Monday, June 15, 2009

Presenting Your Best Stuff

If you've completed your first manuscript, congratulations to you on your accomplishment. You rock! Although you may be tempted to find an agent pronto, don't do this. Some writers are so anxious to find representation when, or even before, they type THE END, that they send out queries before the work is truly finished. Definitely don't do this. A blog post on Authonomy from a published author with multiple works on bookstore shelves recommended you do this. That is grossly bad advice. Bad. Don't listen to her or your inner impatient beast. Wait. You need to edit your work first, many times over before you do anything with it.

In the competitive world of publishing, especially during this economic crunch where less books will roll out in ink, you want to present your best stuff, not your first draft, not your half-written draft. And because you can't be objective about your own work, you will need to find some reviewers who can give you deep critiques, not just looking for grammatical booboos but also for solid beginnings to each chapter, hooky endings, a good amount of conflict, inconsistencies, plot holes, overused crutch words or turns of phrase, pertinent dialogue, good flow and rhythm, etc. Your editing phase should not be just an effort to find your missing commas, it should be about examining the whole structure and individual parts, then polishing your work and bringing it to a plane of excellence so that it can stand out like a glorious, cut jewel in a land full of rocks.

The biggest problem with rushing out of the gate too fast, is if you query agents with sub-par work, polishing as you go, and garner enough rejections to wallpaper your bathroom, then you will have no one to query but the dregs in the bottom of your barrel when your work is pristine. Once you query an agent with a particular work and get a NO, that's it; you can score him or her off you list. Even worse, if you've been rejected, some agencies don't even like you to query other agents in their employ, so not only have you missed out on one agent but potentially many.

I know one overly eager writer who has queried many agents but is still tweaking her first chapters, and by tweaking I mean writing completely different scenes, and trying to adapt her book to YA. I have no clue why anyone would query when they haven't even deemed their work done but she has. One of her problems was she had too many reviewers commenting on her work and she got frazzled by the conflicting advice.

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With critique, you must take everything with a grain of salt. If many people are saying the same thing, it's time to listen and consider a change. But if one person is saying this and another saying that, go with your gut, go with what works best for the story and trust in your vision.

* * *

So, this writer, who has a wicked fab concept and a stellar writing ability to weave good characters with intriguing complexity BUT holds a slightly frayed piece at present, has burned bridges to success. Who will she query when her book finally extends beyond being potentially good to just plain good? Anyone? Anyone? Crickets are chirping.

Don't make that mistake. Make sure your work is complete, good, polished and gripping. Don't take another step until it is. Just don't.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.


  1. Good advice, Courtney. As usual, you find a way to help educate and encourage the writing community. If there's an award for helpful wannabe blogs, you're destined to be at the top of the list.

    Great stuff.

  2. Thanks, Darc. You're so sweet. I'm glad you enjoy my blog.

  3. Your advice is greatly appreciated. I didn't realize that once an agent has turned down an author's manuscript, he won't reconsider subsequent submissions by that same author.

    Thanks for the writing tips.

  4. If it's for the same work, generally not, unless you've given it a major overhaul. You're free to query other works.

  5. Great advice! It is hard to fight the impatient nature within, but better in the long run. I know I don't want to offer anything that isn't my best work!

  6. Thanks, Dara. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

  7. "If many people are saying the same thing . . . "

    But what if all they're saying is "No"?

    Agents send rejection notes. Full stop.

    There are no reasons why listed, no explanations, no suggestions. Did my query letter suck? Does my book sound boring? Is no one reading that genre anymore? Did the agent not get laid last night and is so peed off that everything is being rejected this morning?

    A thousand people can read my book and offer a thousand suggestions. Whom do I listen to? At what point do I say, Enough!, these are my words, this is my style, this is my story, bite me!?

    Writers are like blind people wandering in the minefield. A lucky few will survive. Most will die in a bright flash, nothing to mark their passing but pink mist.

    The best advice YOU should be offering is to encourage people to keep walking into that minefield. There is no magic route — if there was, not one of us would be able to name a single dreadful book we've ever read (Hello, John Grisham. Hello, Dan Brown.)

    Just. Keep. Moving. Forward.

    --John Ireland
    (Brown Girls)

  8. I always encourage people to keep moving forward. That's what my blog is all about, inspiring people to do their best and to keep improving. I don't believe in magic routes nor did I ever imply it. Here, I'm just talking about having polished work before shopping it. That's the first step to being taken seriously. I don't think you should let others crimp your style, unless you just plain suck or are a rebel at every turn.

    One writer on a writing forum wanted to break every writing rule known to man, using punctuation loosely, leaving off apostrophes, not using quotation marks, etc. Okay. That's a style, and he's passionate about it, but it's not recommended, especially for an unpublished author.

    It would be frustrating to receive no feedback from agents because then a writer doesn't know which part of the submission is off-putting. Hopefully, I get some feedback on the matter.

    If rejections keep pouring in, I'd recommend finding some BETA readers to see if they can pinpoint any rough spots.

  9. Thanks so much. :) I'm glad you found it helpful.