I keep getting feedback from agents that they love my writing and the story, but they are struggling to connect to the voice. Or they pass, saying they love it, but “it’s just not for me.”
Where do I go from here? Do I need to continue to revise? When is it time to stop pursuing the agent route?
Sending off work to agents is tough, because it is so subjective.
There are multiple reasons your work is intriguing to an agent, enough that they request the full manuscript, but in the end pass.
One, the right person hasn’t seen your manuscript yet.
Two, the timing is wrong. The market is ever-changing. A few years ago, women’s fiction was a hard pass in the traditional world. Well, now more and more well-known romance authors are being asked to write women’s fiction by their publishers. The markets are constantly shifting.
Also, keep in mind that even if an agent loves your work, they might not take it on because they know that an acquiring editor won’t buy it right now. Acquiring editors also bring their own preferences to the table, plus they have the publishing house’s expectations to work with as well.
Three, agents have seen similar themes or stories in their inbox lately that are similar to yours, and they just want something different. This doesn’t mean your story isn’t awesome, it just means that maybe your work will better stand out in another agent’s inbox. Or, the agent represents something similar to your book already. Agents aren’t trying to compete with their own clients.
Four, maybe the voice in your manuscript is missing something. It also doesn’t hurt to look at the manuscript and see if there are changes you can make based on some of the more specific feedback you’ve gotten. Sometimes agents give tailored advice, or ask for a revise and resubmit. In those cases, ask yourself if any of their ideas can make elements of your story stronger. Get more beta readers on your work. Hire an editor to get their tailored feedback, even if it’s just on the initial pages. If you’ve worked with an editor already, consider getting a second opinion to see what another professional has to say.
When voice concerns come into play, usually it stems from the main character of the story. Are there motivations for the MC actions we can explore more in greater depth? Are those motivations and goals strong enough on the page? Do the motivations match the character’s actions and reactions? Does the MC have clear drive/direction?
Also, consider the synopsis as something to develop more, since often agents will decide on that alone (as it shows the plot, goals, motivations, etc.). Is there a lot of voice and motivation layered into this synopsis that makes it pop?
Five, maybe the traditional route isn’t for you. And that’s OK. Self-publishing is a great option for many writers, and a preferred option for some. Some genres tend to do better self-publishing than others (such as romance and erotica) and many ‘cross-genre’ books have more success here than they would in traditional publishing.
Maybe you only want to traditionally publish, but you don’t want to keep pitching your book forever. Then, I say set a goal in mind, say six months from now, and have that be your end date on submissions with agents. If by then, you haven’t connected with the right person, despite reaching out to everyone you can, then you can decide the next steps. Self-publish or table the book for now and write the next one. It doesn’t mean that book will be tabled forever, just for now.
In conclusion, there are several reasons agents will pass on work, and we have no way of knowing what those will be sometimes. But keep pushing, keep writing, and keep improving. You’ll find your right path.
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