Monday, October 13, 2014

What Agents Want

I've attended dozens of writing conferences since 1994.  There I meet agents who openly talk about industry needs.  Most agents tell me that unless one has a very topical thriller, they look for:
1) voice
2) a dynamite start with an interesting inciting incident
3) fascinating characters
4) flawless writing
5) and that a plot can be flawed if the above are all in place.
Tinkers is a literary novel by Paul Harding that has virtually no plot but an amazing lyrical voice.  It breaks every rule yet won the Pulitzer Prize.  Sister Stormy introduced me to this book.

Salman Rushdie has another remarkable voice (Midnight's Children). The plot is hard to follow and yet readers are drawn to it by his new and fresh way of letting one share his world and mind.  Sister Stormy, once again loaned me this book, along with the Spark Notes because of its elusive plot.  - Inkpot


  1. I've found with my editing clients, success relies on these items even for self published authors.

  2. I find editor and agent "needs" interesting when placed against reader needs. From what I've observed, sure, all these things "get you there," but it seems to me readers just want SOMETHING of interest, and "flawless writing" isn't one of them. Again, it'll "get you there," and literary fiction is another story (pardon the pun), but a reader need? Negative, have to disagree. I've seen far too much "flawed writing" hit it big with readers, and no, I'm not gonna dish. But whatever it is, voice, plot, characters, or simply a really cool idea, I think that's all readers are looking for. Something to grab their interest. The "delivery"...not so much.

  3. it is indeed subjective, Frank - esp for the readers- I'm all about voice. I'll read a great voice even when I can't stand the plot and I was able to tolerate one Girl even though the writing was about the only redeemable thing about it for me (hated the characters). I know many thriller readers only read for the action. I'm not one of those. I just know what all the male and femaile agents have told me... the voice needs to grip them first or they won't give the plot a chance... guess it is because they believe a plot is a dime a dozen as well as ideas... but unique characters and voices make many of us come back for more and more...maybe plot is secondary to many because they have to read and read and reread and the plot is only fresh once but voice is a thing to luxuriate in and the thing I most miss when I close a book. At least me.