“The novel is airless, and thus not right for me. I’m certain another agent will feel differently.”|
“Though the story is certainly high concept, it didn’t sing for me. I’m afraid I’ll have to pass.”
Are you scratching your head, trying to make sense of the buzz words and curious phrases you’ve just received from an agent or editor? For a handy guide to deciphering today’s literary lingo, take a look at my definitions.
Commercial: Fiction that is said to be commercial has a solid story, a fast pace, and a strong hook, and it generally appeals to a wide audience.Genre: Genre fiction is commercial fiction that fits into specific categories, such as romance, mystery and science fiction, to name a few.
Upmarket: Upmarket fiction is work considered both literary and commercial in nature; these stories tend to be both character-driven and plot-driven, and therefore have wide market appeal. High concept: High-concept fiction is work with a knock-out hook. The prevailing belief is that high-concept work sells easily, since its premise can be described in a single phrase or sentence, and such stories elicit a strong reaction when pitched.
Organic: Organic is a literary term used to describe writing (usually fiction or characters in particular) that is authentic. The story and characters are plausible; nothing is contrived. An organic character might also be referred to as pitch perfect, or be said to ring true.Voicey: A voice-driven piece involves one or more characters who come to life in the reading. A voicey character leaps off the page.
Quiet: Though this term may be used to refer to luxurious writing, it’s often used today as a criticism. A novel deemed quiet may center on one character’s internal journey, or there may be relatively little going on in the story from a plot perspective. Quiet novels typically lack solid hooks and are rarely considered high concept.Airless: Dense, heavy, emotional writing that leaves readers weighed down, perhaps feeling depressed.
Compelling delivery: Gripping, persuasive and forceful are synonyms for writing that delivers in an emotional way. A writer who can transport readers to another time and place, and is able to evoke universal feeling with accuracy, has a solid grasp of the craft of writing.Low impact: This term means the agent or editor wasn’t left with that loving feeling. The concern with low-impact writing is that readers won’t be moved by the characters or story, and therefore won’t recommend the work to others.
Doesn’t distinguish itself: This marketplace term describes work that may not be unique enough to stand out among the thousands of books published each year. These days, writing that doesn’t distinguish itself—even if gorgeous and well-crafted—may fail to grab its rightful market share, which in turn concerns publishers.No legs: This funny phrase is another way of saying that a work doesn’t distinguish itself. The agent or editor believes that it won’t stand out among the competition.
Not fresh: Again, this means the writing brings nothing new to the shelf. Agents, editors and readers want fresh.Didn’t sing: First your writing must stand up, and then it has to sing? It’s true that today’s marketplace demands that writers wow readers. Though this is a tall order, agents, editors and publishers cater to readers as consumers. Word-of-mouth sales come when writing sings.
Perhaps you’ve heard these terms during a pitch session with an agent, or read them in a message from an editor. Sometimes they’re used as a compliment. (Compelling delivery. The piece has a solid hook.) And sometimes they’re simply stating a fact. (Your novel is upmarket.)
Unfortunately, other times the feedback is meant as criticism, leaving you to mull things over and decide what, if anything, to do with the feedback in revision. How will you ready the work to go out again into the marketplace? In the process, should you unravel the mystery of how to make your story sing, be sure and let the rest of us know.