I was raised on classic, great literature. Which is wonderful, but the trouble is, you can't actually write like that today -- or you can, but you'll never get published that way. Standards have changed. Novels today compete with television, with social media, with video games. They have to be pretty punchy.
In some ways, I think the standards are higher. So many people are writing; publishers can afford to be picky. But in some ways it's just different. Unpublishable doesn't always mean bad. There are surely many truly great novels under people's beds right now that just don't meet modern standards. Maybe their day will come someday.
Anyway, I'm going to just reassure myself right now by writing the rejection letters I think they would get from modern literary agents. Because, heck, I'm becoming an expert on rejection letters by now!
Dear Mr. Melville,
Thanks for the opportunity to look at MOBY-DICK! I loved your sample pages-- "Call me Ishmael," that's great! However, I can't request the full because you tell me it's 206,000 words. I wouldn't even be able to finish reading through it once, let alone dozens of times over the publishing process. I'd be very interested in reading an edited version if you can cut it down by at least half. I suggest some of the knot-tying bits.
Dear Ms. Austen,
Thanks for your interest in Classics Literary Agency! I can see you followed my advice after my last rejection and jumped right into the action instead of spending an entire chapter on background. However, I couldn't relate to Lizzie, because she doesn't seem very emotional. How does she feel? Why are she and Jane quietly and passively putting up with these terrible men? They should be crying and eating ice cream, at least.
Also, I feel there should be a sex scene in a romance novel of this genre. Or at the very least, some kissing.
So I regretfully have to pass this time. Remember that the publishing industry is very subjective, so please don't give up!
Literary von Agentz
Dear Mr. Tolkien,
I'm honored that you thought of me for THE LORD OF THE RINGS. The premise is certainly exciting! Though, I do have to say, I have a number of books on my list that are exactly the same. Have you considered creating a world that isn't based on medieval Europe? We get so many medieval-Europe fantasies these days.
If I did represent this, you'd need to make some major cuts. The whole Tom Bombadil thing, for instance. And the scouring of the Shire in vol. 3. Some additions are due, also. For instance, where are the female main characters? Would you consider gender-swapping, say, Gimli or some of the hobbits?
I also think your style, which is smooth and readable at first, gets increasingly ornate by the end until it's barely readable. I'd be happy to read a future draft, provided it was a substantial revision.
Dear Mr. Alighieri,
Thank you for the chance to look at your DIVINA COMMEDIA. Certainly your style is excellent and you have a boundless imagination. However, this story doesn't really have a plot arc. Does the narrator have any goals or make any decisions? The third part, where I would expect to see major conflict coming to a head, has no actual conflict at all. The narrator doesn't even end up with Beatrice! What is the point of this story?
Please don't give up on your work; I hope the agent that will be able to commit fully to your story is out there.
Dear Mr. Conrad,
I had a chance to get into your MS, HEART OF DARKNESS, today and was completely sucked in. So fascinating, and in a setting we don't often see. I think you meant to bring people's attention to the horrors inflicted on the people of the Congo. However, you really should have centered the African perspective here. Why is the narrator a white savior when you could have told the story from a POC POV?
I will regretfully have to pass, but feel free to send along future work if it's, you know, woker.
P. C. Publisher
Who else could we add?