Declining a Partial

August 24th, 2011 • Kate

logan-veronica-marsOver the past few days, I’ve been tackling the backlog of partials I’ve requested, and I sent off several responses today to authors declining their books. With partials, unlike queries, I do try to give a reason as to why I’m passing, and I wanted to share a little of the thought process behind the somewhat brief phrases I may use for my emails. Here are a few examples (not, however, from any of the responses I sent today), with names changed as necessary:

I like Veronica as a character, though Duncan comes across as a little too perfect — despite this, however, I was less than enthusiastic about the possible love triangle with Logan. Love triangles seem to be in every plot lately, and it’s hard to really connect to each of the points on the triangle — you want readers to create teams, and not immediately have a favorite that they know the MC will end up with, because the other option is just ridiculous. I chose to change the manuscript’s characters names to those from Veronica Mars, because I think that show did a great job of making what seemed a crazy choice of a love interest turn out to be the best for the main character. Unless you preferred Duncan, in which case, sorry. Logan Echolls rulez! (Look at those gams!)

Your world has a neat feeling akin to the videogame Portal, but beyond world-building, I need to connect strongly to a character, and I’m afraid I just didn’t get that connection with Caroline. This is something that came up several times in my query workshop last weekend — plot and setting is important, but without a strong character for the reader to connect to, it’s not enough. You can build the most intriguing world ever, but if you don’t put interesting people in it, it’s empty. And who wants to visit an empty world?

I think you have a strong, fun voice, but I just didn’t fall in love with this story, and, to be honest, the proliferation of snowshoeing stories that I’ve seen lately make me worry that this theme may already be “done”, at least in terms of what publishers are willing to buy. This sample was fun to read, with strong writing, but the plot didn’t drive me to ask “what happens next?”, and the topic was one that I felt I’d already seen a number of times. And I think any time an agent is bored with a topic, you can believe editors feel the same way, times ten. (Note: this was not actually about showshoeing. Feel free to read as about vampires, werewolves, mermaids or angels instead.)

This reads like a thesis project — beautiful writing and some interesting characters — but lacking in the strong narrative drive that would appeal in the middle grade market. Strong writing isn’t enough in this tough market. Even so-called “literary” novels still need to play to a commercial base, and tell a story that moves along. Especially with younger readers, who are picking up books for the story, not the lyrical prose.

And then, regrettably, several responses that spoke to the same problem:

Jennifer has an intriguing voice, but I’m afraid I felt the story moved too slowly to compete in a very difficult market for realistic YA fiction.

I really enjoyed reading this — I liked Michelle’s voice and her style — but I’m afraid the market for contemporary YA fiction right now is very tough, and I’m not certain that this has a big enough hook to break out.

The sad fact of the current market is that contemporary YA, without a paranormal hook, is extremely difficult to place right now. I’m afraid as much as I enjoyed reading the opening of your novel, I don’t think it’s something I could find a home for in today’s market.

I LOVE contemporary novels, but they are more difficult to place right now than novels with a paranormal or fantastical bent. Do I hope that’s changing? Oh hells yes. And to judge from the other panelists on my WriteOnCon chat session last week, other agents think so do, and we can all envision a future trend towards realism.

Until then, however, a contemporary novel needs to be OUTSTANDING to find a home. Is yours?

Any other agent-speak phrases I can try to translate for you?

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28 Responses to “Declining a Partial”

  1. Melanie Jacobson Says:


    I'm the one who won the critique in Carrie Harris's giveaway contest. I guess I know what to look forward to in our (eventual) phone call on my contemporary YA novel.

    Nonetheless, I love contemporary YA. I loved teaching it as an 8th grade language arts teacher and people like Maureen Johnson and E. Lockart rock my socks. So I think before magicking up my story, I'll sit tight and wait for the contemp trend to catch on. A slight bit of paranormal burnout will set in some time, right? Right. (Right?)

  2. DaphneUn Says:

    I certainly hope so! And don't go changing to meet the trend. After all, who knows, maybe your novel will be one that publishers go crazy for! (Look at ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS!)

  3. Melanie Jacobson Says:

    My favorite book of the year, actually.

  4. DaphneUn Says:

    Just wait til you meet LOLA!

  5. Melanie Jacobson Says:

    Stupid October.

  6. Maribeth Says:

    How about, "I'm not connecting with it in the way I need to?" I have received this phrase the most.

  7. DaphneUn Says:

    If I used this phrase, it would likely speak to a lack of detail in the characters — something about them doesn't draw me into the story enough. The bigger picture answer here is the fact that agents do need to LOVE every book that they sign. We work so closely with our authors, and for SO LONG, that if you only sort of like a book, you're going to get sick of it long before you've done it justice. We have to love our books — that's the connection we need.

  8. Hillsy Says:

    Oooo…you should make a encyclopedia of all the usual agent declines and translate them!!! I do like it when agents explain their thought processes behind rejection, so this is brilliant stuff!!

    I've got a partial due back in 4 weeks and I fully expect a rejection (I'm pretty good with probabilities) and at the moment all I'm hoping for is a comment that the writing is strong enough. But I notice its something that only gets mentioned in the positive (I can understand that you'd be uncomfortable saying "Nice idea but you write like a drunk child"). Therefore, can you assume that if the nuts and bolts of your writing is solid, it will be commented on, and if not its sort of criticism by omission?

    By the way I'm going to hound you if I get any personalised feedback sometime next month for a translation…hehe. Just kidding – honest…=0)

  9. DaphneUn Says:

    Actually, I think if the writing is sold, most of the time it WON'T be commented on — unless it's truly exceptional. For the most part, my response is about what didn't work for me — if the writing was fine, that's not going to be mentioned, since it likely wasn't the deciding factor in my decision to decline.

  10. kurtbaumeister Says:

    I was intrigued by your off-beat query, and your writing voice was certainly original and had personality. In the end, though, I decided that the novel and I are not quite right for each other. I didn't feel there was enough forward momentum – it was almost as though you were getting stuck in the voice and causing the story to stagnate.


  11. DaphneUn Says:

    Sounds like the agent didn't connect with the plot — maybe they wanted things to happen more quickly than they were, or they felt that you were spending so much time with the characters that there wasn't a true drive to the story.

    The terms "off-beat", "original" and "personality" also make me wonder if your manuscript might not be too quirky for the market, or at least for that agent.

  12. Kate Larkindale Says:

    I really hope the contemporary market gets more robust. I keep getting the 'like it a lot, but couldn't sell it' kind of response. And I don't like paranormal or fantasy much, so can't see myself writing it.

  13. kurtbaumeister Says:

    The rejection was on a full, not a partial and was for a literary thriller if that adds anything. Thanks!

  14. Alex F. Chavez Says:

    Thank U for the information! Any opportunity to glimpse inside the potential thought process of an agent is helpful & much appreciated. 🙂

  15. Laura Pauling Says:

    This was terrific. I see it as similar to why I choose not to buy a book. Sometimes it really isn't the writing – it just wasn't for me. Thanks!

  16. DaphneUn Says:

    Exactly! It's a personal decision.

  17. A.L. Sonnichsen Says:

    Great post! Here's to the boundless optimism necessary to bringing realistic YA back to the bestseller lists of the world! I do think books like ANNA will bring it back … so many people who "don't read contemporary" read that book and loved it.


  18. Melbourne Writers Festival Day 1 + Good Reads + Exciting News | Website of Megan Burke Says:

    […] Ask Daphne: Decling a Partial […]

  19. LupLun Says:

    Thanks on behalf of all your rejectees, even those who yelled at you for rejecting them. You have no idea how frustrating it is to get better than a form rejection or non-response from anyone.


  20. LupLun Says:

    To try and get better than a form rejection, rather. Sorry.


  21. Chelsey Says:

    I just love that you changed the first one to a Veronica Mars reference. ;-D

  22. DaphneUn Says:

    Thanks! It inspired me to start a rewatch of Season One.

  23. Chelsey Says:

    That is ALWAYS a good decision.Envoyé de m

  24. Catherine A. Winn Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing these 🙂 The last personal rejection I received stated that she loved the suspense (mystery/thriller) but couldn't figure how to market it. I translated it to mean it wasn't commercial enough.

  25. Theresa Milstein Says:

    I appreciate some insight from agent rejections. Thank you.

  26. Suzanne Says:

    Okay, I'm so needing this right now! I've had a lot of partial and full requests, and even personal responses on most my queries +chapters, and keep getting back responses like these:
    "Although [novel title] is well-written, we did not connect to the premise as we had hoped."

    " I thought this was an awesome premise for a
    middle grade novel, and I especially loved the magic action in the first
    chapters! However, as much as I enjoyed these pages, I'm afraid I didn't
    quite connect to (characters) as leading characters in the way I would need
    to in order to request more."

    So, what do you think? I really love this story so I'm tempted to try (another!) rewrite but I'm not sure how to fix this. I do have three fulls still out, and most the rejecting agents requested I send future work…but I'd like to understand what I should do differently next time. I'd hate to be so close, yet just not get 'it' whatever 'it' is!

  27. tamarapaulin Says:

    These are very helpful to read! I suspected contemporary novels are not the hotness now, and this only confirms that my next project should venture beyond my comfort zone. It's hard sometimes to take in ALL the advice. There is the idea that writers should not "try to jump at trends" so I wonder if turning away from contemporary is trend-jumping, or if it's simply a smart move. 🙂

  28. Giora Says:

    Thanks for the information. I didn't know that contemporary YA novels are difficult to place now, especially without a paranormal hook.
    What about a contemporary YA novel set in modern China, with a hook of paranormal? Does the setting in China make it something different and therefore easier to place?