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About Writing Right: The Blog

IS MY BOOK GOOD ENOUGH?

The other day, I stumbled across a forum writer who wanted to know how to tell when his book is good enough to submit to an agent or a publisher. Despite some solid, thoughtful responses, he received a lot of misinformation. Here's how I handled the situation.

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You have received some pretty good responses here, except for the nonsense the Queen of Wrong sent you. The truth is you can revise the heck out of your book, have it edited and critiqued, and revise it some more. That still doesn't mean it's as "ready as it's ever going to be" for publication. No. Sometimes waiting a few days, weeks, or months between editing sessions can help you approach your work with a fresh set of eyes and turn it from a turn-down into an acceptance.

 

Also, if you hire an editor or critic and happen to hire the wrong ones (much easier to do than finding the right ones, sadly), they'll be absolutely no help to you at all and may actually harm you in your quest for publication. Surprise, surprise.

 

And, sending out queries is not the only way to find out if your book is ready for the "Show." In fact, it's the poorest and least reliable way. Editors and agents often turn down books that are, in fact, fully "ready" but simply not to their liking or not something the recipients believe is marketable. They may also feel the book is too short or too long or written in a genre or even a point-of-view that the publishers/agents aren't looking to acquire. If you submit your book for publication, assuming the proof is in the pudding, you're likely to be discouraged for all the wrong reasons. Read More 

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AGENTS DON'T RECOGNIZE "MASTERPIECE"

That's not exactly a unique feeling in the literary world today, particularly when it comes to newbie authors. One such writer wrote me recently, saying he'd sent his book out to tons of agents without any positive results. Here's what our exchange looked like.

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Okay, here's what I think. First, if you sent your manuscript to 500 agents as you say, you sent to roughly half of all literary agents currently working in the United States and not three-quarters, as someone misinformed you. Still, that's a lot. That means you shot-gunned them. Instead of looking at each agent's requirements for genres, submissions procedures, and the like, you mass-mailed them. That's going to get you a lot of rejections from the start because agents can smell a mass-mailing from a mile away.

 

Second, if even ten percent of those agents didn't mind or didn't catch on to your mass-mailing technique and still turned you down, your product isn't any good. By that, I mean your book isn't marketable. At least, it's not to those agents.

 

Third, you say your "beta readers" love your book. But, in the real world, beta readers amount to zilch when it comes to an objective and realistic appraisal of a property's worth in a publisher's eyes. Most beta readers I've seen are in it for the free reads or the thrill of having a title. (You know, Beta Reader First Class.) While there may be a few exceptions, you're not likely to find worthwhile voluntary readers for your project, and even if you did, no beta reader is familiar with all literary agents' "wish lists" and requirements. In the end, that means you may find someone who knows what he likes, but you're unlikely to find anyone who knows what the marketplace will like or what changes you need to make to the book to make it marketable (i.e., publishable). Read More 

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FINDING AN AGENT TO REP YOU

If you've tried everything you can think of to land a literary agent to represent your work to publishers, you've probably failed. Through no fault, necessarily, of your own.

 

Welcome to the Real World of book publishing. You know, the one where landing a publishing contract is only the second most challenging thing for a writer to do; landing an agency contract is number one. Far and away.

 

The reason is simple mathematics. Sure, for every book published, probably a few hundred or more go unpublished. But for every agent landed, thousands of authors get turned down. The reason is that there are only so many agents to go around, and they're in huge demand. That's because good agents can offer fledgling writers invaluable advice, so they act as sounding boards and dispensers of knowledge. As a result, book publishers increasingly turn to agents to "screen" the work submitted to them in order to save their editors time. Agents weed out the junk (or the vast majority of it) and pass along only the best of the works they receive from their represented writers. Read More 

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FINDING A SECOND LITERARY AGENT

Someone the other day asked how to approach a second agent to represent his novel after his existing agent turned it down. It sounds pretty convoluted, but it's really not. My answer, though, may surprise you.

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The answer to that question is pretty simple, despite the convoluted, incomplete, and mostly erroneous response to your question you received from one other person. Begin by checking the "out clause" that your contract with your existing agent contains. It tells you how to sever your contractual obligations should things come to that. Your contract also has a clause allowing your agent to turn down representation of any client's work that he or she deems to be unmarketable. Keep your agent's letter to that effect in your files, and start looking for an agent who disagrees with your present agent and is willing to take your second novel on.

 

Be aware, though, that landing one agent in a lifetime is tough enough. Getting a second one is twice as difficult, particularly since your current agent has turned the book down. That looks suspicious at best and bad at worst. Read More 

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Literary Agents: When To Submit

When is the best time to submit a proposal to a literary agent? Or is there a best time? I had been wondering for a while when I came across something from the agents of Bookends Literary Agency, who were recently asked which months they would consider good- versus bad-submission months.

Jessica Faust: I tend not to read any submissions in the month of August. This is the time of year when I take my break to recharge and read only published books. While you can certainly submit in August, it will likely sit in August and sit through the month of September when I’m focused on my clients and getting back in the swing. It’s October when I am likely to really sit down and get my reading in. The tough part about this question is when a good or bad time is depends not on the calendar, but on what is happening in my business. Lately, for example, I haven’t been reading as many submissions since I’ve been busy with my clients. I took on a few new people earlier in the year and have been focused on getting them into the hands of publishers. Next year, I could spend September and October desperately seeking new clients. So for me, submit whenever you want to submit and I appreciate your patience as you wait on my clients and other work.

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