Saturday 18 May 2013

Some near misses – some novels we almost accepted

I’ve been reading some scripts recently that I’ve ultimately decided to reject even though they had a lot going for them. If you recognise yourself in any of the following or know you have done something very similar please believe that our “good” rejection is absolutely sincere. We mean it.  We would like to see more of your work in future. And do take note of the comments we made.
These are some reactions to sample chapters and a synopsis. I didn’t go as far as seeing the whole script.     
Too Nancy Drew / Agatha Christie or not enough so
This was a slightly old-fashioned whodunit reminiscent of the Nancy Drew mysteries. Two sisters find out who the murderer is and who stole the jewels.  There are some wonderfully mysterious scenes where the reader is partly let into the secret and we watch someone who is up to no good doing we’re not quite sure what, where or why. It’s almost a spoof but not quite because the actual story is really about the reconciliation between the two girls so it becomes firmly a young adult Bildungsroman. Yet the imitation of Agatha Christie is very strong. This novel can’t quite make its mind up. Would Agatha Christie or Nancy Drew still sell?

Not quite the right age group
This one was very tightly written. This seems to be a very experienced writer. The cover letter informed us the author had edited the work fifteen times and expected he would have to do more. The prose really worked. The characters were well formed and the opening chapters were engaging. It’s just that the protagonist was too old for our young adult readers. It was more new adult. We don’t do that at the moment. We may do in twelve months’ time. It would be selfish to hang on to this. We really do sincerely hope that it will still be available if and when we try out the new genre.

Terrible formatting
This was a rather brilliant time-slip novel where the main character, now aged over thirty meets his younger self. It was well written and the character was convincing. Yet the presentation was totally unprofessional. This writer would be hard work. They clearly could not follow instructions and it’s likely that they would be totally ignorant about the publishing world. The work would have to be more than just a bit brilliant for us to take it on despite these problems.  

Arrogant and ignorant cover letter
We really would have liked to see more about the girl who realises she is a lesbian. Dramatically, and cleverly, most of the plot hangs around a kiss between too girls. The section we saw was very well written and the characters were very well drawn. However, we were put off the writer by the content of her cover letter. She admitted to editing the text in one certain way because someone had told her too. There was an implication that if there we something wrong with the text it was somebody else’s fault. No. You must own your work. Yes, you must be open-minded enough to listen if we suggest change. But you must own the change as well. Often it’s case of finding a third way. We tell you your text isn’t working.  Often our suggestion is pretty dumb. You then come up with something that is better than what we suggested and what you first thought of. Sometimes this means that bit gets so good the other bits look dumb. Then you’ve got your work cut out.
This writer then went on to say that her work did something that other young adult books don’t do. That’s a pretty sweeping claim, actually. We could quote several examples  - including some we’ve published.    
Do we have a Prima Donna here? Do we want to work with one?                

Voice didn’t match age group
This was an extremely well written excerpt. The synopsis promised a really good story and even this was well written suggesting a high degree of professionalism. Unfortunately the narrative voice sounded as if it was speaking to a junior-school aged child. Yet the content of the story was young adult enough.
In this case we’d suggest a major re-write and ask to see it again. That’s a lot of work for the author but I don’t think anyone would publish this text as it stands now. Even we can’t guarantee anything until we have seen the new version.
That’s part of being a writer.

I really do mean it when I say these came extremely close. These writers must carry on trying.