Friday, March 19, 2010

A Six-Pack To Success

A number of writers have asked recently what obstacles they can master that still might be blocking their path to publication. Although these are covered numerous places online, below are listed six major hurdles that must be jumped before reaching the home stretch.

1. Mastery of that old bugaboo the query letter: Your query letter is your interview. Make a bad impression in front of a perspective employer and you don’t get the job. It’s that simple. What I see on a daily basis are sloppy, arrogant, aggressive, in your face, and even abusive query letters. If you want to connect with me, show me you have the ability to be a professional writer, even if you aren’t quite there yet. Don’t curry me, flatter me or con me. Write a simple business letter that (a) shows me the product wrapper (title, word count, genre, and a one-line overview, (b) gives me a jacket blurb, and (c) shows me your credentials. I want nothing more or nothing less.

2. If you get past the interview you are in the door; however, now you have to prove you can do the job. If you say you are a baker, then you have to know how to bake bread. If you say you’re a novelist, you now have write novels that readers will pay $28 each to read. If you think you’ve written something that a publisher will risk twenty thousand dollars or more to print, then show me that novel.

3. Have you every stood before a group of listeners and held their attention for an hour or so? Do you do this regularly? Have you written a syndicated column for a newspaper? Are you a celebrity? Do you have an audience or a platform; name recognition that will help sell what you write? Do you blog? Does your blog have thousands of hits per day? Have you prepared yourself to be a modern author? If not, we will have difficulty placing your novel because many of your contemporaries have these qualifications and are in line ahead of you.

4. Do you visit bookstores often? Do you know where to find novels similar to yours in that bookstore? Can you describe your genre in one word? Do you know your genre inside out? How many novels have you read in your genre? If you cannot answer all these questions, then you are not ready to query agents.

5. Would you change your title if asked? Are you ready to have your novel ripped apart? Could you shorten or lengthen your novel if asked? Would you be willing to change your novel if an agent or editor told you it would make your book more salable? If you cringe at someone even mentioning changes, then you are not ready to be published.

6. Master, perfect and be published more than a few time in one area, genre or category before trying to conquer another. Don’t be a dabbler in many areas but master of none.

This may be hard to hear but being published by a major publisher has never been easy. Read the six points above and be honest with yourself. Have you achieved mastery of just one or many of these roadblocks to publication? If not, work on at least one of the six and when perfected and polished, query an agent. If you are like many; rush to finish a novel and rush to find an agent before considering where you are as a novelist or what effort others have to put forth to sell what you’ve produced, then you’re efforts will be rewarded with form rejections.


LS Murphy said...

Great list for the novice. I found myself reading and rereading to see if I could check off all six points. Thanks for the post. said...

I thought it was "hurdles" rather than "hurtles."

It's a good list, but I'd worry about the care in the details.

jurassicpork said...

Question: How much longer before your site is up and running again? I'm about to submit my novel to lit agencies and I'll need your submission guidelines.

Email me at

Wylie Merrick Literary said...


We don't post our guidelines on our Web site as Web sites are more difficult to update than blog pages. Thus, our submission guidelines will, for the foreseeable future, be here on this blog.

After you read this look at the top of this page and you'll see, "A Six-Pack to Success," in red. Right below is 4 comments and in blue a clickable link that says, Show Original Post. If you click here, you'll view our latest blog post. Right at the top, in the colored header, you'll see the NEEDS AND GUIDELINES page.

There are three tabs--Home, Needs and Guidelines, and Conferences. Click the Needs and Guidelines tab and that page will come up. On the page, you will find our current needs plus many links to other information that should be helpful.
To return to the current post again, just click Home. Hope this helps.

While you're visiting our blog, look around. There's loads of information that will help you to become more familiar with our agency's philosophy, plus there is also information about publishing and writing.

Valerie said...

You mention arrogance - do you not think it is rather arrogant of you to advise on writing when confusing 'perspective' with 'prospective', and 'you're' with 'your'? Typos? I think not. I assume I would be wasting my time and yours in sending you my novel for consideration!

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Dear Valery,

In our rush to get what we consider valuable information out to the readers of this blog, we do on occasion make errors. Please excuse us as we excuse those whose manuscripts we read.

If I rejected writers on every typo found in any particular writing sample sent us, no one would ever be published. Misspelled words, missing words, run on and fragmented sentences are the norm in most of what we see on any given day, not only from the beginner but from the multi-published. As long as these errors do not affect the story, they are overlooked in our search unforgettable but faulted characters and a stories that will resonate with editors to whom we send our client's work. Keep in mind, that most writing is considered raw until it's published.

Thank you, however, for pointing out any errors in our posts. This shows us that our blog content is read, thoroughly.

Valerie said...

Excellent response, thank you. I am, however, surprised to learn that so many authors submit writing containing typos and grammatical errors. I will indeed send a sample of my novel to you ... what can I lose? You will probably think it is rubbish but I guarantee you will find no typos etc (English spelling).
Best wishes
Valerie (nb please note correct sp)

Wylie Merrick Literary said...


As a society, we are now moving away from form and concentrating on content. Emails, social networking, etc., allows the writer to sacrifice grammatical exactness for speed, or lack of space. Twitter, for example, only allows 140 characters in which to place a complete thought. Writers here use any device within their grasp to accomplish this, including leaving out words, misspelling, not punctuating, etc., in the fight to put as much punch as possible in this tiny space. Grammarians cringe and either ignore or have fun with breaking the rules. And what rebels we all are.

Valerie said...

But can one not have form as well as content? I take your point about twitter etc; dialogue would be killed by grammatical accuracy; sometimes grammatical inconsistencies can be used to good effect. I accept all that. But generally speaking, it is very tiring to read poorly punctuated, ungrammatical stream of consciousness twitterings for page after page. Personally, I believe strongly that excusing bad grammar, word choice and punctuation is a cop-out. But there you go. BTW I won't send my stuff as I see you don't do historical fiction or women's literature and as mine is about medieval midwifery it just might not fit the bill. Good wishes, Valerie

Annie McMahon said...

Excellent post! I'm bookmarking it for future reference. I'm nowhere near ready to query yet, but I'm learning all I can before my book is ready for submission. This helps a lot. Thank you.

nova said...

I write terrible query letters. I must. I haven't even been asked to send a partial. Probably because I don't want to write about my writing. It's embarrassing. The people who wrote reviews of my book should write them or I should just cut and paste what they wrote.

Yet, I self published using Createspace and I am selling books. I have stayed consistently in the 15,000 to 25,000 range on Amazon in Fiction. My Kindle sales are pretty decent too. People write, for the most part, 5 star reviews.

No love from agents...sigh.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Hi Nova,

It's probably unprofessional of me, a literary agent, to say,"Tell me again why you need an agent?"

The question you should always ask yourself is, "Why do I write?" If the answer is to be rich and famous then you should throw your pen away and never again pick it up. However, if your answer is because I write for my readers, then you are a true scrib. Your reviews are good, your Amazon rating is stellar so what else do you want? Ah, you want an agent to whom you wish to pay a commission to find you a publisher who will take most of what you earn. Is that what you really want? Sounds like to me you are already successful. What more can an agent do for you?

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

Very important and succinct advice. And so glad to hear that our typos are forgiven, too!

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