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How do I make my work appealing to agents?

When all of the contest judges, beta readers, and writer’s groups say that your work is ready, but all of the agents say it’s just not right for them, how do you find out what would make it right for them?

 

Sometimes, you can't.

One thing you have to be ready for is that even the best piece of writing will have people who don't like it.  This is the nature of art--because human beings are different, we simply like different things.  It doesn't have to have a value judgement attached to it. There is no "fixing" a painting so that everyone loves it.  By fixing it, you would sometimes just make it so that different people love it.

That isn't to say that skill level is flat, and art can't be improved. I'm just saying that sometimes, you just can't change a piece in a way that will make a specific person like it--at least, not without changing it into a completely different piece of art.

If your honest feedback from contest judges and early readers is all great, and if you feel that the stories you've been submitting are ready, then you should keep going and keep submitting.  And keep writing.  Elantris was rejected several times, as were many famous books.  Sometimes, what the agents need to see is that you can be consistent. 

But beyond that, if you keep writing and submitting, one of several things will happen.

  1. You'll eventually find an agent or editor who loves your fiction as much as all these other people
  2. You'll grow as a writer and realize that the books you've been submitting, though enjoyable to many people, were still flawed in big ways and can be revised (with your new skill) to make them work better for an audience who doesn't know you.
  3. You'll realize that your stories have an audience, and the agents are just not getting it. (All too often, they miss excellent writers.) You'll self-publish to great success.

I can't say which of these is the the future of any individual story, and I can't say if it's a legitimate flaw that professionals are seeing in your writing or not.

I can say: keep writing, be patient.  If you want to traditional publish, keep submitting.  Agents can be timid.  If they don't pick hits, they don't eat.

But do write for you, first, and don't let yourself be pushed into trying to be someone else, writing-wise.