Winning the attention of a well-connected agent and major publisher—AND having your novel viewed by the publisher as worthy of considerable investment—isn’t just about writing a good story. That’s part of it (unless you are a celebrity, which automatically propels you to the top of the pile).
A part of getting noticed—I can’t quote a specific percentage, but it’s not insignificant—is luck. Luck that you’ve hit the agent with just the right material at just the right time. Luck that your query and/or manuscript makes it past the guard at the door, often an agency intern. Luck that you’ve used the right keyword in your query to motivate the intern or agent to read past the first paragraph.
You can increase your “lucky day” odds by researching the agents you are targeting. Beyond the obvious, i.e. do they represent your genre, look at their subtler preferences. Eliminate those who are less likely to be moved by your pitch and pay attention to what they say is important to them in a query. That may mean fifty variations on a query theme targeting fifty different agents. But, hey, just how badly do you want to see your “lucky day?”
Okay, so beyond pure luck, what might improve your odds? There are the basics: following the submission guidelines including for format. And don’t waste precious query space trying to be cutesy or raving about friends and family saying your novel was the best book they ever read. But beyond the most targeted query possible for each agent, your novel must grab the agent from the first page, render him/her incapable of putting it down, and do that with a clean, thoroughly edited manuscript.
Nothing says sloppy amateur like a manuscript-long series of misplaced commas, run-on sentences (unless used sparingly for specific effect), misuse or overuse of colons and semi-colons, and demonstrating overall lousy grasp of basic sentence structure. These issues jolt the reader out of the story.
And it is such a simple fix! Yes, you can pay a professional editor (as I do and recommend). But nearly everyone knows one or more grammar and punctuation freaks who might be willing to copyedit your novel for the price of a mention in the acknowledgements and a free copy of your published book.
What about the “render him/her incapable of putting” your book down? Ah, that’s the writer’s real challenge. And it’s hard to self-assess, because the writer is too close to his own writing to be objective. Again, you can pay a professional to critique your novel from this perspective. It is not cheap! And you should target professionals with searchable connections to agents and the publishing world.
But say you are an impoverished student or anyone whose budget precludes laying out that kind of money. Then look around you. Do you have friends or colleagues who are avid readers AND never shy about expressing opinions? Can you convince any of them that you won’t be offended if their comments aren’t glowing? Otherwise they won’t be honest. Look at it this way—every negative opinion they express and you edit accordingly leaves one less excuse for an agent or editor to reject your book.
Granted, I’m not an industry expert. But I’ve papered entire rooms with rejection letters for my first two novels…
which I ultimately self-published. I’ve learned along the way what doesn’t work. And I’ve taken enough webinars and on-line courses and read enough books by industry experts to be better educated about what does work
This time, with Gram & Me, I am doing everything possible to improve my odds, trying to ensure all that remains is luck. And hoping that…
MAYBE THIS TIME, I’LL BE LUCKY…