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, clichés, 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.