I write a lot, and that means sending out a lot of queries to agents, submissions to editors, the whole nine yards. Before I found my home at Extasy, I got a lot of rejections. Every writer does (Or so I’d like to think ;)).
Other writers go through this too, and I hear a ton of things from them. “What does an agent want? What do editors want? My manuscript is technically perfect, why does it keep getting rejected? This is good enough to be published, so why can’t I find an agent? "My writing is way better than XYZ!" If this agent likes paranormal, why did she reject me?”
I was thinking about all of this, and I came up with something that’s not an answer, but a small thought experiment that will hopefully help.
Imagine your favorite food. Let’s say chocolate, because I have a lot of experience with it. As a child, I ate any chocolate I could get my hands on. Hershey bars, Dove bars, Symphony bars fudge, dark, milk, anything. I ate all of it and enjoyed it thoroughly.
As I got older, though, I found things that I thought were better. Lindtt. Cadbury. Sees Candy. Gertrude Hawke’s. And as I ate those and enjoyed them, I found I couldn’t quite go back to plain old Hershey’s. I had developed taste due to exposure.
Now think about an agent or editor. They read constantly. Query after query, submission after submission. If they have specific guidelines, such as mentioning they are actively acquiring X genre, then they are getting hammered with that genre. I imagine reading through slush piles is like eating candy bar after candy bar with no label-good, but the greats are few and far between.
Also keep in mind that agents and editors have more knowledge of what makes good, gripping writing than many others do. It’s hard to swallow, but it’s most likely true. As I learned to write, I began enjoying certain stories less as mistakes like passive writing and telling began to jump out at me. I couldn’t slip into the world of the story as easily since the writing would keep me at a distance. This is probably far worse for someone who does nothing but read fiction constantly. Again, it is taste developed and refined due to exposure, and few people get more exposure to fiction than agents and editors.
What I think agents and editors are looking for? A book that will do for them what your first, favorite book did for you as a kid. Suck them into the world so well that any writing mistakes get glossed over. A book that will make them feel so immersed that they emerge on the other side of it having forgotten that this is something they are reading for work, or were reading at all. A good book is an experience, not just a book. It's that first bite of a chocolate bar, back when you didn't know any food could be that good, but now that chocolate bar has to the best to elicit that experience.
What does this mean? It means that just being good enough isn’t good enough. You have to stand out from not just the crowd who are sending coffee stained manuscripts rife with spelling errors, but from the crowd who also send manuscripts with solid foundations and ideas. It means you have to be a little lucky and catch an agent or editor who enjoys reading things the way you write them.
But on the flip side, if you are lucky enough to get an agent or a contract, it means you found someone who can see something in your writing that takes them out of their office and into the world of your story, and that’s something to be proud of.