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Five Ways to Avoid Getting That Agent for Your Novel
by Alice J. Wisler

The other day a friend asked if I would critique three chapters of her first novel. She was anxious to get my feedback. When I called to tell her what I thought of her book, she ignored my comments and dove into a soliloquy. She said she had a list of seven agents she was sure would be interested in her story. She told me her grandmother read the chapters and cried. My friend was on such a self-propelled high that I was tempted to let the rest of my critique go. But when my eyes focused on page six of her manuscript and saw the sixteen errors I had circled, I stood firm. “Jackie,” I said. “You need to work on this a bit before an agent will ever take you seriously.”

It seems that there are surefire ways to keep an agent from being interested in your work. Here are the main ones to avoid.

  1. Poor grammar. Believe it or not, grammar is still important to the English language. True, we may think that properly spoken English is a thing of the past, but readers still want to know that “They’re happy about the picnic” and not, “Their happy about the picnic.”
  2. Incorrect spelling. Today we have what Twain and Steinbeck never dreamed of—computers with spell check. However, as life-changing as spell check is, and especially for writers who never won a spelling bee, the caveat is that it may not catch all. If you write, “The kit was flying”, spell check is going to deem that sentence without any errors. Only you know that what you really wanted to write was: “The kite was flying.”
  3. Indignation. Writers have larger-than-life egos one day and the next, they’re as unsure as a mouse running through a kitchen lined with traps. Swallow your pride and be realistic. You may have been writing for decades, but you’re not too old to be teachable. Realize that even you don’t know it all and can learn from others. Your writers’ group members aren’t being nasty when they say your sentences run-on like marathons, or that your main character puts them to sleep. Open yourself to critique; your writing will improve.
  4. Boring context. Don’t get caught writing to bore. Be vivid! Find adjectives and verbs that dance across the pages. Jazz up the dialog. Listen to conversations around you to get a good feel for how people communicate. Take a trip to the mall and plant yourself in the food court and observe what is said and how it is spoken. Learn new words by consulting a Thesaurus. Don’t be afraid to spice your pages with descriptions and thoughts that make an agent want to read more.
  5. Neglecting to write. Too many writers spend so much time trying to land an agent that they put aside the actual joy of writing. Do you want to deliver stellar writing? Then take the time to write. Fall in love with your craft. Read books and attend classes on how to make your story shine. An agent can tell if you’ve been practicing or if you are only a wanna-be dreamer.

Keep in mind that agents are busy folk. Some read only a few paragraphs of the work submitted to them. Some wander through four or five pages. Regardless, the amount of time you have to captivate an agent with your manuscript is short. Present your best error-free work. One day, you will hear an agent excited about your novel and eager to represent you.

© Copyright 2008, Alice J. Wisler

Alice J. Wisler, author of the Southern novels Rain Song, How Sweet It Is, Hatteras Girl and A Wedding Invitation (Bethany House), lives and writes in Durham, NC. On sunny days, she places her decorative tri-fold poster board with pictures and information about her novels out by her mail box. Email her for more ways to build your sales at wisler@mindspring.com. Visit her website at http://www.alicewisler.com

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