I’m attempting to start a writing group here in Minneapolis. We had our first organizational meeting last week, and quickly the conversation turned to agents and how hard it is to get one. I have an agent now, but I agree they’re difficult to nab, especially when your query is floating in the slush pile.
I queried more than thirty agents before landing one. I got requests for partial and full manuscripts, and my hopes would rise… but then the agents would email back saying they didn’t connect with the story/character as much as they had hoped, or that the book ended up not being a good fit for them after all.
I agonized over what needed to be changed. Did I need to make my main character more likeable? Increase the romantic tension? Add more adventure? When I pressed an agent about what wasn’t working, she said “It ended up being a bit darker than I expected and it just wasn’t really to my taste. Of course, it’s all so very subjective!”
Indeed it is.
On a seemingly unrelated note, I recently gave Stitch Fix a try. This is a service in which a “personal stylist” picks out five pieces of clothing that are mailed to your door. You can keep whatever you like and send the rest back.
This seemed like a great idea since I desperately need clothes (the other day I put on a sweater I bought for $3 probably ten years ago and noticed a hole in the armpit…and I wore it anyway), yet I never really feel like going shopping. Plus, since the Stitch Fix clothes are a little higher-end than what I’d normally buy, I thought it would encourage me to stop wearing denim maternity dresses from the thrift store (but they’re so comfy!!) and incorporate a few more dignified pieces into my wardrobe.
So I filled out the “style profile” online with my size and preferences and waited for my first “fix” to arrive. When it did, I was pretty disappointed. Here’s what was in my box:
1. A black-and-white blouse my fiancé said made me look like a cow.
2. An ugly paisley dress that was way too big.
3. A boring coat in a hideous shade of maroon.
4. An ill-fitting orange and navy sweater that was waaaay too preppy.
5. A weird and sort-of fun necklace that I ended up buying just because I wanted to have something to show for myself.
I wondered what had gone wrong. That’s when I read something on the Stitch Fix site I had missed before: “Pinterest is the best way for our personal stylists to see exactly what items and looks you love.” Crap. I hadn’t given my stylist enough information about what I was looking for.
So, I created a Pinterest board called “Clothing I Like” and sent it to Stitch Fix, hoping next time they’d get it right.
My second box came last week, and it was better, but I was still disappointed. It contained:
1. An orange sweater that fit and wasn’t terrible but wasn’t warm enough for Minnesota and ultimately didn’t thrill me.
2. A gray cardigan with gold sequined elbow patches. I had pinned a cardigan with elbow patches on my board, so I see where the stylist was going with this, but gold sequined patches on a gray sweater was not exactly what I had in mind.
3. A halter top with some sparkly sequins. I had said that I wanted something sparkly for the holidays, but this top just wasn’t for me.
4. A gray dress that fit me perfectly and I considered buying, but the color and style wasn’t quite right, and I wasn’t sure I had any events I would actually wear it to.
5. A purple tunic shirt that was a little too big, not warm enough, and a bit plain, but again, I wanted to buy something. (This is the trick with Stitch Fix — you end up buying something because you don’t want to lose the $20 “styling fee” that goes towards your purchase.) The shirt wasn’t perfect, but I was pretty sure I could make it work with a long-sleeved shirt underneath (for warmth!) and a fun sparkly scarf. So that’s what I bought.
I felt sort of bad sending back the clothes with my negative comments. “I like the idea in theory, but this just doesn’t wow me,” I wrote. I wondered if my stylist would be bewildered. (Eva said she wanted sparkly! What’s wrong with that top I sent her?) The answer is, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a nice top. It’s just not right for me.
This is probably what happens with agents. On their blogs and Twitter they tell writers what they’re looking for, but it’s hard to describe exactly what book will knock your socks off.
An agent might read a query that sounds promising, but when the manuscript arrives, there’s something about it that’s not quite right. Maybe it’s not a bad manuscript, but they don’t think they have any editors in their network they could send it to. Maybe they already have another book they’re representing that’s too similar. Or maybe it’s simply not to their taste. They aren’t wowed. And if you’re going to be the champion for a writer and his/her work, you need to be wowed.
On the other hand, it happens sometimes that the manuscript isn’t quite right as is, but the agent still thinks it’s workable. Maybe with a few changes and a sparkly scarf…
The point is, an agent is looking for the same thing in the slush pile that I’m looking for in my Stitch Fix box: something they absolutely love that fits them well. You can try all you want to describe what that might be, but in the end you won’t know until you get it.
Of course it’s all so very subjective!