Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why is your writing good?

This one goes out to those people that had requests for full manuscripts and more importantly, those of you that sold a book to a publisher.

Why is your writing good? What was it that caused the editor or agent to buy that book?

Be careful how you answer though, because I have to be honest - I am betting many authors have absolutely no clue why they sold their book. Oh sure, they have guesses and they will attribute the sale to a ton of different things, but the real reason the book sold is the one you need to continue to find success.

I have mentioned this before but I will say it again. I always encourage people to stop before they start getting excited about taking a class from a "published" author or when they get feedback from a contest from a "published" author. Do they really know what they are talking about? Do they even know why they sold.

The key to success in this business is showing both consistency, variety, and growth. The writers want to see you produce other stories of the same caliber as that first one. It was that first book they got excited about with the strength and the power and they want to see more of it. On the other hand, they don't want to see a duplicate of that same book. They want you to find a new approach, to find a new twist and so forth. Finally, they want to see that writing grow into something better. For right now, I want to focus on the first two points.

I have seen a lot of writers produce great first (and second and potentially third) books. These books are great and although similar, I can see why the editor liked the stories. Each really showcased the "brand" of the author. But what happens next is often a shame. The editor just doesn't want any more. The author sent in a ton of proposals but each one is rejected. Why? The stories were either the same, or the stories just didn't showcase what the book was bought for in the first place. In other words, the writer just didn't know what it was about their writing that makes it special.

This is a tough thing to figure out, but every now and then, it is important to sit down and examine your writing. Not just alone, but in comparison to the other stories similar in your genre. Along the same lines, it is important to sit down with your agent or editor and discuss the writing. I do this with my writers (when they are ready). Once they are published, we talk about their style and genre. What is it that will make that writing continue to be strong but to find a new twist.

If not, you will end up like many of the writers I have seen on the casualty list:

Writer #1 - Sold two books to publisher in 2003 and not one since then.
Writer #2 - Sold somewhere between 10-15 books to the same publisher and then cut off.
Writer #3 - Sold several books in the early 1990's that did really well but can't make a sale again.
Writer #4 - Sold a great first three -book deal to a major publisher but now has no clue what to write next. The only solution - add more to the same series.

R.I.P Authors.



  1. Scott, you make such good sense that I wish I could annoy you with a query, but you don't rep my type of paranormal mystery/urban fantasy.

  2. Bernita,

    I do look at Paranormal and I do look at fantasy, I'm just pretty picky with what I look for.

    If you think there might be a chance, feel free to send it. But it is good to see you are doing your research before submitting.


  3. Scott, I heart you. And second Bernita. I did find a super awesome agent recently though, thanks for all the superb info on your blog! (I used it to my advantage, bwa haha)

    I for one would like more posts on you determine what it is about your writing that is special. I am sure my agent and I will talk about it at a point, but I like to be ahead of the game.

    Do you ever take post requests??

    Keep up the outstanding work!

  4. Scott, Scott. You are so astute and thoughtful when it comes to your profession, that a writer can hardly keep up with your thoughts.
    There is such a thing as too much good stuff. I am still buried alive in "a woman's journry."
    My female lead has always been the least compelling character for me, in the book. Women had few choices in that era. But once you asked the question, I actually sat down and thought, why in the most turbulent period of British history, do I keep insisting that her life is of no intetest, to me or anyone? If I could tell this story from the male point of view, I surely would have done it.
    But everything concerning women was up for grabs in this period, and it made me wonder if I was the one who was keeping her life from being touched by all of this.
    Yowser!Of course someone bright and restless could not have remained unaffected by these major social upheavals.
    You are creating a lot of extra work for some of us well-intewntioned writers.
    AS for today's comment, let me add the observation that many of these writers seem to have simply run out of story, as it were, but editors and reader demand, and the need for more income ,push them on and on. Several of the very best writers i8 have been reading for years, so clearly do need to think about a new direction, but they keep plugging on with essentially the same story line, even when there is so clearly nothing else to be said.
    My heart really goes out to any writer caught in this dilemma. This where a good agent can deliver the bad news. No matter how much the fans will complain, this story line needs to come to an end. Life is surely a long tough road. As always, thank you for your honesty.

  5. Scott, I read on your website that you sold to Pocketbooks. But I didn't see what and the author's name. Can you fill me in?

  6. Hey good post.
    If I could get past the "is my writing good?" question, then I'll definitely be thinking about why.
    It's true that some bestsellers seem to know why their stuff rocks and they totally use it.
    While their plots/characters may change, there's always that one thing going strong in the book. (whatever it is that made the author famous)
    But such a good post. I read tons of blogs everyday and haven't seen an agent mention this, that I can remember.