alexandra alger


Archive for the tag “Literary agent”

The Kind Way of Saying “No.”


I thought I’d heard most every way literary agents crafted rejections, but I’ve just heard a new one: “I’m not taking on any new clients right now.”

This is not about dumbies who don’t do their research and approach agents who aren’t open to queries. We’re talking about agents who don’t know how to say “No, I’m not interested.” Strange, isn’t it? Agents have to reject people, many people, every working day. In the course of a year, they receive thousands of queries and may take on only one, two, three new clients. What’s the big deal about just being honest?

I suppose it’s a kind way of saying no. The old chestnut, It’s not you, it’s me. “It’s not that your work doesn’t grab me—it’s just, I’m overworked, that’s the truth of it.” It’s flattering, almost. You might think you’d gotten really close. Who could blame you? If only she weren’t sooo busy, she’d be my agent! But you could also look at it another way: She’s saying, “Take me off your list. Don’t bother contacting me ever again.”

No two agents reject in the same way, which at least gives a bit of interest to the depressing business of being rejected. I am partial to language that is vague but concise: “This isn’t right for me.” I’ve gotten over needing to know why it’s not right. I’ve come to recognize there can be many reasons, big and small; and given the volume of queries agents receive and have to respond to, on top of their actual work, I’m resigned to their not having time to elaborate.

If “I’m not taking new clients” is one of the kinder ways of saying no, one of the blunter ones is, “I can’t sell this.” I got this once from an agent. Ouch. I wish he’d prefaced it with “I like this, but…” to cushion the blow. But let’s face—if he liked it, he might’ve suggested revisions. He might’ve said, “If you do this and this, I’ll consider reading it.”

Anything that isn’t a yes is a no.

Getting Dialogue Right

In his recently published How to Write a Novel,  middle-grade writer and former literary agent Nathan Bradford makes a key point about dialogue: Characters should speak more clearly and grammatically than real people.

Bradford writes:  “In real life, our conversations wonder all over the place, and any conversation transcribed from real life will be a meandering mess full of free associations and stuttering. In a novel, good conversations are focused, and they are, for the most part, articulate.”

He’s right. If we had to read  a character’s every “umm” and “you know” and “what’s that thing called again?” we’d lose interest fast.

It’s not as easy as taking out the umms, though. Especially if you’re developing middle-school characters, as I am. There is nothing more challenging than coming up with an authentic voice for each of my young characters. I want them to be well-spoken, but not too well-spoken. They can’t sound like mini-adults; they can’t sound like older teens, either. They have to sound like young people who are in the midst of growing up, still vulnerable but questing for independence and a sense of self. It’s a tough balance. Maybe this is why so many novels feature a verbally precocious kid who sounds like an adult. We adults love these kids–how could we not?  They’re the ones who will actually talk to us, instead of grunting or ignoring us completely–and let’s face it they’re easy to create. Easier. Nothing about writing is easy.

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