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Agent Irene Goodman On: Common Submission Mistakes

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Contests, Guest Columns.

Irene Goodman has been a top agent for more than 30 years, with many NY Times bestsellers. She offers manuscript critiques on eBay every month, starting on the first day of each month, with all proceeds going to charity.  Go to irenegoodman.com for more details on her charity auctions.

What are the most common mistakes
you see writers make in their submissions?

I’ve been doing a lot of partial manuscript critiques every month on eBay (all proceeds go to charity), and I’m noticing certain patterns that have emerged. A lot of good writers with the best of intentions make the same three crucial errors:

  1. They try to throw too much into the story, thinking it will appeal to more people that way. The opposite is true. I ask them to identify where in the bookstore this book will be shelved. If they can’t answer promptly, they’ve made a mistake. You can’t write a mystery/romance/thriller/adventure/soap opera with a dash of science fiction. Simple is better.

  2. They write a thriller that’s not–well, thrilling. It may be interesting and well written, but if it’s not scary, it doesn’t have suspense, there is nothing big at stake, or there isn’t much action, it’s not much of a thriller. 
  3. They pick subjects that are just not commercial. Don’t spend three years of your life writing a novel about King Olof Skötkonung of Sweden or a romance novel set in Germany in 1943. Learn what’s commercial and what is not.

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5 Responses to Agent Irene Goodman On: Common Submission Mistakes

  1. Jill says:

    I’ve heard lots of opinions re: #3 — my fave is "write what you love." If you love Sweden’s history, knock yourself out. But realize you may have a hard time selling that book to an agent or publisher (who couldn’t care less about Swedish history…)

  2. Wilda says:

    Yeah I gotta say #3 I’m not so sure. If JK Rolling had asked me I would have told her the witch/wizard thing has been beaten to death.

  3. Kit says:

    Wow…regarding #3…clearly I don’t know what is and isn’t "commercial" given that either of those stories sounds far more interesting than most of what I find on the shelves. How is a romance set during WWII in the thick of the European front NOT commercial? And the history of Sweden is actually really, really interesting. Sorry if I just can’t agree, even with Ms. Goodman’s excellent other points and great reputation!

  4. Eddy says:

    These tips have helped me craft what I believe is such a good story. I had submitted my original manuscript Justin to several agents and I wish they had given me such advic long ago.

    Thank you!!

  5. Lindsay says:

    Wonderful tips–I’d love to see a few more!

    The manuscript-critiquing for charity sounds like a great way to help out.

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