This week several letters highlighting responses from agents and editors on what you might expect if you're "nearly there". You'll notice that most of these have a mix of positives and constructive feedback, as well as highly personalised comments.
Two brief, succinct responses to query letters to two different agents.
1st - Sounds intriguing! Please send me the first 50 pages + synopsis at my address below. I look forward to reading your material.
Agency X Literary Agency
2nd - Sounds like you’ve got what it takes. Please email me the first three chapters and a synopsis (1-2 pages) and I’ll give it a look.
Agency Y Literary Agents
I liked Manuscript A a lot. I’ve been looking for futuristic/military romance for quite a while and haven’t found anything even close. But I liked Manuscript A enough to read the whole thing. Since you’re in Australia, can you email me the full manuscript? A brief synopsis as well.
I’m mired in the last days’ chaos of putting on a world-class writers conference in Big City next week, so I probably won’t be able to read the full until late February/early March. I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know if another agent requests the full before I can get to it.
Manuscript B was not as exciting to me as Manuscript A. At this time I’m not going to ask to read anything further. Maybe down the road.
Agency Z Literary Agents
This is one of the letters you hope you get once you start looking for representation with an agent. I took a chance and pitched two manuscripts to her. As you can see she chose to see only one. The next example is her follow-on letter from this one.
Manuscript A is a good read. In my earlier days as an agent I would have taken you on and worked with you to prune this manuscript so that it screamed from the first page to the last. Unfortunately I am so busy now, I no longer have the luxury to do a major editing cycle with a writer before I sign them. However, if you can work with a critique group or a book doctor or by yourself to edit Manuscript A I’d definitely reconsider it. Seriously reconsider it. You’re very close. I got all the way to where Heroine declares her love for Hero after she learns he’s a former RACE Patrol officer, saw that there were more than 100 pages to go to the end of the book and gave up. That’s a long way through a big manuscript and even though I threw in the towel the curiosity is still tickling my brain—how will they trick VILLAIN? How will it all end? So that’s great news.
Now, what do you need to edit, you ask? First, the story is too long. Not so much in word count, but you’ve added a lot of scenes that do not move the plot forward and have extended scenes where the dialogue or action needs to be pared because it is repetitious or non-essential. You need to go over each scene, scene-by-scene, and if it doesn’t slam the plot forward, delete or prune it. For example, too much chit-chat occurs frequently. We don’t need a play-by-play when they are stuck in the asteroid crack waiting for nightfall so they can deliver the weapons to the rebels. Move forward. No dancing on Dagara. Etc. Lots of that. I flipped through the rest of the manuscript even though I’d stopped reading critically. (HERE SHE LISTS CERTAIN SCENES AND WHAT DIDN'T APPEAL TO HER.) I’m hoping these scenes jump out at you. If not, well, that’s a whole other problem. (Also, for the American market you’ll have to change the “our”s to “or”s...flavor, favorite, etc....and there are a few other Aust/NZ idioms...doctor’s office is what we call it in the states, not surgery...that will need cleaning up...minor, minor things, but need correction.)
However, as I said before, you are very close. If you do a major rewrite of this manuscript to eliminate the dross and fine tune it so that every single word pulls its own weight, I think you’ll have a manuscript I can sell to a large New York publisher. As it stands now, I couldn’t sell it. An editor would have stopped long before I did and politely said, “I think Ms. X writes very well, but I just didn’t fall in love with the manuscript.” I don’t want to see that happen. You do write very well. You just need to “kill your little darlings.” If you don’t know what that means, Google the phrase!
Agency Z Literary Agents
This response was heart in your throat stuff when I received it - a rejection but oh, so close! Agent C gave copious amounts of feedback about what appealed to her and what didn't work and how I could fix it.
And, the two killer statements - can you pick them? "...if you can work with a critique group or a book doctor or by yourself to edit Manuscript A I’d definitely reconsider it. Seriously reconsider it." and "If you do a major rewrite of this manuscript to eliminate the dross and fine tune it so that every single word pulls its own weight, I think you’ll have a manuscript I can sell to a large New York publisher."
So, guess what I began working on after that? :-) I also responded to her question and gave her my thoughts on the comments she'd made.
This from another agent after pitching in a query letter two manuscripts she might be interested in, a request for the partials of both and then a submission of them to her.
The manuscripts are in the right format, thanks!
I'll read Manuscript A first; I'm very interested in your work. If you hear anything from another agent, before I get a chance to write back, which may take me a week or so, as I'm attending a conference this weekend--please, let me know immediately. I want to get a chance to offer you representation too, if another agent offers it first.
This was the end result of an editorial pitching session at an RWAustralia conference. The editor requested a partial during the pitch, liked it and requested the full manuscript. She rang me to say she liked the full and was taking it to the board. Then she emailed me to say they were undecided and so she'd passed it on to the head offices in the UK and US. This letter was the culmination of that roller coaster ride.
Thank you very much for your patience. Finally I have to tell you that we have decided we don’t think (Publishing House) would be the right list for your manuscript. It was read here and in the Orbit offices in the UK and the US, and everyone enjoyed your writing but felt the story was geared more towards romance than to sci-fi/fantasy. It would be better suited to a romance list.
I am sorry it has taken a while for us to come to this conclusion, but we gave it a lot of thought and talked about it across three continents.
I would like to wish you all the very best with your writing.
Publishing House A
Another near miss. But so encouraging. The correspondence was very positive even though, ultimately, it ended in rejection.
As a nice aside - the editor contacted me months after this, just after I'd won the RWA Valerie Parv Award to congratulate me on my achievement. She'd remembered me from all those months ago!
Next time I'll share the bee's knees; the holy grail of all letters - the offer of representation!