Happy Agent Monday, folks! If you’re like me, you are sitting there blinking, saying, “AUGUST? Already???” But we are already getting slightly shorter days, cooler nights and those cicadas are buzzing as if to say “hur-ry hur-ry hur-ry.” So now’s the time to squeeze in your summer moments, and to revisit those writerly goals. Like many writers, you may have set aside summer to finish up work on a book and get it ready for subbing to an agent. And in writer world, September seems to be the time for submission ACTION. Inboxes explode with query letters, agents quicken their steps, editors perk up in their chairs ready to find the next “one.” Is it your book? Truthfully, I see a lot of pretty cool ideas in my own agent inbox, but I also send out a ton of rejections. So today, as you ready yourself for your own submission adventures, I’d like to talk a bit about how a great book is much more than an idea.
So here’s the thing. A great idea will make me nod and read on, hoping upon hope that you can pull it off. But all too often, writers don’t pull it off. Here are some things that get in the way and quickly yield a rejection:
Reaching out to an agent is, in fact, applying for a professional position in a business relationship. If you label yourself as unprofessional, I’m not going to work with you no matter how cool your idea is. Sending out mass email queries where you don’t even have the courtesy of addressing me by name? How would that go down if you were applying for a job? Not good. Query letter and manuscript riddled with poor punctuation, spelling, grammar? This is a WRITING JOB, so also not good. Acting like an a-hole in your query? (Saying things like, “You’d be lucky to have me,” or “I know all you agents aren’t going to answer me and only take on people who pay you off, but…” etc.) I’m not going to work with you. The end.
2. Poor Writing
The greatest idea in the world can’t overcome poor writing. Clunky dialogue. Awkward word choices. Amateur mistakes such as info dumping in the beginning pages or starting the book at a point long before the real story kicks in. Going off on irrelevant tangents. And the worst crime of all: being boring. Again: the end.
3. Good Writing, But…
Sometimes the idea is great and writing is smooth and clean in those first 20 pages that come with the query letter. Okay, I’ll bite and ask for the full manuscript. BUT, here’s where, once again, you need to deliver more than that great idea. Much more. More than adequate writing. Over the course of the novel, I frequently see serious structure problems. The story drags or veers seriously off course, leaving the reader far behind. The book needs to get even better, more interesting, more intense as I read. Somehow writers often drop the ball after that great start. Things get predictable, or repetitive, or the elements that drew me in at the start are forgotten. These are the manuscripts that I fail to finish. And it’s a shame. The idea and the start looked so promising…
You need to bring your A-game if you are intent on getting an agent and cracking those top publishing markets. So remember that a book is an investment in time, not just for you the writer, but, more importantly, for your readers. You need so much more than just a cool idea.
Give your manuscript and query letter a really close look and tight edit. Bring me your very best. Draw me in and keep me enthralled till that very last word.
And hur-ry hur-ry hur-ry. September is on its way!
*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.