Monday, February 23, 2015

Querying Update: Life in the Slush Pile

In November, I announced that I’d be querying literary agents with my new women’s fiction novel, THE SEESAW EFFECT, about a professional Democrat who loses her job after the wave election, only to watch her husband become the next Rush Limbaugh. (That post and my query letter is here.) I ended up querying only those agents who’d read KEEPING SCORE, so it was a pretty short list. (Plus two who had favorited my tweet about the book during a Twitter Pitch festival.)

The stats: 15 agents queried. Eight asked for pages, while four said no thanks and only three did not respond at all. Of those eight agents, seven have passed on the project. Here are their reasons:

I’m afraid though that the story fell flat for me. The hook just wasn’t there and I didn’t think the ante was big enough to keep most readers reading. In a nutshell the story felt a little too familiar.

I'm afraid this doesn't seem like the right project for me, but I'm sure other agents will feel differently.

Although I was intrigued by the initial premise of the story, in the end, I just didn't feel the writing was what I was looking for. For me, it came down to a purely subjective decision. While I thought the premise was there, the writing itself just didn't connect with me enough.

The subject here just leaves me cold. It just doesn’t sing to me.

While your pages are interesting, unfortunately, I have had several editors tell me lately that they didn’t think political fiction was working well on the market and unfortunately, I didn’t see another hook in this story to get us past that hurdle.

While your novel has merit, I am forced to give serious consideration to the realities of the marketplace when deciding which writers to represent.

While I do like the premise here and thought the back-and-forth dialogue between Erin and Jack was fun and well-written, I'm afraid I'm going to have to pass on going further with this project. Reading through these early pages, unfortunately I just didn't connect with the narrative voice the way I had hoped to.

I really appreciate these agents reading my pages and taking the time to get back to me with their reasons why they passed. As someone who reads for an agent, I know how difficult it to is to find that project you love and that the marketplace will embrace. I’ve passed on so many novels, it’s karma that my own book is now the one being passed.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King advises writers to give their manuscripts to early readers for feedback. If one person has a specific complaint it’s safe to ignore it, but if three or more come back with the same point, you have to pay attention. He didn’t have any advice on what to do when the feedback is different but the result is the same.

I sent out these queries knowing that the book would be a tough sell, and indeed two of the rejections seem to point to that. Others seem to say they like the story but not the writing; some agents liked the writing but not the story.

I know every published writer has a long list of rejections they received before they signed with that one agent who plucked them out of the slush pile. But for every writer whose dreams of representation came true, there are dozens of writers who never got picked.

How do you know when to keep going with a specific story, or when to give up and concentrate on the next one? I have a friend with strong story sense giving THE SEESAW EFFECT a read right now … hopefully she’ll be able to come up with some major ideas for a rewrite. Nibbling around the edges isn’t going to cut it. I’ve recommended several books that had problems, but if I really enjoyed the premise and characters, a few minor problems weren’t an issue. Obviously this book has major problems … I just need to find out what they are and fix them … if possible.

In the meantime, if anyone has some wonderful “I got rejected by a hundred agents and then agent 101 loved it” stories, I need to read them!


  1. This was very brave of you to share specific details; I think you can take comfort that they didn't all point to the same aspect as their reason for declining. That said, if the basic setting/theme for your novel is a topic they feel won't sell, you may have many more queries ahead of you before this finds an eager agent. And I think you can be heartened that market conditions can change; if political topics are not hot now, their time will surely come. Good luck!

    1. Thanks so much, Pauline. I have to wonder, though, if that's the real reason why -- why bother asking for the read to begin with? I was pretty specific in my query letter! And I can always self-publish .... I just want the book to be as good as possible however I end up putting it out there ...