Continued From previous post: How to Publish Your Novel by Ken Atchity
Chapter Thirteen: Perfecting Your Craft

All five of these elements must be present in your protagonist. And as you’ve no doubt noticed, all of these attributes link directly to your novel’s action. Because in a good story, the action happens as it does because of who your protagonist is. Conversely, your protagonist develops as he does because of the way the action unfolds. Action and character drive each other.

All the elements in your novel must support this single line of protagonist in action. This holds true as well for all the other characters who populate your novel. Whether major, minor or functional, characters only belong in your story to the extent that they serve the action line.

Minor or supporting characters have a “tag”: a single attribute that defines them and makes them memorable. Any supporting character who isn’t memorable should be instantly thrown out.

A minor character’s “tag” can be just about any attribute: greed, lechery, or like Sally’s friend in When Harry Met Sally, an all-consuming desire to get married. Don’t spell it out, though. If a character is absent-minded, show it in action, thought and dialogue, don’t use the phrase “absent-minded” or you rob audience of the chance to figure it out for themselves.

A minor character can have a motivation but not a mission—that’s your protagonist’s job. They, too can evolve, but not along the same lines as your protagonist. Your minor characters are there to make his life more interesting. Establish them quickly, then move on.

Function characters play an even less important role than supporting characters. They perform a single function without being involved in the main character’s motivation. They ride in at sunset to deliver the fateful telegram, then ride away again. They serve the drinks, drive the cabs, do their duties, then go upon their way. Unlike your protagonist and minor characters, they’re supposed to be forgettable.

Keep function characters simple. If you spend too much energy on them your readers will start to think they’re more significant than you mean them to be. Then when the character disappears, it will feel to your readers like you left something dangling, or worse, like you misled them.

Keep in mind that your characters are not real people but devices that you invented for the sole purpose of capturing and holding your reader’s attention. As such, it’s your primary responsibility to keep them interesting. The best way to do that is to give them, at all times, something significant to do.

Your audience wants action. The best writers don’t get wrapped up in the complex psychological machinations of their characters. They write to satisfy their readers’ expectations. Your audience wants more than anything to see how your protagonist gets out of the corners you paint him into. All you have to do to create a compelling novel is: don’t disappoint your readers!

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Myth to Movie: Pygmalion

First published in Produced By, the official magazine of the Producers Guild of America

Myth to Movie: Pygmalion
By Ken Atchity

The wish-fulfillment archetype —the dream become flesh—finds perennially poignant expression in stories based on the Pygmalion myth.

A Cyprian sculptor-priest-king who had no use for his island’s women, Pygmalion dedicated his energies to his art. From a flawless piece of ivory, he carved a maiden, and found her so beautiful that he robed her and adorned her with jewels, calling her Galatea (“sleeping love”). His became obsessed with the statue, praying to Aphrodite to bring him a wife as perfect as his image. Sparked by his earnestness, the goddess visited Pygmalion’s studio and was so pleasantly surprised to find Galatea almost a mirror of herself she brought the statue to life. When Pygmalion returned home, he prostrated himself at the living Galatea’s feet. The two were wed in Aphrodite’s temple, and lived happily ever after under her protection.

Though it was never absent from western literature, this transformation myth resoundingly entered modern consciousness with Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, which enlisted it to explore the complexity of human relationships in a stratified society. My Fair Lady, based on Shaw’s retelling, took the myth to another level of audience awareness.

The obligatory beats of the Pygmalion myth: the protagonist has a dream inspired by encounter with an unformed object (“Look at her, a prisoner of the gutter!”), uses his skills and/or prayers to shape it into a reality; falls in love with the embodiment of his dream, and lives happily ever after, or not.

Essential to the pattern is that the dreamer-protagonist is rewarded for doing something about his dream, for turning it from dream to reality with or without a dea ex machina. Thanks to the infinite creativity of producers, directors, and writers, Pygmalion has generated countless wonderful movie story variations: Inventor Gepetto, in Pinocchio (1940--with numerous remakes), wishes that the wooden puppet he’s created could become the son he never had; a department store window dresser (Robert Walker), in One Touch of Venus (1948, based on the Ogden Nash/S. J. Perelman musical), kisses a statue of Venus (Ava Gardner) into life— trouble begins when she falls in love with him. In 1983’s thenEducating Rita (from Willy Russell’s play), a young hairdresser (Julie Walters), wishing to improve herself by continuing her education, finds a tutor in jaded professor (Michael Caine), who’s reinvigorated by her. In a reverse of the pattern, as quickly as she changes under his tutelage he resents the “educated” Rita and wants her, selfishly, to stay as she was.

Alvin Johnson (Nick Cannon), in 2003’s Love Don’t Cost a Thing, a remake of Can’t Buy Me Love (1987), comes to the rescue of Paris (Christina Milian) when she wrecks her mother’s Cadillac and can’t pay the $1,500 for the repair. Alvin fronts the cash with his savings and, in return, Paris has to pretend to be his girlfriend for two weeks; Alvin becomes “cool” for the first time in his life, but learns that the price of popularity is higher than he bargained for. In She’s All That (1999), the pattern is reversed as Freddie Prinze, Jr., is a high school hotttie who bets a classmate he can turn nerdy Rachel Leigh Cook into a prom queen but, of course, runs into trouble when he falls in love with his creation. In The Princess Diaries (2001), Mia (Anne Hathaway), a gawky Bay Area teen, learns her father was the prince of Genovia; the queen (Julie Andrews) hopes her granddaughter will take her father’s rightful place as heir, and transforms her from a social misfit into a regal lady but discover their growing love for each other is more important than the throne.

Pretty Woman (1990) is my second favorite example of the tirelessness of the Pygmalion myth. Taking the flower-girl motif of My Fair Lady to the extreme, Vivian (Julia Roberts) is a prostitute (albeit idealized) and Edward (Richard Gere) a ruthless businessman with no time for real love. As he opens his credit cards on a Rodeo Drive shopping spree, we experience a telescoped transformation-by-money accompanied with the upbeat music that reminds us that we love this highly escapist part of the Pygmalion story, the actual process of turning ugly duckling into princess swan.

My favorite example is La Femme Nikita (remade as Point of No Return, 1993, with Bridget Fonda), because it shows the versatility of mythic structure, taking Pygmalion to the darkest place imaginable as it fashions of street druggie Nikita (Anne Parillaud), under Bob’s merciless tutelage (Tcheky Karyo), a chameleon-like lethal sophisticate whose heart of gold allows her to escape both her unformed past and her darkly re-formed present.

So popular is the Pygmalion myth with audiences that it crops up in the most unlikely places. In Pao zhi nu peng you (My Dream Girl, 2003), Shanghai slum-dweller Cheung Ling (Vicki Zhao) is thrust into high society when she encounters her long-lost father, who hires Joe Lam to makeover his daughter to fit her new status. In Million-Dollar Baby (2004), the unformed matter (Hilary Swank) reports for duty and demands to be transformed. Instead of falling in love, the boxing instructor (Clint Eastwood) is reborn, reinvigorated, re-inspired, learns to feel again—thereby revealing the underlying emotion that drives the Pygmalion myth for both protagonist and the character he reshapes: rebirth into a more ideal state of being.


From How to Publish Your Novel by Ken Atchity
Chapter Thirteen:
Perfecting Your Craft

Nothing takes the place of practice. A famous athlete once said, “If you’re not practicing, someone out there is practicing. And when he meets you he will beat you.” Writing isn’t just a talent, it’s a craft that requires the honing of skill and technique. In this chapter I’ll give you several concrete suggestions about how you can improve yourself as a commercial novelist.

A novelist’s toolkit

A novelist’s medium is story, his form the contemporary novel. His most basic tools are character, action, setting and narrative voice. From the alchemy created by mixing these, a story emerges. Let’s examine each of these elements in turn.

Major, minor, and supporting characters

Character is by far the most important element of a novel. To the extent that your readers are “on board” with your protagonist, they will stay committed to your story. An unforgettable protagonist, even if he appears complex and multifaceted to the reader, is made up of just a handful of key components:

1.) Motivation: What makes your protagonist tick? What does he want? Your character must be struggling with one of the major human drives, including love, hate, fear, anxiety, vengeance, rage, jealousy, ambition, and greed. Your readers know these drives intimately; odds are, they’ve grappled with them in their own lives. They’ll respond to them.

Identify one drove for each of your characters and develop it. The best stories take a single, profound emotion and plumb its depths through all the characters like variations on a theme in music; the worst stories skim the surface of many different human drives, leaving their readers lost, confused, and unsatisfied. A well-constructed protagonist may possess two drives that are in conflict with each other, but rarely more than this. He is driven by greed and fear, for example, so that each step toward his goal of riches increases his psychological pain. In real life, people run a gamut of emotions, explore many drives, but not in well-made fiction. The beauty of the “what if” pattern (“What if a man driven by greed was as strongly driven by fear?”) is that it allows us to isolate and explore the ramifications of action issuing from such a character.

2.) Mission: Your protagonist needs a job to do, a goal for his drive. If it’s greed you’ve chosen, you may want to be the man who aims at being the top player on Wall Street, the woman who corners the oil exploration business, the couple who want to have more than anyone else at their country club. It doesn’t matter whether the character chooses to undertake the mission himself, or it’s thrust upon him. The mission should relate directly, in one way or another, to the character’s motivation.
The mission must be involved enough and challenging enough to sustain the story for the duration of the novel. It must lend itself to challenges, both in the form of obstacles, and in the form of an antagonist.

An antagonist, by definition, is a force that works against your hero’s mission—your protagonist’s nemesis. Your antagonist will not necessarily be a bad guy—he might not even be a person at all. In Sebastian Junger’s novel The Perfect Storm, nature is the antagonist. It’s the storm itself that foils Captain Billy Tyne’s mission to come home with a boatload of swordfish. In Steve Alten’s Domain, the antagonist is the other-worldly dragon creature who rises from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico after lying dormant for millions of years.

3.) Obstacles: Action happens when your hero struggles against obstacles to his mission. The obstacles you choose to confront your protagonist must be appropriate for him—don’t pit Bambi against the Galactic Empire. Arrange your series of obstacles in ascending order, so that the tension rises throughout your story. Your obstacles, ideally, should relate to one another in some fashion. And like all the other elements of your story, they must have a beginning, middle, and end.

4.) Relatability: If your audience can’t identify with your protagonist, they’re not going to be able to involve themselves in your story. Beginning writers often get the impression that a protagonist has to be likable. But if that were the case, we couldn’t enjoy Bill Murray’s performance as the irascible Frank Cross in Scrooged. Readers don’t have to like your protagonist. They just have to relate to him. They have to see the direction you’re pointing him in, and root for him to go there. If he’s a jerk, the audience must hunger for his redemption. You can’t help rooting for Hero’s Bernie LaPlante, even if you do want to kick him.

5.) Change: Over the course of the story, your protagonist must face his shortcoming, or his fear, or whatever it is that’s really keeping him from achieving his mission. He must grow into his ability to meet the goal you’ve set for him. In real life, human change is nebulous, messy, imprecise. In fiction, it can’t be. Your character’s change must progress in a logical, clear series of steps. See Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing for a thorough discussion of the steps that lead a character from state A to state B.

To be continued. Check back soon!
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How to Publish Your Novel by Ken Atchity
Chapter Thirteen:

Book to Film: Do It Yourself - video - Author Learning Center

Book to Film: Do It Yourself - video - Author Learning Center


GumboWriters aka The Gatekeepers PostInterview with Literary Manager, Ken Atchity

GumboWriters had the opportunity to interview legendary literary manager, Ken Atchity. He has been responsible for managing the careers of many bestselling authors and securing million-dollar film deals for them as well. He also has a wonderful blog you should take a look at.

How long have you been agent and how did you get your start Ken?

Well, to begin with, I'm NOT an agent although half the world calls me one. I'm a literary manager and producer, which allows my company, Atchity Entertainment International, a much wider purview and operating plane: we develop literary properties, sell them to publishers (like agents do), then set them up as films or multimedia franchises. It's been a nearly 20-year evolution to where we are today, following my first career as professor of comparative literature at Occidental College (Yale Ph.D., Georgetown B.A.), Fulbright Professor to the University of Bologna, Instructor in Screen- and Novel-writing at UCLA Writers Program, and regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times Book Review.

My second career is founded on my first. I wanted to move on from analyzing and critiquing stories to helping storytellers create them for publishers and the big screen. As an author myself, with 15 books to date and a half dozen or so screenplays, I thought I should 'put my money where my mouth was" and focus on creation instead of deconstruction. Turns out, the latter serves the former and has continued to do so. In fact, I formed a second company, The Writer's Lifeline, as a kind of farm team for my management and representation company—a company that mentors writers not yet ready for representation, and also ghostwrites for individuals and companies who want to get a story or information into the world but don't have time to be writers. Some of AEI's biggest successes have been incubated in the Writer's Lifeline, including Dracula: The Un-Dead, a novel AEI just sold for nearly $2 million and will produce as a film in '09.

What makes your agency different than any others?

Primarily that we think outside the box and focus on storytellers instead of screenwriters vs novelists. Our ideal clients are ones that want to be paid for their intellectual property on both coasts, publishing and entertainment, and in the global market.

What are you looking for specifically that you wish you would see more of?

We've just launched the Brand Management division of AEI, for projects like Dacre Stoker & Ian Holt's Dracula: The Un-Dead, Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not!, Royce Buckingham's Demon Keeper, that can be branded in all media—book, film, television, internet, music, merchandising & licensing. We'd like to see more high-concept and/or blockbuster novels to set up as films (like 3 Men Seeking Monsters, which we're producing at Universal, Demon Keeper at Fox 2000, Sex in the South at Lifetime, and High Voltage which we're producing with Baror International and just about to make the rounds with). When it comes to screenplays, we're looking only for high-concept action, broad comedies, successful comic books or graphic novels, high-profile fantasy (based on underlying properties) and ones based on high profile true stories. And we're also looking on the constant hunt for film financing because we've decided to take our clients' fates into our hands by financing independent movies as a more realistic supplement to the original business of setting up big studio films. Does that mean a screenplay with money attached gets our attention? Yes indeed.

Ken what are you tired of receiving?

(a) Books that have too narrow a market; (b) children's picture books (we can't make a business of them unless they're already successfully published); (c) nuclear war stories—arghhh!; (d) childhood abuse stories. I could go on…

How can a new writer get your attention in a good way?

Sending me a two-line email about their project, and two lines about themselves. When the email gets longer I forward it to my staff to answer. Don't worry--if I'm interested in the 4 lines, I'll ask for more.

How can a signed writer stay in your radar without driving you insane?

Great question. My fantastic staff is there to answer their everyday questions, and to handle the flow of the business required to get them into the marketplace. The clients we tend to retain are those that work with the whole group—including my long-time partner Chi-Li Wong. Those that demand my attention for every little thing that pops into their mind tend to drift away. I focus on creative thinking and marketing (sales!), and hope my clients understand that's where their best benefits lie. My radar is my company, and when I hear good things or nothing I'm aware the client is working well with us; when I hear about them too often, there's usually trouble brewing. The busier we get the more we turn away from trouble. But I have to say we've gotten better at better at selecting people we work well with we're pretty happy these days.

What do you wish more writers understood about you as an agent Ken that they don't seem to?

That I'm much more than an "agent." Because of my prior experience I'm a writer, editor, producer, manager, psychologist, teacher—and, above all, a determined enthusiast who will go to the ends of the earth to sell a story once I decide I love it—and have done so long after a client has lost hope

Movie Myths: The Faust Myth

First published in Produced By, the official magazine of the Producers Guild of America.

Myth to Movie
By Ken Atchity

“I’m tired of the same old clichés,” Sam Goldwyn once said. “Bring me some new clichés.” Since Homer’s Odyssey, which describes its protagonist as a teller of twice-told tales, storytellers achieve greatness by finding new ways to tell those universal stories that have been around since the beginning of storytelling. “It could happen anytime—anywhere—to anybody. Yes, it could even happen to you,” to quote from the opening titles of William Dieterle’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster” (1941). These perennial tales are what we call myths, and our new takes on them work best when we clearly recognize the exact myth from which we’re spinning a new yarn. Films go astray when the myth is lost sight of. “Writing free verse,” Robert Frost remarked, “is like playing tennis with the nets down.”

For us development producers, the “nets” are the “obligatory beats” in the myth that’s generating the screenplay we’re working with. You simply have more creative control if you know where you’re starting from. Take one of Hollywood’s favorites—“the deal with the Devil” (human POV) or the “Devil tempting humans” (Devil POV, the latter going at least as far back as the Book of Job). This temptation-to-supernatural power-and-redemption myth decisively predates the namesake it’s often identified with (Doctor Johannes Faust actually existed in the 16th century, a famous magician renowened for his devotion to necromancy), going back at least as far as Prometheus (who enables man to go beyond his nature), touching down again memorably with Satan offering Jesus from the mountain “all the kingdoms of the world, if you will fall down and adore me” and reappears memorably again with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s wildest dream become real enough to destroy him.

The myth generates stories that fall into two categories: in one set of stories, often called “Faust” stories, like “Damn Yankees” (1958), “Alias Nick Beal” (1949), and “The Devil’s Advocate,” a living protagonist makes a deal with the evil spirit; in the second set, like “Heaven Can Wait,” “The Devil and Max Devlin,” “Angel on My Shoulder” (1946), and Todd McFarlane’s “Spawn,” the protagonist Al Simmons is murdered by his evil boss Jason Wynn, then makes a hell of a deal that brings him back to life (the story is muddled by putting in too many elements that undermine the power of the myth to involve us personally).

The Faust stories may be slightly more popular to filmmakers because they remain rooted in earthbound reality without having to deal with visualizing the afterlife except in the random nightmare flash. In the typical Faust story, the protagonist wants something (eternal life, power, knowledge, the perfect woman—or lots of her) so badly he attracts an evil spirit (the Devil, Satan, “Wall Street’s” Gordon Gekko) who promises to help him get it, for a price (usually his immortal soul, almost always his morality). Note that the devil’s deal is usually deceitful in some way—why wouldn’t it be?—though the protagonist is blinded to the deceit by his greed. The protagonist longs for a power beyond the ordinary, the devil comes to offer it to him in exchange for his soul. He accepts the bargain, and enjoys what he longed for until he realizes the enjoyment is hollow. The devil then comes to claim the bargainer’s soul. In the final act, Faust ether is redeemed and given a second chance or is taken, howling, down to hell. Note that in either version the important catalyst the athe antagonist’s 9the devil’s )The details of the bargain laid out, the deal sealed, our hero gets the girl, or the money, or the power—but finds something wrong either with what he wanted or what he has to pay, or with both. Then he tries to get out of it, and—in act 3—either succeeds or fails (comedy or “tragedy”). Cases in point: consitgency. Faust may change his mind, and wish the deal undone; but the devil sticks to his guns.

• In Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus” (1586), the price is his soul, the exchange 24 years of service from Mephistopheles, bringing him knowledge, power, wealth, and beauty; the outcome, tragic: Repentance is too little too late, and Faust is dragged howling into hell by demons. Yet he’s still seen somehow as a hero, of man’s transcendence of his own nature.

• Goethe’s “Faust” (1808) brings an Enlightenment twist to the familiar story: the protagonist scientist, master of his own destiny, is the one who lays down the conditions of the demonic deal. Tragedy is transformed to comedy by a literal dues ex machina – when Mephistopheles comes to collect his soul, angels beat him to it and carry Faust off to heaven. The angels in Goethe’s tale are man’s higher nature, saving him because of his desire for knowledge on behalf of all humanity.

• In “The Devil & Daniel Webster,” the payoff for xxx is seven years of prosperity, but Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston) is defeated by the oratory and Yankee ingenuity of Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold): “No American citizen may be forced into the service of a foreign prince.”

• In “Mephisto” (Mephistopheles is the name of the devil in Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Faust), the devil is the Nazi regime, the payoff to the actor-protagonist is being allowed to continue in the theater.

Typically the storytellers’ desire is t somehow save Faust, for saving him would allow audiences to believe that transcendence is possible, that one can go beyond the limits of human nature with impunity. The trick is how to save him believably, and that is a tough trick to pull off.

The producers’ challenge is to work with the screenwriter to think up a twist that excites audiences to take this “same old ride” one more time. In “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), the twist is that the diabolical deal is made by the protagonist’s husband and she’s left holding the bag—er, the baby. In “The Devil’s Advocate,” the twist is that the protagonist played by Keanu Reeves finds out he’s the Devil’s son. In both cases, the stories have clear and satisfying resolutions because the storytellers have kept sight of the invisible net—the mythic understructure of the story--which allows them to play tennis as though they and the audience could see it. When the story gets the myth right, even with all its twists and turn to “make it new,” the audience sighs with relief—redemption, even after great evil, is still possible.

But if the twists and turn twist the essentials of the myth too much, the story falls flat. “Bedazzled” (2000) has a cool twist, with the devil as a saucy woman (Elizabeth Hurley), but by adding the “seven wishes” motif to the basic Faust myth, muddles up the the myth by, among other things, trying to mix it with the “three (in this case seven) wishes” myth and the writing isn’t strong enough to pull off the graft effectively.

In Indecent Proposal, the innocent young couple encounters the handsomely tuxedoed John Gage (his dapperness reminiscent of Ray Walston’s Mr. Applegate in “Damn Yankees”). But Ray Walston was no romantic competition for Tab Hunter. “Indecent Proposal” goes awry for the audience because once the audience has seen the devilish gleam in Robert Redford’s eyes, they, like Demy Moore’s Diana Murphy, lose their rooting interest in husband David (played by hapless Woody Harrelson). The producers chose the star system over adhering to mythic storytelling—the devil’s not supposed to be the good guy, but by the end we’re rooting for Diana to stay with him and his lovable dogs, not go back to her ineffectual husband and his white rhinoceros. For the devil to play antagonist, you need a heavy, like Al Pacino in “The Devil’s Advocate” or Robert de Niro in “Angel Heart.” But of course Redford wanted the role, and who wouldn’t want Redford? The film did over $300 worldwide on an all-in of $63 million. It just felt fuzzy at the end because we lost sight of the nets. Moral of the story: when in doubt about your script, attach a star!


When I was younger and involved a lot with water colours and showing my work at the various shows I met many good artists. One elderly artist who was an excellent water colourist gave me a word of advice I never forgot. He said that there is a point you arrive at when your right brain intuition tells you that you have a piece of art before you. He went on to say that, at this point, "do not fiddle!" By-passing your intuition and fiddling with the end result destroys the piece of art and leaves you with an "illustration." He said, "Don't do it!"—Thomas Mitchell [via John Reid]

So you think English is easy?

From J. Marie Bjorklund

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce .

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture.

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present
the present .

8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row .

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?


Continuing on with my August 12th post Excerpt from my How to Publish Your Novel here are the first five rules in depth:

Rule 1: Take the time to become familiar with the agents and editors that you want to represent you.

Consider the literary property that you want to sell and try to choose an agency or editor that has a good track record in selling or publishing that type of work. There are several good resources to refer to for this information, i.e. Jeff Herman’s “Writers Guide to Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents” (Prima) or “The Writers Market – Online Edition” (Holm & Lucyszyn).

For instance, if you have a novel that you think would make not only a bestseller, but also a blockbuster at the movies, then try to find an agent that sells both to publishers and studios. Some agencies only represent writers for publishing, others only represent writers for feature film screenplays or television series or movies, and some do both.

If you are going to submit directly to editors, then you should have a sense of what the publisher has published in the past and what they are looking for now. For instance, if you want to publish your bathroom humor non-fiction book, don’t send it to a publisher that primarily publishes literary fiction. Or if you have a literary fiction manuscript, don’t send it to a publisher that only handles only commercial fiction. It’s really worth it to take the time to research the agents and editors that you are considering submitting to. You can avoid wasted postal fees, rejections and good will by taking the time to do this.

Rule 2: Familiarize yourself with the submission policies of the agent or editor that you want to submit to and abide by these policies.

When doing your research on agents and editors, you will run across submission policies for each. These are helpful guidelines that should be paid attention to. For instance, some agencies and editors do not allow email or fax queries and only accept hardcopy, mailed queries. Most agencies and editors require queries to be sent before they will request a submission of the entire literary property. Unsolicited submissions are almost always returned. Jeff Herman’s guide and the Writers Market guide, which can also be found on www.writersmarket.com, lists specifically what the requirements are for almost all agents and editors. If the policy is not listed, don’t hesitate to call the agent or editor to clarify.

Also, in specific reference to agents and managers, these guides will usually tell you if there is a reading fee required to be paid to have the agent or manager consider your work. If a reading fee is required, this usually means that the agent or manager is bunk. It is a good idea, to base your estimate of an agent or manager on their sales track record, which is usually listed on their website or that they will gladly share with you if you call to ask.

Rule 3: YOU are as important as the work that you are submitting. The quality of your work is not the only element evaluated by an agent or editor considering a business relationship with you – so, SELL YOURSELF as much as your work.

You may have the next bestseller, but if an agent or editor doesn’t want to work with you, there’s a good chance that you won’t get signed. So many times, writers sabotage their own efforts by behaving arrogantly or being overly demanding, aggressive, impatient or even rude. Ironically, new writers, who have no credentials or marketing platform, are usually the biggest abusers of this rule. Remember that it is not only your work, but also the entire package of your work and you, and how you are to work with as a person, that sells an agent or editor. If it looks like it’s going to be a difficult process to work with you, editors and agents will usually opt not to, no matter how good your writing is.

You don’t want to get on anyone’s “Life is Too Short” list. And this is what usually happens to writers that look like they will be difficult to work with. For most editors and agents, life is too short to work with difficult personalities, and there are plenty of writers out there who have great projects and are capable of working well with others. Successful relationships with agents and editors are like successful relationships in life. They are long-term. Aggressive, difficult behavior has no place in a long-term personal relationship, nor does it in a long-term business relationship.

Rule 4: Consider the appropriateness of a phone call before dialing your agent or editor.
There are appropriate and inappropriate phone calls that are made to agents and editors everyday. If an agent or editor has not responded within the response time listed in the market guides or directories, then it is appropriate to call to check on your manuscript. But it’s not a good idea to keep calling. Call during business hours and politely ask the agent or editor if he/she can provide you with information regarding the status of X project, written by X author. Most likely, the agent or editor will give you the response right there and then on the phone, by indicating that he has “passed” on the project, i.e. he doesn’t want to represent it or buy it, or that he needs more time reading it. If the agent or editor wants to sign you and your project, they will call you, without a doubt. If an agent or editor needs more time to read your project, they will usually give you a timeframe within which they will respond to you. If they don’t, don’t feel uncomfortable asking them for a timeframe. This will guide you on when the next appropriate call can be made.

Other phone call rules:
a. Don’t call your agent or editor at home, unless specifically requested to do so.

b. Don’t call an agent or editor to discuss why they passed on your project.
- This will only work against you with future submissions. Sometimes reasons for “passing” are provided in the rejection letter. If they are not, and you definitely want feedback, be very polite in the way that you request it and the way that you respond to it.

c. Don’t call to ask “Did it get there yet?”
- It is safe to assume that a publisher will get back to you in the time specified in the directories or market listings. Calling before this time has elapsed will only annoy agents and editors. Also, this question can easily be answered by including a self-addressed-stamped postcard along with the manuscript. If your project is rejected, it will be sent back to you. If it is accepted, you will be called without a doubt.

Rule 5: Gimmicks don’t work.

Sometimes writers will change the names of their lead characters to the name of the agent or editor that they are submitting to in order to endear the agent or editor to their project. This usually backfires and many times sacrifices the integrity of the story.

Sometimes writers will try to put pressure on agents and editors by telling them that their project is being offered a deal elsewhere or by indicating that they must have an answer immediately or else they will be forced to sign with someone else. This kind of pressure rarely works and can be easily verified. So be careful what you say. It can come back to haunt you if you’re not telling the truth!

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