Like many writers, I spent the summer waiting for agents to get back to me on manuscripts they’d requested (I did a lot of writing!). (By the way, I am still waiting.) I also did a lot of reading of manuscripts sent to the agent I read for. Unfortunately, I passed on most of them. Bear in mind that I am just one of several readers, so my recommendation is not the final say. But I find value in some agents’ query comments on Twitter, and I thought I’d do the same. Without further ado, here’s a little something on the manuscripts I read this summer, what I recommended, and why:
General fiction – R&R -- Very strong writing, but some of the characters are clichés and the plot is thin. Strong writing makes me think the writer will be able to fix these problems with a strong revision memo.
Romantic suspense – pass -- struggles with tone, character, pacing and plot. The concept was good, but all these problems make the writer a bad bet at this time.
Dark comedy – R&R -- episodic nature and problems with tone require another rewrite. I loved the concept, and dark humor is particularly difficult to pull off. I hope the writer got some strong editing help and will resub.
Literary thriller – pass -- Starts strong and features a gritty tone, but its weak mystery, sleazy characters and abrupt ending keep it from working.
Chick lit – pass – Sexist, stereotypical single women desperate for a husband.
General Fiction – R&R -- Very strong writing, some intriguing plot elements, but the writer doesn’t emphasize the novel’s most intriguing parts. A rewrite that strengthens the mystery at its heart will take the novel to the next level.
General Fiction – pass -- Mostly told rather than shown; too many characters and episodic.
Thriller – pass -- Interesting plot doomed by an immature voice, weak writing and flimsy characters.
Historical fantasy – pass -- Stunningly rich in detail, but the writing is way too young for adult readers. This is one of several time travel novels that were requested this summer. If you’re working on one, get those queries out there! (Make sure it’s good first.)
Thriller – pass -- Interesting concept, but the pace is too slow and the characters are too dull.
Historical fantasy – pass – Common plot with one-dimensional characters and unsophisticated narrative voice. Another time travel novel.
(The agent I read for gets a lot more than this one sentence! Along with the analysis, I write a 3-6 page synopsis of the story so she can judge for herself whether the plot elements are intriguing enough to look past any writing issues.)
So that was what I read this summer. As a writer, this list emphasizes to me just how hard it is to write something strong enough to gain a second look from an agent. Which is probably why I’m still waiting to hear back. Please know that as a reader, I am dying to find something good enough that I can wholeheartedly recommend it to my agent. Having to pass on these manuscripts is almost as painful as getting those "no thanks" emails in my own inbox.