Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Recently I received two queries that I thought held promise. So I asked to see the proposals and first chapters. On close inspection, I found both projects weren’t ready to be submitted. As I list the issues I observed, use my concerns as a checklist for your next project, whether you’re submitting to an agent, an editor, or in fulfillment of a current contract.
Lacking in focus. Both projects–which were narrative nonfiction–were like rudderless boats. The writers were clacking away on their computer keys but hadn’t taken the time to ask:
What’s the best structure for my manuscript?
What do I want my reader to take away from my manuscript? (Now there’s an important question neither writer could answer!)
Missing an emotional connection with readers. Part of engaging the reader is putting him or her into your material through vivid description of the setting, of the “characters” surrounding you, and how you responded emotionally to events. Or, in the case of fiction, making your protagonist sympathetic but not weak. Even a book on how to create relationships with neighbors benefits from your telling the reader about the day you decided to invest yourself in a neighbor’s life. What drove you to that decision? What had kept you from going there before? Were you nervous? How did your neighbor respond? Once the reader has connected with how you (or your protagonist) felt, the reader is hooked on reading further.
Didn’t understand the manuscript’s category. Book categories exist for a reason. They communicate to the reader what to expect from books in that genre. Readers have unspoken expectations when they are told a book fits in a certain category. When they buy a romantic suspense, they expect the book to have strong suspense elements and a romance woven throughout the plot. If the romance isn’t strong enough or if the suspense is developed insufficiently, the reader will be disappointed.
If the writer hasn’t read widely in his or her chosen category and studied what characteristics are true about it, how will the writer create a manuscript that meets expectations?
Give credence to any feedback you receive. Don’t dismiss advice that is hurtful or seems downright off-base. Look carefully to see if some gem of helpful insight is tucked into the comments. And consider the source. If an agent or editor offers you reasons for a rejection, remember that a professional evaluator–who has picked sufficient winners in the past to make a living at this–is the source.
Don’t rush to submit. I tell my clients over and over again, until I’m sure they roll their eyes, that a manuscript only has one chance to get a yes from an agent or an editor. It’s the rare project that will get a second look. Just because you’ve written the first three chapters–or even the entire manuscript–doesn’t mean it’s ready to submit. Impatience is a writer’s worst enemy. Resist the urge to give in to the need to submit until you’re confident your project is ready.
Make sure you, the writer, is prepared to submit. Sometimes, especially when a writer is telling his or her anguished story in the form of narrative nonfiction, memoir, or even a fictionalized version, the manuscript might be publishable, but the author isn’t ready. You might need only to write your story for your own benefit, as part of processing your experience. Or you might need to wait to submit your work until you’re emotionally strong enough to handle the editing process (which can be brutal sometimes) and giving interviews.
When I wrote my first book manuscript, an editor at HarperCollins read it and liked it but said to me, “You probably can find a publisher for this book, but I encourage you not to submit it to anyone else. If you wait a few years, you’ll write a very different book. A better book.”
I thought his advice was gobbledygook. If the manuscript was publishable, why wait? I didn’t. Looking back, I now understand what that editor meant. I could have given the world a better book.
Looking back, do you recognize times you submitted a project prematurely? What was the outcome? Do you have regrets?
What techniques do you use to know when your project is ready to submit?
How do you know when a book project is ready to submit? Click to tweet.
Avoid submitting book proposals prematurely. Click to tweet.