Help Me Narrow It Down, ‘K?

But seriously, WHY don’t you like my book?

So I screwed up my gumption once again and went out into the wilderness of literary agents. I usually start with the website of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, since they’ve got a decent code of ethical conduct. I put in some keywords to narrow the search, and found 167 names. There must be a pea under ONE of those shells, no?

So I picked one and went to the agency website. And it broke my heart, that very first one of the day’s session. So many of these people are such imprecise, vague writers! I mean, honestly, do they even like words and stuff? Here’s a couple of excerpts from different agents within that firm, about the kind of writing that they hope to find:

  • works with quality fiction – literary, historical, strongly written commercial – and with voice-driven nonfiction
  • looking for literary and commercial fiction featuring unusual stories and voices
  • represents high-concept suspense, literary, and speculative fiction
  • looks for books with deeply imagined worlds, and for writers who take risks with their work
  • on the lookout for writing that immediately draws her in, and stories that stick with her long after she’s finished reading
  • authors and artists who wish to look beyond the obvious and strive for the exceptional
  • a sucker for unconventional narratives that aim to do something unique and inventive
  • seeks out novels that pay equal attention to voice and plot

If they’d been my college freshmen fifteen years ago, I’d send them all back with some pretty sharply worded recommendations for revision. What a wretched list of non-ideas! We want quality. We want unusual. We want high-concept. We want writers who take risks. We want stories that stick with her. We want things that are unconventional and unique.

Don’t even try if you’re gonna do it that bad. This is the literature version of corporate-speak: the impactful win-win, the go-forward basis, the leveraging information. But these specific sentences were written by people in the industry that forms words into ideas. You’d wish they’d be better at it.

There was one—just one, of the thirteen agents in this firm—who said something deliberate enough for me to make a decision. She wrote: In general, novels with happy endings put her in a bad mood. And I was, like, That’s terrific! If you’re going to be a di… I mean, if you’re going to be a snarky, ironic jerk, thanks for letting me know right up front. You saved me some time.

We’re faced with hundreds of relatively opaque options, choosing what’s behind door number one, or door number two, or door number four hundred thirty six, digging through the box of unmarked keys. It’s like playing the lottery, but with the possibility of readers instead of money under the hidden, scratch-off future.

Maybe I’ll try another ticket tomorrow. But today was more than I could bear.

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