I was reading requesteds at the Panera, and I started to think about how different it is to read for enjoyment versus to read with a critical eye towards representation. I can read a book for fun in about three hours, but I’m not reading it with my agent hat on – I’m there to just be immersed in the story.
When I’m reading requested manuscripts as an agent though, I am usually consciously or sub-consciously thinking about the following questions (which greatly extends my reading time):
- Do I love the voice?
- Do I understand the characters deeper than just what they want and why? Do I feel like I know who they are?
- Do I feel that sense of tension? Are narrative beats happening at the right point in the story/structure?
- Are we following the reader expectations of the genre, and if we’re subverting them, are we doing it in a satisfying way?
- Is the concept fresh and/or is there something here that I haven’t seen before?
- Are there huge logic gaps that undo the premise of the story?
- Do I have an editorial vision? If there are issues that I can see, do I have an idea of how to help shape and strengthen this book?
- Could I put this down/walk away and be okay? (The answer is hopefully no!)
- Are there editors or imprints jumping out at me that would love this too? (In other words, do I see where I could place the book in the market?)
- Would I be proud to have this book on my list?
So many of these things are subjective, and that might feel disheartening. But as an author and agent, I actually don’t see it quite that way. Because it means that as long as I’m sending out (or as an author, writing and revising) the best book I can, then most passes are about an editor’s taste and ability to connect with the work.
So unless I’m hearing specific, repeated feedback about the craft, it (probably) means that it’s just about finding that right fit. And I guess that’s where I feel half-full about it. Because not all books are for everybody, but perhaps out there I can find that somebody the book is for.