View Full Version : Reading enough to reject

02-08-2009, 02:09 AM
Since one of the unbreakable rules with agents and editors is that they read only enough to know the novel is "not for them," how often do agents and/or editors actually get through an entire book? And is ever possible for the writer (or the agent) to know how much of a novel has been read? (I would imagine full reads to be a good sign).

I get a lot of comments on the order of "just didn't love it." How many pages does it take for an agent or an editor to fall out of love with a book?

02-08-2009, 04:14 PM
How long does it take you to know when you won't like a book? Agents are no different.

And agents don't read just enough to know it's not for them, they read until they're not interested in reading any more. If it's a great novel but they don't think they can sell it, they'll likely suggest someone who could, or tell you they loved it but they don't represent that genre. A great book doesn't get shoved aside.

Just last month, I started a book I put down after a few pages, wishing I had read some of it before I wasted money on it. Another I made it three or four chapters before it lost me, and one I got halfway through before I set it aside. That same month I started one book I finished in one sitting, one I had to force myself to put down and go to bed, and one I curled up with several nights in a row.

I didn't need to read the entire book to know if I would like it or not, and you probably don't either. Agents do exactly the same thing. If they just didn't love it, that means just that. They didn't love it. Agents and editors need to love a book enough to read it half a dozen times, because chances are, they'll be reading it a lot before it's on the shelves. I bet you can think of plenty of books you liked, but you wouldn't read again. You just didn't love them.

There's no way to know if an agent read your full all the way to the end or not. Well, aside from them offering representation.

And it can take one page for an agent to fall out of love. You can have an awesome query letter pique their interest, send them the pages, they happily tear into them, and them find the writing stinks or the writer doesn't know squat about the English language. Same as you can have a so-so query letter than barely grabs interest, but then the pages come in and they wow the agent.

Agents are people too. There is no set rule for liking or disliking something.

02-08-2009, 06:46 PM
So the thing is, when you're receiving a letter from an editor or an agent, you really don't have a clue as to when they stopped reading the book.
Even though their comments about the writing, characters, story, setting, climax, etc. seem to imply they've read the whole thing.
As if whatever is set down in print on page one is a foregone conclusion for the rest of the book or the problem with the climax that arises on page 228 can't be fixed.
Once you have an agent you can get their opinion on these matters. But unless an editor mentions something specific from page 311, or tells you their comments are based on 91 pages, you really can't get an idea of how to revise from their notes.
(I don't know how many reviews I've read where the reviewer says something like "The book didn't really pick up until the second half...." or "the book starts out great but then fizzles..."

02-08-2009, 07:11 PM
No, as many on AW have said, you can't learn very much from rejection.

02-08-2009, 07:29 PM
Well, if you get feedback like that, then you do know what needs to be fixed. That would also indicate they read the whole thing. The times when you don't know are when you get a basic form rejection. And if someone couldn't finish it, odds are they're not going to be mean and tell you. But if they act like they read the whole, thing, they probably did.

If they like the book up until the climax, but think it needs to be fixed for the book to work, the might have you rework the climax. My agent told me up front she wanted me to rework the ending, and before taking me on as a client she wanted to make sure that was okay with me. She told me why she felt this way, I totally agreed, and I changed it. Twice. I tweaked it further for the editor who bought it.

Unless the writing is ghastly and clearly shows you aren't a professional writer (which is doubtful if you're at requested ms. stage), they're not going to assume what's on page one is true of the whole book. If so, you wouldn't have gotten comments like "it didn't pick up until the second half." But if they felt that what needed to be fixed was going to take more work than they were comfortable with, couldn't be fixed without a substantial rewrite, or they truly didn't know what to tell you to fix it, then you wouldn't get much more than a general comment. And honestly, why should they? It's not their job to critique a submission.

I got feedback from editors who rejected me. Several editors said they would be willing to look at the book again if I did X Y and Z, but as I already had offers on the table they didn't think it was fair to ask me to do that. Had I not had those offers, I would have made any changes I agreed with and resubmitted. Their comments were in line with the ones you mentioned, and I could have easily worked with that to improve the book.

"The book didn't really pick up until the second half...." and "the book starts out great but then fizzles..." are both pretty good feedback comments. No, they're not specific like "make this scene end in this way, change page 311 to this" but if your first half is slow, then you know you need to pick up the pacing and raise the stakes earlier. If the back half fizzles, then you need to look at what went wrong and find where the pacing dropped and the stakes stopped escalating. That one's a little harder to judge, but you should be able to look at your work objectively and figure out what the problem is. And if you can't, then maybe your agent can. If they can't then there are crit groups and others you must have access to who can give you feedback. If not, perhaps find one to get the answers you're looking for. Maybe hire a freelance editor if you feel it would help.

It's the author's job to take feedback and use it. We're the professionals who know the story inside and out. An editor who can guide us to make the book better is fantastic, but in the end, it's up to us to take that feedback and run with it. If you honestly can't take "it didn't pick up until the second half" and improve the first half, then perhaps it's a good idea to crack some books on writing and revising and brush up on the basics. I don't say that to be mean, but with 11 books under your belt, you should be able to do that in your sleep.

02-08-2009, 07:51 PM
What I suppose I'm saying is that the reviews you get in magazines and newspapers and from readers and the ones you get from agents and editors are entirely different animals. Reviewers, you have to assume, have read the whole thing (although some of them I'm sure didn't read much past the press release or the jacket flap).

My main projects right now are two unpublished novels, both written in the last few years, both circulating with my agent, who provided minimal suggestions before sending them out. Neither of them are garnering specific rejections from editors. They're more on the order of, "I can only buy two books this year, and this ain't one of them."

In their previous incarnations, before I got my agent, the manuscripts did get quite lengthy letters from agents and editors, which, when combined into one long critique, proved to be quite informative. Now I'm just wondering what, if anything, I can do to get one or both of them over the next hurdle.

02-08-2009, 09:12 PM
Popmuze, I used to receive some strong information in my rejections. The last couple of years, the replies have become more and more vague ("Just not right for me" or its variation is a recurrent theme).

In more than one agent's blog, though, I've read that the vague rejection is here to stay. When some agents have given specifics, they've received nasty or argumentative e-mails in response. In response, the "just not right for me" was born.

02-09-2009, 06:24 PM
It's possible that there's nothing wrong with the books, they just aren't wowing anyone. There might not be anything you can do. Not every book sells.