By John May
The education sessions at the SCWW Conference were interesting and helpful but, for me, the conference was mostly about the critiques. For those who did not attend or look at the website, let me explain the process. Writers could purchase critiques from the faculty (agents and editors). You submitted either 10 or 30 pages (for different prices) a few weeks in advance. On the first day of the conference, you met with the faculty person who presented a marked-up submission and then discussed it with you for twenty minutes.
I’m trying to finish my novel soon and I felt having some professional feedback would help in writing the last few scenes and in the final edits, so I purchased four critiques from four different faculty members. The other thing I wanted was at least one invitation to submit additional material to the reviewer for representation consideration. So, my conference goals were feedback and a bit of validation.
In her recent blog, Laura said she thought the agents knew just what they wanted in a story. In my critique meetings with agents, I got the same impression—laser focus on whatever they thought could sell in quantity, and absolutely no interest in anything else.
Then, at the Friday night dinner, I sat at a table with two agents. The novel The Hunger Games was discussed. They both agreed that, had Suzanne Collins not been a bestselling author already, she never would have gotten anyone to represent nor publish what became a mega bestseller and one of the best books I’ve read in recent memory. They thought it was just too “different” for an agent to understand the potential market. They also agreed agents have become extremely selective about which manuscripts they choose to read, much less represent.
This hyper-selectivity was certainly born out in my meetings. One agent who had a large pile of critiques had decided to request only one manuscript submission. Another reviewing agent indicated only a tiny percentage of critique submitters were going to be asked for manuscripts.
I did get some very useful edits and encouraging feedback from the agents. Also, I was fortunate enough to get four requests for manuscript submissions (I’d like to thank the group for the many improvement suggestions over the last few months which I’m sure helped).
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Two of the agents said their interest was partially because my premise was marketable and also different enough to be interesting. They’re tired of seeing the same old plots and character types rehashed for the umpteenth time. So there’s the dilemma—if you want an agent, you need to be different, but not too different.
P.S. Some of you won’t be surprised to hear the most common edit request I got from the agents was to, earlier in the novel, round-out the villain character Francine (now where have I heard that before?). So, I’ll be reading some new “round-out” passages at future meetings.