Why Elephant won’t be popular with agents and publishers || Update

I’ve been attempting to pitch The First Nine for a while now. I’ve sent it out to about ten agents, have received ten rejections, put it through Pitch Wars, PitMad, PitchMadness (All run by Brenda Drake who’s blog is here), and now AgentMatch (run by Samantha Fountain), and I’ve learned a whole lot about what agents are looking for in submissions. Here’s a list of things I’ve noticed:

  • Agents are extremely subjective and usually go after book ideas that they’d want to read
  • Quality of writing doesn’t seem to be as important as it used to be
  • They want diversity in the characters and characters that don’t live in the United States
  • The accepted word count is dropping
  • They don’t want books that are clearly part of a series
  • They want unique plot lines, but often go after ones that aren’t or all sound the same
  • They want action

Stuff like that. Things I wasn’t expecting. And looking through all of these, I realized that no one is going to want to take on my novel, Is there an Elephant in the Room?.

Why? Well here’s what I decided:

  • There’s more thought than action. I got back a critique on the first chapter of Elephant telling me to cut the thought and add more about the action. Except, the problem is that Dustin’s voice is thought. He’s a very wordy person, but those words are all in his head. Agents don’t like that. Many would call it “telling,” even though it really isn’t.
  • There is no real plot. I mean, there is, but it’s not like Harry Potter, or The Fault in Our Stars. There isn’t an antagonist that’s going to come in and force the character to face something. No, the driving point of the plot is time. It’s showing Dustin’s life for the two years the book covers. It’s about his self discovery and his own issues. Yes, things happen. Yes, someone does come in and pushes him over the edge, but it’s not because there should be a villain, but because that’s life. It’s kind of like “How I Met Your Mother.” It’s a telling of this kids life.
  • The time. I saw a lot of agents say they want books that take place over two to three days. Elephant covers the span of TWO YEARS. That’s a long time. There are a lot of jumps and time skips. It hits on the big parts of those two years and shows his growth as a man in society. Something like getting over an abusive relationship doesn’t take three days. It takes years, which is why it spans the long time. But agents don’t like that.
  • The subject. Elephant deals with a very, very touchy subject, and that is the abuse of men and how society views it. It’s one of those topics that I’ve been told won’t sell well, and so agents won’t want to pick me up. It’s a risk for them to take.
  • The length. Elephant in it’s first draft was 210,000 words. In it’s second draft, it was 250,000 words. I’m probably going to be able to cut it down to 200k, but that’s about as low as it gets if I want to talk about everything and stay true to Dustin’s voice. He is a wordy guy. He thinks a lot. He feels a lot. He might not talk about it to others, but it’s there, and I don’t feel right cutting that out. But as I’ve noticed, the acceptable length for a manuscript is getting lower and lower. 60,000 words? That’s almost 20,000, or a third, words shorter than the first Harry Potter book. That’s not a long book. But people want it. 75k is the sweet spot for YA. All through high school and even now, if I were to see a book that short I wouldn’t want to pick it up. Even with TFN at 100,000 words, I’ve been told it’s too long. Elephant stands no chance.

Those are a few of the reasons why I’m about 100% positive no agent will want to sign Elephant. I’m still going to write it, and I will try and get it traditionally published, but it’s going to be a challenge for sure. Hopefully in a year when I’m able to start pitching this book, things will have changed, but we’ll see.

Update time! So I’m taking a nice year long Hiatus from The First Nine because I’m tired of getting rejected and I haven’t taken a break from it…ever, so I think I need one. No, I know I need one. I’ll come back to it in a year and see what happens.

But Elephant is coming along great! I’m on chapter 12 of 44 and I have the whole rest of it planned out now. It’s going to be great! I’ve also started typing it up and editing some chapters. So far only two, but I’m getting there!

I’ve started a newish story. I basically took my old story from a few years ago called R.U.N, which is a ghost story, and changed it a bit. It’s now called, Dancing Down the Rabbit Hole, and is a paranormal ghost story retelling of Alice in Wonderland. I’ve started it and I’m on chapter 2, but I need to take a break and finish chapter 12 of Elephant.

I’ve also joined this new site called WriterPitch, which goes live today at some point. Dunno when. It’s basically a bank for authors to put their work up for agents to look through, rather than authors only pitching to agents. I think it’ll be cool.

As for my Million Word Challenge (I didn’t forget 😉 ) I have no idea where I am on it. I’ve had a lot of crazy stuff happen and school is taking over my life. Once I’m done with this semester I’m going to go through and find all the things I’ve written since I started the challenge to add it up. I can tell you now, I’m probably behind.

I think that’s all my updates! I’ll try to post more, but as I’ve learned, that’s not always going to happen. Any comments? Thoughts on publishing and agents? Disagree with some of my findings? Let me know! I love getting comments, even if I don’t reply to them (because I’m really bad at remembering to reply.)



7 thoughts on “Why Elephant won’t be popular with agents and publishers || Update

  1. This article was really interesting and I’m glad you wrote it.

    Its your book so take my words with a grain of salt. Lemme start with the good.

    I don’t think these things will keep your novel from getting published.

    Your novel is character driven right since most of the novel is about the character change. There is nothing bad with that. Character driven novels sell, and they can be amazing–more so not in YA. This though isn’t a factor I think. I think as long as the story is good, then it will be sold. And I’m sure your work is good you’re just looking for the right agent.

    Don’t say your novel has no real plot. Either the plot isn’t evident and that just means you need editing to find it, or the plot is something different than most novels. Either of these things can be worked on with beta readers, or just taking a hard critical look. You wrote a novel, it has to have some plot. No matter the novel, you can say “If X doesn’t do Y, Z will happen. Even in character driven novels–think Wild. So what is the XYZ in yours? It has to be there. I know it is. If it isn’t, then rethink.

    Time: I can’t speak on that since my novels take place usually over 1-3 months. And I will admit, YA usually takes place over a shorter period but I don’t think this is why agents wont take something.

    Subject: Again, I agree with this. If the subject is touchy then it’s harder to sell–but again you might just need to find the right person! If you can go the conferences, or join Query Tracker or something. These things can really help you find that right agent. Or the 2015 agent guide. That is a major help if you have the time.

    Now this is the final thing. The length.

    You need to cut the novel down. You HAVE to. Or you have to make it a trilogy. That is the biggest red-herring here why no one will touch the novel and its the most logical reason. Even if this is the best novel written in all time, with the most amazing plot no one is going to touch a novel with 200,000 words. Why? Because that’s roughly 800 pages. If you can make it a trilogy then you’ll be better off–way better off, roughly 270 pages per book but I promise you this is the reason no one is touching your book. You HAVE to shorten it and there HAS to be words that you can cut. A wordy character does not mean the book has to be super long. Again, any agent who sees this will run. We don’t live in a world where people can and do read books that long. It sucks, but its true.

    And it will cost you a shit ton to self publish this.

    I would think about these notes. But I think there is still hope. The length is still the major issue. I think if you deal with that, I’d see you on the best sellers list 😀

    1. The plot is: Dustin goes to work for his dad. Life ensues. There’s no antagonist, there’s no driving plot. It is all about his character and his life and the people he meets. That’s what I mean when I say no plot. There is no, “Such and such happens, so such and such happens.” He goes to work for his dad and we see how that plays out with him dealing with his abusive ex.

      As for the length, I absolutely do not HAVE to shorten it. It is the length it needs to be. I’ve asked around, talked to people, and everyone has agreed that they’d have no idea what they would cut and how to make that work. Even my friend who is an editor said it’d be difficult to get it down to a marketable length. As for splitting it up, I have considered it, but I don’t want to do it. It is one story.

      Haha I’d love to be on the best sellers list :3 That’s the dream! We’ll see if it happens 🙂

      Thanks for the comment! It’s great to hear other people’s thoughts on the matter.


  2. I agree that it’s more likely the length that’s keeping the agents from reading it rather than the subject. Lots of dark books have been written (Laurie Halse Anderson among others). I like the suggestion to break it up into two or three books. Are you calling this YA or MG? Maybe call it literary YA. I love your new title for your WIP, BTW. *smiles*

    1. It’s going to be NA, definitely. It’s far too adult for MG and it deals with someone after high school rather than in high school. Dustin’s 18 and 19 during the book.

      I’ve considered breaking it into two or three books, but the problem I have is it is one book. It’s one story. It’s one tale. It’s not three separate stories focusing on one guy. So I’m having trouble splitting it without cliff hangers or awkward transitions.

      Thanks 🙂 I should have given you credit for that… whoops. HERE’S YOUR CREDIT NOW 😀 THIS AWESOME LADY GAVE ME MY BOOK TITLE.

      Thanks for commenting! I really appreciate it 🙂

  3. Linnea, It’s sad to read your post. You want to change the rules of the game and then disappointed that agents don’t let you play. The rules of the games are clear: YA Fiction has to be between 60K and 80K words and you have to have a conflict for the MC. Agents want to sell to Editors and they know that it’s very difficult to sell a debut novel at 200K words. You have to help the agents to accept your novel by following the basic rules, and I read your writing and you write well, maybe too well. Action is not necessary but you have to state a conflict for the MC, otherwise there is nothing for the readers to follow. I respectfully submit that you can cut and cut until you’ll have 80K words. Have two version, the long version at 200K words and the short version at 80K words. If an agent will accept your short version then talk with her about accepting the longer version. Best wishes and good luck, because you write very well.

    1. I’m not sure where you’re getting that I want to change the rules of the game. I’m not trying to change anything, I’m just frustrated that those ARE the rules. Elephant is a very important story to me, and it’s a large part of who I am, so the fact that I won’t be able to publish it is frustrating. That’s all.

      As for the word count for YA I’ve heard many different things. Some people accept up to 100k, some barely even 80k, so it’s very difficult to figure which I should go for. The First Nine is at 100k. I could probably cut that down to 80 if I tried, but I’m taking a break from it because I’m so frustrated and need some space. But with Elephant, cutting it down to 80k is not going to be possible. There’s too much that happens. Of course, Elephant is New Adult, not Young Adult, so that does change things a bit.

      I know it sounds like I’m just rejecting everything you say, but I promise this is how I process your comment 🙂 Thank you so much for taking the time to give me your thoughts! I’m going to write Elephant how I want it to be written, and then when I start editing figure out what to do from there.

      Thanks again! Your comment is very much appreciated.


  4. Just like you I’m trying to find an agent, but it’s very competitive to find one. There is an agent who is very responsive and you might want to send this post as a question to Janet Reid, Literary Agent, Blog. But make it general, like change the “Elephant” to “My Novel” ect. She is very helpful and will give you a detailed response based on her many years in the industry and also the comments by the readers will be helpful. You can send it as a more general question to JetReidLiterary@gmail.com You can even ask her if she know an agent who is open to read a longer NA. Good luck.

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