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Thread: The process of seeking agent representation

  1. #11
    Better than getting a beta reader, post the first three pages to get a quick reader response to the opening. In general, an agent reads three pages, or less, before deciding to pass or request the full manuscript. So forget the manuscript, see if the first three pages do their job. If you have a structural or presentation problem that would generate a rejection, it will repeat throughout, so learn of—and fix—that, first.

    In general, if you post those three pages and don't get people asking to read more, you're not ready.

    For what it's worth, here's a few things that will cause a quick rejection:

    • Opening with "what has gone before"—a history lesson on the character or the situation. In other words, story with story, not history or exposition.
    • Anything that reads like a storyteller setting the scene at the campfire prior to anything happening.
    • Thinking like a film director and describing from a visual viewpoint. In other words, mentally watching the film version and describing it.
    • Presenting a report in which you tell the reader what happens, then, if necessary, explaining its importance.
    • Opening with the character waking, or with the weather.
    • Failing to address: Who am I? Where am I? What's going on, as necessary to provide a reader with context as they read.
    Failure to provide and manage the protagonist's short-term scene goal.
    • Failure to introduce tension early, and continually raise it.

    And here's the biggie, the one that's hardest to face: If your first page was to be mixed in with a group of nine first pages taken from your local bookstore, in your genre, would a professional editor, working in that genre, be able to tell your work from the others so far as being the work of a newbie? If the answer is yes, you're not ready. And even if you say, "Well, I'm as good as most published writers," you carry a liability: no one is looking for your name on the cover. Remember, that publisher has lots of writers who are "as good as," and who are in competition with you for that space on the bookshelf. And they have a fan base. So to sell a first novel you have to be "better than." That's why a first novel by a new author is so often a best seller.

    Assuming you do send more a query and the opening pages, here's how the read generally goes:

    1. Open the envelope and fish out the query to see if the length and genre fit the house. The rest of the query is bright and chipper, and has probably been modeled on one the reader saw in a book/article on submissions, so it's ignored for now, because if the one submitting can't write who cares what the blurb says?
    2. Turn to the partial and start reading, while muttering, "yeah, yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah... Remember, yours is probably the tenth they've looked at that day, and they reject 99%, so they're not reading with excitement. They expect you to fail.
    3. If they reach the end of two, three, or as many as five pages and are still reading, the query goes into the " to be looked at in more detail, later, and maybe acted on," pile. And that is what you pray for. So your first paragraph has to be perfect. The first page has to be fascinating, and your fangs must be firmly gripping that editor/agent's throat before the turn to page two, or it won't happen. Is thsat fair? Hell no. We all deserve to be famous writers. But it is the world we work in.

    And who has been reading your work? Probably a very junior associate editor/agent who has the power to either send your work winging back to you, or to say, "Hey Chuck, here's something that might be worth a look," to the next most junior person up the chain-of-command.

    So with a rejection rate for agents that tops 99%, and a rejection rate of 90% of what they send to the publishers, why bother to submit? Because if your work is exceptional it has a really good chance of being snatched from the pile. Because that very junior reader becomes a more senior reader by demonstrating the ability to find things that will make money for the house—hopefully, your writing. Because if you can't sell someone who knows the market, you stand not the proverbial snowball's chance in hell of selling to the market, directly. Because it's how the game is played, and every one of the authors you so love to read started out not knowing which end of the crayon went against the wallpaper...just like you.

    So...someone has to make it. Why not you? The trick is to be ready.
    Jay Greenstein
    My articles on writing.
    The goal isn't to tell the reader that the protagonist is terrified, it's to terrorize our reader.

  2. #12
    Beta readers can do a lot to make sure you don't fail with an agent. If you have a boring spot one third of the way in, as I did, a beta reader can tell you. Then you have time to fix it before trying to get an agent!

  3. #13
    Jay's guidlines are priceless. I also support the Beta route. A competent Beta-reader may suggest a differnt structure and change the first five pages.

    I was concerned to see this guidline in Jay's post...
    Thinking like a film director and describing from a visual viewpoint. In other words, mentally watching the film version and describing it.


    My script starts with 11 pages of straight reportage, in a cinematic style, of a scene from the Spanish Civil War. After which, it switches to first person narration for the entirity. As the agent's reader will only read the first few pages am I shooting myself in the foot?

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