Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lisa: What's love got to do with it?

I recently read through a thread on a writer's message board started by a woman (I'll call her Jane) who felt really discouraged by a rejection she had received from an agent. This particular rejection used the phrase "not loving it." She said she can usually brush off rejections and move on, but this one for some reason really hit her hard. Her husband told her, "I don't know why she'd have to love it. Isn't it whether she thinks the manuscript can be sold?"

I'm not an agent or an editor, so I'm not going to tackle the topic as if I am. That wouldn't be right. But I want to talk about this a little bit, because it wasn't that long ago that I was receiving those kinds of rejections. Now that I'm in a different place, and have been through submissions with an agent who usually does love my work, I know I wouldn't *want* anything less than love. And since I'm guessing many people who read this blog are on the agent search, I thought it'd make a good discussion.

First of all, an agent has many clients, and often shops multiple projects to multiple editors at the same time. So, imagine an agent who takes on a paranormal romance YA because she thinks she can probably sell it, even though paranormal romances aren't really her thing. She read the book, and she thinks it's an okay read, but she definitely doesn't love it.

Over on the other side of her desk, though, there's this contemporary story that grabbed her from page one and didn't let go until she closed the book. She couldn't wait to tell the author how much she enjoyed the book, and she has sent it to specific editors who she knows love this kind of book. On top of that, she's halfway through reading a dystopian novel that is unlike anything she's ever seen and is trying to read as fast as she can so she can offer representation.

Personally, I don't want to be the lukewarm book in the bunch! Just imagine the conversation:

Agent: "Hi, this is Annabelle with Just-In-It-For-The-Money Literary Agency, and I have this paranormal romance you might be interested in. It has a girl and two hot boys. Well, I don't find zombies particularly hot, but I'm thinking teen girls in this market might. They're ugly and disgusting and they smell bad, but they want this girl, and they will stop at nothing to get her. She's really torn between the two, because one is nice and the other is mean. You know how girls love that bad boy thing, even though I don't think that means a boy who is out to kill you. But what do I know? I think this kind of thing is selling."

Editor: "You're not really convincing me, sorry. You don't happen to have any good contemporary YA, do you? Or an out-of-this-world dystopian?"

Agent: "Oh, do I ever! I just sent a fantastic contemporary out to eight editors, but I'd be happy to send it to you too. And I may have a dystopian to send you too..."

And suddenly, yours is forgotten and instead, the one the agent really loves is going out to one more editor.

Wouldn't you rather be the one the agent LOVES? Of course you would! And what I think Jane has to remember is that when it comes to books, tastes are subjective! Personally, I'd take a rejection that says, "I just didn't love it" over one that says, "The writing is really weak and the characters fall flat" any day of the week! Because to me, the first one says, "this isn't my thing," while the second one says, "you have some work to do!"

Writers, trust me, you want an agent who loves your work. Look at me. I write weird stuff sometimes. I mean, my book           I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME? It's kind of weird. A few agents I queried were completely lost as to what kind of book I'd written. But Sara, who thankfully does not work for the Just-In-It-For-The-Money Literary Agency, loved it. She felt that the verse created an atmosphere I couldn't have created with regular prose. That's what she said in an e-mail to me setting up an appointment to talk. Do you know I didn't even realize at the time that creating that atmosphere is exactly why I write in verse? It is still, to this day, why I choose to write some stories in verse. She got it. I mean, she really got it!

We went on to get something like nine rejections on this story before it sold. Do you want another reason why an agent has to love your work? Well, here it is. Remember, agents get rejected too. They have to be able to pick themselves up and keep on sending that baby out. I'm guessing some days, it's not an easy thing to do.

Fortunately, I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME found an editor who loved it, after many who didn't. By the time it finally sold, I couldn't believe it. I'd heard "No" so many times, it was hard to believe someone actually wanted to publish it.

In January, it will be three years since the book was released. It's still on the shelves, which is no small feat. It's sold well. BUT, does everyone love it? No! Some people hate it - it's just not their thing. We must *always* remember - tastes are subjective! I try not to focus on the people who don't love it, because I don't write for them. I write for all of the other people who DO love it. And yeah, it all started with an agent who loved it.

I say, don't settle for anything less than love. Keep looking. Keep trying. Keep writing!! And when you finally have the perfect match, between an agent and one of your manuscripts, you'll be glad you kept looking until true love found you.

I'm curious, though... do the rejections that speak of not quite loving it bug you more than the other ones? And if so, why do you think that is?



  1. I'm close, but not quite there on the query process. I would rather an agent loved my writing. As you mentioned, why settle for someone who may not push your book to get published because she's really not that into you.

    Great post! (Hugs)Indigo

  2. Great post! And so true.

  3. Haven't been rejected yet, but only because I haven't gotten to the submission process yet. . . looking forward to throwing my hat in the ring in a few months. But I totally agree. Now, it'll hurt that others don't "love" my book, but I won't mind being rejected for that reason because I do want someone who is passionate about my work and writing, too. I just would prefer to live in a dream world where all agents felt that way about my manuscript, ha!

  4. No, I'm with you. I'd take that over weak writing or flat characters any day. Maybe because, just not loving it, is so abstract and cuts to the heart of what we write makes it harder.

  5. Great post, Lisa. I think the rejections that say, "Just don't love it" feel more personal than, "I'm not the agent for this project." Love is personal and though that is what you want from someone representing your book, it isn't needed from someone dismissing you (I mean your ms). IMHO

    Hopefull we shake it off and keep going.

  6. I reckon it hurts because it sounds just like "not loving YOU" to an author, and we all want to be loved. *sigh* When someone just doesn't love it, there's nothing you can do to change that. At least characters falling flat gives you something to fix. It's so easy to think "if this person doesn't love it, NO ONE will love it!" *sniff*

    Good advice for getting over that. Thanks!

  7. Amen. To everything.

    Great post, Lisa!

  8. Awesome post. I totally agree. I want my agent to love the book because that passion is what is going to sell it.

  9. This was a great post! I haven't really thought ahead to whether I want my story to be loved or not, but you make a great case for love! Now I defintely want an agent (or editor) to love my manuscript when I send it to them.

  10. It isn't that it "hurts worse" for some personal reason. It's that you can't fix "I didn't love it." You can fix "I did not believe Sanjay's motivation," or "Lee's accent was exaggerated and racist," or "Too much introspection on page one," or "No more vampires!" You can even sometimes fix "Pacing too slow" or "Boring idea." But "I didn't love it" is something that the author simply cannot do anything about without knowing WHY the love is not there. I suppose sometimes it is simply the writer's style that doesn't click, or there's a general "meh" feeling that the reader is getting. But THAT is what's frustrating. We need a clue as to what needs to be fixed. If there is nothing wrong with it except it just didn't grab you--then we can go on sending it out as is. But if there is a REASON you passed, it is SO helpful if you just tell us what it was. I know, I know--some fool will write back to you to argue that you're wrong, so you won't put a reason in. Sigh.

    But it's really about using rejectomancy to fix problems so that the next time the partial goes out, we get a positive response. It's not that it "hurts more." I would prefer "I don't know where I would sell this" to "I just don't love it enough," because you might not love it but it might sell. (I hated Twilight and DaVinci Code, but they certainly sold.)

    It's all about rejectomancy.

    Hey, those of us who are repeat rejectees are USED to no love. That doesn't really hurt any more. No, REALLY.

    Not that much. . . .

  11. Thanks for weighing in everyone. I agree with you, Ben. I think it's that word love that can feel so personal. But it really is about the book and not the author, although it's hard to separate the two sometimes.

  12. Great post. I've had a few of those "not loving it" rejections from agents. I totally get it. I read books all the time that make me say, "Well, I didn't love it, but it was well written and the main character was interesting." You just keep searching for that match and hopefully one day you get that "let's talk" email.

  13. I also read the thread on the message board and I get that feeling of wanting a more direct (and fixable) reason for a rejection but I agree with you 100% -- LOVE is what makes the difference -it is what keeps us subbing in face of reections and it helps keep agents subbing when editors reject a manuscript. Love is worth waiting for!!!


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