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Thursday, September 1, 2011

How important are first impressions to publishers/agents?

As a multi-genre, multi-published author, I gained some wisdom or at least some experience in the submitting game. Granted the form rejections letters from many publishers and agents send out don’t tell you a thing to help you understand why you were rejected. Some, however, mean exactly what they say—they can’t use what you sent them. Does that always mean your story? Or did they refuse it because of your presentation without reading more than a page? A poor presentation will get you automatically rejected without anyone going to page two. Why? Think about this: if you don’t care enough about your talent to present it in a clean, neat manner, the first message you send is negative. If you aren’t proud enough of your work to make it look good and give it polish, why should they read it?
Here’s a very simple example, you go into a store and on the rack there are two blouses. One has been dropped on the floor and walked on. It’s dirty and wrinkled. Right next to it is one that hasn’t. Which one are you going to try on? You’re the publisher; would you take one you know is going to take extra work when there’s one right beside it he could put on and be ready to go? Provided, of course, that it’s the right color which takes us to issue number two.
Did you do your homework? Did you surf their website, read and apply what they wanted both in material and presentation? If you don’t care enough to format it the way they request, why would they expect you to do the necessary work to take it to the release stage? Although there really are those out there who feel ‘my story is so good, all that doesn’t matter—once they read it, they’ll know that.’ They aren’t going to read at all if you didn’t follow their requested format. As well as a gauge as to how well you’ll work through the editing process, the primary reason for font, line spacing, and font size are simply to avoid eyestrain. Respect that. Also pay attention to what genre they’re asking for and the specifics. Don’t send them a 150,000 manuscript when they asked for an 80,000. A science fiction isn’t going to be accepted at a house that specializes in historical romances. That was an extreme example, yes, but do pay attention. They post their guidelines for a reason.
Last, but certainly not the least is grammar and punctuation. Just because you’re writing fiction not a text book, those two items do not get tossed out the window, nor will a publisher overlook sloppy, lazy writing for ‘the magnificent story’ and leave it up to the editing staff to clean it up. Again, if you don’t care enough to do it, why should they? If you don’t know the basics, learn them. Elements of Style and The Chicago Manual of Style are both available for reading online. Take one rule at a time, learn it and apply it. Nothing will turn off a prospective publisher or agent more than a first page loaded with punctuation and grammar errors. Again, that’s usually as far as they will read. Apply the same care, also, to the query letters and synopsis. Those are the first things they read, and they judge your writing ability—and the depth of your commitment—by those.
Show them you care, you’re proud of your work, and have the necessary commitment to follow through to the finish.
Two of my books that made it through.
visit my website: and see those under both of my pen names.


  1. Good article and oh so true. It's always made me sad to hear talented writers blow off these warnings. I've always looked at submission rules as a sort of rite of passage anyway. If someone is willing to invest their time, money, resources and reputation on a writer's project, they have the right to pick and choose from what they're offerd. An author should bring their A-game to the table.

  2. Excellent advice. I'm always surprised when someone queries an agent or publishing company without researching them first. It's also the best way to protect yourself from scammers, who unfortunately are as prevelent as honest agencies. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I went to an RWA Fiction Fest and met an agent who was interested in one of my YA WIPS. Needless to say, I was over the moon. I worked like hell over the summer to incorporate all the elements we had discussed. But when I dug a little deeper into the agency, I found that 80% of their targeted demographic was Inspirational/ Christian publishers.

    As my writing style doesn't fit that demographic, it was a wakeup call to say the least. I'm happy to say I stayed true to my voice, and didn't change my story to fit their particular audience. I know I'll eventually find a home for my book, but it was still a disappointment that could have be avoided if I had done a more thorough check.

  4. All very good observations and items writers need to address. "Dos and Don'ts" are important to follow. I wish more writers would consider all that you mentioned when sending in contest entries, too. Many times I've had to mention the importance of following guidelines...and knowing correct grammar rules.


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