So how do you know if your book isn’t finished?

I’m doing the agency rounds for book number 3 at the moment. As you’d expect, the submission criteria don’t vary that much between them:

  • Covering letter
  • Synopsis
  • First fifty pages or the first three chapters.

A lot of the agencies also post some helpful hints about presentation, and increasingly, recommendations for literary consultants – which I’ve talked about before.

Anyway, I came across the  Caroline Davidson Literary Agency who, according to their entry on LitRejections, were not interested in any of the following:

Chick Lit, Romance, Erotica, Crime, Thrillers, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Poetry, Children’s Books, YA, Or Non-Fiction in these areas: Autobiographies, Memoirs, Conspiracy Theories, Educational Textbooks, Local History, Occult, PhD Theses, Self-Help, Unfortunate Personal Experiences, True Crime, or War Stories.

Bloody hell, I thought, what are they interested in?  I was intrigued enough to head over to their website to take a look, and under submissions guidelines, I found this:

What we are looking for in a novel »

A good title; an engaging story with a beginning, middle and end; vivid, memorable characters whom one cares about; superb dialogue; a trans­porting sense of time and place; accuracy of detailing; psycho­logical plaus­ibility; an intriguing beginning and memorable ending.

In addition, what fills us with joy is the writer who has a palpable love of language; who always chooses precisely the right words; eschews cliché; handles pacing with the grace of a dancer or musician; conjures up moods and atmospheres with precision and panache. His or her spelling, punctuation and grammar will be immaculate.

First novels are welcomed at CDLA, but only if they fit all the requirements above.

And there you have it:  all they’re looking for is a bloody good book. At the very least this is what every writer should be aiming for.

A bit further down, we have a few more gems that tell you whether or not your book is in a fit state to be published:

The classic signs of an ‘unpolished’ novel are as follows:

  • you haven’t actually finished it
  • you haven’t revised it
  • you’re still at the first or second draft stage
  • you haven’t read it out aloud and improved it in the light of that experience
  • you haven’t given the novel to test readers (i.e both men and women of different ages and from varying backgrounds) and acted on their detailed feedback.

Points 1–3 should be obvious, and I will keep banging on about point number 4: read every page in a loud clear voice to hear how it sounds. There’s no better way to catch awkward sentences and an overabundance of dialogue tags. After you’ve read your work for the ninth time, missing/misplaced words will just wash over you because you’re not actually reading at this stage; you’re remembering. Read it out loud, and watch the mistakes fly out at you.

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