The Agent Search Part 1- Basics of Writing a Publishable Manuscript

Part 1 of many
Since it took me several years and more than one manuscript to sign with an agent (the fabulous Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown), I wanted to share some of my many mistakes in hopes that others won’t make them. At many of the conferences and meetings I’ve attended recently, I see too many new writers already setting themselves up for disappointment, and I wish that wasn’t the case.

Sometimes getting an agent seems like it’s at the top of an impossible climb, so I’m going to start with the very basics, because if you miss a few steps, it can set you back needlessly far. If you are already beyond the basics, please stop back for later posts. I’m only focusing on writing to get published, and that means I’m not trying to get into discussions of what makes or doesn’t make great literature.

My very first mistake when I first starting writing so many years ago was the reasoning that because I had read hundreds of books I could easily write a book. Bad mistake. Many of the books I had read were first published ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred years before I started writing. All this reading was excellent for my overall literary education, but not as helpful for my goal of getting published.

Language and culture change all the time, and that includes what people want to read and the style in which books are written. People will argue that a writer should just write what they want to write, in a style they like, and tell the story they want to tell. This is true if someone is just writing for themselves or honing their skills, but if writing to get published, a writer needs to know the market. This doesn’t mean writing to meet a trend, because the trend will most likely be impossible to latch onto by the time it’s a trend, but it does mean studying what people are reading right now.

Since there are so many thousands of amazing books published each year, it’s useful to start by reading the ones that received the most notice. Remember, we are talking about the business of getting published, so it’s important to see what was successful.

There are many, many top ten lists, and for this post I went to Amazon to see what they list as both editors’ picks and customer favorites for 2009 in middle grade and young adult books. Only a few books made both lists, but looking at the variety of the titles, there are books for every taste and books of widely different writing styles, both commercial and literary. Reading even a few of these will give a writer a better sense of how his or her writing needs to measure up.

Customer Favorites
Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
Percy Jackson and the Lighting Thief series by Rick Riordan
The Thirty-Nine Clues series by various authors
The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott
The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
Warriors series by Erin Hunter
Scat by Carl Hiassen

Editors’ favorites
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Percy Jackson and the Lighting Thief series by Rick Riordan
Toby Alone by Timothee de Fombelle
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
Nana Cracks the Case by Kathleen Lane
Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
The Georges and the Jewels by Jane Smiley
Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko

Customer Favorites
Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
House of Night series by P.C. and Kristin Cast
Maximum Ride series by James Patterson
Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare
L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad
Vampire Academy series by Rachel Mead
Pendragon series by D.J. McHale

Editors’ favorites
Beautiful Creatures by Margaret Stohl
Shiver by Marjorie Stiefvater
Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Leviathan by Scott Westerfield
Claudette Colvin: Twice towards Justice
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork
Fire (Graceling) by Kristin Cashore
The Ask and the Answer: Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness
Catching Fire (Hunger Games) by Suzanne Collins
If I Stay by Gail Forman

Coming soon-Part 2 Why does point of view matter?

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