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When a Book is “Too Quiet”

Quite a few of my recent rejections stated that I felt the book was “too quiet,” something we also get a lot from editors. Well I do. I tend to have a soft spot for the quiet book.

But what exactly is “too quiet” and what can an author do to remedy this?

Books that are considered too quiet are often beautifully written, sometimes with compelling characters, but oftentimes with a plot that feels nice, but not “wow.” A too-quiet book doesn’t usually have a killer hook.

In truth, a book that’s considered too quiet is a book the editor or agent has a hard time seeing how to market. There are so many lovely things about it, but not something that gives it that oomph that will help find it a spot among the competition.

It’s a book we might have thought was nice to read, but also didn’t miss it once we put it down. It wasn’t a book we wanted to tell our friends and family about or felt compelled to fight for at work.

The hard thing about publishing is that it’s not just about writing a really lovely book. We need to find a way to get the reader to come to the book in the first place. We need a hook or an idea we can create a package around and grab a reader’s attention with.

Too Quiet Isn’t so Bad

The fact is a too quiet book isn’t really a bad thing. It means that there was a ton to recommend the book. A ton that appealed to the reader. That your writing is likely there. Now you need to find an idea to make it a package no one can resist.

Category: Blog

13 comments

  1. I’m sure my book could be described as too quiet, but I love quiet books. I’m not comfortable ‘on the edge of the seat’. I like a book for the story, not for thrills. I’m sure there are many people out there that think the same, so there has to be a substantial market for it.

  2. I don’t know, I’m kind of over this “edginess” trend (and by “kind of” I mean: I’ve been over since it started.) I am not exaggerating when I say I’ve been walking out of bookstores disappointed and empty-handed for going on a decade now, because all this edgy, dark action is just not what I’m looking for. Honest to God, the only reason I’ve bought a book lately is to help support my local independent bookseller through the pandemic. Or when I’ve bought a book I thought sounded promising, I ended up DNFing it. All this dismay and human suffering just makes me want to get blackout drunk, and that was true well before the pandemic. I mean… don’t get me wrong! I’m glad there are books out there for people who love this sort of thing, I am! But I also know I’m not the only person looking for something else to read that has, say, enchantment rather than dark, deadly magic with lots of blood dripping everywhere, or beauty that not only survives but turns out to be the strongest power of all. Oh, and with adult protagonists, not just in Young Adult fiction. I really resent that when I tell someone what I’m looking for, I get shunted to the children’s section, as if being the way I am makes me somehow immature and I should just grow up and learn to embrace pain and dismay. Maybe people like me are “just too sensitive, honey,” but there really are a LOT of us, and we have money and want to spend it on books. It’s just a shame that all of us together are not enough, apparently, to comprise a market worth bothering to sell to.

    1. Kim, do you like mysteries? Try a cozy. They are by definition the opposite of edgy and dark. Sure, there’s a murder or two, but there’s no gore and it’s like its name…cozy to read.

      1. Thanks, AJ! I do enjoy cozy mysteries. Lilian Jackson Braun was (and still is, sometimes!) my guilty pleasure. I haven’t found a contemporary author I like very much, though. I think my main problem is I feel like the female protagonists have become just to ditzy. Do you have any recommendations?

        I also used to love fantasy, before it became all grimdark. I like the magic to be real (something you don’t get in cozies) but not trying to kill everyone. BUT! And I insist on this. I want all of this, but in a book written for an adult audience, with adult protagonists. That’s the hard part!

        Thanks for any ideas you might have.

          1. Thanks, Dean, I’ll check it out. This reading slump of mine has gone on far too long! 😀

      2. AJ just on a lark I googled your name on Amazon (is that a contradiction in terms? Googling on Amazon? LOL) and it turns out you seem to be writing some of the kind of things I like to read: cozies featuring intelligent protagonists! Thanks for the inadvertent lead. 🙂

        1. Aw, thanks, Kim. I’m not yet published but I will be!! And yes, I’m trying to write cozies with smart heroines, because that’s what I like to read.

          I highly recommend the Miss Fortune Mysteries by Jana deLeon. Funny and the protagonist is an ex-CIA assassin, so definitely not ditzy. Even my teen son loves these. If you want more suggestions feel free to contact me through my website 🙂

  3. While working with my editor on my first (YA verse) novel, she told me it was too quiet, and that she also tends to write quiet novels. Because it’s something she also works on with her own writing, she had great insights on how to give my novel the push it needed (apparently enough so that Kirkus gave it a starred review!). The line between between too quiet, and having that extra umph can be as simple as adding one scene that ups the stakes from “oh no, this protagonist is not having a good time” to “Oh no! I hope the protagonist can get through this, but I’m not so sure at this moment and I really want to see how she deals with it!”

    1. Thanks, Lexi! This is what I try to do: have a few high-stakes moments, even really deadly ones, near the top of the rising action. Just not blood spattering everywhere every few pages, starting with page one, ugh! (The latter kinds of books also tend to end with people “still alive and not-suffering-as-badly, for now, but the oppressive shadow of gloom is still hovering over the entire landscape. Too much like real life for me! 😀 )

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