A New Perspective on Literary Agents – What Books Would YOU Represent?

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So the other day I was examining literary agent responses, partly discouraged because I’ve gotten so many agent rejection letters over the years, and partly intrigued.  I looked at the various rejection letters I’d gotten, and then compared them to the three offers of publication I’d gotten for my book I’d written a few years ago.  Three offers, and basically hundreds of rejections.  And I wondered, what made three of them love it, and hundreds more just turn it aside?  What is it really that makes an agent or a publisher want your book?  Sure, everyone says good writing and a good story and obviously that plays a huge part in it, but you always hear the stories about authors who were turned down many times only to go on to be best sellers.

If you were an agent, how many books would YOU represent?

So, instead of beating my head against the wall and wondering why so many agents keep rejecting my current manuscript, I decided to do a little experiment.  I noticed a trend in all my rejection letters – the literary agent just didn’t love it enough.  And if you’ve ever received a reply like this, then maybe you can understand the frustration.  I mean, what is that supposed to mean?  Well, I took a step back, examined all the replies and really started thinking.  Literary agents claim they need to absolutely love the manuscript before taking it on, so I sat back and thought, how many books do I actually love?

And it turns out, not that many.  I went through my bookshelf, one book at a time, refreshed my memory on what it was about and asked myself if I was a literary agent, would I represent this author and their book?  And on my entire bookshelf of a few hundred books, there were probably only about 8 of them that I would consider.  And this is out of tons of bestselling YA books here.  This is nothing like the slush pile an agent goes through; these are well edited, published novels.

There’s a huge difference between like and love.

I realized there were lots of books that I liked, that I enjoyed reading and thought were fun, but there were only a handful that I loved.  There’s a huge difference between reading a book and going, yeah this is good, and then putting it away, or reading a book and going, ohmygoodnessgracious I have to share this with all my friends!  And the latter is what you want out of a literary agent.  Think of a book you read that you thought was just okay.  Would you want a literary agent who felt that way about your book?  They probably wouldn’t have the drive to push your book forward, to tell everyone about it and really make sure it succeeds.  And can you blame them?  Would you be able to promote a book that you didn’t really care about?

So writers, when the rejection letters start piling up, remember that publishing isn’t just hard, it’s subjective.  When agents close their rejections with that phrase we’ve got memorized by now – another agent may feel differently – they mean it!  Just like some people love a book like The Hunger Games and some people hate it, literary agents will feel the same about your book.

And I encourage you to try my experiment.  Go to your bookshelf or think of the recent books you’ve read and ask yourself if you would really represent it.  Count in your head the books you love, love, love, and I’m sure you’ll find it’s a pretty small number compared to all the things you’ve ever read.  I know that helped me feel a little better about the querying process.  You just have to find the right fit, and if it’s meant to be, you will.

2 thoughts on “A New Perspective on Literary Agents – What Books Would YOU Represent?

  1. bookishashlee says:

    Exactly! When you look at it from this angle it’s easy to see why agents just need to be blown away by a manuscript before they take it on. There’s some tough competition out there!

    • paulinecharris says:

      Exactly! I used to be so bummed out all the time when agents would reject me but once I started really thinking about it, it makes so much sense that they’re super picky about what they take on. Rejections are still terrible though. ;P

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