Monday, December 9, 2013

Think Like An Agent Or Editor Before You Submit

Writers are interesting people. They spend all of their waking hours thinking like a writer. Their minds are full of writing craft and it seems that everything they do and say during the day can somehow link back to their independent time in front of the computer typing out their stories. When you talk to them, they understand everything (or at least pretend to) about point of view, crafting the right line, goals, motivations and conflicts. And yet, when it comes to the real world, we often find they are lacking. 

No, I am not talking about that introvert side of writers that we see (yes this is a generalization). What I am referring to is how they think of their books and their submissions they send out to editors and agents, and yes, even the products they send out to the readers on their own if they chose that route to publishing.

I know that I am not alone on this one. There are far too many times when I have read a submission or listened to a pitch, when I ask myself "What were they thinking?" There have been cases when I am completely stunned at what was presented to me. In every one of these cases, I do believe it stems from the writer not really thinking.  More specifically, they were not thinking like the person on the other side of the table.

I teach a research writing class and one batch of writing they do are analysis essays of other writer's work (not peer editing). They are to really spend the time dissecting what works and doesn't work with the articles they read and then respond to each. Now part of this activity is to learn to write in this format as well as to understand analysis. But the bigger picture is to think like a reader. If you read something and you simply don't like what the person did, do you want to take that skill and put it into your own writing? On the reverse side, if you love an approach, would you want to use that skill the next time the situation arises for you?

With that idea in mind, as you craft your current story, is this really something you would want to read if you were someone buying a book. You need to ask yourself (honestly), "If I were looking for my next book to read, would I buy this book?" You would also extend it to ask a few more questions"
  • What is it about this book that intrigues me?
  • What do I like about the voice?
  • Do I like the characters?
  • Can I personally relate to the characters?
The key is that you have to be honest. Yes, I understand you are biased because it is your own work, but that is probably you thinking like a writer...NOT A READER!

This skill doesn't apply just to the writing. Before you hit send with that submission, stop and look at not just the product but the query letter and the entire package. You are now an editor or agent and have received this letter in the mail. Based on what you just sent, based on that "first impression" would you want to work with this person.

Before you answer this, let me put you in the right mindset. It is now 5:30 pm. You have been in the office since 7:00 am and have been in editorial meetings, talking to the art department, on the call with some agents about other projects, spent time editing a few of your own clients' works-in-progress, sending out letters, and probably eating lunch at your desk. It is late, you want to go home but there are 100 new submissions sitting on your computer and want to get through a couple before you leave. You might even transfer a few over to your e-reader to look at on the commute home. Now...
  • Do you see enough in the query to want to read more?
  • Is this writer showing you a marketable product?
  • Are you seeing something that intrigues you in this story.
  • As you scan the synopsis, does the story look like it has enough structure that you can work with it without months of revision?
  • Does this writer sound professional? Remember, you are going to have to work with this person?
In simple terms, after that small submission, would you ask for more?

I do honestly believe that many of you would reject that person on the other side of the submission. The reason is that you are now looking at your submission from a different perspective. And yes, the same goes for pitching to!

I hear too many times writers complaining that "if editors and agents would read the whole story, they would understand and like my writing." They are thinking like a writer. Would you really do that if you were seeing it for the first time?

Just something to chew on for a Monday!

1 comment:

  1. This is all too true. I had my book edited by a self-publisher and then it was released. Everything was done too fast. After two poor reviews on Goodreads, I realized that my book needed to be polished further. I read a self-editing book written by two editors. I spoke to many people and received a lot of advice. Two sets of edits later, I am still planning on one more big edit.
    At that point, my book might be ready to be submitted to agents and publishers. I wanted it be my best effort. It might not be picked up, but I will know that I gave it all my time, support, and love. It is the type of book that I would love to read. Paranormal mysteries aren't that common--ones that don't rely on romance to sell.
    Thanks for your article. It inspires me,
    Susanne Leist