When Your Novel Is Ready For Agents – 6 Tips

As many of you might’ve noticed, my blog has fallen by the wayside the past year. In my defense, there’s been a good reason for my absence: my novel. Last January, I made a New Year’s resolution to finish my manuscript and have it ready for agents by late 2017/early 2018. That meant I had to resist using precious time and mental energy for things like blogging, social media, writing contests, and other enjoyable but, unfortunately, non-novel work.

Despite missing out on all the fun, I’m pleased to say my method of madness has worked. By the end of the year, I’ll have a novel ready for agents!

As exciting as it is to take the next step in the publishing journey, it’s important to know when to take the next step. Many writers tend to rush through the process, while others hesitate and question if they’re really ready.

Here are six tips to help you decide if your novel is ready for agents:

1: You’ve written at least two complete drafts. 

Unless you’re a seasoned pro who knows how to pound out a perfect first draft, then you’ll need to write, revise, and edit at least two drafts before you deem it worthy of an agent’s eyes. Depending on your process, you’ll likely write many, many more. Personally, I’m a pantser and I’m approaching my 20th draft.

Because we all have different processes, there’s no exact number of drafts needed to deem a novel “done.” The best thing to do is to ask questions like these:

  • Is my plot fully developed? Are there any missing scenes? Do I have any scenes that can be chopped to tighten the story?
  • Are my characters believable? Likable? Do I have any unnecessary characters?
  • Do I have plenty of conflict?
  • Does my pacing work well?
  • Is my dialogue organic?
  • Have I proofread? Like, a million times?
  • Have I asked others to critique my work?
  • Does anything about the story bother me?

Whether it takes two or 20 drafts, we need to flesh out our stories and polish them up before we send them to agents.

2: You’ve recruited beta readers.

Some writers will write a chapter and share it with critique partners. Others will write 15 drafts before they feel comfortable sharing a single word with a single soul. There’s no right answer on how we share our work, just as long as we share it before sending it to literary agents. Otherwise, we’ll likely miss glaring plot holes, spelling and grammar blips, underdeveloped characters, and many other problems.

The real question is how many beta readers should we use? Well, once again, it’s an individual choice. There’s no magical number. However, there’s such a thing as too few and too many beta readers.

If we only use one beta reader, we’ll likely miss out on critical feedback. Why? Because every beta reader is different. Some are great at critiquing plots and characters. Some are better at correcting grammar. Some love to focus on pacing and pure entertainment. Some delight in dissecting every. Single. Word.

On the flip side, if we send our manuscript to 15+ beta readers (especially all at once), then we’ll likely regret our decision. Too much feedback, and we’re bound to feel overwhelmed and confused. In fact, we’ll likely experience a small meltdown and question everything we wrote.

Personally, I handled my beta readers like this:

Beta Draft 1: Four readers who were asked for big picture feedback. I simply wanted to know if the plot and characters worked. (And if not, why?)

Beta Draft 2: Five readers who were asked to point out any and all flaws. Plot, grammar, characters, pacing. ANYTHING!

Beta Draft 3: Five readers who were asked to pretend they found my novel in a bookstore and read it for fun. If it wasn’t fun, or if something stopped them dead cold, why?

The strategy has worked very well for me. But, again, every writer is different. Some might only need a couple of betas. Some might need more. The important thing is to recruit at least two, and ask them to point out the good, the bad, and the ugly.

3: You’ve reached a solid, marketable word count.

No matter what genre we write, we need to know word count expectations. If we send an agent a chick lit novel that’s 115K words, they’ll likely laugh and toss our query into the trash. However, if we send a historical fiction novel that’s 115K words, an agent will probably consider it. All genres have a general range agents expect our story to land in. Only a few get the “okay” for larger word counts (sci-fi, historical fiction, and fantasy).

When it comes to adult fiction, Writer’s Digest breaks it down like this:

80,000 – 89,999:        Totally cool
90,000 – 99,999:        Generally safe
70,000 – 79,999:         Might be too short; probably all right
100,000 – 109,999:     Might be too long; probably all right
Below 70,000:            Too short
110,000 or above        Too long

Before we submit our manuscript to agents, we need to research our genre. It’d be a crying shame to realize our MG novels are 40K words too short, or our thrillers are 20K words too long.

4: You start overthinking things.

Many writers are perfectionists. Some of us are so focused on making our stories so perfect that we fail to realize we’ve crossed through the Perfect Zone and entered the Overthinking Zone. We start chopping words unnecessarily, dramatically alter flowing sentences, and tweak characters to the point we ruin what made them so special in the first place.

A few ways to know we’ve reached the Overthinking Zone include:

  • Beta readers tell us, “Stop! You’re ready for the next step.” (Let me emphasize this “green light” needs to come from those who’ve read the manuscript. Don’t let friends, family, and other writing pals pressure you into skipping important steps. They don’t know where you’re at in the process. Your betas do.)
  • Edits become infinitesimal. (i.e. You change the word “stare” to “gape,” and then back to “stare.”)
  • We’ve proofread our story to death (and asked others to proofread it to death for us).

The truth is, many of us will never consider our stories perfect. Ever. Even if it lands on the New York Times Best Seller list, we’ll still find flaws. It’s just who we are. That’s why we need to recognize when it’s time to step back, close our eyes, and take a leap of faith.

5: You’ve prepped all of your submission materials.

If we choose the traditional path of publishing, then we need to be prepared to submit more than our manuscript. Most agents will require a query letter, but from there it varies. A query letter might be all an agent wants. Others might request a three-paragraph synopsis. Some might want a three-page synopsis. And then there’s the dreaded pitch to practice in case we need to present our idea verbally. For example, when I optioned my YA novel to a Hollywood producer, I had to pitch my story dozens of times to various executives (usually via an unexpected phone call (talk about nerve-racking!)).

If we are lucky enough to receive that spectacular, dream-worthy phone call from an agent, we also need to be ready to speak to that agent. In fact, we shouldn’t query an agent until we’ve done homework on them. Remember, these are the people who will determine if our books (and our careers) rise or fall. We need to know what type of agent they are. Are they hands-on? Distant? Better at negotiating deals than developing projects? Are they great at both? For me, I want an agent who cares. The last (and only) agent I had treated me like a chore. I’d get a call once every three to six months with an update on the status of my project. That was it. Granted, this was a Hollywood agent who had bigger fish to fry, but still. I learned my lesson: before committing to an agent, ask questions. We need to know who we’ll be partnering up with.

Bottom line, take the time to properly prepare your submission materials, and research agents. It’ll make life easier and happier if you do.

6: Your novel is presentable at a moment’s notice.

Let’s face it. Writing a quality book is hard, and it takes for-evvver! And it’s really, really tempting to skip to the end of the process and see if an agent would even read what we have.

Resist the urge!

One of the biggest no-no’s a writer can make is querying an agent before a novel is finished. Agents don’t want concepts, first chapters, or half finished manuscripts. They want the whole thing–and they want it on demand. So, before we send our query letters, we must have a polished, 100% COMPLETE manuscript.

“Eh, an agent is probably going to take at least a month to respond to my query, so I may as well send it and continue editing.” Nope, don’t do it! Just because we’re almost done with our book doesn’t mean we’re done. Besides, what happens when an agent asks for our book in less than a week? Maybe even sooner? I’ve had a full request within two days. It happens. Play it safe and polish up the story before hitting the submit button.

Some writers are impatient and want to speed through the writing process. Others drag their feet, despite their eagerness, and want everything perfect before they contact agents. We all need to know when we’re truly ready to take the next step. We can’t rush to the finish line, but we also can’t keep running lap after lap.

Resources: Writer’s DigestTwitter

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Avoid These 25 Newbie Writer Mistakes

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! I think it’s fair to say that all of us are at different levels with our writing. Some of us have been at it for years, while others of us are just beginning. In my opinion, today’s Twitter gem is a great source for everyone (despite its “newbie” title).

apa-guidelines-for-writing3Even if you know the general do’s and don’ts of writing, it never hurts to brush up on “the rules”. And yes, I put “the rules” in quotations because there’s no right or wrong way to do any of this. But there are basic ways that should be considered. So check out this article by author and speaker, Jody Hedlund:

Avoid These 25 Newbie Writer Mistakes

1. Starts the opening paragraph with flowery, verbose, or elaborate descriptions. (A seasoned writer will try to start with a hook, usually a life-altering situation or action.)

2. Stops the story/plot/action to describe a room or person or scene. (A seasoned writer will try to weave those descriptions in small pieces as the story unfolds.)

3. Describes any and/or everything. (A seasoned writer will pick strategic “props” to bring on “stage” that help convey a deeper meaning, theme, mood, or contribute to the plot.)

To read the entire article, click here!

And for more useful advice, follow Jody Hedlund on Twitter!

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Avoid These Common Fiction Writing Mistakes Like the Plague

Photo credit: 

http://essaybasics.com/apa-guidelines-for-writing/

How To Write A Novel: 7 Tips Everyone Can Use

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! This week, I found lots and lots of writing gems on Twitter. The one I finally decided to go with seemed perfect for the majority of us. No matter what point you’re at in your project, this article, via @WritersDigest and @jennifermcmahon, is sure to have at least one useful tip for you to consider:

How To Write A Novel: 7 Tips Everyone Can Use 

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2. Begin with character. Make her flawed and believable. Let her live and breathe and give her the freedom to surprise you and take the story in unexpected directions. If she’s not surprising you, you can bet she’ll seem flat to your readers. One exercise I always do when I’m getting to know a character is ask her to tell me her secrets. Sit down with a pen and paper and start with, “I never told anybody…” and go from there, writing in the voice of your character.

To read the entire article, click here!

And for more useful advice, follow Writer’s Digest and Jennifer McMahon on Twitter!

Photo credit: http://www.professorbeej.com/2010/07/writing-my-novel-keep-on-writing.html

NaNoWriMo Tips – How To Deal With Deadlines

Since so many of you are participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this July, I thought I’d re-post a blog I wrote last fall: How To Deal with Deadlines. We all have our different methods of madness. These are some of mine when it comes to managing time and reaching goals. Hopefully one or two of them will help you achieve your own goals.

2013-Winner-Facebook-Cover


In all the years I’ve been writing, I’ve never taken on the mighty writing challenge of NaNoWriMo. But I have dealt with writing deadlines. Some of those deadlines have been enforced by other people (agents, producers, PR reps, etc.), while others have been self-enforced–or rather, self-inflicted. Case and point:

Last spring an agent requested my full manuscript. She ended up passing, but she liked it enough to recommended it to two other agents. So, I eagerly sent them my query letter. Less than ten minutes after I pushed the send button I realized I’d made a fatal mistake. It suddenly struck me that I didn’t like the first half of my book. In fact, I hated it. And I was petrified the two agents I’d just sent my query letters to would hate it as well. So–in a hyperventilating panic–I began chopping and revising my manuscript, all the while watching my inbox, certain one of those agents was going to ruin everything by requesting my now torn up material (such a major faux pas, I know, I know). Even so, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Faster and faster and faster…

Two months later, I had a completely updated book (100,000 words worth).

And zero requests. Zero!

Neither of those two agents ever contacted me. Go figure.

These disappointing and exhausting experiences of mine have taught me some important lessons about writing projects that are herded by deadlines. And I’d like to share some of those lessons with you. Hopefully they can help you during your tumultuous NaNoWriMo journey. (Or whatever deadline-driven trek you might be on.)

Chop out all distractions

imagesI know this sounds obvious, but it’s the most important part of the process. And it’s the hardest. Distractions are addicting (ahem, Candy Crush). Furthermore, most distractions are fun and bring us joy, so why would we want to chop them out of our lives? I don’t know how many times I’ve had to turn down going to the movies with a friend, or shopping with my sister, or visiting the Colorado Railroad Museum with my beloved nephews (trust me, if you saw their “WHOA!” expressions, you’d understand). And all because I needed to stay home and work on my manuscript instead.

And on that note…

Accept your loner status

alone-in-a-crowd.jpg.scaled.1000We’ve all heard writing is a lonely job. And it is. Even if you’re writing in a coffee shop, a library or a park, you’re separated from the rest of the world. It’s like an invisible barrier is erected between you and those around you, including your friends and family. The only people to keep you company are the characters in your head (and, let’s face it, those guys can get a little crazy sometimes ;-)). Personally, I think this is why a lot of writers get distracted so easily. We have an innate need to return to planet earth–to reconnect with our fellow humans–to remind ourselves we live here, and not in the fictitious other world we’ve created.

Unfortunately, when writing on a deadline, you don’t have the luxury of time to constantly re-root yourself in reality. If you want to make it to the finish line on time, then you gotta stick it out in that lonely other world with those real-but-not-real characters. And you must be able to cope with feeling disconnected, because you will.

My advice? During your darkest, loneliest moments, firmly remind yourself you’re not alone. Remind yourself that there are thousands of other writers cut off from the rest of humanity with you. I promise you won’t feel so alone anymore.

Commit at least ONE FULL day/week to writing

1197089396151240572hawk88_Calendar.svg.medNearly everyone in my life knows Saturday is “Don’t Talk to Jenna Day”. Saturdays are my think tank’s refueling station–the precious oil to my creative cogs. Saturday is THE day I write. From sun up to sun down I sit in front of my computer, writing and writing, until my eyes can’t stay open and my fingers start to cramp.

It’s intense, and it’s not always fun, but it’s vital to my production output. And not just because I get a ton done in one day, but because I get pumped up to do even more the following days. By dedicating a full day to writing, I find it a lot harder to turn off my imagination the rest of the week. No matter how tired I am, or how busy I get, I will find the energy and time to sit down and pour my thoughts onto paper. They’re just too warm and alive to coldly bury in my subconscious until the next weekend.

There’s no crying in writing

Okay, okay. There’s lots of crying in writing. And trust me, when you’re writing with a deadline in mind, you’ll probably cry even more. Mostly from exhaustion. And also the occasional–or not so occasional–bout of angry frustration. But you know what? You gotta suck it up and push through the emotional breakdowns. Just go grab a piece of chocolate, watch an episode of 30 Rock, and maybe listen to Journey’s, “Don’t Stop Believin'” a few times. Then get back to work. Go. Do. It. Now!

…Okay, that was my version of a tough love pep talk. Did it help? No? Whatever, go eat some more chocolate. GO!

Don’t be Miss Congeniality

misscongeniality-still8I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time saying no to people. Need a babysitter tonight? Sure, I’m there. Need a hundred cupcakes for that party next week? Of course, I’ll make them. Need someone to proof that business proposal? No problem, I’m happy to help. However, when it comes to writing on a deadline, I must stifle the urge to be Miss Congeniality and focus on doing what’s best for ME. I know, it sounds horrible. But when you’re on a deadline, you have to lace up the ol’ selfish boots and keep them on until the job is done. You have to constantly repeat to yourself, “Me. Me. Me…”, while telling others, “No, no, no…”.

Again, horrible, I know. But, unfortunately, necessary.

To lessen my guilt about this, I always give my acquaintances, friends and family a heads up: “I’m sorry, but I’m going to be crazy busy with writing the next month (or two), so I won’t be as accessible as usual. Sorry, sorry, sorry. See you on the flip side!”

Get it? Got it? Good!

Even when you’re not chugging, keep chugging

Concrete_sleeper_1638Okay, so maybe you can’t be a complete self-serving hermit during NaNoWriMo. There’s work, the gym, the kids, hundreds of errands, special events…No matter how hard you try to avoid or hide from life’s daily necessities, you can’t. The refrigerator isn’t going to restock itself. The bills aren’t going to be paid by the mythical money tree. The wedding of your best friend isn’t going to happen again (well, hopefully). But, don’t panic. It’s okay! You can keep chugging along on your project even when you’re not sitting at a computer or hovering over a notebook.

Example: Every day during my hour plus commute to and from work, I listen to a playlist I made for my book. As I listen to the inspiring songs I’ve collected, I strategize my next scene, or create a new character, or discover a plot hole. This way when I finally do get to a computer, I’m already primed and ready to translate everything I’ve “written” in the car.

Even so, I highly recommend keeping a small notepad on you at all times. That way if you come up with an idea and you’re terrified you’re going to forget it, you can quickly jot it down (because, as fun as scribbling on your hand or a paper napkin can be, chances are those won’t make it home–you know, because you accidentally wash your hands, or someone uses your inscribed napkin to wipe the pizza grease off their face!).

Just keep swimming…

This is the most important lesson of all: Just keep swimming. Just keep trying. Just keep writing! Swim, swim, swim. Try, try, try. Write, write, write!

Writing a book on a deadline is like running a marathon–exhausting, difficult and seemingly endless. But it will come to an end. Trust me. Just remember to keep your eye on the finish line and you’ll get there. Breathe. Focus. And push through the pain! You can do it!

Good luck everyone!

If you want to add me as a buddy on the NaNoWriMo website, you can find me under the name jenspenden.

Now, let’s get pumped!

The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! Today’s gem comes from the ever helpful Chuck Sambuchino. He offers a wide range of amazing tips from industry experts on how to make your first chapter shine. No matter what genre you write, these tips are sure to help you improve your work and avoid the pitfalls so many writers stumble into.

Female executive and banana skinThe Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents

No one reads more prospective novel beginnings than literary agents. They’re the ones on the front lines, sifting through inboxes and slush piles. And they’re the ones who can tell us which Chapter One approaches are overused and cliché, as well as which techniques just plain don’t work. Below find a smattering of feedback from experienced literary agents on what they hate to see the first pages of a writer’s submission. Avoid these problems and tighten your submission!

To read the entire article, click here!

And for more useful advice, follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter!

How to choose a point of view for your novel

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! I don’t know about you, but every time I begin a new story/revise an old one, I ponder which POV I want/need to write in. Limited? Omniscient? First? Second? Third? What? Well, today’s gem–discovered via Chuck Sambuchino–should help me from now on. And perhaps it’ll help you too?

How to Choose a Point of View for your Novel

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When it comes to writing a book and picking a point of view in which to tell it, there are several different options: first person point of view, second person point of view, third person limited point of view, etc. Two of the most popular and telling, though, are the omniscient and limited points of view. Choosing one of these paths can not only alter the course of your story, it can also make or break the tone of your book. But how can you tell if writing in the omniscient is a mistake and that your manuscript would be much better if you were writing in the limited third person?

As an added bonus, there’s a free download included with even more information/details about this topic. Check it out!

Read the entire article here.

Long Term Query Do’s and Don’ts

It’s Twitter Treasure Thursday! Yay! Today’s gem comes from Pub Crawl, from an article by Joanna Volpe. “Long Term Query Do’s and Don’ts Tip: Your Decisions Now DO Affect Later Relationships“. It’s really an awesome advice piece every writer seeking (or planning to seek) representation should read.

I’m not going to give the usual Do’s and Don’ts tips.  I’m going to talk about a trend I’ve been noticing lately that leads me (and my colleagues and peers) to re-consider working on a project.  I’m talking about: baggage.

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Read the entire article here!