How do manuscripts become bestsellers?
Possibly via a referral or through the “slush pile”
Rumours claim agents don’t read their “slush pile,” but ignoring unsolicited submissions could mean missing out on the next big thing. Agents read new manuscripts from existing clients first. Next those that arrive highly recommended from clients. Interns and assistants comb through the remaining slush pile submissions and identify certain projects as having promise.
Clues in a query letter sometimes indicate that someone is worth closer attention.
So what will prompt an agent to go for a ms? Good, confident writing. High-concept, ambitious stories. A new voice – something that feels like it simply hasn’t been done before – is a good way to grab attention.
Say the agent comes upon a brilliant ms, and decides to take on the author as a client. What happens next?
The agent and the author will take some time to polish the ms together. Then, the agent chooses the "right " editor at a publishing house. Editors are the people who will acquire the ms for publication. Mainstream editors don’t usually accept queries from authors, only from agents, who have honed their pitching techniques for years.
The pitch - when calling the editor to describe a book is vital. The rapport between agents and editors is vital but little known, built up through regular phone calls, through lunches and coffees over the years so agents know who to call on a specific project.
Picking the right editor and the right way to pitch a book is crucial.
An agent will prepare a proper pitch, clarifying which kind of readers a manuscript is likely to attract, or comparing it to existing titles. A single editor working full-time will take on six to 10 novels a year on average. The volume of offerings has increased drastically over the years. It’s not uncommon for an editor to receive four to eight manuscripts a day.
Fiction is so subjective and may not appeal to an editor who will have to work on it for two years. One editor claims it is all about the voice.
A book should grab the reader immediately. Too often submissions are either beautifully written with no story, or all story but the writing is lacklustre. People underestimate just how hard it is to do both and do both successfully.
See part 2 in the next post.