Agent perspective: What’s wrong with your manuscript

googleimages2Pitching your book to no avail?

Are agents not being forthcoming with advice?

Getting ready to submit in the new year?

The definitive guide to what’s wrong with most manuscripts:

1. All internal conflict, no external conflict. Does more happen in the character’s head than in the plot? This is going to be a problem whether it’s literary or commercial fiction. Make sure enough things happen.

2. Pace. The most important thing to get an agent’s attention is to keep us turning the pages and stop us from doing other things. The moment things lag, you’ve lost us.

3. Voice. This one’s more subjective, but the way to check if your book has voice is whether we can tell the difference between whose head we’re in or who is speaking at any given time. Everything about your writing style needs personality. What makes your book special? Your voice. It’s how we separate all the books out there.

4. Dialogue. This goes with my point above. I should be able to tell who is speaking–a character, not you the author. For me, this separates the beginners from the advanced writers.

5. Length. Does your book follow word count guidelines? If not, it’s an easy pass.

6. Structure. Getting experimental? Are chapters vastly different lengths? Jumping drastically from POV? If we can’t follow your structure, you’ve lost us.

7. Characters. Some people feel differently about the ‘likeability’ aspect of characters. Personally, I enjoy ‘liking’ characters, but more importantly: Do they grow? Do they evolve? Do we care about their stakes and what happens to them? If not, I’m not on board.

This comes from reading many, many slush pile manuscripts that I often like but don’t love.

Use this as a checklist.

Good luck!

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Top 8 Books About Writing

self-editing-for-fiction-writers1Need some extra writing advice? Love highlighting and taking notes? These are some of the resources I recommend the most. Enjoy!

Self Editing For Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

This is one of THE most important things writers can teach themselves. Put this one at the top of your list if you are revising right now.

On Writing by Stephen King

Everyone knows (or should know!) this one. It’s the best guide out there, unsurprisingly, from one of the best in the biz. You’ve probably already taken some of this book in; there are quotes are everywhere on Twitter and Tumblr.

Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (& workbook)

This book is so good for learning how to take your work from ‘good’ to ‘great.’ Who doesn’t want that? Written from the perspective of a literary agent, too. Continue reading Top 8 Books About Writing

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 How I Read Slush: 3 Lessons for Writers

Why I stop reading your manuscript

As you know agents don’t have time for reading things that don’t grab us. So what is it that makes us stop reading?

Characters are not compelling

I have to be on board with the main character. I have to feel like I understand them and are strongly invested in their journey. If I am feeling lukewarm for the main character I am not going to continue on.

I have no idea where the story is going

I don’t need a predictable manuscript, but I need to read a plot that has a purpose and a direction. Set up the journey for the reader early on, let us know what we can get excited about in the coming pages.

It’s starting in the wrong spot

I don’t have time to read past the first 100 pages to find the ‘true beginning’ of your book. If you don’t know how/where to start your novel then I can’t go finding it for you. Not only does it make me stop reading, it tells me that there is some serious editing to do that I might not have time for.  Continue reading Why I stop reading your manuscript