The Importance of a Polished Manuscript – A Guest Blog
Awhile ago, I asked an author to send me the first chapter of a manuscript they had queried. The author was unpublished, but they had an ok platform, which made me think that if the writing was fabulous I could maybe get somewhere with the project.
But the writing wasn’t fabulous. It lacked emotion and jumped around too much to allow the reader any sort of bearings. So, I declined representation, citing the author’s writing as my primary reason.
And here’s where it gets sad.
The author wrote me backing saying that they knew the manuscript was weak—that it was in fact the weakest of their manuscripts—but that they had sent it out anyway without really considering how it would affect the aftermath.
I’m not sure what advice writers are getting these days, but it appears as though it’s the general mindset that agents and editors exist to perfect, polish and publish. That we love spending our time teaching writers storytelling basics and that we’re much more energized by the possibility of what could be than the reality of what is.
Um… Folks, I think that’s a load of crap.
Over and over I come across brilliant story ideas backed by wonky rough drafts, exciting plotlines headlined by cookie cutter characters, and moving scenes flooded with embarrassing grammar and punctuation.
And I reject every one.
This isn’t a race, folks. There are no extra points for finishing first. But there are extra points for finishing with a publishable manuscript.
Don’t query until the manuscript is perfect. You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache.
– Amanda Luedeke is an Agent at MacGregor Literary
And some follow-up to ACFW questions…
Jan wrote to say, "When you were asked at the ACFW conference what you're looking for, you said 'high-concept literary fiction for the Christian or general market.' I don't even know what that means. Can you help?"
I can try. Someone in a group setting asked me to describe what I was looking for, and since I was afraid I'd have to start doing drugs if I had to face a bunch of writers who wanted to tell me about their Amish romances, that's what I came up with. I'd love to say I labored over it, but… well, it's not bad. I do a lot of literary fiction — probably more than most of the other CBA agents who attended. But I've learned that literary fiction sells best when it's tied to a high concept, rather than another one of those "Christian woman faces a difficult struggle which allows her to ruminate on her crappy life" type of literary novels. And I'm moving more and more toward the general market, so… that's what I said.
Now. How would I define it? Um, how's this: I like contemporary fiction that doesn't easily fit into some common genre category, but still offers a big enough story to make me pay attention. I suppose I need it to sound more artsy. Literary novelists sometimes have to be reminded that (a) I have to like your lead character if I'm going to keep reading, and (b) there has to be a big enough story to actually have a book, and (c) it has to seem enjoyable enough at the front end that I'll want to read the whole thing. Therefore I tend to look for those things in literary fiction. When you look at some of the literary novelists I represent (Lisa Samson, Susan Meissner, Claudia Burney, Gina Holmes, Ginger Garrett, Joyce Magnin, even Kimberly Stuart, who is lighter than the others but
Some ACFW Notes…
There has been a ton of buzz in the media about the just-completed American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference. It was big (more than 600 writers, about 700 people attending), it was fun (Susan May Warren teaching a line dance to 100 people at her pizza party stands out), and it has become influential (lots of media there — I had interviews with a national magazine and a large newspaper). A few things that stood out for me:
-As noted yesterday, Sandra Bishop of MacGregor Literary won "Agent of the Year." Congrats, SB! Well deserved.
–Jenny B Jones, an author we represent, won two "Book of the Year" Awards, in both the "Contemporary Romance" (for her novel Just Between You and Me) and the "Young Adult" categories (for I'm So Sure).
-Other authors we represent who were finalists in various categories included Vickie McDonough (a two-time finalist in the "Historical" category, plus a finalist in the "Short Contemporary" category), Joyce Magnin (in the "Long Contemporary" category for her fabulous book The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow), Susan Meissner (one of the great novelists in CBA today, for White Picket Fences), Mindy Starns Clark (for Under the Cajun Moon), Darlene Franklin (for A String of Murders), Janice Thompson (also a two-time finalist, for Pushing Up Daisies as well as Love Finds You in Poetry, Texas), Rachel Hauck's Sweet By and By in the "Women's Fiction" category, Lynette Sowell (for All That Glitters), and Jill Williamson (for By Darkness Hid - which we didn't represent at the time, but Jill is now represented by Amanda Luedeke). So a great night for our authors.
-By the way, the Book of the Year Award is now The Carol Award, named for longtime Bethany House fiction director Carol Johnson, who had significant influence on the direction and growth of Christian fiction over the past 25 years. In a very touching moment,
Home from ACFW … (where Sandra won Agent of the Year!)
Chip, Amanda, and I are all just coming off a six
day road trip to ACFW conference, followed by visits to several publishers. It’s
always good to get home.
The conference was great. We had a lot of fun
connecting with friends and associates in the world of ACFW. I worked very hard meeting hopeful authors;
connecting and praying with my clients; squeezing in times to confer with Chip
and Amanda whenever possible. Between us, we taught or participated in at least
half a dozen teaching and/or industry sessions. Chip did a great job as emcee
of Susan May Warren’s My Book Therapy pizza party. Though I had to duck out
early to attend a publishing dinner, I hear he helped move things along at the line
dance lesson which followed. Here’s a YouTube link to one of the most well
organized line dance lessons I’ve ever seen … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNvFf7tQH0w.
At the awards banquet, we were pleased to cheer
for all the winners, and picked up a few awards ourselves. Our very own Jenny
B. Jones won twice; once in the Young Adult category for I’m So Sure (Thomas Nelson) and again in the Long Contepmorary
Romance category for Just Between You and
Me (Thomas Nelson).
Jenny is always a hoot, and her off the cuff
acceptance speeches were no exception. If you weren’t there and would like to
get an asparagus-free taste of the awards banquet, check out the liveblog at http://acfw.com/conference/liveblog.shtml
led by Tyson Wynn of Wynn-Wynn Media.
By the time the Agent of the Year was announced, I’d
thoroughly decided there was no way I would possibly be walking up front to
accept the award, so I was thoroughly shocked, quite honestly, when my name was
called. I think my thirty-second-at-best acceptance remarks relayed this.
I will admit I was asked to prepare a speech just
in case, which I did. But learning mid-conference
Still talking books and authors…
Okay, so on Monday I spent some time answering questions from people about which books I’ve been reading and what I like. On Tuesday I got this response from someone: “Well, there’s really only ONE BOOK – the Bible. It’s more than a book, so nothing compares to it. But books written by the muse of man that I have enjoyed would include…”
Um… where do I start? First, there isn’t only “one book.” There are a lot of books, many of great value – even to people of faith. Second, I’ve never heard of a book that wasn’t “written by the muse of man.” For crying out loud. Third, that is without a doubt the most pompous note I’ve received in years.
Look, I appreciate that I have people of faith reading my blog. I'm a person of faith, and I represent a lot of Christian books. But I also live in the real world, not some hokey spiritual world where we need to always point out that we are religious. So give it a rest. Learn to write words that people want to read and you'll find more success. Geez…
Janet wrote to say, “Looking at all the religious fiction writers being published today, who do you think will be read and admired 25 years from now?”
First, this is a great question. It's also a bit of a slippery topic, since "popularity" and "longevity" don't always go hand in hand (in writing or in any other art). Tastes change and that pushes the culture away from one author and toward another. For example, Ernest Hemingway has long been considered one of America’s greatest writers. But as readers have moved away from his books, and as time has marched on, his reputation as a stylist has flagged considerably. And his buddy F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was reduced to writing B-movie scripts late in life because the reading public had
People have been asking me about books…
Vicki wrote to ask, “With all the new books coming out this fall, is there one that really stands out? Something you can’t wait to read?”
Sure. I’m a huge Mark Twain fan, and when he wrote his autobiography he asked that it not be published until 100 years after his death. The first volume (of three) releases this fall. I CAN’T WAIT.
Dawn asked me, "What is the book you're most excited about these days?"
From a business point of view? Well, Jim Rubart's ROOMS has been a steady-but-slow-grower, but after several months on the market it's just now hitting the bestseller lists (currently #18 on the ECPA fiction list). I'm excited about that one, because I think the more people who hear about it, the more will read it, and the bigger the fan base it will develop. I've said from the beginning that one had a chance to be a huge hit. And I should note that one author who is really generating excitement in the industry these days is Irene Hannon. I was listening to some editors talk at a conference recently, and the fiction director at a major house said, "Of course, Irene Hannon looks like she's going to own the romantic suspense category in CBA — she's taken the place of Dee Henderson." As you can imagine, that made me very happy. Irene is a total pro, has sold more than a million Harleqiun books, and it’s nice to see her books at Revell do so well in the broader market.
Deborah sent this: "I like literary fiction, and you tend to talk about literaries a lot. Which new releases would you recommend I read?"
I'm finally finished THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE ASSOCIATION, and loved it. Then read Audrey Niffenegger's HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY and was disappointed. But I'll tell you, if you don't read Lisa
Talking Agents and Authors
Suzanne wrote to ask, “How do agents feel about being ‘talked about’ by their clients? I rarely see published authors mention their agents in conversations, or hear them say, ‘My agent told me…’ Is there a protocol for mentioning your agent?”
I think you should feel free to say, "Sandra Bishop is my agent” or “I’m represented by Amanda Luedeke.” Most agents don't mind at all being talked about by their authors. We might get nervous if you were giving it out to everyone at a conference ("Call my agent Chip with this idea – here’s his home number"), but aside from that, there's no problem with talking about your agent to people. However, if it makes you feel nervous, you can just pass around a note in gym class ("I like Chip – check X for 'yes' or Y for 'no'").
Joni wrote and noted, “In a recent column, you said that agents prefer ‘proven authors.’ But then you went on to talk about how tough it is to get published without an agent. How can I be a ‘proven writer’ if I’m not published? How can I be a ‘proven writer’ if I don’t have an agent?”
You know, on its face that might seem logically inconsistent… but it's not. At least, not in my view. What I mean by a "proven writer’ is someone who has proven themselves, whether by books, articles, a blog, e-zines, curricula, or what have you. Someone who has done enough writing to prove himself or herself to me. If you haven't proven you can write, then you're going to have a hard time finding an agent. That's what I meant. Not just proven by doing books, but proven as in "she has proved to everyone she can write, and she knows it."
Writing fiction has its own set of issues, and it's very hard to prove yourself apart from doing some books.
NEWSDAY TUESDAY …
A NEW SEASON, A NEW PICTURE (and more updated website pics to come soon …)
AND LOTS OF RECENT MACGREGOR LITERARY DEALS DONE :
Ginger Garrett is collaborating with celebrity stylist and life coach
Michelle Phillips on a beauty and lifestyle book titled THE BEAUTY
Cheryl Moeller is creating CREATIVE AND COMPLETE COOKING WITH DUAL CROCKPOTS for Harvest House
Jay Payleitner is writing three more books for Harvest House, including 52 THINGS WIVES NEED FROM THEIR HUSBANDS
Pat Rushford is writing another title for Guidepost's HOPE HAVEN series
Wesleyan has contracted Arloa Sutter to create two follow up Bible studies for her upcoming social justice title, THE INVISIBLE
Releasing in 2011, Melanie Dobson's next title with Summerside; LOVE FINDS YOU IN AMANA, IOWA
Susy Flory and Mike Hingson are collaborating on a book for Thomas
Nelson about a blind man who, working high in the World Trade Center on
Sept 11th, was led down 70 flights of stairs to safety by his guide
Mel Lawrenz, the longtime pastor at Elmbrook Church in Wisconsin, is doing a book on "spiritual leadership" with Zondervan.
Vicki Hinze's LOST INC, a suspense series about a government department
looking into unsolved cases, has been sold to Harlequin.
Nicole O'Dell's THE WISHING PEARL, the first in a new YA series about
teens facing difficult life dilemmas, has been contracted with Barbour.
Rachel Hauck's THE WEDDING DRESS, chroncling the history of a beautiful
wedding gown that serves a major role i the lives of four women over
100 years, has been contracted with Thomas Nelson.
Leslie Gould and Mindy Starns Clark are teaming up to write THE WOMEN OF LANCASTER COUNTY with Harvest House.
Shane Stanford, author of A POSITIVE LIFE, is going to write MAKING
LIFE MATTER, which explains how the steps to leading an extraordinary
life are found in the ordinary decisions and attitudes of our
day-to-day lives. It was contracted with Abingdon,
On Relationships in Publishing
Donna wrote to ask, "Is it possible to have two agents, one for fiction and one for nonfiction, or one for ABA and one for CBA?"
It's possible, I guess. I'm not a fan of this plan, since I think it makes it harder for an agent to do his or her job in terms of career planning. Still, some people do it. The alternative? Find an agent who fits what you do.
Julie wrote with this: "Some agents have a large number of clients, and represent very successful authors. But where does the midlist client fit in today's market?"
I think your question presupposes that having a small list of clients is a good thing — perhaps better than being part of a larger agency. In my view, it's not as simple as that. First of all, I don't think most authors would know what a large or small number of clients is. I represent around 40 or 50 authors. Is that large? Not in publishing — it's fairly small. But so what? You don't sign up with an agent because he or she has only five clients, do you? You sign up with an agent because he or she does a good job, knows how to help you, is a fit for you and your work, and can help make you successful. Move from the world of books to the world of investments for a moment – Would you prefer to hand your hard-earned money to a startup guy who admits he doesn't have many clients, or to somebody with a proven track record of success? (And I"m not making an argument for going with a big agency here — I'm just trying to show the weakness of this particular argument.) Janet Grant, a friend and a very good literary agent, and I are two of the people who have been agenting the longest in CBA. We've both seen
When Good Titles Go Bad – from Amanda Luedeke
Going Nude: How I Kicked an Addiction, Gained a Dress Size, and Discovered the Real Me
The above title is a fictional example of a writer being too clever for her own good. Sure, it has everything. It’s perfectly-structured, in that the subtitle properly explains what the book is about, while the main title merely suggests at awesomeness. It has wording that makes passersby do a double-take. It’s catchy, relevant and zeroed in on its target audience.
And yet … it’s the very type of title that is exactly what a publisher asks for but not what they want.
Let’s break this down:
1) Shock-value Words. SEX! PORN! DRUGS! SEX AGAIN! This is a serious soap box of mine. I’m sick and tired of writers trying to grab my attention with shock-value words. The worst part is they usually appear just like that … lined up in all caps. The truth of the matter is, yes, publishers want a title that grabs attention. One that’s in your face and, to some degree, shocking. But they’re never interested in titles that are offensive. Or creepy. Or just plain in bad taste. Though GOING NUDE would maybe fly with some publishers, others would simply roll their eyes and toss it aside. Because shock-value words always come across as cheap. Not to mention they tell the publisher that the author’s plan for selling the book has everything to do with a great title and cover. (And in case you haven’t heard Chip’s story, that plan’s already taken… by the publisher).
2) Unintentional negatives. Even though the title clearly indicates that the author’s increased dress size did nothing to damage her confidence, appeal, or looks, readers aren’t going to see it that way. Imagine yourself in a bookstore, desperately looking for the perfect book to give your sister who’s struggling with an addiction. Are you going to choose the title