Today, we have literary agent Mollie Glick of Foundry Literary + Media on the blog. We’re going to be discussing craft and how we, as writers, can make our manuscripts stronger! Thank you so much, Mollie, for being here!
Me: Sometimes, an agent/editor will reject an author’s manuscript because they feel that they didn’t connect with the author’s voice/it wasn’t strong enough. How do you define voice in fiction? And do you have any tips for a writer about how to make their voice stronger?
Mollie: I love a book with a strong voice. From THE CATCHER IN THE RYE to THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME to WHERE DID YOU GO BERNADETTE, ROOM, and GONE GIRL, a book with a strong voice hooks you from the first page. Sometimes because it’s so funny, sometimes because it’s so shocking, and sometimes because we just want to hang out with a really cool character—even if that “character” is ostensibly a real person in a memoir like EAT, PRAY, LOVE. And I believe that there are two things a writer should think about when constructing a great voice. First, know your characters really really well. Know how they speak and how they see the world, and let them talk to you. Second, think about your reader’s experience of the book. A description of a room can either be boring or extremely interesting, depending on who’s describing it. It’s your job to make every part of your book—even the parts where you need to convey back story or describe a room—interesting. And a distinctive voice is a great way to do that.
Me: Another common reason for rejection is not connecting with the author’s characters. What makes a reader care about an author’s characters? How can a writer make their characters stronger?
Mollie: I like a good complicated character. I’m ok with a character that’s a bit prickly—or even a villain. But I need to care about what they’re trying to achieve. Maybe I’m rooting for them. Maybe I’m rooting against them, but either way, I need to be invested in their quest. I need high stakes. I also once heard a quote from Al Zuckerman that said something like “who your characters love is what makes us love your characters” and I think that’s very true.
Me: There’s a lot of talk about “high concept” fiction lately. Can you define it for us? Do you feel that it’s become more and more important for books to be high concept?
Mollie: Yes! High concept literary fiction has always been what I’m looking for. Think TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE or EDGAR SAWTELLE. For me, this often means a realistic book with a slightly speculative angle. For some books like NIGHT FILM or THE SECRET HISTORY it’s about having a mystery that pulls you through an otherwise literary novel. But it can also mean that a novel has a nonfiction “hook” that will give people something to talk about off the book section page. For example, a book I’m working on now, THE PRISONER’S APPRENTICE, was inspired by a true story the author found about a distant relative who was a brilliant scientist and inventor eventually arrested for murder. That real life inspiration for the book will give the author something fun to talk about in interviews.
Me: As an agent, you see a lot of manuscripts from beginning writers. If there was one area you could tell a writer to focus on, to work toward improvement in, what would it be?
Mollie: Grabbing readers right from the first page. I often get submissions where authors tell me “stick with it, it picks up in chapter three” but not only will editors not make it past chapter two if it isn’t great from the beginning, readers in a bookstore, flipping through the book and reviewers won’t either. So make that first chapter sing!
You can find more information about submitting to Mollie here. And you can follow her on Twitter at @MollieGlick.