How I Read Slush: 3 Lessons for Writers

reading-piccsyAgents talk a lot about query letter writing and how we manage the slush pile. There’s the flip side of that too: once we request your material what happens? Well today, you get inside my brain. This is how I read requested material and how you make yours stand out:

1. I read on my iPad

I don’t print manuscripts out until I sign them and start to work on them. So I’m trying to see if I enjoy the writing and pair the writing with a name or book title to distinguish one manuscript from the other.

Lesson: Formatting! For the love of pete number your pages and title your file something like: Author Last Name BOOK TITLE. I don’t want to play a guessing game about which manuscript matches which query. The last thing I want is confusion when I’m trying to organize my slush. I also ask for a synopsis pasted into the first page of the manuscript document so that I can jog my memory and refer back to it.

2. I read 3-10 partials in a row

I’m not sitting down to indulge in one story, I’m sitting down to get through the virtual stack of manuscripts. Often it is between 3-10 when I start to read. That’s 3-10 different authors, voices, characters, plots and things to keep straight. When I read partials and other requested material I’m reading for plot, pace and potential. All I want is to be drawn in more than the story before that one. Continue reading

Why Agents Edit

typeAmong the many things we do for our clients it includes editing their work. Sure, the crux of our job is selling our authors’ books, but getting the projects to the point of selling involves anything from a light copy edit to complete overhauls.

We all know there are so many layers to get published: write the book, get an agent, get a book deal, publicize, have a writing career that spans many more books. And know that each opportunity requires its own mental stamina to achieve success. However, I still see so many aspiring writers putting an emphasis on getting an agent and think perhaps the rest falls into place. If it’s so hard to get an agent, then it must all be downhill from there, right? Wrong.

One of the big parts of our agent responsibilities is getting our client’s projects ready for editors’ eyes.

Why Agents Edit:

Because we know the difference between creative writing and book publishing. There is a lot of really good writing that doesn’t get published. Publishing is where creative writing meets Hollywood: Does it have a hook? Can you sell it in a sentence? Are the characters memorable? Is their journey compelling? Does it start when we meet the characters at an interesting point in their lives? Getting published requires some stripping down of overwriting and self indulgence. Getting published is about making your writing accessible to mass readers.

Because the competition is fierce. Sometimes I feel like this is the title of my blog. I do harp on it, but it’s only because I want everyone to know the stakes to ‘make’ it. It doesn’t make it easy when you know how many other writers there are out there trying to get published, too. But that information has to light a fire under you and make you want to revise and want to write the best book you can. Competition is about writing better than you did the day before, and the book before this. You are your own competition. Make that your mission.

Because we need to know that you’re able to work in a collaborative environment. Continue reading

Why Literary Agents Do Not Give Referrals

shannoneileenblogspotOne of the most popular question when I’m on an agent panel at a writer’s conference goes like this: “If an agent reads my book and it’s not for them, will they send it on to another agent who they think it might be a better fit for?”

My answer is usually no. Some agents say yes, but I say no.

This is why (I should clarify) MOST agents don’t give referrals:

1) If we loved it we wouldn’t let it go. If we are over the moon about the book we’ll make time in our busy schedules. If we’re not, we don’t have energy to spend on projects we aren’t pursuing. It’s a reality of our job and saving energy for what we choose to invest in. You’ll be thankful of this when you have an agent, believe me.

2) We don’t have time. We work for our clients first and foremost. Looking at queries, helping writers on Twitter, and all of these extra things we put on our plates are not part of our business model. So when we know a project isn’t right for us we don’t wrack our brains thinking of ways we can help. We try to get the project off our desk as soon as possible to help the writer move on and seek out someone else.

3) Within the agency: sometimes yes. Continue reading

#WFpitch Session January 30th, 7pm EST

Women’s fiction writers looking for agents, here’s your event!

Women’s Fiction Writers Association, agent Katie Shea Boutillier, and me will be hosting a Twitter pitch session Thursday January 30th at 7pm EST.

Use your tweet to pitch your manuscript and make sure you use the hashtag #WFpitch so we see it.

Get your pitch ready! (Finished manuscripts only, please.)

We’re looking forward to seeing what you’ve got in the book club book and women’s fiction category.