August 17, 2011
We writers instinctively feel it’s unfair for agents and editors to reject our books from reading only a synopsis and sample chapters, for it seems that if they read more—we’re not sure how much exactly, but why not the entire book?—then they would surely appreciate our true talents.
At the PNWA writers conference in Seattle earlier this month, I happened to have my Kindle e-book reader, so when a speaker referred to one of her novels, I looked up the book in the Amazon Kindle Store, read the jacket blurb, and discovered I could click on the “Try a Sample” button. Instantly, the sample appeared on my Kindle. Later that night, I read the sample, which turned out to be two chapters, to determine whether to buy it or not. An epiphany struck: I was passing judgment on the book solely on the basis of the blurb (synopsis) and sample chapters just as agents and editors do.
To read more or not to read more, that was the question. When I analyzed my process for making the decision, these considerations came to mind.
Did I get pulled into the story? Yes
Did the action or dialogue compel me to turn pages to find out what happened next? Yes
Did I care what happened to the characters and wonder about them after I stopped reading? Yes; in fact, I was disappointed when I reached the end of the sample.
Was there anything objectionable? Not too much, so I decided not to get hung up on it. (Note: Some claim they never censor their reading material, but I think most people adhere to a personal standard beyond which they’re uncomfortable or even offended.)
Was I ready to read this particular genre of story? While it’s not something I usually read, the author had hooked me. Yes, I had to read more.
I doubt, however, that I could have been more subjective if I’d tried. My conclusion? When the writing’s up to par, the final decision turns out to be a matter of personal taste. Good to remember the next time we get a rejection letter from an agent that says our writing’s fine, but “the story didn’t grab me,” in which case we’ll just have to keep submitting until we find agents who do share our tastes, assuming we’re set on going the traditional publishing route. If that’s not the case, we could take the plunge to publish on Kindle.
In any case, don’t give up!