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Kelly's Pick: Your First Novel

A top literary agent and an award-winning novelist provide an insider’s look at publishing success. by Kelly Nickell

Kelly's thoughts on Your First Novel:

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I love this book!

Your First Novel is one of those go-to titles that I recommend all the time. Why? Well … because it covers everything. An award-winning novelist covers every part of the writing process, and a top New York literary agent covers every part of the publishing process, so you’re getting an insider’s look at both sides of the process.

In the first half of the book, Laura Whitcomb, author of A Certain Slant of Light, The Fetch, and Novel Shortcuts (another great Writer’s Digest book!), looks at novel-writing techniques like idea generation, story structure, character development, and more. On plotting, for example, Whitcomb says:

There’s no secret recipe for a good plot. Brilliance can be born of anything from a twelve-layered mystery to one old man in a boat trying to catch a fish. It’s all in the telling. But make sure your plot has the elements of great storytelling: believability, heart, and tension.

To read more on plotting and story structure, check out this exclusive Kelly’s Pick excerpt from chapter 3.

In the second half of the book, then, Ann Rittenberg, literary agent to such authors as Dennis Lehane (who penned the book’s foreword), C.J. Box, and Kathleen George, offers tips on preparing your work for submission, putting together a winning query letter (look for the January 2010 issue of Writer’s Digest magazine for an excerpt on this topic!), and what to expect once your manuscript has been accepted for publication. She also explores the popular question, “What does a literary agent do, anyway?”:

When asked what I do for a living, the answer, “I’m a literary agent,” draws as many puzzled looks as it does knowing nods. To the ques¬tion “What does a literary agent do?” the simple answer is, “An agent helps a writer find a publisher for his book.”

An agent has two primary duties: to oversee his clients’ careers and to know as many people as possible in the business. Why does he need to know so many people?

Because, while anyone aspiring to write a book might know the names of different publishing houses, like Doubleday or Penguin, and might even have some idea of the kinds of books that come out under those imprints, the reality is that each publishing house is staffed by (among many other people) a cadre of editors, each of whom has different tastes and interests and publishes different kinds of books. The job of the agent is to know as much as possible about each editor, so that when, say, a book on rock climbing crosses his desk, he’ll be able to come up with a list of editors who might find it interesting.

To read more about what an agent does, read this excerpt from chapter 11.

And, if you’re curious how Laura secured her agent—Ann Rittenberg—and how they enjoyed working as co-authors on this particular project, be sure to check out the our online-only interview with Laura!

Buy Now:
Your First Novel (Print Edition)

Novel Shortcuts
(Print Edition)

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