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I remember years ago having someone say to me, “As long has you have a good story, it doesn’t matter what your writing is like. That’s what editors are for.”

I can just hear the gasps echoing throughout the writing community as the murmur or a witch hunt is organised.

I research a lot. I like research. Very lucky thing considering I’m a writer. And, like most writers, I have read much on the subject of writing. From all that advice, and I am talking tons of it, one main point consistently raised its ugly head….The advice was contradicting.

“Agents want first three chapters. Never send agents the first three chapters. Send to a publisher. Don’t send to a publisher.”

It’s enough to drive a writer even more insane than they already are. And yet, here I am; about to add yet another blog post and more advice onto a mound higher than the slush pile at Harper and Collins.

Hang on. Did I say advice? I don’t do advice. I merely try to enlighten. Phew! Untie the nooses – You can breathe again.

Finish Or Not To Finish?

“Start sending off your book as soon as you’ve finished the first few chapters. After all, what is the point in finishing it if no one wants it?”

Now this does seem like its common sense but I’ll say it (type it) anyway. You need to complete your novel before you submit. If an agent likes it and requests a full manuscript  to read, he isn’t going to wait half a year while you finish it.

Check it and double check it. Let your friends read it and critique it. Polish it until it’s beaming brighter than the diamond tennis bracelet I’m begging my hubby for. Then, and only then, can you submit it.

Publisher Or Agent?

“Send you book to everyone and their friends. The more the merrier.”

It seems that, in today’s market, publishers are frequently turning to agents for submissions. The idea behind their madness being, why should they spend time and money sorting through manuscripts when an agent can do it for them?

Decide on an agent, and please find one that deals with your genre. Check out their website and most importantly, follow their submission guideline rules. Every agent is different. Some want a query letter, while others are happy to look at a synopsis too. Some, the wonderful few, will even read a couple of chapters.

One Agent Or Two?

“Send your book to as many agents as you can. Why wait for one to answer first?”

Oh, now this I am 50/50 on. Usually, this would be seen as a massive ‘no-no’. But nobody likes to wait six months for a reply before they can submit to their second choice agent. We’d all like to get a book represented during this lifetime 😀

Who Goes There – Friend or Foe?

“I’ve sent this book to many other agents so, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll get in quick .”

Er, do you like prison food? No mild threats! Enough said.

“I’ve enclosed a picture of my dog, and a woolly scarf for those cold New York winters.”

This is a stranger! While grocery shopping in the frozen food aisle at Asda, would you go up to a person you’ve never met before and give them a present? Of course you wouldn’t. (And shame on you if you say ‘yes, but only if they were gorgeous’).

One mistake many new writers make is they address the agents like they are their friends. They’re not. There should be no first names, no information about the last holiday you took. Just as there shouldn’t be any mild attempt to scare your agent into representing you.

Now, I want you to tell me about the horror stories you’ve read, not including this one :). What’s the worst advice you’ve been given? Again, this post is excluded :). What’s the most cringe worthy mistake you’ve ever made while submitting to an agent? Do you agree with the above? Do you submit direct to a publisher? 

I also talk on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn

Some other excellent websites for writers are Kristen Lamb, Nathan Bransford, Jennifer Holbrook-~Talty

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So you’ve written your book. You’ve gone through a million and one edits and now it’s finished. What do you do next?

Answer: Jump up and down with relief? Phone everyone I know and brag that I’m now a writer? Ah, I know. I find an agent or publisher, of course.

Question. What another one? Okay, what is it? ………..How do I find the right agent or publisher?

I was recently asked this very question and, if I am honest, it shocked me. I just assumed people, especially writers, would know. I mean the information is absolutely everywhere.

It’s like when you watch a quiz show on television. You assume that, because you know the answer to some questions, everyone will, too. They are the easy questions, right? Well it was the same with this question.

I had to sit and think back to the days when I first wanted to submit to a publisher. I was very young and stupid, and all the memories of bad mistakes came flooding back. No wonder I’d blocked them from my mind, along with the images of that awful, back-combed hair do I insisted on during the ’80’s. So, today’s post is going back to basics – just for you new writers out there.

Okay, your book is written, the grammar has been checked, and you’re so happy with the rewrites and edits, you fill like bursting with excitement. What do you do, now? That’s easy, I hear you say. I send it to lots and lots of people who…… Whoa, hang on there, Speedy Gonzales. It’s a little more involved than that.

Mills and Boon have reportedly claimed that, from the massive tens of thousands submissions they receive each year, if they find 10 or 12 new authors, they have had a bumper year.

The days of writing a great novel just isn’t enough to cut it these days. As with everything, the more choice available, the more picky people get – and in our case, it’s publishers and agents.

Would you believe me if I told you there is a high probability your novel will never be read? No? Most publishers and agents have what’s called a ‘slush’ pile, and your novel, yes, the one you’ve slaved over day and night for the past year, can end up sitting on it, like a cherry on top of an ice-cream sundae. Well it can, and most probably will if you don’t adhere to the following rules:

Rule One: Get yourself a copy of the ‘Writers and Artists Yearbook’, and make sure it is an up to date copy. They are printed every year, and also have a website so there is no excuse to use information that is three years old.

Rule Two: The all important research. I cannot stress enough that, just because you’ve typed ‘THE END’ on your novel, it is the end of you research too. Research never ends. It must be reapplied to the next job in hand – in this case, finding the correct agent/publisher. Sending to every contact listed in the W&AY (Writers & Artists Yearbook) is nothing more than a waste of time and money. This book tells you who is best to contact and lists everything you will need to start: The agents/publishers contact details, their required genres, submission details, etc. Everything is in this book.

Rule Three: Over to the internet. Just because the W&AY lists the details, doesn’t mean they are completely up to date. An agent or editor may have left or be closed to submissions. It happens. Think how many times you have changed your email address. Can you honestly say, with hand on heart, you’ve remembered to update every social network site you joined in the past year? So, log on to the contacts company website. Check the editor is still the editor. Check their email address remains the same, check they are still accepting submissions. Check, check, check. These are the things that make sure your novel will reach the right person.

Rule Four: Presentation. Most manuscripts are required in a certain format: Typed, double-spaced, 12pt Times New Roman, inch wide margins and un-justified. Please stick to this. Don’t use fonts so fancy they are hard to read, or make your writing so small the agent will need a magnify glass, otherwise the only thing seeing it will be the ‘slush pile’.

Rule Five: Following the Rules. Just because agent Joanne wants the first three chapters of your book submitted, doesn’t mean agent Tim will too. Tim may just want a synopsis first, and agent Barry may be so busy, he only has time to scan a query letter. It is imperative you only send what the agent/publisher requires. Anything more or less and you will end up on that mountain of slush, and we do not want to end up there, do we?

Rule Six: The small print. The small print is a bunch of extra submission rules. Some are, hopefully, obvious and the main one that springs to mind is not to staple work – always bind it with an elastic band. But some are not so obvious. I read in one set of submission rules that sending your work in the wrong envelope will mean instant ‘slush’ pile. It’s true. The company’s post room were under strict orders not to deliver those fibre padded envelopes to one agent, as she hated the mess it made to her clothes when opening them. Bubble wrap padded envelopes, however, were acceptable. Fair enough. I don’t like opening one of those fibre envelopes either, let alone opening 25+.

Rule Seven:­ Respect. This is so important. The person you are sending your beloved story to is a professional. They are busy, under pressure and can be the gatekeeper to your new career. For God’s sake, respect them. Do not bombard them with gimmicks, such a fancy coloured envelopes, glitter, perfumed pages, photos of yourself or your pets, cakes or sweets….oh I could go on and on and on. Remember, you are trying to sell your story, not your soul. All they want is an easy opening envelope, to remove clean pages and read.

Rule Eight: Last but not least, pestering. If an agent says it will take 3-4 months to reply, don’t start contacting them after two. If you require confirmation of receipt, add a self addressed envelope with the correct return postage. If, after the four months is up, you have not heard back, then it is acceptable to follow up with a polite enquiry as to the status of your work. But, beware. Bother them too much and the slush pile will just get that little bit taller.

I hope this helps, and I would love to hear any mistakes you’ve made in the past, no matter how bad (come on, spill the beans :D), and if there is any advice you can add, please do.

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