Monday 19 March 2007

Desperately Seeking Grabby

"I would have difficulty finding you a publisher in a market saturated with 'grabby' books."

Nice agent's rejection letter
Grabby. That's what they're looking for. If your manuscript is grabby, doors will open and slushpiles will wither to nothing.

Here's a rejection I got from an agent I really, really respect:
Well, the good news is that I thought your writing has developed most wonderfully. I enjoyed your book enormously — your characterisation is marvellous ...well done!

The sad news is that I don't feel that I can offer to represent you. For all the drama of the ending, your style and tone are gentle and subtle, and I worry that I would have difficulty finding you a publisher in a market saturated with 'grabby' kinds of books. I am truly sorry. I do love quiet, literary books but find them enormously hard to sell ...
Once I'd torn all my hair out, beat my chest, gnashed my teeth, and all the things authors do in the throes of adversity, I forced myself into "sense of proportion" mode.

What in the world does it mean, "grabby"?

I searched my bookshelves for the books that grabbed me and came up with a list:
  1. A grabby character has a striking feature, mannerism, characteristic that endears us and makes us want to know more about them. Like Gary Boone who can't help telling jokes in Dogs Don't Tell Jokes by Louis Sachar; or Bibi, the burka-clad little girl in Kabul whose dream is to represent Australia in the soccer World Cup in Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman; or 16-year-old Mattie Gokey who learns a word a day from the dictionary her mother left her in Northern Light (A Gathering Light to UK readers) by Jennifer Donnelly.

  2. A grabby plot has a fresh take on old story-lines — in Artemus Fowl by Eoin Colfer, a boy criminal sets out to find the leprechauns' pot of gold at the end of the rainbow ... and steal it; in the coming-of-age tale How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, a teenager comes of age in the midst of a war that results in the enemy occupation of modern England; in the teen fantasy The Secret Hour by Scott Westerfeld, kids born at midnight find that they have an extra hour at midnight that ordinary folk don't experience.

  3. A grabby setting places the characters in an extraordinary situation: in the Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, worlds that exist in parallel dimensions experience havoc when men discover they can cut their way in and out of them with a mystical knife; Uglies, Scott Westerfeld's version of dystopia has teenagers required to "turn pretty" (surgically) on their 16th birthday, thus dwelling on contemporary preoccupations on plastic surgery and self image; in Justine Larbalastier's Magic or Madness, a girl in Sidney goes out the back door of her grandmother's house and finds herself in New York.

Grabby is great. Grabby gets published. But I can see that there can only be more hurdles ahead.

After all, one agent's grabby might be another agent's idea of total, utter rubbish.


  1. Grabby...I'll have to ponder that one. Thanks for the grabby post; you're on your way!

  2. It was such a kind rejection, it's tempting to mention it to other agents but the venerable Miss Snark warns against mentioning such good rejections: "Don't do this. The only thing I see when I read this is my colleagues don't think they can sell it."

  3. I'd take it as a compliment Candy. Literary is good writing that stands the test of time. Grabby sells at the moment. Keep sending it out. You'll find a home for it.


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