Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sara: On requested manuscripts

This past weekend, I attempted to truly catch up on my requested manuscripts. This was actually my August goal, but, happily, I had many deliveries from my clients, and reading requested manuscripts just did not happen. (It did not quite happen on a large scale this weekend, either--- but I am at least caught up to July).

As I respond to the manuscripts that did not speak to me, I have received some polite responses back, mostly asking-- where did I stop reading and why? Which led me to thinking about how long it takes for me to fall in love with a manuscript. Sometimes it truly is immediate-- a stunningly written first sentence that shows me right away the kind of talent the writer has. More often, though, it's a slower build-- a great hook that makes itself known pretty early, along with strong writing and a voice I am connecting with-- keeping me turning the pages, until the story really gets going and I know I will finish the book. It may still be the wrong book for me, but when I read a requested manuscript to the end, it means it is not going to be an easy no. There will be things about it that I love, but I have to ask myself more questions: Can I sell it? Is it right for my list right now? Can I think of a good group of editors who I think will also respond to it? How much work does it need?

When I was at my first job and evaluating manuscripts for my bosses, I found it so hard not to finish all of them. At that point, right after college, I had pretty much finished every book I had started, whether I loved it or not. It felt like a rule. I loved books, and they had been so good to me that they all deserved that kind of respect. I still hate to give up on a book that is recommended to me, or that a friend loves, or one by an author I have enjoyed so much in the past, but this job and the amount of reading on my plate has made me more ruthless with my outside reading-- I no longer always read till the end. Now that my list is pretty full, and that I am not taking on many more new clients, I've also become more demanding of each requested manuscript. I know that for both the author's sake and mine, I have to fall madly in love with it to be the right agent for it.

For the first time I had an intern this summer reading requested manuscripts with me, and she read many more pages of certain books then I would have done. She read so carefully and reported on them with such enthusiasm that I had to read them, too. She convinced me. In the end my first instincts were right-- at least to the degree that I did not fall more in love with a manuscript by reading more of it. But, I did give feedback on two that I thought had so much potential. The one book I did take on while she was here, we were in immediate agreement on. I read a few pages at my desk- and had forwarded it to her to ask her to put it at the top of her pile as I thought it was going to be great. But then I couldn't stop reading, and by the next morning we had both finished it.

Another book she loved, that I then read and loved, too, we did not get. In the end I think there were seven agents competing for it. I am going to make sure she sees the announcement when the book sells-- as she should be proud that she pulled it out of the pile. She may have read a lot more of most of the manuscripts that came in, but we almost always came to the same conclusions.

And now I must get back to reading...


  1. I had a slight background in publishing so, as an intern, I never finish stuff I knew wouldn't pan out. But before I really got working in this business, I would finish all books I started.

    Like you said - no time! The sad reality is that the overwhelming majority of projects - even if they pass the query and partial stage - do not work.

    All the same, I love reading submissions. LOVE. I especially love it when my boss agrees with me. :)

  2. It's interesting that even when you read further because of the intern's enthusiasm, it didn't change things for you.

    I've heard many editors/agents say they usually know fairly quickly whether something is going to be for them or not. I think sometimes authors want to know what needs to be "fixed" to make you like it, but so much of it is simply about tastes.