Friday, January 18, 2013

What are Literary Agents looking for?

More than a year back, when I was searching for an agent for my Middle Grade Novel, I spent a lot of time on Literary Rambles trying to get familiar with agents’ tastes. In this post I am sharing what I have now realized about agents.

They all are looking for fresh, unique voices. For characters who by the end of the book are more flesh than fiction. Practically every agent’s requirement is upmarket, high-concept, character driven, well-plotted books with fast pacing, emotional resonance and beautiful writing. Most of them are on the lookout for books with literary spark as well as commercial appeal.

In both Young Adult and Middle Grade, the emphasis is on the unusual and unforgettable characters with vivid settings. Many agents stress that they are eager for stylized voices which sound authentic.

Quite a few of them advice that writers should not chase trends as trends change by the time books are completed.  Just write what comes to you, is their advice. Make your story the best it can be. Rewrite, rewrite and rewrite some more. Polish, polish and polish.

One of the best pieces of advice I came across was,  “A great voice is paramount; whether first or third person, I need to fall in love with your voice. Your characters must be memorable and you need to make me root for your protagonist right from the start. Show your protagonist's journey, through the use of dialogue, the senses, actions and reactions, rather than tell through the use of narrative. Finally, a great opening is absolutely essential. You need to grab me immediately, and keep me turning the pages. If you can make me laugh out loud, cry, or keep reading late at night, you may have a winner!" 

Practically every agent’s pet peeve was pages of exposition, dry description, flat writing, lack of tension and dramatic conflict, clich├ęs, banalities, lack of a striking voice and dialogues that didn't sound right.

Most of the agents said they were looking for stories that grabbed them and kept them reading all through the night.

I read lots of books last year, by authors who had chosen to either self-publish or go with a smaller press or publishing house. And almost all the books I read were what I called great books.  I wonder what was the reason they were turned down. Most of these authors told me that agents (and not just a few, but several) had turned them down.

Do you feel getting an agent is as much dependent on luck as on writing? What’s your take on this agent scenario? Is having an agent a big deal? Can writers get published without an agent? I would love to hear all your opinions.



26 comments:

Rahul Bhatia said...

Rachna, one thing I agree fully is that whatever is written needs to be engrossing:)

Slamdunk said...

Excellent advice about not chasing trends, Rachna. I agree that it will always keep an author chasing the crowd--and at the same time missing opportunities to create a unique work.

Enjoy your weekend.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think like everything else, it's all in the timing.
I never queried agents, just publishers.
And that is a great refresher of what our writing should be like.

michelle said...

Thanks for sharing Rachna!
I've come across many different articles and blog posts that talk about voice, which is something that cannot be fabricated... and it has to be distinct and refreshing to capture the attention. I think it is subjective because the concept of a distinct and refreshing voice will differ from one agent to the next. And I'm convinced that timing also plays an important part in the whole process.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for sharing this, Rachna. I'm just starting my agent research. I do think you're right about voice and the story having to be different. I do think that timing or luck plays some part in whether an agent likes your submission or not. It's all very subjective.

mooderino said...

Great advice, thanks for sharing your insights.

mood

Johanna Garth said...

Chasing trends is never a good idea. I think the old advice of write what you love still holds true as is expressed by what agent's wish lists.

Lynda R Young said...

First off you need a good story that's been well written, then you need to find the 'right' agent in a sea of agents, who will love that story. A bit like finding a needle in a hay stack really because a 'good story' is so subjective. Fabulous post, Rachna.

The Golden Eagle said...

I think at least part of getting an agent is dependent on luck. You have to get the right agent to read your manuscript at the right time and place, regardless of the quality of your own work . . . and those are an awful lot of uncontrollable variables.

Dave King said...

As always, absorbingly interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Thanks for it.

Misha Gericke said...

Well at this stage, I'm feeling that as much as agents are telling us not to chase trends, almost none of them want us to veer off all that much.

:-/ The whole process is frustrating me, if I'm honest.

Cherie Reich said...

Sometimes I wonder if all this publishing business is just being at the right place at the right time.

I have a friend who has an agent, and yet she's still published by smaller presses. Publishers--and agents--want what they think they can not only sell but sell a lot of. So, unfortunately, a lot of great books don't get accept. The good thing is that there are so many areas to get your work out there now than there used to be.

Alka Gurha said...

Since I have no experience with publishing, this was an educating post, as always.

Stephen Tremp said...

Since my next book is the third in a trilogy I doubt an agent will take it. So my following book will be a stand alone and I think more attractive to agents and publishers.

Mark Noce said...

I think voice is key. Agents will or will not consider other aspects of a manuscript, but without a great voice no agent is going to sign an author. Just my opinion:)

Peggy Eddleman said...

You really picked up on some great advice!

As far as getting an agent-- I think it takes both. Stellar writing, and stellar luck. Writers can definitely get published without an agent-- an agent just makes it easier.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

My opinion has changed in the last year. I'm not interested in having an agent anymore. I appreciated them at first for rejecting my mss, because the rejections forced me to learn more and more about craft. But now they are a source of frustration. I've seen too many of my friends get signed with an agent who claims to be interested in working on the writer's career, only to dump the writer the next year because she didn't sell the writer's book.

I get why agents reject books, though, especially the editorial agents. You really have to love a book to be willing to read it more than once.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Great post, Rachna. It was such a good distillation of what ALL agents are looking for, no matter what their favorite genre or grade level. But, even then, I think there is a bit of luck, too, in connecting with an agent. I've read self-published books that I think were right up there with the best traditionally published books; and I've read traditionally published books that were disappointing and failed some of the criteria in the above list. But, of course, fulfilling that list is a great beginning. I read your later FB blurb about what your crit partner said, and it sounds like you are on your way to finding an agent.

Gina Gao said...

I totally agree with everything that you pointed out in this post. Thanks for the tips!

www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

Nick Wilford said...

I don't think agents are maybe as much of a requirement as it used to be - although they can be very useful! But your post is a great reminder, in general, of what we should be striving for. However everything is subjective which is why most books including classics have been rejected several times. I believe luck does have a part to play.

Anthony said...

I haven't written a fiction book (and am not currently writing one)...Nonetheless, great info.

Romance Reader said...

Hi Rachna,

Great post. Too much narration becomes boring. And takes a reader out of the story.

Readers need to be shown and not told.

Nas

Lydia Kang said...

Trends only count in two specific time points: the point where the book is bought by a publisher, and the point where it is released. Better to work on a good story, like you said.

Julia Hones said...

I think the best path is to focus on writing a story that will captivate your audience. There are no rules to do this. It is a personal journey of discovery, creativity and exploration. Have fun, Rachna.

alexia said...

Great post! I think talent is a huge factor, but luck is big, too. Plenty of great books just may not personally catch an agent's attention. It's very subjective. That's why persistence is important!

Medeia Sharif said...

This business is so subjective. It's about persistence, talent, and sending things to the right person at the right time.