An Agent’s Vague Feedback

by RS on December 19, 2010

This afternoon I was on a Skype call with a group of writers and we were talking about all sorts of things including the querying process. One of my writer friends, who has written eight vampire books, had been corresponding with one agent who wrote to him in early March and said he should take a look at the Twilight series and study the elements of what made it so successful.

The email exchanges continued between my friend and the agent, and the last communiqué was that the first 100 pages of his novel still came across as “too drafty.” In other words, he still had more revisions to make. My friend is a meticulous writer who hones down details, has a strong voice, and spends hours revising so it was a surprise to learn this agent found the work too much in the draft phase. But what does that vague phrase mean? Is the dialog weak? Does he tell too much instead of show? Are the characters flat and not three-dimensional? Are there too many holes in the plot? What  in the world is “too drafty?”

When I hear stories like this one, I wonder whether agents know what they’re doing or is it all a crap shoot?  But at the same time, and I came to this final conclusion after giving it more thought, I see some value to these horror stories. It shows me what comments to expect, but it also gives me the  ammunition to avoid them altogether. Thus if my friend’s novel is too drafty when it has all the elements of a complete manuscript then what does Julius need to avoid such nebulous feedback? Time to get tough with myself, and think like an agent, editor, and book reviewer.

6 comments
Tony in NYC
Tony in NYC

As they say in Hollywood, no one knows.

Or, as the Decca A&R man told the Beatles following their audition: "Guitar groupls are out."

Linda Rondeau
Linda Rondeau

My agent tells me the lack of a contract for me is a mystery and feels that I'm "one of the best writers out there."

I hardly think so but nice to hear. Time and time again, I've been told my editors...great writing, great story...no thank you.

At first my foible was letting the quest for writing excellence get in the way of the story. I'm working on that. But ultimately, it's getting the right story in front of the right editor or agent at the right time.

Fads and phrases light up the industry like crazy. Myths like, "You'll never get published if you write in the passive." Or, "You'll never get published if don't stick with one genre." Or "You'll never get published with out a platform (tribe), etc.

Yet, we know people get published who break all the rules and myths. So, yeah, it's a crap shoot, as rare as a hole in one. But to steal from another sport, you'll never get to first base if you stop swinging.

Ruchira Mandal
Ruchira Mandal

Learn from the Twilight series? Seriously?
Your friend should look for another agent.

Patti Larsen
Patti Larsen

Hmmm... sometimes I wonder. Not to be critical of such a successful writer, but the main reason the Twilight novels did so well is because of the idea and how it captured the imagination of teen girls (and their mothers) not just because of the writing. That being said, I worry when an agent offers such unspecific advice... especially telling a writer to go read someone else's work and emulate them. This process is about our own creations, not recreating someone elses. I suggest he move on to another. The next agent might love his work.

Beth Camp
Beth Camp

Too drafty? After all that meticulous work by the writer and by that extensive exchange with a potential agent? That seems a stunningly ambiguous statement and I'm hoping your friend moves on with his search.

Previous post:

Next post: