Rachel Beck’s Manuscript Wish List

By Rachel Beck

Holloway Literary’s motto is We love a good story! And I think this sums up, in a very broad way, what all agents are looking to represent: a good story. I thought it might be useful to sum up in more detail what I’m looking for right now—what I’d love to see cross my inbox. Consider this a shout-out to any writers who are looking to pitch me at the moment. If your book falls into any of these categories, do not stop, drop and roll; do not pass go. Send me your manuscript instead!

  • Women’s fiction that slants lighter in tone: I don’t want to say “chick lit” because it’s a scary term in the industry. But I’m talking about stories where the characters are a bit younger, the themes less weighty and the voice a little more youthful. Some of my favorite authors who write lighter women’s fiction are Emily Giffin (my all-time favorite!!), Jennifer Weiner and Sophie Kinsella. These are books for and about twenty-somethings or early thirty-somethings figuring it all out. The plots and topics addressed aren’t super dramatic or complex—the premise can be quite simple, actually—but they are about real-life questions and crossroads, and the dilemmas faced on the page are relatable, the characters flawed but trying.
  • Women’s fiction that leans heavier in tone and tackles weighty issues: These types of stories often focus on moral or ethical issues. A perfect example is Liane Moriarty. (Her plot twists are awesome!) Jodi Picoult is also a great one. (Her characters are fabulous!) Maybe there’s a hint of suspense. Often the characters are caught in a questionable moral situation. A good person who does/did something bad. Someone caught between a real rock and a hard place. A story that makes you look at a period of history or a situation or a type of person in a new way.mswishlist
  • A complex family saga that perhaps spans generations of family members: Diane Chamberlain is one of my favorite authors for the way she’s able to wind together these sort of fantastically complex and deep family stories. Multiple POV’s work well in these sorts of stories. Check out Before the Storm for an example of this done really well; it’s my favorite of her books and one of my favorite novels in general.
  • Thrillers: If you are the next Gillian Flynn, I will adore you. I’m a big fan of “unexpected witness” stories such as The Girl on the Train or The Woman in Cabin 10. I don’t like traditional suspense stories as much; I’m not looking for formulaic authors who write detective stories, but something more out of the box, fresh and with a twist that makes your hair stand up on end or gives you goose bumps. Unreliable narrators are juicy, as are unlikeable narrators, such as Amy from Gone Girl and Ani from Luckiest Girl Alive, one of the best books I’ve read recently. Mary Kubica and Heather Gudenkauf are two great authors in this genre; check ‘em out!
  • Literary or historic period piece: I would be open to something similar to The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis, or Empire Girls by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan. Especially ones set in New York City or the South, in the 1920’s or 1950’s (two of my favorite eras!) that are rich in setting and period details.
  • unnamedA beautiful, moving young adult book: Something as emotionally powerful as The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson or The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Call me a masochist, but the sadder the better. It’s very competitive out there for young adult authors, so anything that comes along right now has to really stand out. Larger-than-life premise and characters. Books about really big issues that teenagers today face. Broken homes, diversity, LGBTQ, all of this is really good. I’m okay with death and darkness. Terminal illness, eating disorders, mental health disorders, gender identity—bring it on!


If any of this strikes a chord with you, please think of me for your submissions! Or maybe I’ve inspired you to write something in one of these genres. Even better, maybe you already have something cooking or complete that sounds like I might be into based on this. If so, waste no time hitting send—I’d love to see it!

Rachel is an agent with Holloway Literary. Learn more about her here and then follow her on Twitter @Rachel_Burkot.


The Revision Letter: Why and How to Follow it to a T

By Rachel Beck

When an agent takes the time to write a thoughtful revision letter for your manuscript, it’s a really good thing because it means he or she is interested enough in your story and characters to invest in this. It just means your book isn’t quite there yet, but they’re willing to put in the effort to help you get it there. It means they want you to succeed! But revision letters can contain a lot, and there are often many ways to interpret a change that an agent is asking for. The goal of this post is to help you make sense of revision letters.

keepcalmIn an ideal world, an agent will read a manuscript, like it but have some thoughts for improvement, send off a letter detailing these thoughts, and then the author will read it, nod, and get right to work, producing the manuscript of the agent’s dreams. But this is rarely the case–in fact, one round of revisions is usually not sufficient. So it’s likely that authors might wonder, when asked to do more revisions, What did I do wrong?

Revising is tough. We get it. Sometimes our ideas and reasons for having a character do X instead of Y make perfect sense in our heads, and we think we’re conveying exactly what we mean in our revision letter, but what you read and what we wrote are actually coming across like two totally different languages. German and Swahili. Arabic and Spanish. Or maybe just Agent and Writer. So how do we all get on the same page (literally)?

It’s important to understand the reasoning behind a change an agent is asking for. Especially if it’s something major, like a plot line, character’s motivation, or deleting an entire chapter. If the agent hasn’t laid it out in a clear enough way that you understand and agree with, probe further. Ask more questions. If you’re just blindly making a change because your agent said to, the changes you make won’t necessarily be stronger. Plus, you’ll learn for next time that, say, having your main character’s estranged cousin come back into her life and reconcile with her at the end of the story doesn’t work because it distracts from the purpose of the book and creates a contrived relationship that’s totally separate from and unnecessary to the main story line.

You might often be asked for revisions to a character’s goals, motivation, or conflict. A realistic book with stakes and heart is going to need these three things in sufficient doses. So one revision note might be, what is Mandy’s goal in the scene when she looks up her cousin with the intention of reconnecting? Why does she want this reunion in the first place? Such revision points should cause you to question your own choices for your characters and story. If you can stand by your decisions, by all means, give your agent your rationale and have a conversation. The key is to ask if you’re still confused about a certain point after reading through the revision letter. It can never hurt to get more information.

script-revisionsAmong other things, we might ask in revision letters for higher stakes to the plot as a
whole, slowing down or speeding up the pacing of the story, beefing up a character’s past or conflict, and so on. These are all important things that are sometimes not brought out in early drafts. Additionally, we might give some pointers on the mechanics of writing, though we generally expect the authors to acquire this knowledge on their own. We might question why a character is hiding their true identity, or some fact that seems important, from another character. If it seems unethical or makes a character seem less appealing, we’ll probably note that, and we can discuss whether the deceitful action is worth the less-appealing light it puts the character in in order to accomplish whatever purpose he had.

Think of a revision letter as a pair of eyes on all of your characters and story lines. If they’re doing something that doesn’t ring true to the book, it’s going to be questioned. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that a revision letter is like a conversation. So be sure to respond with any concerns or questions that you have after reading over your agent’s thoughts, and never hesitate to ask for clarification if you need it or are still confused on a certain point. The book will be stronger for it, when all is said and done!       


Rachel is an agent with Holloway Literary. Learn more about her here and then follow her on Twitter @Rachel_Burkot.


Editors and Agents Have More in Common Than You Might Think

editing2                                                                                                                          By Rachel Beck

After being an editor for almost six years, I transitioned to the agent side (the dark side? the light side? I’ll avoid going there…). I thought it may be interesting to hear the differences (and similarities!), from my experience at least. Granted, I was an editor a lot longer than I’ve been an agent so far, but I’m rapidly learning more and more, and it’s interesting to reflect on the nuances of each job—along with the degrees of overlap.

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