Over 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?