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View Full Version : Why would a perfectly good novel be rejected by so many agents?



CryingKatie
10-14-2015, 03:03 AM
Like Harry Potter.

Fruitbat
10-14-2015, 03:10 AM
For one thing, sometimes (or maybe more like "nearly always?") when we hear about a novel that was rejected eight million times then went on to be a best seller, it was actually tweaked, re-tweaked and totally rewritten many times along the way. So what was sent to the last agent was actually nothing like the mess that was probably sent to the first, fifth, and twentieth agent.

And then, sometimes weird things just happen. Like you could be swept up in a tornado and gently set down in another state, or a really stupid book hits it big. Chance, luck, coincidence?

But then in general, like most of us I guess I have read many, many novels in varying states and levels of publication that were just okay. Like, their publication wasn't or wouldn't have been a crime but it also just wasn't anything I'd even remember by the next day, either.

If any of that babbling hit on what the question was there.

Cyia
10-14-2015, 03:22 AM
Like Harry Potter? The book that was rejected out of hand by the author's agent because he didn't represent children's books? The one that was only salvaged by an assistant who read the book over her lunch break in order to give the author some encouragement because its unusual mailing binder caught her attention? The one that only went on submission because that assistant walked it down the hall, plopped it onto her boss's desk and insisted that he read it over his objections?

You mean the book that began with Hermione's mom and dad seeing the green flash from Harry's parents' death because they were on holiday with their daughter and close enough to Godric's Hollow to witness it, even though non-magical folk shouldn't have been able to? Because that was how the rejected version started.

In other words "Harry Potter" wasn't rejected by multiple editors - a different book with a different beginning was rejected by multiple editors. The rejected book was more old fashioned and less polished, and the only reason it was picked up at all was because the imprint was new, had nothing on its slate and the editor's kid happened to pick up the first pages and love them.

Even with that, the book was given a half-sized print run and a half-sized advance because the editor didn't think it would sell well.

Look at another example - Eragon. It was a flop by every measure you could imagine. It nearly bankrupted the author's parents' press, which is who originally published it. Again, it was an editor's kid who happened upon it and pulled it out of the bin. The kid was out with his dad and saw the author in costume attempting to do a book event at a bookshop. The kid saw the cover of the book and told his dad that dad's publishing company should buy the book.

Twilight: also widely rejected. So widely that it was literally in the author's agent's trash bin when her assistant, who had read the opening pages, pulled it out and asked the agent to re-read it. The book was "too long" and "lacked conflict," etc... then it sold.


Basically, rarely is the rejected book the one that gets published. Also, you should be very, very nice to agent-assistants, as they can literally pull your book out of the fire, and also if you see an editor's kid, they basically control your novel's destiny. ;)

Silenia
10-14-2015, 03:39 AM
Many possible reasons. Even assuming the novel is great; and is great the moment it's queried--rather than great three rewrites later and a few dozen queries in--there are plenty of reasons.

The novel can be great. Except, well, you* queried an agent that represents non-fiction only. Whoops. Rejected pretty much immediately.
The novel can be great. Sadly, you started querying an incomplete manuscript.
The novel can be great. Unfortunately, the agent is currently closed to queries and you get an auto-reject.
The novel can be great. Pity you're querying a fantasy novel and the agent you e-mailed doesn't represent fantasy. Rejected at the first clear sign of the genre.
The novel can be great. Sadly, no one sees it because you forgot to attach the requested sample of the first few pages. Agent has enough queries in their inbox that -do- follow the instructions and the query isn't so absolutely Amazing-with-capital-A that they muuuust have that sample and are going to hunt you down for it.
The novel can be great. Unfortunately the query is such a red hot mess that the agent can't even tell what the book is supposed to be about.
The novel can be great. Sadly, the agent has no idea how to sell it and thus decide to pass. (Which does not mean the agent is a bad agent. Different agents, different contacts, different genres, etc. An agent who's got no clue how to sell, say, fantasy, might be a great agent for thrillers. A Big Name Agent in non-fiction is likely not the best agent for your picture book)
The novel can be great. Only, the agent already represents a novel which has key similarities.
The novel can be great. The query, however, was never received because your email tripped the spam-filter.
The novel can be great. However, tastes differ and this novel really isn't up the alley of the agent you queried.
The novel can be great. However, the person who queried badgered for a response a dozen times in two weeks and the agent decides that they'd really rather not work with this author.

Don't think I need to go on.

*general you, not anyone in specific. Goes for every "you" in this post.

Treehouseman
10-14-2015, 05:00 AM
FOOLS!

THIS LIE MUST DIE!

Harry Potter was only rejected by ONE agent and was immediately picked up by the SECOND.

JK Rowling never received another rejection in her life.

(Waves magic wand, disappears in a cloud of glitter smoke.)

Sage
10-14-2015, 05:06 AM
Is it time for Slushkiller (http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004641.html)?

Myrealana
10-14-2015, 07:03 PM
Publishing is very subjective. You can write the next Great American Novel and simply catch an agent or editor on a bad day. That's why you don't quit. If you've written the best book you can, you keep sending it out.

We live in the electronic age. It doesn't even cost a stamp to send it to the next person on the list.

MandyHubbard
10-14-2015, 07:06 PM
Like Harry Potter.

I would reject Harry Potter. I've still never read it. There's just nothing about a boy wizard that appeals to me. I've seen the first move and tried to watch the second and just got bored. I do think amazing writing could win me over, but there's not enough time in the day to read everything I WANT to read.

The fact is we have limited room on our lists until we reach the "too many clients to keep up" stage, so we want each of those slots to be books that we're excited about. Books that, if we had to read them 6 times, we'd still enjoy them. Otherwise, the job starts feeling too much like work.

Put it this way-- how many books do YOU read that are "perfect good" but you forget about them a week later, and you never shove them at your friends and demand they read it? Now think about the books you gush about and buy extra copies of and tell everyone you know?

Wouldn't you rather spend your day on THOSE books then "perfectly good" ones?

Perks
10-14-2015, 07:14 PM
Is it time for Slushkiller (http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004641.html)?

I dunnae think she'll listen, lassie.

CryingKatie has a tendency to start threads and not engage in the discussion that follows.

But SlushKiller is wonderful and I'll never be sorry for being put in mind of it.

JJ Litke
10-14-2015, 09:42 PM
FOOLS!

THIS LIE MUST DIE!

Harry Potter was only rejected by ONE agent and was immediately picked up by the SECOND.

JK Rowling never received another rejection in her life.

(Waves magic wand, disappears in a cloud of glitter smoke.)

Thank you! I'm so tired of people who know nothing about publishing getting all wide-eyed while telling me how Rowling got a lot of rejections. Even if you look at the publisher rejections, it's just not that many.

Sheryl Nantus
10-14-2015, 09:52 PM
I dunnae think she'll listen, lassie.

CryingKatie has a tendency to start threads and not engage in the discussion that follows.

But SlushKiller is wonderful and I'll never be sorry for being put in mind of it.

QFT.

mayqueen
10-14-2015, 10:23 PM
Thank you! I'm so tired of people who know nothing about publishing getting all wide-eyed while telling me how Rowling got a lot of rejections. Even if you look at the publisher rejections, it's just not that many.
It's also just very much retrospective sense-making. It's not like HARRY POTTER was objectively good (or bad). It was a novel that happened to appeal to a lot of people and happened to sell very, very well. So in hindsight, of course it looks like it was always good. This is by no means a dig on HARRY POTTER. I own all the books. I've seen all the movies. I do think it's good. I just think that applying what we now know about its success to what agents/publishers should or shouldn't have done with it at the querying stage is an exercise in futility.

I'll go back to my corner now...

KTC
10-14-2015, 10:25 PM
Does Katie ever return to the question threads she creates? Or is she a question generator?

diana86
10-14-2015, 11:22 PM
You mean the book that began with Hermione's mom and dad seeing the green flash from Harry's parents' death because they were on holiday with their daughter and close enough to Godric's Hollow to witness it, even though non-magical folk shouldn't have been able to? Because that was how the rejected version started.

Wait wait WAIT. Really? How did I miss this bit of Harry Potter trivia???

BenPanced
10-14-2015, 11:35 PM
I dunnae think she'll listen, lassie.

CryingKatie has a tendency to start threads and not engage in the discussion that follows.

But SlushKiller is wonderful and I'll never be sorry for being put in mind of it.

no, i liek CHOKLIT meelk!


Does Katie ever return to the question threads she creates? Or is she a question generator?

She's come back to a couple threads with "well, yeah, but..." type responses but never completely engages. Enrages, at times, yes. But almost never engages.

Helix
10-15-2015, 07:53 AM
Katie, this isn't like Yahoo Answers, where you post questions and let the replies roll in. It's a forum and people expect more interaction.

Roxxsmom
10-15-2015, 08:16 AM
Because agents are human, and predicting the ultimate level of success of any one reasonably well-written, engaging novel by an unknown author is an art as well as a science.

But the bird is right--the people on this forum are real human beings who participate because we like talking (and arguing sometimes) about writing and publishing with people, not just answering questions for some kid (sorry if you're not, but that's how you're coming off) who has a class assignment they don't want to do themselves (what I see a lot of on Yahoo answers and ask dot com).

If you'd at least explain why you want to know all these things, why you don't want to engage in a back and forth about them, and why you've been unable to find the answers you seek elsewhere, or in other threads buried in these very forums, we'd perhaps feel a bit more charitable.

I'm beginning to feel like you're some kind of bot that's been created as a (not terribly convincing) AI experiment based on the most common thread topics that have been posted in AWWC over the years.

Filigree
10-15-2015, 09:07 AM
Going out on a limb here and offering that 'Katie' may well be a bot, or a student group/single student attempting either a prank or research shortcut. If you're real, Katie, I apologize...but that still isn't going to make me take your questions that seriously anymore.

The magic formula you are looking for is this: Read. Research. Write. Hope. Learn. Repeat.

Roxxsmom
10-15-2015, 09:29 AM
Or possibly a flounced or banned member who has a grudge against the AW community who created a bot to drive everyone nuts while they snicker.

If not, yeah, I'm sorry, but the fact that it's crossed our minds does say something about the approach here. Engage with the community, and you can learn a lot.

Helix
10-15-2015, 09:50 AM
Well, here's her Yahoo Answers page (https://au.answers.yahoo.com/activity/questions?show=2M7JCF5YT7WMI25E4F7RFN2EAA&t=g).