June 1, 2010

It’s the Writing, My Dears

Literary agent Mary Kole at kidlit.com (link below) recently wrote about the perception that agents aren’t interested in manuscripts from writers who’ve never been published.

I didn’t know such a myth existed, especially one so clearly at odds with reality. Sure, some agents only take referrals, but if you read agent blogs you know they’re always looking for a good story.

Then again, it’s easier to claim agents are biased than to take a hard look at your writing. Because that’s what agents are looking for: great writing. And sometimes we send them a story that isn’t our best.

I’ve done it, though it pains me to say so. Queried with my very first piece of fiction, certain representation was a phone call away. I actually believed that as long as agents and editors were going to ask for revisions no matter what, it was okay to send them work that, while not perfect, was good enough.

*knocks head against wall*

I got a couple of full requests, some positive feedback, but no takers, and finally realized a strong story doesn't trump weak writing. What I've learned since about the craft of fiction is humbling, and only increases my appreciation for the agents who read my earlier work and passed on their best regards.

Don't know how long it will take until I resume querying. One story's in first draft mode, one's in revisions. But I'm determined to never again submit a story before it's ready.


  1. Kathryn,

    What great advice! I totally agree! It's so easy to jump in head first, hoping an agent will see past our little holes in our MS and know how good we are despite them. When you don't know someone those little holes are glaring potholes!

    Great post!

    xoxo -- Hilary

  2. Hilary: Exactly! I did expect agents to recognize my potential beneath the flaws. Live and learn. ;-)

  3. At least you got requests and good feedback - then you know you're doing something right. I'm sure it will all pull together in the next one.

  4. Bookstores are filled with books by first time authors, and I've wondered why so many new writers are willing to believe this myth.

    I agree with you for the most part, at least for those writing mainstream or literary fiction. And I wish it were true across the board, but I'm not convinced it is. In genre fiction, I can cite a number of instances were a "good" concept has trumped good writing.

    You know what, though, Kathryn? I don't believe for a moment you'd ever send out anything that was just "good enough." At that moment in time, it was likely your best work. As writers we're hopefully always growing, learning and honing our skills.

  5. Stephanie: Yes, the feedback, though brief, was encouraging and I do hope my work will click with an agent next time out.

    VR: Now that you mention it, I have read published books that failed to live up to their premises; I just don't want to be one of those authors.
    And yes, I did send out what I thought was my best work, even though I knew it was flawed.

  6. So true! "It’s easier to claim agents are biased than to take a hard look at your writing."

    I think we all cringe a little when we go back and look at stuff we wrote a year ago, or even last week, that we thought was the cat's meow.

    I'm glad I did a round of querying agents; it's good practice, but when I did a reality check on my book after 3-4 months of incubation, the flaws were glaring enough to set me back to work.

  7. Dead Cats Society: The cringe factor is definitely there, but I'm hoping to minimize it now that I have a fabulous crit partner. ;-)

  8. Let me know when you're ready for more. :-)


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