Having a book rejected by an agent or editor is puzzling, especially when the agent or editor have stated they are seeking just what we’re offering. Almost every day, my office must decline books that should be a fit. Usually the reasons are concrete (too long, too short, writing doesn’t sparkle, insufficient platform). But sometimes we’re just picky.
I’ve touched on this topic in the past, but thought it worth visiting again because as a reader, I have rejected many recent general market novels. For example:
1.) I didn’t bother at all with a book whose characters’ story was based on what I view as a stupid decision. I don’t want to spend my time reading a book solely about the consequences of a decision I never would have made. I suppose another expression is that I don’t suffer fools gladly.
2.) After five chapters, I realized that there was no way I could relate to the characters. I lost interest and quit reading.
3.) After three chapters of another book, I just outright didn’t like the characters. They were arrogant and self-absorbed, so much that they (and maybe even their creator) didn’t realize it. Granted, many excellent books feature unlikable characters but for me, the plot wasn’t intriguing enough to keep reading.
4.) In yet another book, I found myself skipping most of the words and could still keep up with the story. I quit reading.
5.) I didn’t bother with another book where reviewers revealed that ultimately, the story was a celebration of a lifestyle that I believe is opposition to Christianity.
6.) Another story had a great premise but the execution proved boring to me.
7.) Still another volume proved that the book reviewer’s writing was much more witty, engaging, and charming than was the book itself. Disappointing.
So there you have it — my personal rejections of published books. Published books giving great pleasure and enjoyment to many other readers.
Takeaway value of this blog? When one agent rejects your work, another may find your story just right.
Have you been rejected by agents, only later to find an agent who loved your work?
Have you quit reading a book for any of the above reasons?
Have you stayed with a book you initially didn’t like? Were you glad or sorry?
I think most readers are just as picky as I am. Do you?
I love reading. It is absolutely fundamental. However, my pet peeve is as I am reading along to find grammatical errors. It isn’t even common misspellings or simple dangling participles that bother me the most. These are glaring errors that never should have made it past editing.
I have had to put many books down and walk away. Lately, it seems to be a trend for a serious lack of editing. Fortunately for most writers, I have a type A personality and I am compelled to finish what I started.
The worst error I ever encountered was a huge misspelling error. Within the same page, the author spelled the main character’s name two different ways. It wasn’t even at the beginning of the book. It was about midway through, and I was confused why we were introducing a new character with the same name.
Authors know this: If you present a work with blatant disregard for grammar rules, I will stomp my feet, pull my hair and walk away from your book. Then, as a consumer (not an editor or an agent), I will pick it up and finish it. However, grammatical errors can earn a five star novel a much lower rating. I have even gone as far as removing authors from my purchase list.
Reading is fundamental! Editing is essential!
I took a speed reading class in high school, but I didn’t get much faster. My teacher laughed and said it was because I love reading too much. He went on to explain some people savor what they read, and I may as well accept I’d never read fast.
When I start a book I usually finish it. But if a story dishonors God by using foul language or raunchy actions, I’ll toss it. My time is too valuable to read something that puts distance between God and me. I hope that makes sense.
Thanks for sharing and encouraging us to be better writers.
I’m glad it’s not just me! I’ve become exceptionally picky, so much so that my friends tease me about being a book snob. It’s actually not that I think most books are bad… rather my reading time is just so limited and my TBR list so crowded that I will only finish books that really knock my socks off. I imagine that’s a lot like what a busy agent goes through.
But you know when I find one I love, EVERYBODY is going to hear about it!
I have several started books in my TBR pile that didn’t hook my attention. Often I’ll skip to the end to see the outcome. If it’s a book I purchased, I feel obligated to read it, but then it gets donated to the library for their book sale.
To answer your first question regarding rejection, yes. I had a book turned down by one editor that was picked up by another who loved it. The book later finaled for the Selah, Holt, and IRCA. You just never know.
Tamela Hancock Murray
Davalynn: Your experience demonstrates well how personal tastes prevail! Congratulations.
Congrats, Davalynn. That’s an inspiring testimony.
I diligently prayed for the right agent and the right publisher. It made each “no” a bit easier to take and, in hindsight, I can be even more thankful for them.
God answered my prayer first by giving me a great agent– Tamela (waving)–and, when His time was right, great publishers.
Echoing Davalynn–You just never know.
Tamela Hancock Murray
Johnnie, I’m so thrilled to be your partner! 😀
Congratulations, Davalynn on not giving up. What an inspiration to the rest of us.
It’s not that I deliberately stop reading a book. But I drift away from them. I just took a quick trip through my Kindle carousel and found at least seven titles I never seemed to get back to. I agree with Carla. When reading time is limited, and we have so many great options, a story has to hold onto me.
I can echo this, “I drift away from them.” I used to finish ever book I started, thanks to the type A in me. As I’ve delved more and more into writing, I’ve become pickier–both because my reading time is limited and because I’ve read so much about writing that the editor in me is constantly at work when I read. I can relate to browsing through my kindle and seeing several unfinished books. I try to pick up a broad range of authors to expose my self to voices and styles, but I admit that many of the books I can’t get into. For me, it’s about pace and the balance between introspection, dialogue, and action. I want something that moves that also develops character. It’s hard to find this style, I think. Ronie Kendig is the example to me of someone who moves things along quickly but at the same time takes you deep into the head and heart of characters. She writes in a different genre than me, but I find her voice easy to read.
Wow, Sondra! What great compliments. Thank you!
As a reader I am picky also. I have put down books others rave about because I just couldn’t relate. Normally if I can’t get into a book by the 3rd chapter I leave it. A few its been longer. A few its been timing and the subject, dealing with a dying person at the time mum looked like she would pass away and the other was when she had just passed away. A couple have been like you say a great premise but boring writing.
I have had to review a book once and struggled through the first half only to have the second half wonderful. It was an intellectual writer who was to bright for me. The first part had to many characters who confused me but the second part it was explained and the reasoning for the names and it suddenly made sense. (That explanation should have been in the first few chapters).
Hmm … is that the same book I recently couldn’t finish? I gave up at halfway–someone who’d read it said if I wasn’t enjoying it by then, I wouldn’t enjoy the rest either. But it’s had glowing reviews.
I am a very picky reader. The Amazon/Kindle sample button is a wonderful thing. Wonderful because I don’t waste money on books that fail to resonate with me.
As an author I was rejected many, many times before finding publication. Now I’ve published 12 books in 4 years. Also my 9th book written was my first book published. So my encouragement to pre-dubbed writers is KEEP WRITING. 🙂 Thanks for the blog, Tamela.
H L Wegley
As an author juggling multiple projects and marketing activities, my reading time is limited. I can’t afford to waste time on books that I will not finish for any reason. I’m very picky. Before I open a book, I’ve done enough research to know it’s one I’ll finish. With the flood of queries and proposals an agent receives, I understand why they have to be more picky than me. At times I don’t like it — 🙂 — but I do understand it.
Sandy Faye Mauck
I guess I am picky, too. But picky for different reasons than probably all the rest. We all are. We read what makes us happy, excited, inspired, ministered to, etc.
Let’s face it —I like tea, she likes coffee, he likes root beer and they like hot chocolate.
One likes great words, one like gobs of history, another action, mystery, peaceful happy times…
It is very subjective so Davalynn gives us all hope.
I do think we all should reject a book that doesn’t have truth as its source.
I try to give books a chance hoping for redemption but there are some that need to be trashed and some that need not take up my time.
I don’t envy your job Tamela, not for a second.
Susan Mary Malone
Since I read for a living, I’m also a very picky reader. And as Vannetta said, that sample button is a wonderful thing! So often the organic thing wrong with a book is difficult to put one’s finger on, and why writers get the ‘not for us’ rejection a lot of the time.
I work with a lot of agents, and often will think that one of my writers is perfect for a particular one. And then that agent hates it. LOL. And another loves it. You never know!
I began to read THE RED TENT when a younger Christian woman, towards whom I felt some spiritual mentorship, told me it helped her to understand the Bible so much better. This idea of fiction shedding light on Scripture perturbs me greatly, and I wanted to get a fix on the story for purposes of discussion with her. The novel, written with great skill, took me in for a few chapters, but I just could NOT get past the lewd scenes, some of them involving Jacob, his brothers, and sheep. I don’t care if bestiality was, in the author’s mind, a common practice of the culture, I don’t want to read about it and especially not if it disparages one of God’s heroes of the faith. I’ve put down other novels for the same reason: the author’s obvious misunderstanding or misrepresentation of biblical truth–be it historical or theological. Godly (or just plain “good”) literature, in my mind, should illustrate–not dictate–meaning originating in the Word of God.
Tamela Hancock Murray
Deb, horrible scenes like that turn me off, too. I’ve seen some ads for a TV version of this book, and they portray the story as steamy, but I had no idea there was anything involving sheep. Thanks for the warning. I was disinclined to read the book or see the film, and you confirmed my feelings.
Like Carla, my reading time is limited so I go off of recommendations from friends who read the similar genre. If a story isn’t holding my attention for whatever reason, I’ll mention why to a friend who has read it and sometimes they agree and tell me to just hang in there until chapter so and so when it picks up. I usually do unless I get frustrated. If I’m frustrated in a bad way, like I want to throw the book against the wall, I stop. Paper doesn’t need to endure a beating on my account.
Years ago, I was rejected by agents, and some advised me to go darker with my story. Darker themes were the trend. That didn’t feel right at all, writing darker doesn’t come naturally so I held firm to the themes God gave me. Windblown Media Publishing came across my work (it’s the coolest God story!), and understood what I was writing and didn’t ask me to compromise my message. I am working with Windblown and while the ride has had ups and downs, I’m thrilled and oh so blessed with their support for me and for the story.
Gary Neal Hansen
I often read fiction for a comforting escape, and that predisposes me to reread favorites rather than risking a false start. (I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that!)
As I worked on one major project I reread Patrick O’Brian’s entire Aubrey-Maturin series at 20+ volumes. I’m often grabbing Lewis or Tolkien or Robertson Davies or Chiam Potok for a sure fire getaway to a convincing world of well drawn characters and beautiful words.
Years ago when on a long Dickens binge I would give a novel a good hundred pages knowing it took that long for him to introduce the caste and hit his stride. But I knew he was a master and it would be worth it.
Hi, Tamela. Like several others mentioned above, for me it’s a time management thing. The hook in a blurb makes all the difference in whether I read a book or not. It’s hard to find time to read a really good book, much more a so-so one. Plus, I’m a finisher. Can’t hardly stand to leave a novel unfinished, whether I’m reading or writing. Unless, of course, it’s against my religious beliefs or the character motivations aren’t evident.
I recently read the second book in a series, which I was judging for a published contest. The book subject wasn’t one I would have picked up, but the writing gripped me with its emotion and relatability, even though I had little in common with the character’s plight. I rated the book highly, it went on to win the contest, so apparently others liked it, too, and later I picked up the rest of the books in the series. In the first book, I strongly disliked the characters because of selfish actions and because the spiritual thread was so vague, it was confusing. This may be because the whole series is about the same characters and was written to show stages of their growth, but if I had started with the first book, I doubt I would have finished it or the series. The third is still on my TBR list, but only because they are highly recommended and I have a story idea set in that region. Staying with a book I don’t like usually ends with me learning more about why I dislike it, and helps me with the writing craft in the end, so I guess it’s not time wasted.
These comments are encouraging and make me hopeful about finding the right agent and editor. Thank you, Tamela, for bringing us this post.
I do sometimes stick with a book I’m not enjoying, and I usually regret it. I’ve always been picky, and I’m getting more picky with age (and also because Kindle means I’m not restricted to the selection of Christian fiction in my local library or bookshop).