Friday, November 15, 2013

You Can't Understand a Literary Agent Until You Read a Slush Pile

I've become a fan of Chuck Sambuchino's blog. As I followed some links, I stumbled across this post at a different blog. It inspired me to try to put myself into the mind of a literary agent (or more accurately, a slush reader at an agency).
  • I visited a bookstore and selected 10 random SF&F novels.
  • I did not glance at the covers.
  • I did not read the blurbs.
  • I just grabbed them at random as if they had appeared as queries.
  • I read only the first chapters.
I'm not naming-names, or listing the titles, because it's not my intention to criticize any author. I seek to learn, and here's what I discovered:  
Four of the books started with a prologue. One was a page and a half long. Another was 30-pages long. The others somewhere in between. None intrigued me enough to keep reading. Writers often hear that prologues are unnecessary. This experience proved the validity of that statement to me.  
Weak Verbs
How many times can 'was' be crammed into a paragraph? I swear one author tried for the Guinness World Record. I didn't make it past the first page before I put the novel down in disgust.
Too Much Description
It's true that opening a story with a description of the weather / a place / a town / etc. is not the best way to start a novel. Two of the books opened this way. In one case, I made it through three pages before I abandoned the book. In another, five pages.
Interior Monologue
If humankind ever develops the ability to read the minds of others, I believe we'll find it to be a boring experience. Most people's thoughts (mine included) are redundant and dull. Opening a novel locked inside the head of a single character is like trapping the reader in purgatory. Seven of the ten books opened with lengthy (i.e. boring) interior monologues. 
Characters that interact and talk to one another really do move a story forward. Only one of the books opened with multiple characters and dialogue. The quick flow of the story made for an enjoyable read.
Most of the books went into the discard pile. They interested me so little I had to force myself to return them to the shelves. Now, I understand why some agents don't respond to queries. Their time can be better spent searching for that one, elusive book that does appeal to them.

Did any of the books appeal to me? Yep. The one that held my interest. The same criteria every agent / editor / reader employs. That author earned the cash I spent to buy the book.

What encourages you to buy books?

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