Authors, try an experiment. Do a search through your email for the following phrase: “not quite the right fit.”
I’m embarrassed to reveal how many results I get on that search, but I probably shouldn’t be. We’ve all read it more than once, from the publishers and agents who take the trouble to reply: “Your novel is not quite the right fit for our agency at this time,” or, “I didn’t feel that it was quite the right fit for my current list.”
I’ve developed a theory, recently, that the editors at The Write Launch seem to support. My theory is that my novels don’t really get going until around Chapter 3. When I submitted to Sandra Fluck Chapter 3 of my speculative Young Adult mystery, Too Much Information, she snapped it up for a feature in their February issue. The story of schoolgirl Jessica, who has become just psychic enough to get herself killed, finally started getting some attention. TWL noticed the potential in the idea of a powerless teen seeing people’s crimes in their eyes as a sinister “label.”
Chapter 3 was “the right fit” for The Write Launch.
This is very exciting, of course, and I’m proud to be featured in a journal that is presented with such polish. Submitting to TWL (which grew from the review site, bookscover2cover) is an opportunity for any author to exhibit some unpublished work outside of their own blog. The success raised the question, though, of how to deal with my severe case of chapter-1-itis: how can I get agents to notice my work despite this disability? Maybe, if I could just get agents to read my third chapters first, like Sandy did, they might get more excited about my projects.
Of course, that’s not realistic. It’s up to me, with my editor’s help, to somehow lay all the pipe that is needed in a first chapter, while making all that background seem just as exciting and active as the rest of a novel. I’ve tried all the usual tricks—writing from the middle outward, cutting out the first and last scene, etc.—but I’d love to hear about any more.
In the meantime, here is a list of suggestions for literary agents as to how they could mix up the wording in their rejection letters. Have a bit of fun with it, guys: that old chestnut, “not quite the right fit,” can be taken too many ways to be left alone.
Things an agent might mean when they tell you your novel is “not the right fit:”
Your novel reminds me of the Red Light table at Ross.
- I cannot consider your novel until I shed the weight I gained from last month’s Christmas baking.
- Your novel is like an elephant getting a trunk transplant from an anteater.
- Medical researchers investigating uncategorized forms of epilepsy might benefit from reading your novel.
- Your novel is terrible.
Try to ignore number five, and don’t forget to read Chapter 3.