Last week we interviewed successful literary agent Evan Marshall and his partner editor Martha Jewett on their unique software edition to Marshall’s bestselling guide to plotting novels, THE MARSHAL PLAN. This week, we asked Evan and Martha to talk a little bit about what they look for in strong submissions and where they think the commercial fiction market is heading.
Evan and Martha are also giving a few goodies to WU readers! Leave a comment in the post for your chance to win one of two copies of Evan’s forthcoming mystery novel, CITY IN SHADOW (available to residents of the U.S. and Canada only, please).
Also, in partnership with NaNoWriMo, they are offering a fantastic opportunity:
2 Grand Prizes:
- The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software ($149 value)
- A copy of The Marshall Plan® for Novel Writing Ebook ($10 value)
- A Free Fiction Makeover for your novel proposal: top literary agents Evan Marshall and Martha Jewett will tell you what you need to do to get your novel published faster in today’s competitive publishing climate.
Click HERE for the official rules and details on the submission. This is a fantastic opportunity to get a professional critique on your first chapters and synopsis from people who know the industry inside and out.
And now, enjoy part two of our two part interview with Evan Marshall and Martha Jewett.
Q: You both saw a lot of bad writing in your professions as literary agent and editor. What are some of the most common mistakes writers make? What made you immediately stop reading a manuscript?
A: Some of the worst mistakes fiction writers make are:
- Telling, not showing. A novel must consist mostly of action and dialogue. Many novels we receive are written in an odd summary style that feels like a cross between a novel and a synopsis. This distances the reader. Don’t tell us something happened. Give us a blow-by-blow description, action and dialogue, with the occasional interior thought or piece of background.
- Loading the beginning of a novel with background and/or explanations, rather than hitting the ground running with action. It’s a natural tendency to want to explain everything about a story before it begins. But this is fatal to a novel. The beginning is the most important part of the novel; it determines whether the reader will go on. If the story must grab us on page one, and the way to do this is to jump into action of the story and then explain things in bite-size pieces along the way. The best novelists know how effective it is to withhold information, even about the lead character, for as long as possible. We explain in our system that you should explain only what the reader needs to know to make sense of your story so far.
- Not targeting a specific genre of novel. As we mentioned above, some writers just start writing, figuring they’ll worry later about where their book fits in. In the old days of publishing, this was OK. Categorization wasn’t as important and many novels were simply called novels or fiction. That won’t work anymore. There are more books than ever, readers are more sophisticated and they want to know exactly what they’re getting for their entertainment dollar. Think about movies. Would you go to a movie if I described it simply as “a movie”? I wouldn’t.
- Rehashing ideas we’ve seen over and over again, rather than trying to come up with something fresh and different. Whenever a novel hits big, we receive dozens of copycat novels. Novels just like The Hobbit, novels just like The Da Vinci Code, novels just like Twilight. But editors don’t want what they bought two years ago and have already published; they want something fresh and new–within a recognizable category, of course. It’s more important than ever to deliver original ideas. In the end, if it comes down to the quality of the writing or the freshness of the ideas, the ideas always win.
- Not checking (or having someone else checking) for mistakes in grammar and/or spelling. There’s no excuse for sloppy manuscripts. Run the spell check but read carefully, because you may have written their when you should have written there, and the spell check won’t catch that. Have books on hand to refer to. I always recommend The Chicago Manual and Webster’s Eleventh, two books publishers use as standards.
- Not formatting the manuscript properly. Hundreds of books and websites tell you exactly how to set up your manuscript. It’s not complicated, but if you don’t do it right you send a message that you don’t know what you’re doing, and that’s likely to get your manuscript thrown in the reject pile. Remember, with hundreds of manuscripts pouring into publishing houses and literary agencies, people are looking for reasons to say no.
Any of the above is likely to make us stop reading.
Q: What are some trends in publishing that you think writers should be paying attention to now?
A: Paranormal fiction is still huge, but so much has been done that publishers are becoming increasingly sophisticated about what they buy. Now there are many subgenres within paranormal, and a writer must target one of these very carefully while delivering something fresh in terms of story. Other hot areas are sweet romance (including Amish), African American, Christian, dark young adult, urban fantasy and issue-driven women’s fiction. Writers should always be reading voraciously to know what’s popular, and also to know what’s being done in their own target genre.
Q: What are some other resources for novelists that you can share with us?
A: First, of course, there is The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software, and the print and ebook versions of the book that started it all, The Marshall Plan® for Novel Writing. We would also like to direct your readers to our Little Black Book of Writing Resources, in which we list our favorite websites for advice, research, etc. All of these are sources we have carefully vetted and recommend. Here’s a link to the book: http://writeanovelfast.com/our-little-black-book-of-writing-resources/.
We also recommend our blogs, where we are constantly adding tips and advice for writers:
Psychology Today — The Literary Life: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-literary-life
Also helpful is our Marshall Plan® Forum, where writers exchange questions and advice: http://marshallplan.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=general
Q: Is there something I didn’t ask that you’d like to address?
A: We are passionate about helping people tell their stories — fiction, memoirs, narrative nonfiction — and will continue to serve as a resource through our blogs, software products, podcasts and many other resources. “Jumper cables for writers,” as we say on one of our blogs. We are always looking for ways to help writers make their dreams come true, always adding material we hope will help. We welcome input on ways we can be of service.
Q: What is next for you both?
A: We are currently hard at work creating a Mac version of The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software — something we’ve been getting a lot of requests for. We are also very excited about two new software products we have in development. We can’t talk about them yet, but we can say that they are both something never seen before, and that writers will find them as fun and useful as they have found our first software product.