Thursday, May 24, 2012

Why not? by Terry Burns

My project is good enough to publish, why does no agent want to represent it or no editor want to publish it? The previous year no agent or editor had been interested in her project and the frustrated author asked the panel. Good question.

There are several things involved, and the first is competition. I’ve said before that we receive hundreds of submissions a month and a large number of them are good enough to be published. That means good is just not good enough, it takes exceptional. If your manuscript is really good but it is sitting there beside one or more that are simply better, that editor or agent is going to go with better. It’s just how things work.

That means it is not about judging you or judging your work, it is simply picking the best offering in the eye of the person making the selection. That brings taste into the discussion. The things that I really like might not be to someone else’s taste. I have editors that I really like and who like me, but I have never sold them anything. Our tastes are too dissimilar. I have other editors I sell to all the time because we have very similar tastes. This is the second factor an author is up against when submitting, is your work something that will appeal to the particular taste of the editor or agent. Not a question of whether your work is good or bad, but a question of fit with their taste.

The next factor is “does is fit the slot?” A particular editor is probably trying to fill a catalog slot. They are looking for something specific and an author’s work may or may not be what they are looking for at a particular time. Again, does it mean the manuscript is being judged up or down? No, it just isn’t what they are looking for at that time so out comes the dreaded, “This is not a fit for us” letter. You can multiply that times multiple editors for the agent. It’s our job to try and know what editors are looking for so we are asking the same question, “This is good, but does it fit what some of the editors we are working with are looking for?”

The kind of project that it is can affect whether it fits the slot. Projects that neatly fit in some genre, style or category are easier for an editor or agent to deal with. They are easier to sell, but such books also tend to be a bit average and are seldom a blockbuster or a best seller. It’s the project that stretches the envelope that becomes a bestseller, but they are also much harder to get placed as a rule. Some editor has to take a chance on it. And the agent has to know that editor who is ready to take a chance.

Not just any editor is in a position to gamble. A banker who makes very many bad loans is going to find themselves out of work. Editors who have too many titles that do not perform are in the same situation. If an editor has just hit one out of the park and is languishing in the limelight of bringing a best-seller to the market they are in a position to take a chance on something. Others are probably looking for proven titles that they feel comfortable the reader base that they sell to will be interested in buying. Agents are looking for what these editors are interested in publishing and we try to know what that is.

So you see it isn’t black and white, it isn’t a simple this is good or this is not good, it’s subjective. All of these factors come into play plus a lot of others I haven’t gone into. The largest factor, however, is for the author to write an exceptional book, to do a great edit or it (or have one done) so it can compete well against the other titles, and to go through the work when it is finished to insure that it flows beautifully from cover to cover. When those comparisons are made, we need to put ourselves in the position of being the top title.


Author Jennifer Hudson Taylor said...

Great post, Terry! This is so true. Thanks for always being so honest.

Rick Barry said...

Enjoyed the post, Terry. Excellent reminder that many subjective factors are out of our control, and that we must strive to improve and lift our stories to a higher level than merely "good."

(I've begun to tell my critique partners, "Don't tell me my story is good. Tell me what can make it better!")

Linda Glaz said...

Rick, you nailed it. Anyone can blow smoke up our skirts (or your lederhausen, sorry) but a true friend and crit partner will tear us apart contructively and help us over the bump that is keeping us from getting the book pubbed. I just had a query I'd seen before, and it still needed work. A lot of work due to inacurate hist facts. BUT I love the story and she's a hard worker. She already contacted a pubbed author friend for help and took all my comments to heart. She's rewriting so she can resubmit. This is the second time. Now THAT'S a writer I want writing for me! Can't wait to see what she comes up with. Her storyline is just plain awesome. At some point, we have to swallow our pride and move forward. If we aren't moving forward, we're slipping backward. Great post, Terry!

Linda Glaz said...

Boy, did I murder the spelling in that post. Oh well, my crit partners will point it out!