Well, one agent. Kristen Nelson has a pair of interesting posts up:
The #1 reason I pass on manuscripts with good writing is because of a lack of pacing.
Just recently, I read a submission where I thought the writer was extremely talented. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think that the beginning seemed ponderously slow. I gave up before page 100 despite some lovely lyrical prose on the page. I glanced at the query letter again and there it was, the word count for the story.
Interesting! I would have thought that might be easy to fix, but Kristen obviously has found that in her experience it can be far otherwise. Too bad!
This particularly catches my eye because I’m certain I have said here, more than once, that a slow build does not (usually) bother me and that I often enjoy a slow beginning.
#2 Reason I Pass Even If The Writing Is Good
Lack of story conflict for the protagonist.
To put this another way, the main character doesn’t have enough at stake to drive the story. … I recently read a full manuscript in which the writing and world building utterly charmed me. I loved spending time in the space the writer had created. But I arrived at the end of the novel and realized that being charmed was all there was to it. …Even if the writing and the world are charming, no stakes means no conflict.
Again, interesting! You will recall I recently wrote a post about enjoying low-stakes stories, at least in a series where I already know the characters. I used The Sharing Knife universe as an example where I would be happy to read about Dag and Fawn and everyone just living their ordinary lives. Lots of you chimed in with other examples of low-stakes stories you have enjoyed or would like to read.
Even more interesting, Kristen asked for a revision and resubmission in the second case, but not the first. I would have SWORN the revision would be 100% easier in the first case rather than the second. Shows what I know!
But I can see both points, of course, and I expect the proportion of readers who won’t touch a book unless it has a fast build and high stakes is probably higher than the reverse.
I am now curious, though: What criticisms of a book actually make a book seem more appealing to you, rather than less? I realize that there could be infinite answers here, but this slowness thing is one that I encounter all the time.
For example, a book I am quite looking forward to trying is Rae Carson’s WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER. Here are some lines that leap out of Goodreads reviews for this book:
Khahn (The Grinch), who rated it two stars: What a disappointment. This book suffers from something that has plagued every single Rae Carson book I’ve ever read, however good they ended up being: it’s slow as molasses.
My response: Really? Sounds promising so far.
Stephanie Burgis (five stars) says: One of the most absorbing and immersive books I’ve read in a very long time, and most definitely one of my very favorite books of the year. Exciting, smart, feminist, romantic, and utterly compulsive reading!
My response: Ooh, sounds great! That slow pace doesn’t sound like a problem at all!
Marissa (Rae Gun Ramblings) (three stars) says: I liked this I did. But sadly it is no where near A Girl of Fire and Thorns. Those books were amazing genius. This is more like a good solid historical fiction with the tiniest bit of fantasy. The fantastical element is SO small though.
My response: No problem! I love well-written pure historicals!
So you see how personal reader reactions can be, and how what is meant as a definite criticism may not come across that way. Which is fine! But it makes me wonder whether agent reactions are going to be just as personal to the sorts of queries Kristen Nelson is talking about, or whether agents have mostly been trained to look for commercial features like fast pace and high stakes. Even then, I suppose they would not necessarily all perceive the pacing as *too* slow for the same book.
Also, as a side note: Listen! Publishers! Are you *trying* to kill your sales? I am not going to buy an ebook for more than ten bucks unless I know FOR SURE that I will love the book! Do you *realize* that the Kindle price for WALK ON EARTH is higher right now than the hardcover price? What is with that? The pricing for this book has definitely stopped me from grabbing a copy to gaze at until I have time to read it. If I don’t get around to reading it before nomination windows close for various award, this will be why.