A few weeks ago I did a “first pages” feedback session with a handful of agents at an online writers workshop. The facilitator read the pages aloud and stopped when three of the four agents had raised their hand to indicate where they would have stopped reading (or, at least, at the first “red flag” they saw.) They got through fourteen pages in the seventy-five-minute session mainly because most of the submissions didn’t make it past one-third of the way into their page. I was ecstatic that they kept reading mine until two-thirds of the way in!
Let me tell ya, it’s pretty fuckin’ weird to see “they didn’t stop reading until two-thirds of the way into my first page” as a massive victory, but that’s exactly what it was. I think only one other participant made it that far. I was fucking thrilled.
Anyway, I thought it was crazy that they could tell so much from reading so little, but yesterday I realized I do the same thing when I’m selecting a post to read on a critique site. At this point, I can tell one or two paragraphs in if it’s going to be the kind of critique where I have to explain a bunch of basic guidelines, or if it will mostly be suggesting minor tweaks and giving impressions on character development, pace, and plot.
Sometimes I have the time, energy, and focus for the former, but not always. Those critiques take two to three times as long to do, and at this point I’m mostly looking for people further along the learning curve to potentially develop into long-term critique partners and/or full-manuscript beta readers. Maybe after I get enough readers for my current full MS, I’ll start doing some of the more difficult critiques again. But for now, I do a lot of noping out two paragraphs in.
Based on the number of writers who preface their critique site posts with “this is already well-polished, just looking for a final set of eyes” – and I say this knowing full well that I’ve been guilty of same when I did not have a fucking clue what I was talking about – I’m sure agents get a whooooole lot of crapola in their inboxes. I know my first three rounds of queries are included in that group, to the point that I’m not even sad when a query rejection rolls in.
I now know I was making a lot of rookie mistakes, so no matter how intriguing my idea was, the agent was going to have to spend way too much time teaching me how to write better before my work could be sold. Even the agents who like to work developmentally with the writers don’t have time for much, if any, of that. They’re more focused on character development, pace, and plot . . . the same things I want to be able to focus on when I’m doing critiques.
So, yes, it’s hard to be a querying author, especially since 99.9% of all rejections come with no actionable feedback. But having grown enough in my skills and experience to see the agent’s side of things more clearly, I understand why they reject as readily as they do. While I may eventually turn to self-publishing just because I don’t want to put the time and energy into this work anymore, right now I see every rejection as an indication that I still have room for growth and improvement.
As do we all, always.