So why do some publishers/agents look for hooks and such if they already know the basic premise of the story? Why do they say you should have a body on the first page e.t.c. I know these guidelines are disposable but there must be some people somewhere who swear by them. I would think they would exercise a little patience and read more in the hope that the plot will take shape if they'd already read the synopsis.
If you can manage to convince an agent through a query letter/sample pages (following each agent's particular guidelines), s/he will request a partial, which is generally the first fifty pages. Some ask for a synopsis, some don't. If they love the first fifty, they'll ask for the full manuscript. If they love the book--and think they can sell it--they'll offer representation.
Top agents get hundreds of queries every week. Patience really isn't the issue; there are only so many hours in the day. They obviously can't read the first fifty pages of everyone's book, so that's why a query letter is so important. You're competing against scores of other aspiring authors for an agent's attention and investment in time.
If an agent rejects a partial after reading a synopsis, factors other than plot/storyline must have been involved, because there is no way to properly access a story without reading an entire manuscript.
If the rejection is done without a synopsis, and without giving significant consideration to style, the rejection was probably impetuous. "Pillars of the Earth," one of the most incredible book I have ever read, is rather ho-hum for the first sixty or seventy pages. After that, it holds you hostage for the remaining nine hundred or so. The only way to appreciate this book is to read at least the first seventy or so pages. What kept me going for that long? The style of course. But that is just me.
For the agents who reject partials after reading synopses and full treatments, it would be interesting to know why they did.
Eric, Dan Brown had published other titles before the DVC, so he already had a literary trail; not a clearly defined one, but a trail nonetheless. And this might have helped him get the DVC published.
If you assume publishers mostly care about assessing style then how do you explain someone like Dan Brown ever getting published?
And I think it's safe to assume that major publishers don't look at only the first few pages. They only read agented stuff, and if an agent doesn't bring them stuff that's near publishable that agent goes out of business. Publishers are far more likely to read the whole ms before making a decision than not.
What makes a great plot? What makes a poor one? "The Da Vinci Code" was allegedly a great plot, but so poorly written I couldn't get past the first chapter--yet it sold a bazillion copies. I think the "average" reader, whoever he/she is, generally doesn't know the difference between good writing and bad, and the average editor doesn't much care as long as they can figure out how to pitch the book to the marketing people.
I'm actually not much interested in plot per se, and not much good at constructing them. I'm a lot more interested in story.
Me too, Jon. I think the best "plots" arise organically from Story, from the desires and motivations of three-dimensional characters...as opposed to a pre-arranged sequence of events designed to propel cardboard cutouts from point A to point B.
Viva la Difference! It's all about variety, in my opinion. I can enjoy a book like DaVinci Code without caring too much that the charaterization is nearly non-existent. What I like about it is the piecing together of the puzzles -- that seems to be Brown's forte.
For myself, I simply can't write like that, even though I can enjoy reading it occasionally. (Not always -- too much hurts my head and I get bored.) When I write, I need to know my characters, inside and out. For me the best stories are interesting because I care what happens to the characters. I am first and foremost a mystery writer, but I quickly learned that my weakness was a lack of interest for planting clues and developing intricate twists. I just don't care that much about those things, unless they flow naturally from a cast of well-developed characters. When those twists appear to be inevitable, given the nature of the characters, that's when they work for me.
A book like Follett's "World Without End" is fascinating primarily for its characters. The story or plot occurs merely as a vehicle for their development.
So we can range from one end of the literary spectrum to the other. It doesn't mean that we don't know "good writing" when we see it, just that our literary appetites enjoy variety.
Yes, I agree, Newbies really do need to prove themselves. And that is as it should be. Enough garbled nonsense gets foisted onto the public through the myriad of media on a daily basis. Each generation of new writers should strive to reach their best potential in both story-plotting and story-telling.
From the many writers I have had the pleasure to get to know in this generation, I believe we are trying to maintain a high standard for those who will follow us. We don't always hit the mark, but we do try. When it works, like with Giles Blunt's prose, it works really well.
There are myriad reasons why an agent might reject a partial or full manuscript. Maybe the writing itself wasn't quite up to snuff after all; maybe the agent didn't connect with the main character; maybe the plot had too many holes...
In the end, it boils down to whether or not the agent thinks s/he can sell the manuscript. I think a great plot written poorly will sell faster than a poor plot written greatly is generally a true statement, though. Ideally, of course, we would prefer great plotting and great writing.
But even with great plotting and great writing, if your book is 400K words (like Pillars of the Earth) you're pretty much guaranteed a rejection from the query. Actually, anything over 125K for a first novel is pushing the envelope.
This seems to be true. Keep in mind that a reader can frequently tell from the first few pages if he/she will read the book. Use of the English language tends to be the main factor for quick rejection. Reviewers know very quickly if they'll review, but there format and track record may enter into a decision. Agents have said they can tell on the first page. Manuscripts get to serious editors generally through an agent (who will have read the whole thing if he/she has agreed to represent the author). At this point, the editor may react to what is known about the agent as much as about whether this subject fits the publisher's current needs. No reading necessary for that.