Thursday, May 12, 2011

Why do so many good novels get rejected by agents?

The title of this post was the search term someone used to find their way to this blog - yes, occasionally I check the traffic sources - and it struck me as a good topic for a post.

The first answer that struck me was: Because so many good novels get rejected by readers.

Agents are readers too. Readers first and foremost, hopefully - usually people who work in the publishing industry start out as passionate readers. Quite often we're rejecting good novels because they're just not novels that we want to read. It doesn't mean they're not good. It means they're not good for us. The person who used this search term has no doubt gone to a bookshop more than once and ignored the hundreds - thousands - of very good novels because he or she only wanted one good novel. Only had time to read one good novel right then.

I reject good novels. I have to: I simply can't take on all the good novel manuscripts I read because (a) I can't physically manage that many authors and (b) I can't place that many good novels with Australian publishers, who are also limited in how many good novels they can publish.

And that's as much as I've come up with on this particular matter. Now I have to get back to cramming things in to make up for the amount of time the Sydney Writers' Festival will consume next week ...


Anonymous said...

Interesting post.

Sometimes I think what's most important about this topic is not why a novel gets rejected, but HOW.

Too often agents and publishers use form letters, and these letters are filled with cliched and banal comments about the GFC impacting the ability of publishers to take risks. This may well be true, but more often than not it hides a key fact: the agent or publisher simply didn't like the manuscript. They should treat writers as mature professionals; the vast majority of writers can take criticism.

I know agents and publishers are swamped, but it doesn't take much to think of one sentence of feedback to include in a rejection letter. This helps the writer, and ultimately helps readers, too.

If agents and publishers are going to take on this gig, then they should accept the responsibility of trying to grow good writers and good writing. Even if that means that a rejection letter takes five minutes longer to write.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I think in this post you're not quite answering the real question, which is, "Why did the agent reject MY good novel?"

Presumably you know which novels you're likely to be able to place and which not and it's not just a case of, "I'm a passionate reader and this particular book doesn't appeal to me." The major difference between you and that person entering a bookshop is that she's looking for something to enjoy for herself; you're doing this for a living.

If all you can say is, "Sorry, I can't throw myself into selling this book for you because I didn't enjoy it," then the author will understand. They may not like it, but they'll understand.

I have to tell you, though, that only two agents ever even bothered to agree to look at my books. They said no, but at least they read them.

In the end, I sold them all, without an agent! :-)

Jonathan Walker said...

"The person who used this search term has no doubt gone to a bookshop more than once and ignored the hundreds - thousands - of very good novels because he or she only wanted one good novel."

An excellent point. A series of questions I ask myself while planning is, 'Would I buy this book if it was written by someone else? Have I in fact paid money for books of this kind? Do I have examples on my shelf now?'