Wednesday, September 5, 2007

What Agents Look For

Agent Kristin Nelson wrote an article on An Insider Look At How An Agent Reads and Evaluates The Requested Sample Pages For Your Novel.

Here's an excerpt on what she's looking for in a manuscript:

On average, about five percent of what my agency receives is very well written and either the story will engage me or not. Ninety percent of what is submitted is adequately done. The writing is solid but there is nothing special about the voice or the story line that will make it stand out. Five percent is so poorly written, it’s laughable. I’m actually pretty amazed and pleased that the number is that low.

The Evaluation Process
Here is another moment of truth. Agents decide whether or not a manuscript is right for them in literally 5 - 10 pages. I’m not kidding. It’s that fast. We know exactly what we are looking for and whether the manuscript can deliver. Every once in a while a submitted partial is intriguing enough that I’ll read the full 30 pages requested, set it aside for a day or two, and then go back and reread to see if I’m still intrigued enough to ask for a full.

What we look for:

Voice. Many writers can learn to write well at a writing program or through a critique group. I don’t know if you can teach Voice. A writer either discovers it or not. It’s an elusive concept but it’s the writer’s voice that makes the words stand out on the page. The best way I can describe this is to have you imagine that you are in a bookstore. A cover grabs your attention so you pick it up. You read the back cover copy and it entices you to flip the book over to read the opening pages. You start reading and either you are hooked (from page one) and you can’t put the book down and fifteen minutes later you look up and realize you’ve been blocking the aisle, or you shrug your shoulders and stop reading. You put the book back on the table or shelf. The author’s voice didn’t speak to you. It’s the same gut reaction for agents.

A fresh and original storyline. I see partials every day that are well executed but don’t have an original story to tell. Bookshelves are crowded. Editors are buying very little fiction. I need to take something on with an original story idea.

Editors who would love to see this. Off the top of my head, can I think of five editors who would enjoy this partial I’m reading? If so, I’m probably going to ask for a full.

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