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How not to serial 3


This is the third excerpt from David Armstrong's wry and entertaining How not to Write a Novel: Confessions of a Midlist Author

3. Agents

Most reputable agents submit books to editors that they know personally, and so if you get a bona fide agent to represent you, one thing, at least, is pretty certain: your book will be read by the publisher relatively quickly.

OK, the editor will not necessarily share your agent's apparent belief in the work. It's the old equation - the agent has something to sell; and the editor is the sceptical buyer, a buyer who is being offered any number of books every single day.

So, no matter how glowing the recommendation that your agent sends with the manuscript, the editor is likely to be wary.

Most likely scenario is that your book will be returned with a polite note saying that, Yes, so-and-so enjoyed the book, but did not quite 'fall in love with it'. He didn't feel that it was distinct enough to mark it out from other, similar, books in a crowded market. Or, possibly, that the reader found the plot weak, or the characters unengaging and the hero unsympathetic. Something, anyway, along those lines.

Your agent will then probably send it to another publisher and, depending upon the response there, decide on the next move; i.e. whether to keep sending it out, the thing borne aloft by his faith in it, or send it back to you and suggest that you make changes based on the feedback that he is getting.

Any suggestions from editors or publishers' readers are encouraging, but they are absolutely no guarantee that the book will, in fact, be improved by those changes. Possibly the contrary: changes suggested by just one (albeit experienced) reader might well lead to the book losing its distinctive flavour and potential appeal.

When Night's Black Agents was eventually published, the very things that it had (allegedly) been declined for were exactly the same things that reviewers found to single out for praise.

Although any thoughtful writer studies every word that an editor writes about his manuscript, unless there's a specific suggestion that the editor who wants you to make those changes will then be interested in seeing the book again, I'd be very wary of doing major re-writes.

But, of course, I also know just how hard it is not to respond to that sort of encouragement. Again, it's a good reason to have the guidance and advice of an experienced agent who might be useful in interpreting just what the editor's comments are worth.

Tips and Summary:

1) Don't do it.

2) Consider trying to interest a reputable agent in your work, but make sure it's someone you can get on with.

3) Ask to see their list of clients.

4) Ascertain what it is that they can do for you, as well as your outlining what it is that you feel that you have to offer them.


The next excerpt from How not to Write a Novel will be in the July Magazine.

About How Not to Write a Novel

The first excerpt
The second excerpt
The third excerpt
The fourth excerpt
The fifth excerpt
The sixth excerpt
The seventh excerpt
The eighth excerpt
The ninth excerpt
The tenth excerpt
The eleventh excerpt
The twelfth excerpt


© David Armstrong 2003

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