I’m no expert on the topic I’m going to talk about here today, but I do have an opinion, and like all of us opinionated bloggers, I’m going to share it with you. I’ve been trying to interest a literary agent (or publisher) in my science fiction novels for many years now, more than I care to admit. So far, nothing has happened. I haven’t published any novels yet and I don’t have an agent, so I can’t be considered terribly knowledgeable or qualified in this topic, but I would like to point out something that I feel sometimes (perhaps a better word would be “frequently”) gets lost by many writers in the same situation as me, i.e., those still looking for an agent.
When I read over the stories I’ve written, whether it be a part of one of my novels, or a short story or novella, (or blog post) I read for certain specific things. I look for grammatical errors such as misspellings, comma faults, verb/noun agreement, proper pronoun antecedent, and so on. Also I look for smooth writing, that is, can it be understood easily by someone else. I look for redundant words or phrases. I look for inconsistencies, for example, if I say someone has red hair on page 7, does that person still have red hair on page 307? I look at each word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter and ask if each of these items is absolutely required. Does it advance the plot or show a person’s character or give essential background information? All of these are important in a novel or short story.
The same goes for any other person’s writing which I may have the opportunity to read. A writer’s critique group will examine other’s writing in the same way. It’s always good to have another person(s) look at your writing. You can’t see everything in it.
But–and here’s where my lack of experience comes in–I suspect an agent looks at a book somewhat differently. Granted, any agent is going to look at the writing with an eye toward the aforementioned topics, but that’s not all. It’s an agent’s job to sell the book to a publisher, and to do that, he/she is going to want that book to be the best it can be. But it also has to be saleable. It has to meet that agent’s idea of what constitutes a book he/she can actually sell. If zombies are selling now, a zombie book may catch an agent’s eye better than something else. Agents have to sell it; they won’t get paid if they don’t sell the book to a publisher who, in turn, has to take a chance on it. That’s an extra layer of discernment an agent applies to a book that most writers don’t think about. I certainly didn’t understand that for a long time until I began to look at my works from an agent’s point of view. I’ve gotten many rejections from agents which say “I’m not the one to represent this book” (or words to that effect), which means, basically, “I don’t think I can sell this book,” or “it wouldn’t be commercially viable.” I’m not sure that my re-evaluation of my works in this light has done any good, though it has led to some changes I might not have otherwise made. Perhaps to the better, perhaps not. But if you’re starting to query agents, remember they add another layer of evaluation. Just saying.