A Nicer Than Average Rejection

Just had a rejection from a UK agent who said of the first ten pages of ‘The Maze’, that she says 'you can certainly write' and went on to say that she enjoyed the chapter I sent her, especially the beginning, but didn't 'love it enough to ask to see the rest'.

Now I don’t confess to understanding Agentspeak. Did she decide to be nice about my writing by way of a polite way to brush me off and ask me never to darken her Inbox again - or is she saying she wouldn't mind seeing something else as long as it's totally different in style - or what?

Her client list is quite diverse, a contemporary Asian novelist, an author of mathematical models for foreign exchange options, [wake up at the back there] a Regency and fantasy, otherworld writer, [yes folks, she writes both] and a crime fiction and sports author. Now I can do one of that list, maybe.

Confused, I wrote to her again asking her if it was this particular novel of mine which didn’t grab her, or was it my work in general? She’s obviously amongst the higher form of literary agent – with a heart, as she wrote back saying that I need to have an edge to my writing, something quirky and edgy which will apppeal to her. And. . . she said if I can fit into what she likes, she would be happy to review it.

Quirky? Edgy? Hmm, I’m not sure what she means by that, but I’m willing to give it a try. C’mon critique group, and fellow authors – how do I make historical fiction quirky?


Jane Beckenham said…
That was exactly my response, how the heck do you make historical quirky? But she may mean making the characters more layered, more dimensional, it could be a pacing thing. Upping the pace of the story... just some ideas, though i'm not sure i know anything, my last 2 historicals were rejected too, but then my 'quirky' contemporaries sell, so who knows.

TobyC said…
When I look at agents that I want to represent my work, I read the books they've backed. That way, I can tell if my writing style compliments their interests. Have you considered reading the books she's backed? Look at the first ten pages and see what is different about those books than others.
Since she took the time to respond to you, I doubt it was simply because she's nice. Chances are, she sees talent in your prose, but not the edge she requires. It sounds like she's trying to inspire your work to head in her direction.
If you've read the books she's backed, and don't pick up on a unique character or format, then it seems it might be difficult to define quirky.
You'll figure it out!
For one, consider yourself fortunate to get any kind of personalized response. That's a rarity and definitely take it as a compliment. It seems like your style of writing must certainly have appealed to her. As far as what constitutes 'edgy' and 'quirky' - got me. Does that refer to plot, conflict, dialogue, the characters???
Ginger Simpson said…
Cryptic at best...I'm not sure how quirky historical-based novels can be, but I guess if we remember that we are writing fiction, we can enhance them in which ever way feels best. Then you get comments like..."that never would have happened." Or, as in my latest review, "At times the dialogue seems a bit stilted or two dimensional rather than full-bodied."

I still haven't figured that out since this novel has been edited to death. *lol* To me full-bodied has always meant shopping in the fat-lady sizes. *grin*

Clearly this agent admires your talent, but doesn't see the sales potential in your current novel. It's all about making money, you know.
Evangeline said…
I'm guessing that "quirky" means something instantly eye-catching. For a historical, perhaps that could be a female alchemist in the 16th century. Or a rebel monk. Or something that makes your characters--and the plot--out of the ordinary for the setting.
Anne Gilbert said…
You have my sympathies. Getting published is a minefield at best. You were lucky, as Jane pointed out, to get a personalized response at all, so you're probably doing something right. My writing partner had a similar experience with a book she's writing, rewriting, and trying to sell. It's an interesting story, but since I'm helping her with it, my guess is, in her case, it's just a little too "soft". Maybe that's your problem, but I don't exactly know how you would solve this problem. I wish I could.
Anne G
Nixy Valentine said…
I was just going to suggest the same thing Toby did... reading other works she's signed on to see if you can sense a common thread.

"Edgy" is an imprecise word. It seems subjective. It also seems something too vague to chase. Do you read any books you feel are "edgy"?

A thought occurs to me based on a comment in your previous post... I wonder if edgy just pushing the limits and writing scenes that make you slightly uncomfortable? Perhaps it's just having a teaspoon of darkness into the mix.
Anita, you were very lucky to get a good response. Most of the time writers get a rejection letter that doesn't say anything. Quirky and Edgy? Hmmm... Makes me wonder what she means by that. I know some agents / editors want the story to start out in action - like a chase scene or something like that. THE MAZE is an excellent story. Your writing is to die for! Don't give up. Somebody will love it! (besides me)

Lisa Yarde said…
I'm with Toby and Nixy also, Anita. To get a sense of what she means by edgy, look at her current clients' work.

I'm also having a hard time understanding how historical fiction can be quirky or edgy. You can't go too extreme because your history, your setting defines what you write about. If she means in in terms of how you write, the infamous "voice" then that's even trickier. Don't be disheartened, keep at it with the search to find a right home for The Maze.

Anne Gilbert said…
I guess I'm in a minority here, but I think I have an idea what "quirky" or "edgy" in historical fiction might be. If you have a very unusual type of hero or heroine -- for example, someone who is a complete outsider in the society you describe, but must hide this in some way. I am sure you can think of a situation like this. It would set up some wonderful conflicts if you can come up with such a story and still have it historically credible. But I think Toby and Lisa and the others who have made the suggestion, are right, and you should probably read the works of others this agent has published. She might have something entirely different than I have suggested, in mind.
Jen Black said…
We could always deluge her with partials and see if we get the same response - that she wants Quirky and Edgy. I'm looking through W&A YB right now. But perhaps that's too cheeky!
Wensy Laharnar said…
"If you had a rejection (which I very much doubt), then hang in there and keep your head down, keep writing. You are already a WINNER."

Even though I haven't read your work or critiqued it, I do believe what others have said about your writing and it seems to me you have mastered your craft.

And, unlike me, you have time on your side.
Hugs and may the muse be with you.
Anonymous said…
Hi Anita,
I'm new to this blog, but decided that this might be a good time to jump in.
In my experience, once you start to get "nice" responses, you are getting closer. The agent wouldn't be wasting her time with you if she didn't think there was some promise to your writing.
Also, in my experience, I found that it was important to just keep at it. Rather than chasing an agent's vision, keep writing what feels right to you and eventually the right agent will respond.
Good luck.
Kathleen in Virginia
Anne Gilbert said…
Anita, Kathleen in Virginia is right. You can only write as you write, not the way someone else thinks your story ought to be written. I found this out while helping my writing partner write some of her material. Some of what she writes would be a real "hard sell", because it doesn't have a lot of the kind of "action" some agents seem to want in their books. OTOH, it's good stuff, in its quiet way, and I think would have a readership somewhere. Same with yours, I'm sure. And if you got a "nice" rejection, as I said, you got a lot more than most writers get. Be thankful.

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