Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Why do novels get rejected?

I read a really interesting post this morning by Janet Reid. She's an agent and in the post breaks down why she rejected/accepted the 124 novels she asked to read in full over last six months or so. A lot of the reasons were solvable - slow pace for example, or structural issues. A few needed more editorial work that she had time to give. Others were good novels, but not right for her - these she referred to other agents. In the end she made two offers out of the 124.

It's such a lottery. What Janet Reid may see as being slow, another agent may see as being gentle or subtle. I didn't find The Da Vinci Code to be a page-turner, but I accept that I am a rare exception and not the rule.

If the odds are 124:2 (and that's for novels she asked to see on the basis of a few chapters), then we have to accept that individual taste is going to play a bigger part than we'd like. Not everybody likes everything, in just the same way that I don't like red wine or mushrooms, but love licorice and aniseed. We can't do anything about that. What we can do is make sure that the sortable stuff - pacing, structure, editing etc - is as good as we can make it before we send out. It is a lottery, but we can, with work, swing the odds in our favour.


Blossom said...

Hi Sarah,

I read Janet's blog yesterday and as you say it is a lottery. Having spent all of the Christmas break ruthlessly editing my wip (commercial women's fiction) I feel it's now ready to take it's first tentative steps out into the world to the first literary agent on my list – if I ever get home from snowy Cheltenham! But would you recommend sending it to a professional reading/editing service beforehand? Do you think these services are helpful?

Sarah Duncan said...

Mmm, good question - I'll blog about it! But until then, have you had feedback from writing friends? I have four writing friends who read my work before it goes to either my agent or my editor and their feedback is invaluable. I've think the paid for services can be v hit and miss, it depends a lot on who is your reader, and you've no control of that.

Are you a member of the Romantic Novelists Association? They have a scheme for New Writers which is as good as, and much cheaper, than most prof services. (Plus they have good parties - I met my agent at one.)

Suffering from a bad cold at the moment, hope this is coherent - I'll blog some more in a couple of days when the skewers disappear from my ears and I'm a bit more together. I hope. Please.

Blossom said...

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for your response – especially as you're not feeling tip-top. I think your reticence re editing services reflects my own.

I have applied to join the RNA this week and hopefully said application has trudged through the snow to reach its destination safely.

Four agents have read the first 3 pages/1 chapter/2 chapters at Winchester and 3 out of 4 liked what they read. Two authors read the synopsis and liked it. A good friend who had two novels published in the mid-90s liked the first two chapters v much and then freaked out when she discovered that my heroine was (in her past) a teenage pop singer. Said friend, it turns out, has v strong opinions re child stars and girls of 16 going out with a 20 year-old. She did admit that it was a very subjective view but I found it did freeze my writing for a while because her comments were written in a very vehement style and she made me wonder if I'd written something morally very wrong. A quick straw poll amongst friends persuaded me that I hadn't. Someone at work who kind of 'edits' my work as a copywriter before it goes to clients has read the first five chapters and likes it.

Anyway, I shall look forward to your blog and hope you get rid of your cold before long.

Sarah Duncan said...

The second you get your response from the RNA, apply for the scheme as there are a limited number of places.

It sounds like you're getting quite a bit of feedback from friends - I'll blog about this too rather than answer here (I'm always in search of new blog ideas I'm afraid) but it does show you have to be very careful who to give your work to.