Ever whipped up a half-hearted proposal, or penned a “just-OK” chapter? Here are a few words of advice from former agent Jennifer Lawler, the latest from Promptly’s Top 20 Tips From WD in 2010 series. (A regular prompt follows!)
No. 7: Good Enough Vs. Great
“After writing for a number of years, I’d occasionally find myself thinking, I’ll just throw a couple of thoughts together and send them out to see if anyone bites. When no one bit, I’d think, Good thing I didn’t break a sweat. What I should have been thinking was, Maybe if I’d broken a sweat, this idea would have generated interest.
“As an agent, I turn down ‘good enough’ ideas every day. The distance between ‘good enough’ and ‘great’ may not be huge, but if you go that extra 10 percent, I can tell. So can everyone else. ‘Great’ has me making lists of editors I should pitch as soon as you sign with me. ‘Good enough’ has me thinking about how much work it’s going to take to get the project to where it needs to be—and frankly, I’d rather eat ice cream. I’m going to do above-and-beyond work only for people who have fantastic ideas and/or credentials, who I’m convinced I can work well with, or whose names begin with Oprah Winfrey.
“You can bet as a writer I’ve sworn off my ‘good enough’ ways.”
—Jennifer Lawler, “Lessons Learned From an Author-Turned-Agent,” March/April 2010 (click here to check the rest of the issue and article out)
[And, here are a few more observations from the piece …]
“Here’s what happened recently: While reading the umpteenth slow-starting novel manuscript that crossed my desk one afternoon, I found myself practically screaming, ‘Throw away the prologue! Just throw it away! I never want to see another prologue in this lifetime!’ In fact, in all the submissions I’ve looked at, I have yet to read a prologue that has improved a manuscript. Good stories should start where they start, and not before or after. You need to work the backstory into the story, and not just shove it into a prologue.”
“I already knew that publishing could be a heartbreaking business, and becoming an agent didn’t make it any less so. In fact, now that I submit on behalf of my clients, getting rejected is actually worse, because I feel like I’ve let down someone who has faith in me. In the past few months, I’ve had more interactions with more editors than I did in the previous decade. As a writer, I’ve always felt lucky that I’ve worked almost entirely with good-hearted people who I like a lot. What’s impressed me about being an agent is finding out this is not a fluke. Practically everyone I’ve been in touch with has been kind, even editors who’ve never heard of me or the agency. Everyone is looking for good work, and they’re happy I have some, even if they end up passing on it.”
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post a response (500
words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.
By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional
around-the-office swag drawings. If you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail your piece and the prompt to me at
email@example.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.