There are an incredible number of resources for writers. Googling alone will show that. Regardless, there are a few concerns I’ve seen popping up over and over again:
The Book Genre
Book or Manuscript?
Some of my favorite resources to start with:
-Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents
-The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
In terms of the synopsis, it should never be over two pages long, single spaced. The biggest reason agents request this is to see where the plot is going. It’s not considered a sample of your writing; it’s considered a sample of your plotting ability. Can you describe your plot in two pages? Will the book hold together? In other words, don’t stress so much about how it’s written; worry about whether or not it shows the true nature of your book (and includes the ending!). When I turn to a synopsis, it means that I liked the sample of writing (my personal preference is to see if the book hooks me first, and then turn to the synopsis), and I want to make sure the plot isn’t going to suddenly go from chick lit to time-traveling alternate-history paranormal suspense; I want to see what I’d be getting into if I requested more. That’s it.
And regardless of what an author may think, I’m not going to throw away a submission if it’s been called a paranormal suspense and it’s really a romantic paranormal suspense. My job, as an agent, is to know which editor to send this to; an author’s job is to know which agent to send it to. If you can get the basic elements of your novel into a sentence (i.e., it’s an historical novel with supernatural mystery elements), that’s all you should need to find an agent to submit to (look for someone who works with supernatural, or mystery, and, if historical, if they have anything remotely similar to what your book is about on their list). And in fact, many agents blend genres; they don’t have to pigeon-hole themselves in quite the same way that editors do.
There are many sites that give a basic breakdown of genre; here are some of the more confusing ones:
-Commercial – it’s written to appeal to as broad an audience as possible
-Literary – Character-driven. The plot is secondary to the development of the characters; it is more about how it is written, the art of writing, than plot
-Mainstream – genre or literary fiction that sells well. (Like Stephen King – he’s technically genre, but sells to readers outside of that genre as well; his books have the ability to attract readers who wouldn’t normally read horror)
-Genre Fiction – more emphasis on plot than on fine writing and character development, appeals to fans of the genre but not to a wider audience (romance, thriller, etc)
-Upmarket – a combination of commercial and literary; can appeal to both audiences
-Mass-Market – the smallest paperback, what genre fiction is usually published in (romances, mysteries, thrillers)
-Trade Paper – the 15.00 paperback
And of course, if all else fails, you can always search on Amazon for a book you think is similar to yours, and see how they classify it.
Even if you do get your manuscript into the hands of the perfect agent, it’s not a guarantee of representation. Agents have to have passion and enthusiasm for a project in order to sell it. Rejection IS NOT PERSONAL; it’s business. I’ve rejected many manuscripts I thought were wonderful, but just didn’t “click” with me. It’s so incredibly subjective; the best advice is to take what you can from a rejection, and move on. Always think of the WHY, not the WHAT. Meaning, don’t focus on the rejection; focus on WHY it was rejected. Did you query the wrong agent? Do you need to work more on characterization? There’s always a reason someone reacts the way they do; try and focus on that reason instead of the reaction. It’ll help to gain constructive feedback from even the word “no.”
In the end, it may just be that self-publishing is a route for you. Here’s how you know: if your book is so regional or so niche that it won’t appeal to a wider audience. Or: you’ve written a non-fiction book and will use the self-published version to build a platform of 1,000 books a month for 12 months, proving there’s an audience for your book.
For fiction, self-publishing is usually not the best option; in most cases, it will serve as a handicap. Because even if you sell 5,000 copies of that fiction novel out of the back of your car…those are dismal numbers to any book buyer. Once you self-pub, you get an ISBN; publishers and book buyers WILL use that ISBN to look up sales numbers. And since self-published books are never sold in chains, where most of the numbers come from (BookScan)…it’s going to look even more dismal. Publishers will pay money for a book equal to the amount of copies they can expect book sellers to buy. If book sellers are seeing no demand for a book…they won’t buy. Period. But if you just want a few copies to share with loved ones, by all means, self-pub away.
A book is a book is a book. Yes, technically, it’s still a manuscript until it’s published; but in my opinion, if you write a book, it’s a book; a publishing contract only means someone wants to pay money to promote it widely, because they think they’ll make money on it. So don’t try and sell yourself short; even Webster’s says: “a written OR printed work of fiction or nonfiction.”