Feedback from agents and publishers is golden. Worth a thousand times more than feedback from friends, about a hundred times more than critique from peers, and ten times more than a paid appraisal. Agents and publishers simply have no reason to let you know how to improve your work. They're busy.
However, once in a while, a manuscript comes through the slush pile (that is what the unsolicited material is called in case you don't know) and it piques their interest, so they read the submission material yet it's still lacking...something.
And they do something that will improve your book tenfold - they tell you what's wrong with it.
Tip no: 1
Know your audience
Let's first take a look at who agents and publishers are. A lot, not all, are successful editors. Some, not all, are writers. I've checked out many agent profiles during the course of pitching my novels and rarely have I seen a bio with "published author" on it. There were a few. Out of maybe one hundred agent profiles that I've searched.
I mentioned that they are usually successful editors. They've worked on small books, big books, with small authors, big authors. So who are agents and publishers really? Read their bios and many will tell you that typically they are editors. Editing is the single most important part of any novel. It turns coal into a diamond. It turns muck into gold. The experts at this task are the editors. However, they do a lot of work and rarely get any of the glory.
In a previous post I discussed the myths around publishing. One myth is that agents and publishers are not looking for the next big thing. Busted. They are. Discovering talent is what drives agents and publishers to get out of bed. So this leads me to think that agents and publishers are seeking the same glory that writers are. Maybe why they cut their teeth as editors but move into managing and publishing.
So if we are seeking the glory, then it stands to reason that many writers, agents, and publishers are on the same page.
Tip no: 2
Would you rave to your friends about a second rate meal?
No you wouldn't. Agents and publishers have to rave about your book to everyone they meet, which means they have to love it or they won't have a chance at selling another book. How can you send them something to love?
Firstly, don't send in something that you wrote for NaNoMo and spent a week doing a spell check on. There is so much more to a publishable story than punctuation and grammar.
Other components include:
Not just dialogue, not just action, but that internal thought that goes with the things we do each day, that angel/devil on our shoulder.
Nobody wants to read about wooden or too perfect characters.
Is there development, redemption, a reason we kept reading?
Is action and reflection evident in the pace of the writing. Action should be fast. Reflection can be slower.
Can we imagine this world?
Is it age appropriate, informal where it needs to be?
Readers shouldn't notice the work that goes into producing a good story, they should just enjoy the book because, like a good meal, we can tell at first glance or taste whether any effort has gone into the dish. Likewise, an agent and publisher can also tell within the first 5 pages whether the effort has been put into the book.
Make sure that you are submitting the best work that you can possibly submit. Don't rely on agents and publishers to give you feedback. Most won't. But if they do, you are one step closer to achieving your goal of having your book published.
Tip no: 3
Rainbows and kittens are of no help to you.
We have an agreement in our writers group that we do not want to hear that the work we submit is all rainbows and kittens. This sort of feedback is lovely, but rarely is it helpful. You want somebody who is looking at the book objectively to point out the flaws in the structure, in the plot, in the characters, in all those aspects from Tip no: 2.
Here is some actual feedback I have received from publishers and agents over the years.
The narrative and character arc were secondary.
The characters seemed younger.
Scenes just sorta happen.
At times I felt I was looking in on the journey, not experiencing it.
I didn't feel that the characters deserved their ending.
The narrative is excessively wordy.
The editors who have seen your work feel that it shows real promise.
I've been so lucky to have received this type of feedback with every novel I've submitted. It has kept me writing; the power of positive feedback is second to only hearing yes they want to publish it. Some books were revised and resubmitted, some left in the drawer. But what this means is that I am close, very close to having that book published. Some I've reworked, some I've put back in the drawer, but always have I taken this feedback on board, which leads me to tip no: 4.
Tip no: 4
If you get feedback, use it.
This goes without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway. If you disregard the valuable feedback you've received you won't improve your writing. Every single piece of advice I've received has been applied to the book in question, or a subsequent book. The version that got rejected 3 months ago is not the same version that is now sitting with an agent and a second agent is interested in receiving a follow up query. All because I took the advice offered and I applied it.
Well, there you go, getting feedback from an agent and publisher is possible if you approach it properly.
Good luck with you pitching and if you wish to share your experiences I'd be happy to know how you went. Did you get that book published. Did you land that agent?
I'll keep you updated on how it goes with the agent.