The critical components that editors and agents are looking for in a novel are good characters revolving around a good idea

Why? Because that is what readers are looking for. Not only does the idea by itself have to be top-notch, but it also has to fit the publisher's needs at the time.

I don't think you should "write for the market" but you most definitely need to understand the market when attempting to break into it. Your original idea is the first thing that gets looked at, long before your writing does. Your background—and I mean more than just your writing background—also plays a determining role in how a publisher looks at a submission.

A common lament among writers is: "If I could only get my manuscript read. I know a publisher would buy it." There is a flaw in the logic of that statement that most people never consider. As I mentioned earlier, how many of you go to a bookstore, completely read a book, and then buy it? To expect agents and editors to do what you don't do is not fair. Also, it makes no sense. Most people buy a book from an unknown author based on reading the cover copy (your cover letter and partial synopsis) and maybe looking at the first couple of pages. In other words they buy it the same way an agent is going to take you on, or a publisher will offer you a contract.

To expect someone to invest the time into reading something of questionable value to them is naive in this business. A person in the store is going to put down her hard-earned money to buy a book. To an agent or editor, time is money. For them to invest the time to read your manuscript, they have to expect a reasonable return on that investment. And remember, every writer thinks his manuscript gives a great return.

Here's a scary thing about the business. When the sales reps for a publisher go out to the bookbuyers to get orders for upcoming books, they don't carry boxes full of manuscripts or even bound galleys. They carry cover flats. These are the cover, front and back, spread out flat. On the reverse side is some marketing information about the book and the author. That's it. The sales rep spreads all these flats out on a table in front of the bookbuyer, like a dealer in poker. They have one or two of the entire list for a month that they pitch in a minute to the buyer. The rest, the buyer thumbs through (maybe) or tosses down the stairs, or whatever, to determine how many copies to order.

By the time an average mid-list paperback hits the racks, maybe three people in the business have actually read the book. The sales reps certainly don't have time to read them, nor do the bookbuyers for the stores. Scary, isn't it? But it's reality.

Note: You should not start marketing a manuscript until it is done. I have seen new writers—with only a partial manuscript and an outline—try to approach agents and publishers at conferences. Their feeling seems to be that they will do the work to finish the rest of the manuscript if they find someone interested in it. I'm sorry to say, but that really doesn't fly in the face of the realities of the business. As I noted earlier, in the majority of cases, writers have several completed manuscripts before they get published. This is true for fiction, but necessarily for non-fiction.

There is no secret handshake. I say this because I see very strong emotions at writers' conferences. A constant asking of the same questions (most of which are answered in this book), with the feeling seeming to be that suddenly some author or, most especially, some editor or agent will suddenly leap to their feet and give the "secret" to getting published.

Another thing I see at conferences are writers getting confused by the different perspectives that are offered. I watch writers listen to authors all week long, then when the editors and agents show up on the weekend, all the same questions get asked and the answers from those on the buying end are attended to more carefully than those on the selling end, yet writers are going to be on the selling end. I can tell you how to sell a manuscript—an editor can tell you how he or she buys a manuscript. The two are not necessarily equivalent unless you want that specific editor to buy your manuscript. That editor represents his or her own views and the buying policies of that particular publisher. My perspective is being an author in the world of publishing, which has a variety of places to sell your work to.

For example, I recently heard a panel of editors unanimously agree that writers don't need to get agents. True—except for the fact that these editors represented publishing houses that still accept unagented manuscripts. And, most importantly, from some editors' perspective, I agree—a writer does not need an agent. (Most editors, though, would prefer a writer to have an agent, especially when it comes to negotiating a contract as they will be on the same sheet of music as far as the business goes). From a writer's perspective, if you can get your stuff looked at without an agent, go for it. If you can negotiate a contract by yourself and know all about joint accounting, foreign rights, electronic rights, etc. etc. then go for it. The bottom line as far as I was concerned was that these three editors would prefer to negotiate with writers directly and so would I if I was in their shoes. The majority of editors would prefer to negotiate with an agent rather than a novice writer because the agent speaks the same language and the deal can be completed more quickly. There are many sides to every issue and listen to them all, but there is no secret. There's just a lot of hard work and effort and persistence.

Also, I've noticed at conferences that some editors and agents spend a lot of the time during their talks telling the attendees how to make their (the editors and agents) job easier. While I don't believe in abusing editors and agents, and am a firm believer in being professional, a writer's goal is not to make their jobs easier. It's to work together.

Another thing I see a lot of, is a we-they attitude between writers and the publishing business. I'm constantly asked how much control over cover I have (none), or how much an editor will change the manuscript (always recommendations and almost always for the better of the book), and how the publisher will screw over the writer (only if your interests and there's are in opposite directions). The bottom line is that writers, agents, editors, and everyone else at the publishing house are supposed to be on the same team with the same goals. It should be a me-we relationship. I recommend approaching people in the business with a positive attitude, while looking out for your own interests.

At this point your manuscript is done and ready to market. As you read the following chapters, try to follow the methodology I used. First you must find the right target. Then you must do a submission, which may well be the most important piece of work you do as an author.

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