it’s not like I’m just sitting around waiting but I don’t want to burn bridges with writing that isn’t ready.

I can’t tell you exactly what another agent means, but when I use those words, it’s a polite code for “Yeah, it’s good, but I don’t care enough to want to sign it.”
Which is kinda rude, sure, but that’s why we USE polite codewords, and other trite phrases.
The fact is this — if I sign an author, I have to LOVE their book. Not just like it, not just think it has potential, not just feel like it’s good for an afternoon’s read when I have nothing else to do. I need to live with it for years, from original submission through sending it out to editors, through contract negotiations, publication schedule, bad reviews, an reprintings. It’s not a short process.
So if I don’t love a book from the get-go, trust me, it’s better for all of us if I decline.
It sounds to me like you’ve got a good story, and you’re clearly doing a great job with queries, or you wouldn’t have so many requests for the full. Now all you have to do is connect that initial interest with the RIGHT agent, and you’re golden.

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3 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About codewords”

  1. Jamie Harrington Says:

    Okay, so yeah… I have been thinking about this a lot, and it stresses me out… how do I find the person to LOVE my novel, and how can anyone love a book enough to live with it for years? I love my book, and it makes me so happy, but it's MY book, so it stands to reason I should love it, right?
    I wish there was some way to run it by an agent and ask if the premise was sellable before I went through the next six months of edit.. ya know?

  2. Kate Says:

    Unfortunately there's not, Jamie, you just have to put all your love into the project and send it out with all your best wishes, and hope it finds someone who loves it as much as you do. I guess it's like being a parent, huh?

  3. Amy Sue Nathan Says:

    I'm weeks away from querying agents. I checked your site and saw your authors, it seems like they all write YA, yet your submission guidelines say you like "witty women's fiction." Have you sold women's fiction — is that an area you want to get into?
    Just curious in Chicago, with fingers crossed. (So hard to type this way).