Monday, December 07, 2009

How Good is it? Good enough?

Dear Rejecter,

I have sent my novel to thirty agents and publishers and counting, and obviously all have rejected it or I wouldn't be writing to you! A lot of the rejections say the same thing. They compliment me on my writing, tell me the novel is "evocative", "atmospheric" and "page turning", but none of them know who would publish it so they pass on it. The novel is set in the music industry of the US in the 80s and 90s and I am wondering if this is the problem. There don't seem to be many books published using the music business as a setting and I am wondeering if there';s a reason for it.

Any light you can shed on this perplexing topic would be very much appreicated.

I would definitely say that the topic is not the problem. If anything, I'm slightly interested by the idea. And clearly your query letter isn't the problem if they're complimenting you on your writing, which I'm going to take to mean that they asked you for partials and fulls.

My only conclusion that can be drawn without reading the manuscript itself is that it's not quite there. Maybe the plot needs tightening, or has a weird ending. Maybe the writing isn't good enough to hold up the material. A lot of novels don't end well - this is a comment complaint of my boss, who requests a lot of novels and represents very, very few. This doesn't mean happy vs. sad, this means there's something in the last 1/4th of the book that doesn't work, often because the author has trouble with climaxing the story. I'm not saying that's your problem, but there is a problem. If an agent requested a full, and rejected, it is fair to email them to ask them what they didn't like.


Anonymous said...

I must respectfully disagree with the esteemed Rejecter on this one--I think your subject/setting IS a problem, at least if you're targeting commercial rather than literary publishers.

The music biz is a tough sell as a setting...and your time period is challenging as well. The '80s-90s is neither long enough ago to be "historical," yet not recent enough to feel current, so your ms. may seem dated from the get-go.

Obviously, there are exceptions, YMMV, etc., but given that you're getting nice comments about the quality of your writing, I'd guess that you're having a positioning/ marketability issue.

Sarah J. MacManus said...

I dunno - I want to read it.

lexcade said...

these kinds of things work for bret easton ellis... i think there's a place for the setting. i know my 80s-obsessed musician boyfriend would probably be interested, and there are more like him...

The Daring Novelist said...

I used to do coverage for screenplays, and this kind of rejection came up a lot.

What it means varies a lot, but I would look to the characters, plot and message. What does it mean? Who "wins"? (Or loses.)

It could also be a plotting issue. Yeah it's evocative, but does it start with a character in a setting with a problem? And does the plot payoff on that situation?

The nature of the problem and the nature of the meaning of the ending are really key to what audience the thing is for. Think on those.

Anonymous said...

Really, it's okay to ask what's wrong if they turn down a full? I've always thought correct ettiquette was to let it go--a short note thanking them for their consideration at most. Your boss is okay with a writer asking for more info after a rejection? I guess I'm just a bit surprised by this, but it's good to know. I have several fulls out right now, in fact.

dvora swickle said...

I am writing a book on a concept of a witch that is not as far as I can tell done yet. She is above all, selfless, but when she falls apart so may the rest as a domino effect. My creative mind excels my writing but all the most I am and feel up with the best of them, hope a agent will reach out and give a mom a chance at bettering herself in life.

Alex said...

Thanks to all who commented and to the Rejecter for answering my question. I guess I'll just keep sending my MS out and hopefully it'll find a home. The comments here seem to be divided on whether the setting is the problem so I guess agents will be too!

Thanks again all!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Daring. Sadly, I believe "evocative" indicates the setting is rich and well-developed and very likely well-written. But novels, in the commercial world, that are called evocative are usually slim on plot.

Check to make sure your Main Character has a turning point in every chapter that comels the story arc. Check to make sure there is a story arc.

I realize the author is talking about one aspect of a novel. If the author believes the setting is a marketing drawback, she/he should push the chracter-driven story as the emphasis of the query.

Thomas said...

I don't know, I figure if "High Fidelity," "Empire Records" and "Be Cool" can all make it as movies then there has to be some equivalent market for books.

I'm curious as to whether the Rejecter often sees cases of fantastic query letters pitching for terrible books. The query being so much shorter than a novel, it seems there would be an opportunity to make it absolutely perfect. Then again, most writers see queries as an unfortunate obligation, not as an integral part of the craft.

Anonymous said...

I usually agree with the Rejecter, but this time I don't. First of all, you shouldn't bother them asking for details. Secondly, your writing might have nothing to do with it. Agents take on what they think they can sell. The people you sent it to obviously have no clue how to sell this particular work, so they pass up on it to give themselves and you a better chance at a match.

You want someone who is enthusiastic and can't wait to sell your book (and already has in mind several places to put it). Just keep trying!

Anonymous said...

I've read that if you look for agents/publishers that have previously published your "type" of book, you're chances are better! Best of luck! Stay positive and keep trying!