Friday, February 19, 2016

Learning from Manuscript Rejection

Rejection is not easy to put up with, but writers do it all the time. It's not that it's easier for writers, but it's the nature of the beast, so writers accept this aspect of their business and move forward.

What You Can Learn from Rejection

Rejection can give you little nuggets of opportunity to improve your chances of gaining a contract with a literary agent. Believe it or not, even when the rejections are a standard, general letter, you can learn what you need to improve upon in certain circumstances, as explained below. If you think about each rejection you receive for your work, there are golden nuggets of opportunity to improve. You just have to consider the circumstances of the rejection and see what you can do to improve those elements.

Remember, a rejection from a literary agent has nothing to do with you, your abilities, your skill, or you as a person. It's simply a rejection of the work you are submitting at that point of time.

Rejection of Your Query Letter

If you are submitting your work to literary agencies and you don't get a nibble to see your manuscript, this is a signal that you could work on your query letter or that there are other reasons that are not related to the manuscript itself.

Your query letter is your hook. It needs to contain a great summary of your manuscript. But it needs a little more than that. It needs a hook to gain the interest of your audience, which in this case, is a literary agent.

Also, your query letter should contain your logline and a brief synopsis of your story (if your book is fiction). This should be no more than a paragraph or two.

As Ms. Rebecca Pratt of the Rebecca Pratt Literary Group states, your query also needs to contain "contain a brief paragraph about you—why you wrote the book, story—your qualifications, past experience—all in the third person."

Crafting your query letter is just as important as your novel. Pay attention to your query letter, and it could pay off big in the end.

There are other reasons why your query could be rejected:

  • The prospective agent isn't interested in the subject matter. 
  • In some circumstances, it could be the wrong time of year to submit. 
  • There might not be much of a market for your novel. For example, if you decided to start a new genre of fiction, there will most likely not be a publishing company who has a readership for that type of fiction. Using existing production and marketing channels for your work will increase your chances of getting your work noticed among your potential readers.
  • You might need a little more experience in writing in order for some literary agents to consider you and your work.
  • The literary agent might not be accepting more manuscripts at this time.
As you can see, there are a few reasons that are not directly related to the quality of your work. Make sure you do your research to see if the agent is the right agent to represent your work and if there is an established channel for the type of book you've written. This can save you a lot of time in the end.

The Agent Asks for the First Fifty Pages, but Your Manuscript Was Rejected

If an agent asks for your manuscript, that is a huge accomplishment. It means your query is written well enough to attract interest.

However, if the beginning of your manuscript doesn't do what it's supposed to - grab the reader and keep the reader reading - then you know where your manuscript needs some work. This is good news, because tightening up your beginning is something you can accomplish.

The first ten pages of your manuscript should grab your reader - which, in this case, is a prospective agent. Because of limited resources, most publishers will not look at a manuscript if it doesn't grab them within the first ten pages. 

The Agent Asks for the Entire Manuscript, but Your Manuscript Was Rejected

If you experienced this, this can be frustrating for you, and that's understandable. However, instead of focusing on the rejection, instead, look at what you've accomplished.Your query letter was enough to hook your reader. Your beginning fifty pages were strong enough to illicit the agent to ask for the whole kit and kaboodle.

Look to your story elements. If your manuscript was rejected after the literary agent read the entire manuscript, this means that it held an interest, but perhaps there is a major element of your story that needs improvement. The agent could have found major plot flaws, for example, or a lack of character development. A problem in the way the idea was developed within the story could cause a literary agent to reject your manuscript after reading the entire thing.

If you are in this situation, read some books about developing the elements of a fictional story or writing a nonfiction book. Then try again.

A Rejection Is a Beginning

Every writer deals with rejections. It's part of the learning process and can occur even later in a person's career.

Paying attention to when your manuscript was rejected can give you important clues as to what areas you need to improve to increase chances of gaining a contract with a literary agent.

It never hurts to ask. See if you can get some feedback on your work. Ethically, literary agents are allowed to charge for this service. If an agent is going to take the time to help you improve your work, this might be worth the investment if the agent is willing to give you some feedback. Although, if an agent is asked, they might be willing to give you a short answer as to why they did not accept your manuscript for no charge.

If you are lucky enough to receive feedback for your work, I suggest asking the agent if he or she would be interested in viewing the work once you improve those aspects of your manuscript. If you have gotten far in the process, this might be more of a possibility.

First and foremost, remember that your relationship with your literary agent is about developing a long-term professional relationship. Showing your willingness to develop yourself as a writer and a professional goes a long way, and it could eventually lead to getting you that contract.

Happy writing!

Kirsten Schuder, M. S.
Associate Literary Agent

Saturday, November 14, 2015

How to Prepare Your Manuscript for Submission

So you have the next best seller. It will be difficult for you obtain representation for your book unless you take the time to make sure your manuscript is at its best.

Here are some tips I have learned along the way to prepare your manuscript for submission to literary agencies, literary magazines, and other venues.

Grammar Check and Spell Check

A great way to turn off your potential future literary agent is to submit a query and manuscript laden with grammatical errors. It's so easy to at least use your word processing program's spell check and grammar check. If you don't do anything else, do this one thing, and you'll be able to catch most typos and misspellings.

The reason I say most is because your word processing program's grammar check and spell check function is limited. It won't pick up correctly spelled words used in the wrong context, as well as other types of errors.

For instance, your spell check and grammar check would not pick up the error in this sentence:

Jack bought Jessica a 24 carrot diamond ring.

"Carrot" is spelled correctly, but of course, Jack most likely didn't buy Jessica a ring made out of rabbit food. He bought her a 24 carat diamond ring.

To experiment, I ran the sentence with the veggies through my word processing program, and the only advice the grammar check had for me was the fact that the 24 and the carrot didn't have a hyphen between them. It suggested I revise it as "24-carrot."

I've used Grammarly and Ginger in the past. These are pretty good to use so you can learn your own habitual unproductive grammar usage patterns. They do pick up more than most word processing programs' spell and grammar check. Plus, Ginger has a tutor feature that keeps track of your errors, then teaches you the correct grammatical principal, while Grammarly checks for plagiarism. They each have a low monthly cost to use every year, but if you do plan on writing for a living, it will help you catch even more embarrassing grammatical errors that could have been avoided.

Keep in mind that no grammar app is perfect. I still found mistakes even when I was done correcting pieces with different apps. Use apps to catch most mistakes, and be a student of grammar to pick up the rest.

Let It Sit

I know. You're excited. You want to see your work in print. I totally relate, believe me.

However, the biggest favor you can do for yourself is to let your project sit for a little while.

Even if you read your work backwards (a trick I've read recently some people use to self-edit their works), you are still caught up in the emotion behind what you've written.

All writers and even editors experience this phenomenon. I learned about this when I was a student in my mental health counseling program and working on my thesis. Once you are "too familiar" with the piece you're reading, writers and editors will develop a blind spot to the work's flaws.

One way to overcome this effect is to put the piece aside for at least a month, or even more time if possible. You won't have the perspective of an outsider would have to correct your work (which is the most effective way to prepare your manuscript), but it will help a great deal.

Hire an Independent Editor

Hiring an independent editor is an effective way to ready a manuscript for submission. Until writers receive feedback for their work, they don't really know what could use improvement until they are told. No amount of self-editing will help writers overcome their own unproductive writing patterns because until we know what mistakes we commonly make, we will continue making them over and over again until someone can point it out to us.

You won't hear a literary agent suggest that you hire an editor for your work because of our professional ethical obligations. Rather, you will receive a rejection letter with a general statement.

As Predators and Editors warn, hiring an editor will not guarantee publication. However, hiring a great editor can result in a few different outcomes on your work:

  • Your manuscript will be grammatically correct.
  • If you hire an editor who has an expertise in the type of manuscript you've written (i.e. - nonfiction how-to book or sci-fi/fantasy fiction), with a knowledge in the market your book falls under, you will be able to have another person's viewpoint about how your writing seems to your future readers.
This last point is especially important. Have elements in your story been done to death? Does your dialogue come off as blathering or boring? Do the elements in your plot all line up? Are your sentences concise or long and rambling? A good editor should be able to provide you with this type of feedback.

One author I met recently, Grandmaster Jim Mather, author of the Arrow Series, has a very effective strategy for producing high quality novels. He uses two editors. His manager told me that he enjoys using two editors because it provides him with a more balanced perspective on polishing his manuscripts to their very best.

Most recently at my editing job, to cut down time on article production, I suggested to my boss to allow me to simply make the needed corrections within the publishing system instead of going back and forth between different editors. Rather than jumping on the idea, she stated she would think about it. Here are her words: "Yes, on the one hand, it does cut down on production time. On the other hand, the more people we have working on articles, the better they become because of each editor's unique perspective."

Good point, boss. :)

For more tips on manuscript preparation, I recommend you check out Predators and Editors' excellent resources. On the website, if you take a look at the listings for editors, some have the red words next to their names, "Not recommended," a comforting and useful feature of this website.

Plus, when you have a chance, look up The Rebecca Pratt Literary Group's listing with Predators and Editors.

Have the Right Attitude

If you do choose to work with an independent editor, it's important to be open to any suggestions your editor may have. The number one killer of manuscripts, believe it or not, is a writer's pride. Even if you have managed to garner the attention of a literary agent, understand that your work will go through many edits as different contributors help you fine-tune your manuscript to get it ready for the appropriate market. If you are not open to suggestions, this will kill your career faster than handing in an imperfect manuscript.

Plot Your Course

Of course, you could just self-edit your work and submit your manuscript to a literary agent. I did this and obtained representation. However, this would not be my top recommendation.

If you don't have any published writing experience where you have been regularly edited and are getting paid for your work, you might want to give the "hiring an editor option" some serious consideration. Your literary agent, to the best of his or her ability, will represent you and your work. Your literary agent will certainly be a wonderful influence as you shape your writing career, but your literary agent is not responsible for teaching you how to write well. Everyone needs a feedback system to hone their skills in any profession. For writers, this is most important.

Literary agents, according to Michael Larsen, have different types of clients. There are clients who you know have a great story, have better than average writing skills, but their manuscripts still need work. These are clients you know you will be working with for a couple of years getting their manuscript ready to send out to publishers. Then there are the clients that have everything ready to go. Their manuscript is flawless and they have a marketing plan in place, as well as an established publishing platform for their work.

If you want to be the latter type of client, manuscript preparation should be one of your areas of concentrated efforts.

Happy writing. We're looking forward to seeing your work.

Kirsten Schuder, M. S.
Associate Literary Agent

Friday, October 16, 2015

How Do I Write My Author Bio?

Like the summary paragraph for your novel, constructing your personal bio can seem like a daunting task. It becomes easier when you know what aspects of your life you need to focus on to write a dazzling and convincing author bio.

Should I Write My Author Bio in First or Third Person

According to Rebecca Pratt, "The bio is always written in third person. First person being considered too self-serving."

How Long Should My Author Bio Be?

Your author bio can vary in length, depending upon its purpose, whether it's for a book jacket, an author page, a literary agency website, or as part of your materials literary agents send to prospective publishers.

The rule of thumb is no more than two or three paragraphs. Most of the author bios on the Rebecca Pratt Literary Group's site weigh in between 100 words and 260 words.

Focal Points for Your Author Bio

While many authors struggle with the marketing and sales aspect of their career, everything you put out to the public needs to be constructed with this in mind, including your author bio.

Think of your author bio as a way to market yourself as an author, not only to the public, but also to your potential publisher.

What You've Done

Think in terms of what is relevant to your writing career to get the "meat" of it down.

In about three or four sentences, explain your professional writing experience.

Some people want you to explain your paid writing experience. However, if your novel is one of your first writing ventures, and you have managed to write for online publications for free, whether it's nonfiction work or fiction publications, you can include them in your author bio.

Every writing experience is relevant. A lot of publications don't pay their writers or don't pay them well, but if you have the chance to work hand-in-hand with an editor at the publication and this experience has helped you learn more about writing, it's worthwhile to include it as part of your author bio.

What If I Don't Have Any Professional Writing Experience?

Literary agents like to see authors with writing experience. If you have nonfiction writing experience and you're extending into fiction, include your nonfiction experience, and visa-versa.

If you don't have much writing experience to include, focus upon one of the questions we pose to every author who solicits our agency:
  • Who are you, what have you done, and why are you the best person to write your story (especially for nonfiction authors)?
If you're writing a nonfiction book, what are your qualifications for the subject you are covering? You will want to give the reader an idea of your qualifications of covering the subject matter in your book.
Related experience is also good to include. For example, if you work in a publishing house or as a publicist and you have decided to write a book, you can include this.

Even your passion for a subject can be good information for your bio if you don't have prior writing credits to list. If you have read thousands of books on making coffee tables, for instance, and have created hundreds of coffee tables, this can establish you as a great person to write a book on making coffee tables.

If you have had a full career as an airline pilot, or if you made tools for Sears for a living, and no writing credentials, include this experience in a sentence or two. It gives your readers and your potential publishers a sense of who you are and what you've been doing.

Start a Blog

Writing a blog is a great way to break into the business, especially if you manage to build your following over time. Starting a blog increases your writing experience and enables you to build your email list, an attractive addition to your marketing plan.

Keep in mind that your author bio will evolve as your writing experience evolves, so even if you don't have any writing experience at the moment, spend a year or two acquiring some, and you will have some to list.

What You've Got Now

Remember your present project in your author bio and any successes garnered so far. For instance, have excerpts of the novel been published anywhere?

A Little About You

And when I say a little, I mean a little. Maybe a sentence or two at the end is good.

Anything quirky or interesting helps in this regard, especially if you don't have a lot of writing experience to share. It will help you stand out in a sea of authors.

This information might be a little more if this is your first novel and if you don't have years of experience to share with your readers and potential publishers.

Where to Find Examples

The Rebecca Pratt Literary Group is a great place to start to find outstanding examples of author bios. Click on the names of our authors and read their bios.

You can also find your favorite authors on Most authors have an author page. When you are on a web page featuring your favorite author's book, click on their name and read their paragraph of themselves on the left hand side.

Do this also for authors who are up and coming and compare them to the bios of established authors. It's a great way to study what author bios should contain at varying levels of writing careers. For example, James Patterson's author's page on is vastly different from an up and coming author's page, such as Peter Flannery.

If you visit these pages, you can see that James Patterson could most likely write ten pages about his author accomplishments, but only shares a few key points, while Peter Flannery includes more information about himself and how he became an author. At the end of his paragraph, Peter Flannery does provide a great zinger in terms of his recent writing accomplishments and his book's success.

Your Author Bio: Your Best Representation of Who You Are

It's important that you are comfortable and happy with your author bio. Concentrating on the relevant information (who are you, what have you done, and what makes you the best person to write your book), will help guide you in your process.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Why the Query?

As Acquisitions Editor of the Rebecca Pratt Literary Group, I read this question all the time. Wouldn't it be easier for me to send my manuscript to your email?

Believe me, as an author and writer myself, I get it. You just wrote an entire novel, and the last thing you want to do is crunch it into a few paragraphs. However, the query is more important than you think.

Queries Save Time

This is an important reminder. Aspiring authors are never in short supply. Busy agencies receive hundreds of queries a month. Someone in my position, an acquisitions editor, needs a way to learn about your project in the most efficient way possible. The best way to accomplish a lot of work in a little time is with a query.

Queries Deliver Important Information

Agents work in partnership with authors towards one collective goal - to sell your work. In order to accomplish this feat, agents need to know about you in order to promote you, and in a format that enables your prospective agent to process your information easily.

Queries Show Important Skills

There is an additional reason for the query. Authors of novels, novels being the longest form of literature there is, must be able to master the art of writing their novels into shorter content.

When agents query publishers, they use a proposal format, which entails, guess what, "a query letter, a synopsis, a chapter-by-chapter outline, a final manuscript and a biography or CV as well as a marketing plan."

If you have trouble describing your novel in shorter, concise ways, then this is a skill you must master in order to proceed forward with many publishers. They need this content from you, because you know your work best.

Queries: Your Time-Saving Foot in the Door

The query is a crucial part of the process of selling your work. As distasteful as it can seem to condense your special novel into a few paragraphs, it's an indelible part of the publishing process. It's your vehicle to let your future agent know everything that is important and special about your novel and you.

We look forward to seeing yours!

Kirsten Schuder, M. S.
Acquisitions Editor - Rebecca Pratt Literary Group

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The One-Sentence Masterpiece

By Rebecca Pratt

This blog is for our signed authors and those wishing to be signed by the Rebecca Pratt Literary Group.  For that reason I will discuss one of the most difficult of concepts—thelogline.

Lets start with a publisher who tells us what they want to see.  "Unless you can distill your submission down to a ‘high concept’ one line logline we are likely not very interested.

“In our experience, if you cannot deliver a one-line pitch, the theme or the concept is not sufficiently differentiated for us. We look for provocative, controversial, different, fun, funky, edgy, different—not all of these. Any of these," Random House.

This has been called a logline, a hook or a one-sentence pitch.  Strictly speaking it isnot a tagline.  

So here’s how we at the Rebecca Pratt Literary Group define and explain it:

What: About 25 words that capture your novel, memoir, or non-fiction book.

Why: To get someone interested in reading your book.

When to use it: The start of a query, or anytime someone asks you, “What’s your book about?”  We use it as a lead-in to your web synopsis and in our communications with publishers.

What it does: A one-sentence summary takes your complex book with multiple characters and plotlines and boils it down into a simple statement that can be quickly conveyed and understood, and generates interest in the book.

What it should include:
 A character or two
 Your choice, conflict, or goal
 What’s at stake (may be implied)
 Action that will get them to the goal
 Setting (only if important)

 Keep it simple. One plotline, 1 or 2 characters.
 Use the strongest nouns, verbs and adjectives.
 Make the conflict clear but you don’t have to hint at the solution.

In your one-sentence summary, do not pitch a theme. Pitch what happens. Examples of themes:

This book explores forgiveness.
This book looks at the thin line between right and wrong.
This book explores the meaning of independence, and asks if it’s really possible.

Here is Nathan Bransford's simplified formula for a one-sentence pitch: "When [opening conflict] happens to [character(s)], they must [overcome conflict] to [complete their quest]."

Lets look at some published books and see what their log line looks like:

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
• A boy wizard begins training and must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who murdered his parents.
 Character=boy wizard
 Conflict=battling the Dark Lord Stakes=his life
 Action=wizard training; avoiding the same fate as his parents

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
• In the south in the 1960s, three women cross racial boundaries to begin a movement that will forever change their town and the way women view one another.

When Faith Awakes by Mike Duran
• Chaos is unleashed on a quiet coastal town when an unassuming crippled woman raises a young boy from the dead, unlocking a centuries-old curse.

Medical Error by Richard Mabry
• Identity theft becomes fatal for a patient and puts a young doctor's reputation and medical practice in jeopardy.

Chasing Superwoman by Susan DiMickele
• A successful attorney and mother of three battles discrimination, exhaustion, and a clueless boss while balancing a career, a family, and a life of faith.

Slicing Love

By:  Rebecca S. Pratt, Agent

We do love our words.  As writers they are our friends who allow us to do the magic that is called communication.  When we are on a roll our muse hands us words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs—and soon we have a manuscript.

But often the manuscript that we have given birth to is overweight and in jeopardy of never being printed.  Very few writers, no matter their skill or fame, can get a novel of 120,000 words printed.  We know that, but we also know that cutting it down to the 85,000 words that a publisher will consider will require cutting not only fat but also muscle and sinew.

Some of our writers are doing just that, right now.  That is the hard work of writing.

Others have a finished, well proportioned package ready to be read by publishers.  It is at this point that we ask for a web synopsis.
The rules are simple.  One paragraph.  No more than 5 sentences.  Tell us the characters.  Tell us what they do.  Tell us the plot.  Tell us what promotes the plan or interferes with it (twists).  Tell us if the plan is successful or not.  And remember, your audience is not the reader.  Your audience is the person who must decide if it has potential, can be done within a reasonable budget and is marketable.  They do not want to be held in suspense: they want you to be pragmatic and informative toward them.

The web synopsis is a marketing tool aimed at a very limited audience.

When a publisher’s rep goes to our website and finds a synopsis that appears to be marketable and printable, we want them to take the next step by asking the agent for a read.  Seeing the kind of synopsis we keep encouraging our authors to write, the publisher understands that this author has the skill, discipline and drive to do the work that will turn a manuscript into a book that will find and hold its own in today’s reading marketplace.  Those books will be profitable for everyone—the author, the agent, the publisher and the readers who will be entertained, enriched or even enlightened.

What we ask our writers to do is hard.  We know that.  Publishers know that.  But when done right it enhances your chances of being published.

Here is one that works.  Try it:  (Your main character) is a ______________________.  He or she wants to_____________________________.  The plot includes (these events)__________________________ that get in the way of a happy ending.  (These people) are helping or hindering (your main character).  The end is when (your main character) gets _______________________, or not.

All you have to do is fill in the blanks, find the right nouns and the perfect modifiers, round off the rough corners and make it sound like you are telling a story to a very specific audience.  

Voila!  Success.