Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What's LOVE got to do with it?

I've seen a lot of people online opine recently that agents who say they are looking for something they "love" are basically idiots. Agents shouldn't be looking for something they LOVE - what are they, giggling teenagers? This is a BUSINESS! Etc.

I also got an email response to a rejection today that basically said the same thing (though much more nicely) and, while it was not meant in a bad way, it was surprising to me. Very nice writer, nothing against them, but the fact is, I take on so few projects, out of thousands of submissions. Damn straight I have to love them.

As a writer, you write things that you love and are fascinated by, no? Isn't that one of the glorious things about being a writer? You might have unsteady income, you might not know if the next thing will sell, you might win the lotto with one project and strike out with the next... but you still get to write the stories you are passionate about. Sure you might make some concessions for "the market" - or sometimes you might be a 'pen for hire' and need to suit the company you're writing for - but you can still decide NOT to write something that makes you miserable, if you want.

You wouldn't spend a year or more writing and revising some project you don't believe in or enjoy (especially with no guarantee you'd  get paid for it!) unless you were a masochist. I'm not a masochist. I'm in the business I'm in specifically because I love books, and I love the freedom to choose the projects I work on and rep the stuff I love. If I wanted to work hard on something I don't enjoy, I could get paid more for it in another line of work.

Anyway, would you really want an agent who DOESN'T love your writing? Really? Come on. If I don't believe in a project or an author, I can't be an effective advocate for it. Full stop.

Thing is, of course, the things I love and the things I think I can sell tend to be one and the same. And in my career (knock wood) my intuition about the sort of projects I should take on has been very right.  FOR ME. That is no reflection about what the greater world will think, or what any other editor or agent will think. I absolutely would have turned down TWILIGHT or 50 SHADES or DA VINCI CODE, with no regrets... because it would have been a misery for me to work on them. I'm glad they exist, I'm not jealous of their success... they just aren't for me.

I'm going to quote myself because I've said it before :
For me, rejections and acceptances are entirely down to my personal weird quirky taste, and the fact that I only take on three or so new things a year. Very occasionally there is some concrete point I can give the author, and I try to do so when it is easy to see. But I advise against replying to a rejection with a plaintive "Whyyy??", because you probably won't like the answer: "I didn't like it enough."

Which totally sounds mean, right? But think about it this way: I also don't like the color yellow. Or the flavor of clove. Or Irish Wolfhounds. Or the way birds legs look like dinosaur legs. Or messy food. Or summertime. So what? Are any of those things bad? No! They just aren't for me.
So there. While I do agree it's a business, and I want to find the things that I think will do well... I also really do think that any publishing endeavor is much more likely to be successful if everyone involved is invested in the project. What do you think? Could you work on something you don't care for?  Would you? Ugh.


  1. So true. Thanks for posting!

  2. I completely agree. If I don't love a story enough... then I'll never invest the time and effort necessary to re-work and edit the thing until it's at publishable standards. I think it's the same with an agent. You guys have to read and re-read and pitch and re-pitch the same story over and over again, countless times. I know I couldn't do it (and sound sincere) if it was something I didn't love.

    If an agent isn't enthusiastic about my work, I want to know that up front.

    ...and I don't like summer either. Autumn is my season. Love those brightly coloured maple leaves and crisp, clean air.

  3. Dionna1:41 PM

    As a freelance writer, I have written on topics per editors' request on subjects I do not love. I do not love lacrosse. I do not love biking. I do not love boarding schools or performing fetal surgeries...

    But I do LOVE writing. I do LOVE seeing my work in print on those glossy pages with beautiful graphics. I do LOVE hearing someone say, “I LOVED your article!” And I do LOVE getting paid!

    So I think, sometimes, our love must be placed on something beyond the topic, something beyond the “ME”.

    That said, I totally agree that writing on a subject that you love or that you feel passionately about is so much easier.

    When I write for children, for example, I have a smile on my face. I can't wait to write the next scene. I love to feel my heartstrings being pulled by the characters I find skipping upon the page before me.

    So you make a good point. If we can afford to do so, why not let our work be that which brings us pleasure?

  4. As an unagented author, who is currently querying, even I agree. I want the agent who reps me (and my books) to LOVE LOVE LOVE my work. I want them to wax poetic about it and be able to dream big with me about how far it can/will go. If s/he doesn't feel strongly about it, then they aren't a good fit for me.

    That's okay, if it's meant to be, the agent who will FALL IN LOVE with my characters and my story will discover me, in a contest, the slush pile, under a rock. If it's meant to be it will happen with an AGENT IN LOVE with my work.

    Great post!

  5. You don't like summertime?!?

    No, that's not the only thing I took away from that post, but it is the most shocking. :)

  6. Ugh. I also hate the summer. overrated.

    I think of it like whether you're a writer, editor, or agent, chances are you will have to read the books you work with repeatedly. That's tough to do if you don't LOVE the material.

    1. Any writer who'd suggest you take on a project that you don't like (or as you say- makes you miserable) may be, as you put it, “nice.” But to me they are *way off the mark.*
      We work for passion, and you do too.
      I wonder, though, if you've ever LOVED a manuscript but turned it down because of marketability concerns.

  7. Two things - LOVE that you work on only what you love - sounds right to me. And. Summertime. God almighty, I don't like it either - I'm a bouncing ball of happiness now that Autumn's here - maybe it's time to get the ball rolling and expose the myth of everyone loving Summer!!!

  8. Hmm... I am working on an early MG (along the lines of Judy Moody) and I have often wondered how many adults (agents included) can actually fall in love with writing intended for this lower (age 6-9) MG age-group. I think this is an age range where silliness prevails and while yes I would want an agent to love it, more so I would want an agent to know that the target audience will love it and to know that the book will sell. Thoughts?

    I can totally see why you would need to love a longer, genre-specific manuscript.

  9. Having recently come face-to-foot with a dead chicken I can honestly say it's not an experience I ever want to repeat. I can't imagine there are a lot of people who love them... but there's always one, isn't there?! I just hope my writing isn't the equivalent of birds' feet otherwise I'm going to find it tough to get an agent!

  10. Having been rejected by many agents, I actually appreciate those that say "hey, you write well, but this just isn't my speed." I'm with you, I want an agent who is nearly as passionate about my book as I am. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Dionna5:44 AM

    Question for you, Jennifer: If you were a real estate agent would you sell and show only houses that YOU loved? Would you not also be willing to show houses that your client loved but that you only liked? Isn't a literary agent like a real estate agent, a mediator between the seller and the buyer? Why can't you sell a story that you really like but may not love to an editor who can love the manuscript?


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