Over and over again agents will say the one thing that pushes them to offer representation is the author’s voice. Time and time again I’ve had authors ask me what exactly that means. It’s always been a tough one for me to put into words and defining voice is important since it’s clearly an important part of the business. Heck, I feel like half of the rejections I get from editor say something along the lines of, “I didn’t connect with the voice.”
Voice is the author’s style. It’s the way the author writes that is unique to that author–the way the author writes characters, plot, and dialogue.
On the blog post To Please Everyone Means Pleasing No One, a reader asks:
I queried an agent who asked me who’s voice of current books is mine like? I was dumbfounded that this person asked me this. Isn’t my voice, my voice? I certainly don’t want to copy someone else’s voice because then I wouldn’t be true to myself and my project. In the end, this agent passed on reading my full ms because I couldn’t answer the question. Submission guidelines were five pages. This always stumps me because five pages isn’t even putting a toe into a body of water.
Your voice is your voice, there is no doubt about that, but everyone’s voice has a comp title or an author they can compare themselves to. Some writers, for example, are short and quippy. They write fast dialogue and lots of it. Other writers tend to write darker with a heavier suspense element and lots of description. While your voice is definitely your own, I would bet it’s also like someone else’s. Maybe you write funny characters and plots like one of your favorite writers or maybe you’re more emotional and serious like another writer.
One last thing, I don’t think an agent rejected your work because you couldn’t answer a question about voice. My guess is the agent read your pages and your query and decided it wasn’t right for her. In the end an agent is a reader in a bookstore deciding what book she wants to read next and most readers base that decision on the cover copy (your query) and maybe, just maybe, the first five or so pages.