5 ways to Lose an Agent

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Genre, mainstream, literary, children’s, YA. Whatever your pleasure. As long as the narrative is strong and the story is ready to go.

This agent could make all the difference




Just a month ago an emerging writer offered the opinion that it was too hard publishing the traditional way. Publishers took such a long time reading manuscripts. And really, agents, they hardly count, do they, if you’re self-publishing… sorry, indie-publishing.

My first observation is, yes, self-publishing looks easy. My second: Self-publishing is not indie-publishing. My third: Agents and publishers are the best measure of a manuscripts readiness.

Yes, they sometimes get it spectacularly wrong, but the percentages are in single digits.

And remember, publishers seldom have the time to properly read all unsolicited manuscripts, but they usually have time for an agent they respect.

When that agent says,”You should try this new writer”, then the publisher pays special attention.

We’re all looking for something new and fresh to lay before our agent of choice. We’ve greats ideas to share. But to have those ideas considered we need to think about what might put an agent off.

You may lose your chance at the agent of your choice though:

  1. poor control of the basics.  If you can’t control the basics like grammar, punctuation, or even fonts, how can you demonstrate you are the writer of their choice.  It’s not good enough to tell an agent you have a great story, you have to show agents you can tell it.
  2. ignoring their guidelines. Agents give a good deal of consideration into crafting guidelines that can help them and the writer. If they want the sub via email, don’t bother posting. If they want a synopsis of one page double-spaced, give them one page.  Don’t try to fit in a longer synopsis by offering one page single-spaced.  In they want one chapter, don’t… You get the drift. Give them what they want.
  3. flat synopses. Practice writing synopses. Learn what is important to your story and how to get it down in a vibrant interesting style in one page. Although you do need to indicate how the story ends,  you don’t have to telegraph that amazing twist you’ve planned.
  4. ineffective cover letters don’t give agents what they want to hear. As well as a little info about the MS they want to know about you, the writer, but only information connected to your future writing career. Writing for a local newsletter does not impress, so don’t bring it up. Completing a university degree relevant to creative writing may impress. Certainly, advising that you best friend thinks the story is aces will get you nowhere, unless the friend is, for  example, a well known figure in publishing. Similarly, declaring that you expect your story to sell for six figures announces to the world your ignorance of the business.
  5. ignorance of the business. Writers make mistakes, often not because they choose to be dismissive of the business, but because they haven’t had the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the publishing world. If writers were to believe broadcast media, then they would believe writing was easy, and that all a writer needed was a great idea. Attending conferences and festivals, like WriteFest, will help a writer better understand the journey ahead.

I suppose, to a beginning writer who’s just finished the 10th draft of a first novel, all this seems like too much hard work but time spent working on perfecting the basics, crafting synopses, constructing cover letters, learning about the business and respecting the need to follow guidelines all build new skills that, in the end, will make your book stronger.

Submission guidelines available here. Closing March 31.

See you at WriteFest.