Why "No" Comes Quickly…
But “Yes” Seems to Take Forever
For the last couple of days we’ve been going over some basics of fiction writing – things that someone editing your book might be looking for in their efforts to help you produce the best book possible.
But acquisitions editors – and agents – won’t be spending time analyzing all those specifics. They’re going to to be assessing whether the book is right for them, and here’s how it works: If it’s a “no” they can discern it very quickly. Anything that isn’t a “no” becomes a “maybe” and is going to take a lot longer to make a decision.
Sometimes it’s difficult to accept that agents and acquisition editors can make decisions almost immediately, after reading what seems like a very small portion of the work. You’ve worked long and hard on your manuscripts, and for someone to say “no” after what must seem like barely a glance can be crushing. But there is a ton of experience and knowledge behind a quick “no.” An editor or agent can discern a countless number of things about your writing from a very few paragraphs.
One of the best ways to see this illustrated is to attend a session at a writer’s conference where a panel of agents and editors reads the first page of a manuscript and gives immediate verbal feedback, finishing with a decision about whether the first page would compel them to keep reading. It’s a crash-course in how their minds work and how they’re able to make decisions quickly. You see how your writing style and level of expertise comes across loud and clear on that very first page.
Recently on my blog, a commenter mentioned it would be nice if agents and editors would actually read a manuscript before rejecting it. The truth is, we read exactly as much as we need to. It’s not necessary for an editor or agent to read more than a few pages to determine if it’s a “no.” It takes a lot longer to determine if it’s a “yes.”
I apologize if you’ve read this on my blog before, but I came up with this analogy to help explain how we’re able to recognize the “no” projects so quickly.
When shopping for clothes, I can browse through racks fairly quickly. “No, no, no, no… ” My eyes and hands can take in copious detailed information about each item of clothing. Color, style, size, texture, pattern, fabric… so many things register in my brain in a millisecond. I instantly reject the ones that clearly aren’t what I’m looking for – they don’t suit the occasion I’m shopping for, or they’re not “me” for whatever reason. Occasionally I stop at something. “Hmm. Maybe.” I grab that item to take to the fitting room and try on.
If something looks, in a glance, to have something I am looking for, I need to spend more time considering. It starts off as a maybe, and might progress to “yes” or it might not.
So that’s kind of how it is when we look at those queries and proposals and first pages, and listen to your verbal pitch at a conference. The thought process is something like, “No, no, no… hmmm, maybe,” based on our experience evaluating, acquiring, editing and selling books.
Your control comes in writing the best book you can, so that’s where I think you should keep your focus. You’ll never be able to get a handle on what everyone is looking for. You will not be able to identify the magic fairy dust that makes an agent or an editor say the “yes” you’ve been wanting.
So just keep writing. Keep learning in every way you can. Keep getting feedback on your work. It’s the only way!
© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent