Tag Archives: consideration

Dec 08

“Preparing Your Manuscript for an Agent” by Mary Deal

Preparing Your Manuscript for an Agent

by

Mary Deal

Being aware of what agents look for will help you prepare the type of manuscript they will read. Keep in mind, these same rules apply once you have an agent and the manuscript is being sent out to publishing house editors.

All agents hope to find that one manuscript that is unique above all the others. It’s been said that all stories have been told. What makes them different is each individual writer’s slant on the topic, providing they have written a solid story.

When an agent begins to read, after years of experience, they are keen to grammar flaws. This is one area that could cause an agent or editor to reject a manuscript without consideration of any of its other merits.

Too, how long is your manuscript? Paper books presently should be 60,000 to 80,000 words. Anything more than that, since it’s the requirement, the agent will believe the writer too verbose, lacking control over their adjectives and adverbs and overall sentence structure.

With the advent of hand-held readers, entire books are now converted to ebooks. There may or may not be word count restrictions. Still, your story must be good to merit the higher-end costs of ebooks as well.

If the agent or editor reads on, they do so with one motivation. They need to decide if this book, when published, will sell enough to make back their commission and any advance royalty paid to the writer. And still, the book must make a profit for the publishing house beyond that point.

The agent or editor will also be judging the writer’s overall presentation. Is it neat? Was the cover letter professional? Did it follow standard form? Did the writer seem to know what he or she talked about. What they look for is how you, the writer will perform after the book is published. Are you going to be difficult to work with? Are you going to go out of your way to make this book a success? Or do you believe that’s the publisher’s duty?

Professionals know immediately if they want to spend the time to read all the way through. They are also concerned if a reader will want to spend hours with the story and author. They scrutinize to see if the writer’s descriptions are fresh and different. What the agent looks for is individual voice. It was once enough to say “the trees had greened up after the last heavy rain;” another to say “the morning sun reflected in the raindrops on the new green leaves and made the trees sparkle.” Your voice shows in how you describe scenes and action. Your description must be different than anything else you’ve read.

An agent is keenly aware whether or not they will turn from the first page to the second. Agents read thousands of stories. They know by the end of the first page if the book will stack up against others in the same genre.

Have you written characters that an agent will appreciate? Your characters must stand out from all the rest. For character development, see my articles Faces and Quirks and Character Sketches. Everyone, from agent, to editor to publisher to avid reader must like your characters. Make them likeable or make them the kind of characters we love to hate, but make them memorable.

The overall plot must be about something the characters need to attain or obtain. They must want it desperately or the reader simply will not care enough to follow the character through whatever conflict arises.

Not only in nonfiction but in fiction as well, your facts must be right. In nonfiction it can be no other way. If you wish to make your fiction true to life, which helps the reader suspend reality and keep reading, get your facts straight too.

Dialogue moves the story. It must be written in such a manner that enhances the character’s personality. Dialogue exchanges between characters must propel the story. Ordinary conversation is never written into books. It is boring and says nothing really. Consider this:

“Good morning, John.”

“Good morning, Jim. What’s on the agenda today?”

“Guess we’re supposed to take the plane out for a test run today.”

They went to leave immediately.

Or this:

“Morning, John,” Jim said, rushing in. He thumbed toward the sky. “Let’s get upstairs before the boss sees the plane still sitting on the tarmac.”

Ordinary conversation has no place in good writing. Dialogue and beats move the action. Oh yes, see my article titled Let the Dialogue Speak.

The above could easily be included in the instruction we’ve all heard: Show, Don’t Tell. Simply, what this means is that the reader must see the action happening. Dialogue promotes action. Any time the writer begins to tell what a person thinks, how they interact with others, that should raise a red flag in the writer’s mind. See the two examples above? The first version contains dead dialogue and stalls the action. The second example not only contains dialogue that moves the story, but shows us what these two people are doing. Shows, doesn’t tell.

* * *

Most of the information in this article applies to both agents and editors. You must find an agent before you can approach a publishing house editor. The agent does that for you. In rare instances I’ve heard about someone submitting directly to an editor, but it usually turns out to be a small start up publishing house. If you wish to approach the big houses, get an agent.

To help you find an agent, try the site which does not charge a fee. In my experience they have been totally reputable:

http://agentquery.com

The agents listed on this site tell you what types of manuscripts they will accept and in which genres. It’s very thorough.

http://www.writersmarket.com

These are the people who publish those real thick volumes about everything you need to know as a writer. The book is expensive. However, if you sign up for their online edition, you get new listings and updates as new information come in all year long.

You can double check the credibility of an agent or editor you wish to contact by finding them on Preditors and Editors at:

http://pred-ed.com/

Preditors and Editors tell you who is legitimate and who is a scam. Yes, there are scam artists in the writing industry. You knew that, right?

I’m sure other sites have additional information but these are great places to begin your search.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Aug 04

Mary Deal Provides “8 Tips for Beginning Writers”

Tip #1 – Store Your Notes

Usually when I see great writing tips, I have a file set up in Word called – what else? – “Writing Tips.” I copy and paste the advice into my file to refer to when needed. Any handwritten notes I’ve made as reminders also get posted there.

Tip #2 – Be Prepared to Write

Keep writing materials handy no matter where you go. That one item you forgot to write down, and then forgot completely, could have been the one fragment that made your story memorable.

A true writer makes notes everywhere they go. If we’re without a laptop, as I am, we carry note pads and pens. JK Rowling used paper table napkins because she used to sit in her favorite cafe lamenting on her jobless plight – till a shift happened in her mind and she started penning the notes for her first novel.

Tip #3 – Beginnings

Avoid using empty words to start a story. Some empty words are:

There – refers to a place
They – refers to people
That – refers to a thing
It – refers to almost anything

Without first knowing the content your story, we have no idea to what each refers. For example, one person may write:

There were four of them. Without yet knowing the story, ask yourself: Where were they? Who were they? A better way to bring the action forward would be to say, Four of them appeared. Or get directly into the meat of your story and say, Four men dressed in black mysteriously appeared out of nowhere. You can write much more succinctly if you will use descriptive words, and not empty ones to start a story or sentence.

Exceptions are:

The Charles Dickens line: It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. I see no way to improve on that – or emulate it.

Also: It was a dark and stormy night, coined by the Victorian writer, Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. Surely, you wouldn’t write: A dark and stormy night had overtaken us. Or would you?

Tip #4 – The First Word of a Story

The first word of the first sentence of the first paragraph under the story title must grab attention. The first sentence must sustain the attention, and on through the first paragraph. If the first word or sentence is boring, or says nothing in particular, the readers’ expectations of a good story are killed.

What if you wrote: It was a quiet town with quiet people. Does that give you any idea at all as to what the story might be about?

You can use the word “the” to begin anywhere, but what follows “the” then becomes the attention grabber.

Here’s an example of starting with “the” from my adventure novel, The Tropics: The jagged scar on Pablo’s belly wriggled like a snake when he ran.

Here’s the attention grabber from my Egyptian fantasy, The Ka: “Witch!” Randy Osborne said as he strode around the room wearing a contemptible smirk.

And from my thriller, River Bones: Blood-red letters filled the top of the monitor screen: Serial Killer Victim Identified.

Then from my latest thriller, Down to the Needle: “The perp torched himself…”

Start your stories with words and action that pull the reader in.

Tip #5 – Use of the Passive Voice

Passive voice should be used with serious consideration as to how it affects your story.

A bad example: The house was cleaned by someone else. Here, the object of the action is the subject of the sentence.

A good example: Someone else cleaned the house. “Someone else” did the action. They should be the subject of the sentence. Ask yourself who or what is doing that action. They are the subject of the sentence, not the action.

Passive voice can best be used, and sparingly, when writing in first person. Example: I was hit by the car.

Tip #6 – A Rejection for a Comma

My publishing house editor returned my manuscript again after I made most of the changes suggested in the first edit. The editor referred me to the Chicago Manual of Style and told me to get it right.

What’s wrong with this sentence? He mumbled as if confused, tried the knob, grunted and tried again.

The Chicago Manual of style says (Page 173 of the 14th Edition):

5.57 – In a series consisting of three or more elements, the elements are separated by commas. When a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series, a comma is used before the conjunction.

Therefore the corrected sentence is: He mumbled as if confused, tried the knob, grunted, and tried again.

Did you spot the correction? Can you sense the difference as you read it?

In order to avoid rejections, the grammar in your story must conform to the rules if you know a certain publisher adheres to the Chicago Manual of Style.

Tip #7 – Avoid Splitting Infinitives

Be conscious of any form of “to be.” A great example of a split infinitive is “To boldly go where no man…” Everyone knows that line. It just doesn’t sound right to use: “To go boldly where no man…”
Look at these two:

“To be, or not to be.”

“To be, or to not be.”

Though split infinitives are a matter of style, incorrect usage at the wrong time can ruin a good story.

Tip #8 – Edit and Revise

We MUST edit and revise as many times as necessary to get it right. Otherwise, what could we expect but another rejection? Knowing if a story is right comes with experience of editing our own work as if it were someone else’s.

Once writers think their stories are finished and polished, even though they may have had a great edit, they refuse to go through another rewrite. Then, I ask, what’s the sense of having the piece edited? I edited my entire “Ka” novel manuscript – 885 manuscript pages (410 book pages) – a MINIMUM of 30 times over four years and stopped counting after that. Point is, the story had to be right before anyone other than my personal editors saw it. All of that happened before the publisher’s editor saw it. Then there were two more edits following that person’s sage advice.

Most of us writers are not English majors or PhD’s. No matter how good we believe our writing to be, editing is the only means to perfecting our craft.
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