Not for Love nor Money

Very often I have new writers ask if I will pass their work along to an agent or editor, sort of “walk it through the system.” The author’s assumption is that this will help persuade a professional to publish their manuscript. But the answer is—No, I don’t believe in doing that, and you should never ask me or any other author!

Here’s a few reasons why:

1. Editors Build Resistance: If I say to an editor, “You know, this is the best manuscript since Lord of the Rings,” the editor’s spine will usually stiffen up just a bit. The editor will feel uncomfortable and put upon, and will immediately want to argue. Sometimes they will even say, “Oh, yeah, we’ll see about that!”

You probably understand what they’re going through: Have you ever had someone tell you that a book was so great, that no matter how good it really was, it just couldn’t live up to your expectations?

That’s the danger. So perfectly good books get rejected just because the editor or agent gets her expectations too high.

Let me give you an example. A few years ago, a woman in my old writing group completed a novel, and I suggested that she send it to my agent. I sent the agent a note asking him to watch for it. He got the manuscript and wrote her a very rude letter saying, “What makes you think that people will want to buy this kind of crap?”

Now, was there anything wrong with the novel? No. In fact, my friend then sent it to another agent who promptly sold the novel to a major publisher. It was picked up by several book clubs, got rave reviews, and quickly became a national bestseller.

So the novel was fine, but I got the exact opposite reaction that I would have hoped for.

2. Remember that editors and agents might not like vanilla: I have often said that you as an author can make the best vanilla milkshake in the world, but if your editor or agent prefers chocolate cherry, then they won’t buy it.

I know of several authors right now who are ready to break out, but each of them is doing something a bit new and original, and the fact that I believe in them is in part a reflection of my personal tastes. I might believe that there is an audience for their works, but now they have to find just the right agent or editor who shares their tastes.

3. For Love or Money:  Recently, I learned of a couple of men who have been trying to seduce young female writers, offering to train them and promote their novels while aggressively trying to bed them. Uh, you’d think that I wouldn’t even have to warn you away from such behavior, but here it is: If your bedding an author, others will notice.

Remember that a good editor is trained to pay attention to your manuscript alone, aside from all other consideration. It doesn’t matter much if an author is good-looking, shows a lot of marketing prowess, or has important friends in the industry. The editors and agents like to study a manuscript in the cold, harsh light of their office, away from all distractions, in order to see if it holds up under scrutiny.

Only the manuscript matters. When you submit it, you don’t send bribe offers, run your mother’s rave reviews past the editor, or give them a song and dance about how your kids haven’t eaten in five days.

A few years ago, I had a friend who sent me a manuscript and asked if I would run it past my editor. Now, I suspected that my editor wanted to feel the personal thrill of discovering his own authors. So I looked it over, then I suggested that the author send it to the editor with a few minor revisions.  A week later, the editor called the author and said, “You know, I’ve only read the first couple of chapters so far, but I think I want to buy this book.”

Really, folks, quality sells manuscripts. Nothing else matters.

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Preorder Writers of the Future Vol. 34

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