Literary agents come in all shapes and sizes and tastes in reading material.
For example . . .
Many years ago when I first started writing, I completed a novel (Admittedly, not a very good one.) and began submitting it to literary agents. On probably about my twentieth attempt, I received a request from a well-known agency asking to see the full manuscript. Lord, was I ever excited. Then excitement reached a whole new level, moving on to ecstasy when queried agent called to say he loved my manuscript and wished to work with me on bringing it to publication.
He made several suggestions on improving the story, which I incorporated, then sent the edited version back to him. And it was at this point he informed me he was a junior agent and had to get approval from his higher-ups on my manuscript before he could take it on, and well . . . that didn’t happen.
To his credit, when this agent delivered the bad news, he did tell me he wished he was in a position to make decisions because he thought I had a wonderful voice—at the time, I didn’t even know what “voice” was—and that together, he though we could have turned out a great book.
I told said agent on this disheartening phone call that I had another manuscript, nearly finished, if he was interested in seeing it. I received an enthusiastic, “Hell, yes!” So I sent him my almost-completed second novel. And again, though he loved it, his superiors did not.
I wished he had told me up front he wasn’t a decision maker, his job was separating the wheat from the chaff. It would have saved me from crashing and burning. To have been lifted so high into the heavens, then dropped thrashing and screaming until I slammed onto solid ground was a horrible experience.
Another example . . .
On my third novel, one literary agency said they loved my story, but it needed work. They recommended I send it to a certain editor for a critique and line-by-line edit, then resubmit it to them. In a roundabout way, I was assured they would then take it on.
So out it went out to the editor (for a pretty steep price) back to me, then back to the literary agency that sweetly declined to represent it. I’m almost certain the whole thing was a set up. From that point forward, I ran in the opposite direction of any literary agent who suggested a specific editor or asked for money for any reason whatsoever. Lesson learned.
When searching for representation for my next novel, one agent liked it, but said I was using too many points of view, and suggested I drop the antagonist’s POV and resubmit. Well, you guessed it: I revised and was rejected. Then on down the road, another agent told me–regarding the same manuscript–I needed to incorporate the villain’s voice into the story. Jeeze, one can’t win for losing.
Another example . . .
On yet another submission, one agent liked my manuscript, but informed me more books were sold written in third person than first, and if I would consider changing my story to third person–up until then, everything I’d written was told in first person–she’d take another look. (At least she didn’t practically guarantee acceptance if I rewrote my entire novel.) A few months of hard work later, I resubmitted and was rejected.
All this took place before my lengthy hiatus from writing. Now it seems as if the pendulum has swung the other way, at least when it comes to young adult and children’s writing. Browsing the book stores, I see a lot more fiction written in first person than third in the two genres mentioned above. I think young people–maybe all of us–feel more engaged with the protagonist when the story is written directly in her/his POV. I know I do.
Some things I’ve learned . . .
Don’t get your hopes up too high. It’s all well and good to aim for the top of the mountain, but be aware you’re going to fall numerous times, get scraped and bloody, and maybe break a few bones along the way. Grow skin as thick as an elephant’s; it’ll help cushion those inevitable falls. Develop a mindset of persistence, enabling your fingers to grasp and claw for a handhold and drag yourself upward inch by slow inch. Tell your story how it speaks to you to be told–first or third POV, one main character or a cast of them. And don’t let anyone else dictate the right approach. Learn from constructive criticism, but don’t let it kill the writer in you. Sometimes criticism hides behind personal opinion, and in case you haven’t already heard this, (and please, those among you with delicate sensibilities, don’t take offense) opinions are like assholes–we all have one.
But above all, just write what you love to write. When all is said and done, the road to publication is a long and sometimes never-ending process. One must find joy in the journey.