Interstitial Moment:

CS sent me a question by email that has to do with pitching to an agent and getting a response which, while it praised the writing and the premise of the book, was a decisive NO. The reasons? They seem to be twofold. First the agent didn’t fully love the “voice” and second didn’t think he/she could love the book enough to be the right advocate for it in today’s difficult market.

CS  questions to me are also twofold:

1. Should I worry about the voice? I know that voice is the most subjective part of writing. Is it just that this agent didn’t like the voice and another one might?

2. I’ve been told by other writers that it is a very unique idea but the agent said that they weren’t sure how to pitch it in today’s market. Is there such a thing as too unique?

My answers are entwined. First, we should always worry about the voice in our book. But when something is new and exciting, it may be a hard sell. In fact, as my late husband used to say to me, “It’s easier to sell the known than the unknown quantity. Something truly original and new will take a bigger leap of faith on the editor’s part.”

Who knew that a voice such as Laurie Halse Andersen’s in Speak would work until she did it? And it was a first novel, too. Who knew the combination of humor and gravitas pared down to the bare minimum could have such brilliant psychoogical impact in a picture book till Sendak wrote Where the Wild Things Are? In both cases the voice is absolutely unique. And if I might also mention in this august company the voice in my picture book, Owl Moon, which was turned down by the first five editors who read the mss. as being too gentle and quiet and underspoken. All things which have since been highly praised in reviews, editorials, textbooks.

However,–and this is the big however, and the only one that counts–you always want an agent and an editor who comes to your book with a full and understanding heart. Nothing worse than an agent who is more concerned with what’s wrong with your book than what’s right. Or the editor who is antsy about how to pitch the mss. to her committee or the revised book to the sales force. I want the agent and editor to be  as totally committed to the piece as I am.

As to being a critter called “too unique”? There’s bad writing, stupid characters, plot holes as big as Florida sinkholes. There’s a voice that has flatlined and cannot be resurrected. But there is no such thing as “too unique,” either grammatically or as a critique, though your book may may be too far ahead of its time to sell right now.

So my answer–that agent did you a favor, being honest and also praising where praise was due. Move on. If the book is good, worthy, interesting, unique it will find an agent and an editor who will want it. If not, then it is a practice piece. Take what you have learned from it and write the next book.

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