Write on Wednesday: Agents, Agents–Here’s my Story!

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By Leslie Lindsay 

I have been busy writing today ..so busy I almost forgot to pound out a blog post!  Yesterday, I was waaay too busy volunteering in my kindergartner’s library and managing all of the day-to-day things that a 2nd grader and her little sister have going to write something for “The Teacher is Talking.”  Oops–guess I get a failing grade for that.  Alas, I am back. 

And since I am working at shaping my novel for an agent’s eyes, I thought I’d let you in a little on that process.  First of all: it’s hard.  Second of all: it’s not easy.  Redundant?  Yep. 

After I did all of my “mom duties” for the day, I told my hubby over the phone, “Yep, gonna head to Caribou to work on my novel.”  He replied, “Well, it seems like an ideal day to do that…it’s dreary and you’ll be able to hole-up in a cozy coffee shop.” He makes it sound like a vacation.  And in some sense, he’s right:  I do like to write.  And I do like coffee shops.  So, what’s to worry about? 

Turns out, a lot. 

First, there’s the synopsis, a 2-3 page complete summary of the novel, including the ending. 

Next, the back-jacket blurb.  Similar to the summary, not not nearly as long.  Look at the backjackets of your favorite books.  How are they laid out?  What do you like about them?  What makes you want to pick up that book and read it?  Make notes.  Then try your hand at crafting your own for your novel.  Not so easy.

Then, you need to sell this idea to an agent.  In a one-page letter, “the query.”  Quick, snappy, fun.  Show off all of your good writing skills and breathe life into that novel.  This is the first peek someone in the publishing industry will have of your novel.  Make it good.  No pressure.  Read these winning query letters from recently published books and be inspired.  http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/successful-query-letters

And then there’s that darn manuscript.  You know, that jumble of words and letters and chapters that make up your novel.  Well, you need to polish up that sucker and make it real purdy so when that big time New York agent is wow-ed by your query, you got it in the bag.  Because they will ask to see at least the first three chapters if interested–and sometimes the whole darn thing. 

Which begs the next question:  “what are the guidelines for formatting a manuscript?”  According to Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript (WD Books),  

  • 1″ margin on all sides
  • Add title page
  • Begin by numbering the first page of text of the book, usually introduction, prologue, or chapter 1.  But don’t number the title page. 
  • Each page should have a header that includes your name, the title of the novel IN ALL CAPS, and page number
  • Start each chapter on its own page, one-third of the way down the page
  • The chapter number and title (if you use them here) should be in ALL CAPS, separated by two hyphens or a dash.  Example:  CHAPTER 1–THE BODY
  • Begin the body of the chapter 4-6 lines below the chapter title. 
  • Indent 5 spaces for each new paragraph
  • Double-space all text
  • Use standard font (Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier), 12-point type.

Note that guidelines vary from agent to agent, market to market (genre).  Be sure to visit your intended agent’s website to make sure you have all of the guidelines in place.  Then, get on it.  But when you use the above suggestions, you are in the right ballpark.  It will ensure your manuscript (ms or mss) is clean, neat, and won’t be rejected because youwere sloppy.  And by all means, try not to be cutesy.  Funky fonts or goofy graphics rarely wow agents.

So, what are you waiting for?!  Write on, Wednesday!

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