Boss recently participated in a writing contest of sorts, where authors posted a snippet of their work for select agents to read. As a result, the slush mailbox is a-bursting and I've pretty much been reading whenever I can. Since other agents could also request from the same pool of authors, some authors have been lucky enough to get offers of representation already and those manuscripts get moved to the top of the pile so my boss can decide if she wants to unleash the dogs of war or not.
So there I was, eating my dinner, reading on my iPad. I finished one manuscript and I went to open the next high priority manuscript, but I hesitated. I've read the partial of the manuscript and recommended that my boss request the full, but now that it's here, I didn't really want to read it. And that's when I had my epiphany.
This author can write really well, in multiple subgenres, and could definitely, in my opinion, be sold to mainstream publishers. They'd be a safe investment. And yet I still can't muster up a lot of enthusiasm. There's some undefinable thing that keeps me from clicking with the work. It's not the author, it's me. I lack the passion.
I know the 'it's not you, it's me' line is little consolation for anyone suffering from rejection, but an agent (and their trusty interns) spend an awfully long-time with a manuscript. They may read portions of it up to three times before actually signing (query, partial, full). Then there's any needed adjustments to get it publishing ready, and, trust me, there's always polishing to be done. It could be as simple as mopping up stray typos or as complicated as re-writing the ending. Then once it's ready to be shopped, the agent has to figure out the best way to sell it and then go forth & shop it around. Which means they may have recited their pitch a bajillion times before the book actually gets sold. Then the editor of the publishing house will likely have more changes to be made and the agent supports the author as they make the necessary edits. I assisted as one of my boss's clients went through that process and, for just this one leg, I read the manuscript at least five times. I can almost guarantee you that my boss has read it twice as much, if not three times. The editor has now asked for additional changes so I fully expect to be in the double digits before this manuscript hits the shelf. I'm okay with that, though, because I think this author is amazing and it wouldn't surprise me if this book ends up doing really well for a debut. I'm passionate about it. If I wasn't, I'd probably have a breakthrough on the eighth read-through.
Sometimes, authors, it really does come down to personal taste. My boss may respect your talent, but not particularly want to sign on for reading your book five hundred times. You just have to keep looking until you find that agent who is so passionate about your book, they're willing to read it a thousand times.