Thursday, April 12, 2007

Reader Question: What's Wrong with My Book?

I've been shopping around a paranormal romance. I've had requests from agents for partials, even for fulls, but ultimately no requests for representation, and the only thing I'm told is, "I wasn't as taken with the project as I hoped."

If there's something wrong with the plot/characters/etc., I'd love to know what it is so I could fix it. I'm already part of a writing/critique group, and the members all made their comments before I started shopping it around, so my question is, is my book just not going to work out?

I've already started shopping around a new one, but I'm disappointed because that one was part of a series, so it's like I wasted a lot of time/effort on four books that don't look like they'll see print.

I truly understand how busy all of you agents are, and with the amount of submissions you receive you don't have the time to do more than a standard rejection letter, I just wish it was possible to even get a one-sentence reason for rejection —"I didn't like the characters, the last act didn't appeal to me, I thought the situation was implausible, etc."

Here’s a secret that few agents will tell you . . . sometimes there’s just nothing to say.

I don’t know your situation and I don’t know your work (at least I don’t think I do). So I can’t tell you exactly what’s wrong with your book and it’s likely that the agents who reviewed it can’t either. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with it. The characters are good, the plot is good, the hook is good, but it’s not fantastic. It’s just that: good, fine, okay. Not special enough to sell.

Or sometimes those first three chapters were great. They were dynamic, enticing, attention grabbing, and the rest of the book just fell apart. Maybe it was slow, boring, or just plain bad.

My suggestion is to stop worrying about it. You can’t control it, and even if an agent said, “I didn’t like the characters,” would you know enough to make the changes necessary to get representation? If you can’t look at it objectively and figure out why it’s not selling, then don’t worry about it. Start writing your next book and make sure it’s better. Make sure it’s more exciting, the characters are more realistic, and your hook is hookier (if that’s a word).



Gaurav said...

I've a couple of stories to say, may be more, I dun know if it works. They are short, real short. Drop in sometime

NO fiction, no fantasy, stuff. Plain on-your-face-facts

elysabeth said...


You hit the nail right on the head when you said - even if an agent says 'I don't like the characters, et cetera' that we wouldn't really know what to fix to make it better - what is for one agent may not be for the next but if the person is getting the same requests and then rejection after rejection, then something is wrong and it should be pointed out somehow - I'd take a "You hooked me at the beginning but after the first three chapters, your charactsrs did a flop, they lost their pizzazz" or "the story was strong in the beginning and just fizzled out - ump up the action" or whatever - but that's just me.

Sounds to me that the person who posed the question should seek the advise of a professional editor whose job is to tell the author what all the possible reasons would be for the story not being accepted.

I think the book "The First Five Pages" by Noah Lukeman would be a good place to start since it is written from the prescriptive of an editor and why stories get rejected. It also has exercises to help improve your story. So this person may want to start there and then seek a professional editor (Chris Roerden is one of the best in the industry and although she may be busy, she may be able to recommend someone and there are probably professional groups (like SCBWI) that offer editing services) -

The thing is moving on to the next project won't do the person any good unless they know what to work on from the first project - because it seems that people tend to continue the trends they start with unless they have some feedback (not from a critique group although that is very valuable in and of itself). The editors who have been doing this line of work for years are the ones I'd contact. (Fresh eyes - everyone in your group has seen it and now an editor who doesn't know you reads it and thereby has a different take on the way the story reads) - just my opinion on it - E :)

Kimber Li said...

There's another reason I've read about on other agents blogs and such. No matter how wonderful the story, if the agent doesn't think she can sell it then she can't take it on. First-time authors are financial risks.

Tyhitia Green said...

Did the author query widely? This business is subjective as everyone knows. You will receive lots of rejections, but one agent may love the manuscript...

Kimber Li said...

What resonates most from the reader's question is the realization that she's put in an extrordinary amount of time and creative energy into something which was quickly rejected out of hand. Most of us can live with 'not my cup of tea' rejection, but when one sits back and realizes what went into a novel - it's crushing. It makes the person wonder why she even bothered. It's like holding down two jobs to get your husband through grad school, only to have him dump you for a 20 year old with perkier boobs.

When I'm working on a novel, I try to keep in mind that it may never fly. And I remind myself that I would be writing stories anyway, so I might as well keep writing with a goal in mind even if it's never reached. Also, each novel I take to the Final Polish teaches me a vast amount about myself as a writer. And, besides, it's just fun. I get a lot of personal joy out of it. Those things are at least as valuable.

That probably won't help a writer in this reader's position feel better in the moment, but hopefully it will in the long run.

Maria said...

Keep querying--if you're getting asked for partials and fulls you're doing something right! Work on the next project in the meantime. Sooner or later you are likely to find an agent that at least throws a comment your way--it may or may not be helpful, but it might provide clues that you can investigate.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Maria. Keep querying! I had the same experience as you: plenty of requests for partials and fulls, and plenty of "I liked it but didn't love it" rejections. However, one top NY agent did love it and offered representation. (Now I'm hearing the same thing from editors. Oh, well.)

The thing is moving on to the next project won't do the person any good unless they know what to work on from the first project

I disagree with this advice. The more we write, the more we learn and the better we get. I think the act of writing is one of the best teachers. Let me tell ya, the difference between my first novel (a bloated mess) and my second (agent-represented) are worlds apart.

Anonymous said...

I'm the person who asked this question orginally and thank you for responding, Jessica. And yes, you were one of the agents who read the full but ultimately rejected it.

Since I asked this question I have put that whole series behind me and started working on/shopping around another book. The new one I have received constructive comments on, by you and another agent, which I think has actually answered my question of what was wrong with not only this book, but the former ones.

Will I go back and try to fix those problems in the old series? I don't know. Those books may have been more of a growing experience for me and I'm okay with that.

Like you said, kimber an, I would have written those stories anyway. It was fun to get them out of my system.

And thank you, Jessica, for pointing me in the right direction with your comments. said...

I received a comment on a partial recently. The agent said the writing in the latter part wasn't as strong as in the beginning. I went back and examined it and was able to spot the difference. She was absolutely right, and now I know how to improve it. What a difference she made! I'll always be grateful to her.

Anonymous said...

After reading the comments, it's clear just how subjective this business really is. The final response from the person who initially posed the question indicates how valuable advice from someone in the publishing business can be.
Interesting thread.

Anonymous said...

It worked this time but in general, it is not the agent's job to teach writing. There just isn't time. Writers have to use other resources if they want to find out why their work is getting rejected by a lot of agents. Some, like freelance editors, you have to pay for. But there are plenty of free resources too. That's part of a writers' job, to seek them out.