Imagine a room. The room is dark except for a single lamp sitting upon a large, old fashioned desk. The lamp creates a dim halo of light that is not bright enough to reach much beyond the desk, and the walls of the room are hidden by shadow. A clunky laptop sits in the center of desk, its screen pulsing. In front of the screen a literary agent perches, his finger poised over the keyboard, his hair unkempt, his eyes wild and mad with delight. As soon as a new query letter hits his inbox, he replies to it. Just a single word, but it is enough: Rejected.
The query letters come in faster. A gradual drip becomes a steady trickle and evolves into a constant stream. But the agent has no trouble keeping up. His fingers fly over the keys, and he leans his head back and cackles with mad delight. He has done this so many times that he could do it blind now. "Rejected," he chants as he types the word again and again. "Rejected, rejected, rejected!"
Contrary to what some may think, agents don't exist simply to crush your hopes and dreams. They face the same fear that you do: the fear of rejection. They will also have to tell you, their client and potentially their friend, that they have failed you. Agents don't like disappointing you anymore than you like being disappointed. Of course it's about the money, too. Nobody wants to represent something that won't sell.
So before you send your query letter or manuscript, it’s important to know some of the main reasons why an agent might reject it.
- The writing isn't polished. You don't have to be a grammar god, but if typos litter your manuscript and it reads like a Babelfish translation, no one is going to give it a second glance.
- The writing doesn't flow. Have your wife or husband or Aunt Petunia read your novel to you. If you're flying solo, read it into a tape recorder, and play it back. Listen to the words. Does the reader stumble over them, or do they come naturally? Take note of where the words don't sound right, rewrite, and revise.
- Your protagonist isn't compelling. In a good story, readers identify with the protagonist. He can have faults, should have faults, but he should also grow throughout the course of the story. And that growth must be believable. Put yourself in your protagonist's head. Is he acting in-character throughout the book, or does he make decisions simply to move the storyline in the direction that you want? You must have consistency throughout your story, and you must have a protagonist with whom your readers identify. If they don't care about him or what happens to him, they won't care about your story, either.
- Overuse of descriptions. Don't use a five page information dump at the beginning of each scene to describe the setting. Try feeding description in small spoonfuls of narrative, action, and dialogue as the story progresses. Give just enough detail so the reader knows where they are. Focus on what's important, and let the imagination fill in the details.
- A great man once said, "The road to hell is paved with adverbs." Show, don't tell. I could write an entire book on this subject, but for now, I will simply say this: Avoid. Adverbs. At. All. Costs.
- A little something extra. You can polish your manuscript to grammatical perfection. You can create a three-dimensional protagonist that practically stands up and walks off the page. You can create perfect descriptions and an adverbless nirvana, and an agent still might reject your work. Why? You didn't have that little something extra to make your book stand out from the rest. Maybe you need to refine your voice, or maybe the story just didn't click with that particular agent. It happens all the time. Not everyone loves the same kind of stories. The only thing you can do is try again with another agent.
Getting a novel published is a heart-breaking experience. You've put so much blood, sweat, and tears into your baby that every rejection seems like a personal attack. But don't take it personally, and don't give up. Submit again. Write another book. In the end, it doesn't matter if you've received a thousand rejections. All it takes is one yes.
What I'm Looking For [Writing and Rambling]
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