Three Things I Consider Before I Offer Representation


Voice

The very first thing I notice about a book is the voice of the narrator. A writer I love may employ a snarky voice, a self-deprecating voice, a shrill voice, or a lyrical voice. I can be drawn in by any of those What matters is not which voice you choose, but whether I feel like I’m in the hands of a competent writer. Sometimes I open manuscripts and I find myself reading because I have to read–it’s my job. Sometimes I open manuscripts and I immediately settle in, trusting that writer to take me on a journey that will be worth my while. 

Character


I need a character to love.

We often tell writers they need to hook the reader. And that’s an apt analogy. But sometimes it’s not so much that you need to hook me. Sometimes you need to give me something to latch onto. I want to hang on to a person I love. I want to protect the orphan girl who might be sent back to the orphanage because she isn’t a boy. I want to see her succeed.

Some of the openings of stories I read make me think that when we say writers need to hook their readers that’s interpreted to mean they must start in medias res and, what’s more, they must make sure that the action, into which they are dropping their readers, is full of bombs blowing up and lives in danger.

That’s not how you’ll hook me. Hook me by giving me a character with an interesting voice. 

 Story

Once you have a great character you need to give her a story that is interesting.

Pretty quickly.

Because the best voice and the most interesting character will get boring fast if all we see her do for the first three pages is brush her hair, put on her clothes, and eat a bowl of cereal.

Give me an inciting incident fairly early–give me an idea about what she wants and why she can’t have it. And then tell me what her plan of action is.

Here’s a simple story structure that’s pretty common:

  • Opening=
  • A character wants something. 
  • An obstacle is in her way. 
  • She makes a plan. 
  • Middle=
  • Failure and now we’re in worse shape. New plan. 
  • Failure and now we’re in worse shape. New plan. 
  • Failure and now we’re in worse shape. New plan. 
  • Victory in sight. 
    • Ending=
    • Temptation–dark night of the soul. She can have what she wants, or she can sacrifice what she wants to save someone who is unworthy (Jesus Christ is the greatest hero–he gave up heaven to sacrificed himself for unworthy people). 
    • Climax–she decides to sacrifice what she wants and she saves the unworthy person. 
    • Denouement–she gets what she wanted all along and then some–her selfless act has won her more than she ever imagined she could have. 

    That’s common because it works. There are other ways to tell stories, but all good stories must have conflict and struggle and resolution.

    That doesn’t mean they have to start with explosions or fistfights or miserable, whiney characters.

    Two more things come into play for me, when I decide to offer representation: marketability and shared vision/compatibility. But I’ll get to those another time.

    What about you? What draws you into a story? The character? The world? The action?
    photo credit: mikebaird via photopin cc
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    Sally Apokedak
    Sally Apokedak is an associate agent with the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency. She’s in the process of of building a dynamite list of authors. She is also active in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.