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The One Thing Agents Want in Their Submission Piles

The only thing every agent wants to find in her massive submission pile is a must read book. That one book she can’t put down.

We were recently discussing this during a BookEnds meeting. One of us (I won’t name names) found a submission that she was strongly debating. She absolutely loved the idea, but couldn’t get past execution problems. Ultimately, she wanted to keep reading because she desperately wanted to fall in love with the book, but in the end she could put it down.

Authors often complain that agents and editors don’t want to do the work. “If you loved the idea so much why wouldn’t you work with the author to make the book better?” The problem is that often you can’t.

If I have a must-read book with a slightly unlikable protagonist or some plot holes I can fix those, because despite the problems, I still couldn’t put the book down. If I have a must read book with a slightly weak idea, I can tweak that because no matter what, I still couldn’t put the book down.

What I can’t do is make the book into something I can’t put down. Trust me. I’ve tried. There have been too many times over the years when I’ve desperately worked with an author because I loved her idea so much, but the problems allowed me to put it down. They got in the way of my enjoyment. I thought that if I could just fix those problems, I would make it unputdownable. Never happened.

In all likelihood an agent will always edit your book before going on submission. There’s always something that needs tweaking. But no matter what, before she got to that stage, she found your book so good she stopped all of her other work to get it read.

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3 comments

  1. I don’t understand writers who believe it’s the job of someone else to perfect their book. This is almost as strange to me as the writer who believes their work needs no editing.

    When my novel is as good as I can make it, when my beta readers can’t put it down and have no suggestions for improvement, I’ll query. I don’t want to send it off with fingers crossed that it’s “good enough”; I want to know in my heart and mind that people will love it. And I want any offering agent to be as enthusiastic about it as I am. That way, I can hope that whatever edits arise, they won’t be overwhelming.

  2. I think, that is my biggest fear. As you say some things can be fixed, but what if people don’t like my story?

    My two biggest critics and my greatest supports (don’t tell the kids I said that) are my husband and mum. Honestly Jessica I would be more confident sending my MS to you as it is, without its first completed all the way through edit done. Then let my mum anywhere near it, yet. You are more likely to say this is perfect let’s take this to print, and you dont represent my genre, then mum doing more than say, “now finish it. You know how” and my husband usually something on the lines of “if your going to do it, do it properly or not at all”.
    So a few weeks ago when I was tearing my hair out because I KNEW something was wrong on the first page, but couldn’t find it. I growled at hubby to tell me what was wrong (I think I’d been growling a while, he didn’t speak) I was going to make coffee.
    When I returned he was on page 15, had found the problem in seconds, and asking for the rest of the story.
    But he is still my husband, and as long as I do the work well, both he and mum will demand a standard, they are both readers, they will love it.
    The big question for any new author is what if other people don’t?

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