Monthly Archives: May 2013

How Long Should My Book Manuscript Be?

Word count: what an issue. You’ve spent months or years working on a book and now all the agent wants to know is, “How many words?”

There are important reasons why you should pay attention to word count.

First, each category and genre has an average length. This goes far beyond novels vs. novellas. It’s about how long is too long for a romance novel, how short is too short for a spy thriller, what’s the average for a young adult novel, how much leeway does a work of literary fiction have? The answers are specific to each category. Writer’s Resource can help you determine if your book is appropriately long.

Second, first-time authors (authors who have not been traditionally published) are held to different standards than other authors. Generally, a first-time author should never go above 100,000 words. Certain genres like some subcategories of thrillers, historic novels, and certain types of other fiction and nonfiction books can run 110,000 to 115,000…but anything above that is pushing the boundary too far.

Why? Because print costs rise exponentially above 100,000 words. Publishers will sink money into marketing you and your books with the hopes that it will build an audience. Your second or your third book will be much less restricted by length if your first one is successful. But until you have that proven fan base, publishers want to cut their risks.

Cut your risk of rejection by knowing what’s expected of your manuscript…first-time author or not!

When is a Book Manuscript Ready to Send to Agents or Publishers?

Chuck Sambuchino, who writes for Writer’s Digest, offers three primary reasons why manuscripts are rejected by agents:

First…the story they’re reading is in a genre or category outside of what they handle. Form rejection. The second reason they say no is because of poor writing skills: grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, etc. Form rejection. The third and most common reason that good writers get rejected is that their story just plain isn’t ready yet. In other words, it’s good—but simply being good doesn’t cut it. A piece of fiction has to be great to catch an agent’s eye.

Each of these issues has a solution.

First, research the agent before submitting. There are a host of resources out there, including the annual guides to agents and book publishers. Always go to the agent’s website to look up information about that agent. While you’re there, check out their fellow agents to see if someone else is actually a better fit. And be sure you know your manuscript’s category! Know not just the primary category but the subcategory. If it’s a true crossover (and not just a thriller with a love story embedded in the plot, for example), know which categories it targets. If you state the category in the query and it doesn’t match the sample pages, you’re going to be rejected.

The second issue is easy to fix. Work with an editor to clean up the manuscript or to do the deeper line editing some manuscripts require. Do not rely on your next door neighbor who is a college professor…professors live inside academia, and the world of academia is insular and separated from standard publishing by a thick brick wall. Do not ask your high school English teacher or a journalist to edit your memoir, business book or novel…they will utilize a more formal style that turns off agents, publishers and readers. Do work with a professional–a fellow novelist, memoir author or business book writer, a freelance editor, or someone you trust from your writer’s group.

The third challenge might require more work from you. Get feedback from authors in a writer’s group or a reader you trust. Ask for conceptual ideas. Don’t let someone get bogged down in editing your spelling errors. Ask for the good stuff: Is the plot exciting? Which milestones don’t track well? Does the suspense constantly rise? Are the characters developed well enough? Writer’s Resource offers written analyses at several price points that can help you with this step.

Refreshed Website

Please take a moment to view the new website for Writer’s Resource at The blog posts to this site too so if you’re traveling and can’t access your email for the RSS feed, you can go directly to that page and view the latest tips and tidbits.

Indie Bookstores

Great quote from William Kent Krueger in his blog:

“Buying from independents is in our own best interest. It assures that no one large entity will control what’s available to us as readers. Freedom–and it does come down to this–is all about choice.”


How has Self-publishing Changed Publishing?

Authors suspect that the self-publishing revolution has changed the face of publishing but getting information on what has changed–and what is still changing–can be tough. Part of the purpose of this blog is to keep you updated about what’s happening right now. 

Self-publishing is a role that many more authors are considering. Bestselling authors are turning away from traditional houses to go that route. But they have built-in fan bases that make it easier for them to succeed. First-time authors should still closely consider the traditional publisher as part of their team. Build for a bit then reconsider self-publishing.

One of the big ways self-publishing has changed things is the understanding that traditional publishers don’t always see the light. They know that a work has quality but might not understand how to market it…or even believe there is a market. Self-publishing something means you can approach publishers later with proven sales figures noted in a query and book proposal.

Unfortunately, self-publishing has also means a lot of people whose goals are better suited to publishing traditionally go the self-pub route. They spend too much money on layout, cover art, setup fees, distribution and marketing efforts only to sell a handful of copies. Knowing which path is best for you–and when to pursue both traditional and self-publishing at the same time–comes from knowing the market, your own goals, trends across publishing and the broader entertainment field, knowing what e-books and print books and even magazines and newspapers are doing, and a host of other things. Writer’s Resource constantly tracks these arenas. No matter when you need to make that decision, call or email for a consultation. Launching on the right path will help you meet your career goals more quickly!

How to Sign with a Book Agent

A few weeks ago, I heard that a client I’d ghostwritten a series of juvenile grade books for had signed with an agent. That’s great news, especially in a market where publishers are trying all kinds of new things to recreate their business models.

To make your work as appealing as possible to agents and publishers, follow these steps.

First, make sure your work is the highest quality possible. Get feedback from readers in your audience, revise and edit each draft until the work shines.

Second, hone your query letter!

Third, write a book proposal. Even fiction authors should take this extra step because at some point, agents and publishers will ask them to put together the information in a standard proposal. Juvenile authors writing for children’s audiences through preteen can use a shorter submissions packet; young adult authors should go with the more detailed standard book proposal.

The next step is to research the agents and publishers who best fit your needs. Check out the posts in this blog under Agents and Submissions for information on select places to send your work.

Finally, be persistent! Passion will take you far in this game. The only people I’ve ever known who have failed as authors are the ones who gave up trying.

Can Authors Really Get an Agent Through the Slush Pile?

Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Agency recently told Writer’s Digest magazine that

About 60% of my list comes from unsolicited queries.”

Sixty percent is a strong number. Since so many agents these days want only the query letter or a query letter plus a book proposal (the two items authors use to pitch fiction and nonfiction), be sure to hone both those items.

Yes, a query and a book proposal can be the toughest things you’ll ever write…especially if you don’t have a background in publishing, marketing, or the entertainment industry. So take a class. Get feedback from other writers. Do whatever is necessary to make your initial (and possibly your only) contact with an agent stand out from the rest.