Agent Questions, Vol. 8: The Secret to Getting Published by Jennifer Haskin

Jennifer Haskin

What’s the number one thing I can do to get published? What’s your best piece of advice?

Authors ask these two questions the most. Interestingly enough, they have the same long answer. But in short: Strength. Have you heard the words “strong” manuscript yet? If you’re a writer, you will. Why? That’s what agents look for. I’m coining the phrase. A strong manuscript is one with good use of language, good sentence structure, no plot holes, a complete manuscript, it has a clear beginning with rising action to a climax and resolution, a strong voice (another post), showing action, not telling the reader things they’d rather “see,” and above all, they need a great concept.

Not just a good one. Agents get hundreds of good books that come close, but are not quite ready. “Good” is a debatable and subjective term; “great” means simply better than “good.” You can’t know what every agent’s stance and tolerance level is. Just to be sure, make yours as great as you can.

Agents are looking for a book that is either ready to publish, or one revision away from publishing. So, edits never hurt. Use your beta readers. If you need an editor, NOW is the time. The agent doesn’t have time to sign you and then wait for your manuscript to be edited to greatness. It needs to be there already for the agent’s signature. They will have edits for you right away, and the publisher may do multiple rounds of edits for/with you.

Hire the independent editor before querying the agent. Do all you can to make sure that your manuscript is ready to go, from the internal killer sentences, to the format of your manuscript. Look here for a checklist of items for completing your publish-ready manuscript:

You are the one who makes your manuscript a dynamic story. When you have a strong manuscript, it will capture an agent. That’s your job. The agent will help you find the right publisher and negotiate the contract. But what you have at the starting gate will determine the outcome of your “race” to the finish line.

Your query (How to Write a Query) is next; it is mostly about communicating your concept to agents, and how to show your level of professionalism, and how well you follow directions. Agents do reject on queries alone sometimes due to their volume, so it’s always good to have yours look professional, it gives the appearance of experience and forethought. This is a business and your query is your book’s resume, so treat it as such.

The most important piece of advice is this: make sure your book is different. Every idea has been written at least twice. Trust me, it has. No “but’s.” I have typed this a lot this week. Every author, yes, I am one, wants to believe that their story idea is completely unique because, “I have never heard it before and the whole thing came right out of my brain, word by word, which by definition makes it unique.” Right? Umm…no. That’s not what I’m talking about. That idea you had, someone else has already had it, written it, edited it, queried it, signed it, pitched it, and gotten it published. Sorry, but you’re late to the party. Actually, it probably happened before you were born. People have been writing stories since the dawn of time.

That’s the trick with writing. Find the most unique combination of ideas to string together in the most interesting of ways and present it to the world. This is your challenge.

Publishers want something “different,” something new and fresh. Yes, “regular” and “tropey” books make publishing deals, too. A lot are self-published or taken by small presses. That’s not to say they are bad. They all have readers. However, if your goal is to be traditionally published by one of the Top 5 Houses or their imprints, you are going to have to look for something new. Try two ideas together that you wouldn’t expect.

Cinder (Marissa Meyer)-a Cinderella retelling with cyborgs in space; Throne of Glass (Sarah J Maas)- a girl assassin who happens to be a fae queen; Twilight (Stephanie Meyer)-a vampire that can’t go into the sun because he sparkles; Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)- a child killing-game; Angelfall (Susan Ee)- Angels that hate and kill humans, or classic stories and retellings, with a surprise twist. One of my clients has a book about Peter Pan in space opera form. Now, that sounds intriguing.

Some people cannot write within set parameters and insist on writing only what they feel passionate about. My suggestion is to write that book. It’s a learning experience. But when you are brainstorming your next story, think about your theme and do some research on what publishers are looking for. What’s the market looking for? Get a few ideas from those parameters. By the time your story comes out, it may not be on trend… but it might be. Either way, you’ve got a new book to be passionate about, to stand behind. One of the best ways to figure out what the industry wants is to look at what agents are asking for.

A site I send everyone to is: There you enter your genre and search for agents or editors (these are acquiring editors for publishers) who are wishing for just what you are writing. But occasionally on their wish lists, there are subjects that you notice are a common theme. Those are especially of notice. Other times, their wish lists have specific ideas. Write one of those stories, and you already know an agent you’ll want to query when you’re ready. Here are a few on there today:

  • Looking for queer gang ensemble casts in any YA genre/sub-genre that kick ass physically, mentally, at the arcade or in a high-stakes heist
  • Bonus points if they are set in the South or offer a diverse spin on a classic tale.
  • [Folk] witches/psychics
  • I want to see more mental illness stories that aren’t just about diagnosis and LGBTQIA+ stories that aren’t just about coming out.
  • Books that defy genre lines and is a total sucker for vivid descriptions of California

So, am I asking for perfection? The publishers seem to be. If writing a strong, compelling manuscript means perfection to you. But you want nothing less for your bestseller, do you? What publishers want is what they’ll contract for, so that is what agents are looking for. Sometimes you fit the mold, and sometimes you make yourself fit the mold. If it’s the success of my book in the balance, I am sure going to try. Wouldn’t you?

Finally, I encourage writers to google such subjects as: words to cut, writing killer sentences, plot structure, and showing, not telling. Knowing these things will make your writing stronger. Also, after you write the first draft, put it aside and read another book, get it out of your mind. Better, read two books. Then, go back and look at your manuscript with the eyes of an editor. And when you think you’ve seen about all you can, there’s a trick.

Change your manuscript somehow. Change the font, or the color of the text. It makes the text unrecognizable to your brain. You’ll see it as a new document, and the errors become so much clearer. My secret is to mail the document to my kindle and read it like a “real” book. That’s when the glaring mistakes jump out at me. Fix me! Fix me! It sure makes editing less straining. Maybe do the same thing for your beta readers when they read different drafts?

About the Author:

Jennifer Haskin is the author of the YA fantasy/romance series the Freedom Fight Trilogy. She is also a portrait artist and literary consultant. Jennifer lives in the Midwest with her husband and five children. When not attending writer workshops, she leads her own creative writing groups. She is a member of Savvy Authors, and Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas City writers guilds. Actively publishing her debut trilogy, she is writing full time.









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Editing Fiction V. Non-Fiction by Lorna Read

I have often been asked if one needs different skills to edit a non-fiction manuscript, as opposed to a fiction one. The answer is yes – and no! I have been an editor for forty years and have worked on everything from books on outdoor gear for walkers, climbers and cyclists, to novels of high fantasy, passionate romance and smart-paced thrillers.

Lorna Read

There is some common ground with editing fiction and non-fiction. The first similarity is obviously that, whatever the genre, the spelling, punctuation and text layout have to be spot-on.

With non-fiction, it is necessary to fact-check and this can be an arduous task. Here, there is a crossover into fiction too, as romance writers often incorporate elements from history into their plots and thriller writers cite details of weapons and warfare. Believe me, if you don’t know your M4 carbine from your AK-47, how is a reader with an interest in weapons going to take you seriously? And just imagine how much you would upset a reader from Bydgoszcz if the author of a romance novel set in Poland missed a z out of the name of their city!

I often advise fiction writers to make like a Method actor and totally immerse themselves in the personalities of the characters they are creating. As an editor, it is essential for me to do the same. With fiction, not only do I ‘become’ the characters in order to flesh out any skimpy or wooden writing, but I also do my best to retain the author’s literary style when doing any rewriting.

With non-fiction, the ‘Method acting’ consists of immersing myself in a subject, rather than a character. It is essential that a factual book does not bore the pants off the reader, so it must scintillate on the page, even if the subject is as pedestrian as gravel pits. (Yes, I really did both write and edit a newspaper supplement about those!)

Wearing my author’s hat, I have been on the other side of the editing game, too. Most publishers have their own in-house editing teams, so I am familiar with having my own written work edited. This gives me a lot of sympathy for authors, as I know only too well how it feels to have one’s precious words tinkered with. For this reason, I always supply a list of explanations for any editorial changes I have made, which I hope is a help to the writers with whom I work.

Never has an editor been more necessary than today, when anyone who fancies putting fingers to keyboard, can self-publish their work. Many writers think they can skip the chores of checking and proofreading but they are making a big mistake, for nothing screams ‘amateur’ as much as pages littered with careless misspellings and the misapplication of possessive pronouns and pronoun-verb contractions–especially those annoying ones like its/it’s, or their/they’re. A mainstream publisher is hardly likely to pick up on a self-published book if it looks as though the writer hasn’t cared enough about their work to correct these errors and typos.

An editor thus puts the polish on a rough diamond. And a good editor can raise a book from the merely adequate, to the realms of bestsellerdom. One of the joys of editing fiction is to get goosebumps from reading and working on something truly wonderful.

With non-fiction, an editor’s satisfaction is gained from knowing that every effort has been made to check names, dates and facts, so that the reader can feel confident in the author’s (or, more often, the editor’s) ability to get things right.

About the Author

Lorna Read is the author of over thirty novels and non-fiction books for all ages. Her most recent one is The Earl’s Captive, a historical romance set in the early 19th Century. Lorna is also a published poet. After graduating with an Honours degree in English Literature, she started her career as a local newspaper journalist then worked for many years as a magazine editor, for rock music and romantic fiction magazines. She is now a freelance writer and book editor. She has appeared many times on daytime television and on various radio programmes as a romantic problem expert. She is also a songwriter and won first prize at one of the Bridport Folk Festivals with a song titled,Sail to be Free.” She is currently putting the finishing touches to a book about the many supernatural experiences she has had.




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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in guest blog posts do not reflect those of the blog host.