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  • Jan Flynn

An Agent’s Take, Part 1

This week I’m excited to  welcome Ana Manwaring as a guest here at Write On! 

Besides writing a column for the Petaluma Post for six+ years, thrillers set in Mexico and poetry, Ana teaches Creative and Autobiographical Writing in the Napa Valley and Sonoma County. She also leads “revisioning” workshops for long fiction and creative non-fiction as well as helping writers start critique groups. A member of the California Writer’s Club, she founded the Redwood Salon, a bi-monthly literary evening. Her work has been published in many anthologies as well as online, on the radio, and in newspapers. She works with authors to develop their manuscripts through her editing firm JAM Manuscript Consulting.

I can tell you from personal experience that Ana is a terrific writing teacher, editor and coach as well as an accomplished writer. Today’s post — and its continuation next week — is a valuable resource for all writers approaching publication.

Thanks, Ana!


Part 1  Revision for Publication


Recently I attended the monthly Sisters in Crime Northern California membership meeting where literary agent, Elizabeth K. Kracht delivered an excellent talk on how to prepare your manuscript for submission to an agent.The presentation covered the principles and conventions of good craft and appropriate mechanics, including formatting that applies, or should apply, to any written work being prepared for publication. As a developmental editor, I found her bullet points to be a checklist of what we need to look for when we set about to polish and format our work.

From the agent’s perspective, Kracht reminds us,  an agent see only up to 50 pages of our manuscripts. She says the manuscript must be “the best you can provide” and “hold the agent’s divided and distracted attention” from servicing existing clients and dealing with the huge volume of queries  she receives. Her tip? Send in work that needs only minor adjustments:

  1. Make sure your formatting is uniform

  2. Maintain structural uniformity

  3. Ensure the quality of writing is high

  4. Make sure your place and time are clear and distinct

  5. Create sympathetic characters

  6. Use appropriate pacing

  7. Use back story appropriately

  8. Make sure character voice and author voice are distinct and distinct from each other

  9. Make sure the inciting incident is clear

Kracht suggests : The Objective look

  1. Is your project structurally uniform?

  2. Do your chapters have a beginning, middle and end?

  3. Are you addressing themes in every chapter?

  4. The Three Things Rule: What three things are happening in each chapter driving the story and characters forward?

  5. Look objectively at your dialog.

  6. Get editorial feedback from an editor and/or qualified critique group.

The first hour of the presentation Kracht devoted to formatting and structure. No one wants to read, let alone publish, a sloppy manuscript! I suggest you follow these guidelines before submitting work to your critique group, writing teacher and editor, as well as contest, agents and publishers.

Formatting:  Make it Uniform

Kratch says she  doesn’t adhere to any specific style. She mentioned the Chicago Style Manual and I advise everyone should buy a copy.

You should follow the guidelines for each individual agent when submitting, but if you’re sending work to Liz, this is what she wants:

  1. Title page

  2. Page numbers

  3. Double spacing

  4. Contact info in header

  5. 12 pt font

  6. Proper indentation (5 spaces)

  7. Standard margins

  8. New chapters starting on new pages

  9. If using epistolary information, offset from the margin


Structure:  Create a Pattern

Use uniform chapter lengths or a good, logical reason chapters are mixed long and short. TIP: Chapters in genre novels run 12-15 pages and slightly longer in literary fiction.

  1. Present alternating narratives (POV) in a pattern

  2. Show POV shifts uniformly (new chapter, line drops, astericks)

  3. Show breaks within chapters uniformly

  4. Chapter headings and sub headings used uniformly

  5. Uniform use of epigraphs, quotes, taglines or other similar information

  6. Sections or Parts: rethink using this technique.

  7. Vignettes: if using vignettes, make them meaty and gripping

Titles:  Connection to Content

1 to 3 word titles stand out. (Liz likes them best.)

Double entendres might work for you

The title ties to theme and content—Is your setting a major influence?

TECHIE TIP: Check for most common words. You may find words for theme and you may discover repetition. Or it’s just fun to play with.

TIP: Run an Amazon search for your title. Title’s can’t be copyrighted so you may find yours in use.

TASK: Make a list of all the themes in your book and find strong commonality to pull key words from. Your title (especially on Amazon) can be developed from most used /common keywords.

Word Count: Too Long OR Too Short= No Go

Is your word count appropriate for the genre? Google genre word countsIf you need to cut, look at:

  1.    back story

  2.   dialog tags and “sharpening” the pleasantries and dumb, mundane utterances        we hear from characters

  3.    excessive description/over-writing

  4.     information dumps: less is more

  5.     build up

  6.     narration showing passage of time— you don’t need to show it.

Next week: read Part 2 of Elizabeth K. Kracht’s presentation on Revision for Publication delivered on May 14 to Sisters in Crime Norcal


Elizabeth K Kracht

She represents both literary and commercial fiction as well as nonfiction, and brings to the agency experience as a former acquisitions editor, freelance publicist and writer.

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