Tuesday, February 19, 2008

SO CLOSE! The Curse of the Almost-Theres

It's easy to say no thank you to a below-par query, partial or manuscript. The tough part is the "almost theres." I'm talking about the pieces that have great plot lines, or fabulous dialogue or believable, rich characters. Problem is, these "almost theres" don't have all those things. And, sadly, editors won't pay attention until the project is near perfect. Therefore, we can't pay attention either.

Last year, when I was much wetter behind the ears : }, I accepted far too many of these. And, after trying to interest multiple editors in these not-quite-perfect projects, I'm sadder but wiser. It's kind of like love. You fall in love with a man because he's handsome, courteous, funny and nice to your mother. You try not to see that he seldom tips waiters, hates dogs, never helps you do the dishes, and criticizes your friends and your wardrobe. If the warning bells don't go off at some point, you are going to be sorry. Cute goes only so far. Courtesy can be phony. Funny is easy and your mom likes everyone. Bail out now!

I keep reminding myself of this analogy every time I begin to fall in love with a flawed project.
If it's lacking one of the vital components necessary to a fabulous read, I have to say no. It hurts, but I have to say no. What really kills me is that I often run these by Jon, just to be sure. He's much tougher than I am, and I've learned to listen to him.

I fell in love with a query last week, read the partial on Saturday and, sadly, realized it was an "almost there." Sigh.

So, what's an author to do? My suggestions are to read fabulous books in your spare time. Go back and read your book. You'll find many ways you can improve. So improve, already. Rewrite. Hire an editor. Start over. But don't send anything to an agent until you are sure you are THERE, not "almost there."


Laura R said...

Ohhh...I get a pit in my stomach just from reading this. May the higher power that be send me a sign when my work is truly ready!

Thank you for the honest and helpful advice!

Anonymous said...

This is good insider information. If you read the opening chapters of Harry Potter, though, I'm sure many agents would also say it's an "almost there" because it's not that spectacular. So I don't know whether it should be a hard and fast rule.

Charles said...

Why are so many unpublished authors that strike a huge hit nearly always those who were rejected by hundreds of agents until one took a chance? Could it be that perfect writing is not the key ingredient in a successful novel, but that there is a "magic" that the query-rejection, or 5-page rejection of time-pressed and ruthless agents cannot possibly see? A book is like a forrest - when you first step in, judgments can be so meaningless. Only after you have walked through and to its heart can you know what it is. Of course, 95% of submissions are likely drivel. But the filter is so strong, and frankly, the constant surprise at new talent so common, that it is clear that Agency as a whole has become a machine that can identify a class of good books, but repeatedly rejects so many that would be successful. And how many die a death because there was NO agent willing to take a chance?

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