“My project is good enough to publish,
so why does no agent want to represent it
or no editor want to publish it?” the
frustrated author asked the panel.
Several things are involved, and the first is
competition. I’ve said before that agents
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.
It is not about judging you or judging your work, it is simply the
editor or agent picking the best offering. That brings taste into
the discussion. Things I really like might not be to someone else’s
taste. I have editors whom I really like and who like me, but I
have never sold them anything. Our tastes are too dissimilar.
There are 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 whether it fits within
The next factor is “does is fit the slot?” A particular editor is
probably trying to fill a catalog slot. He or she is looking for
something specific, and an author’s work may or may not fit the
criteria at that particular time. Again, does it mean the manuscript
is being judged up or down? No, it just isn’t what the editor is
looking for at that time, so out comes the dreaded “This is not a
fit for us” letter. You can multiply that by multiple editors for the
agent. It’s our job as agents to try to know what editors are
looking for so we asking the same question, “This is good, but
does it fit what some of the editors are looking for?”
The kind of manuscript 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. The manuscript that stretches the
envelope is the one that becomes a best seller, but they are also
much harder to place, as a rule. Some editor has to take a
chance on it.
And the agent has to know that editor.