Finding a Writing Coach

Dear Miss Snark:

Three agents (all AAR) have passed after reading my manuscript (topical literary fiction/family saga) and a fourth is now reading it. Any day I'm expecting a response that I'm guessing will mirror the first three: "Great story, but I'm not taken in by the writing (translation - good story but your writing sucks) -- signed, You're Dead to Me Forever (Miss Snark's interpretation of Best Wishes.)

I flinch as I ask the following question: Can I assume that reports of my death are premature and write the agent requesting the name of a topnotch, legitimate writing coach (as if somebody like that would take on my sorry ass) since the agent will never represent the work?

Note: The film rights to the ms were optioned early on to a legit film company so I assume the agents aren't BS-ing me about the quality of the story. However, because the story is very topical (and I'm not getting any younger here) time is of the essence.

Thanks in advance for the Beat Down,

If you've only queried four agents you need to query 96 more before you stop. You're not getting much more than a form rejection letter here so you don't know what they think of your novel, you only know that they aren't going to take it on.

If you've queried more than four, and four is the number who requested the full ms, and then passed with a form letter, yes, your writing needs some attention.

However, no legitimate agent is going to hook you up with a writing coach particularly if they are members of AAR. The Canon of Ethics for AAR is pretty clear about referrals to editors and it's not something they take lightly.

You need to search the archives for the posts about writing groups, and critique groups and get involved in one of those. I can hear you right now saying "but I don't want to waste time doing that, I just want my manuscript fixed right now". Impatience is the one thing that stalls more writers at the submission stop than anything else. They get impatient and send things out too soon, they get impatient with the process and quit querying too soon.

If you are hell bent on hiring a writing coach or an editor, cough up $20 and join Publishers Marketplace and search the site for people who do that kind of work. READ the books they've worked on before you make a choice. And expect to pay through the nose if you want good work. Good editors aren't cheap.


M Harold Page said...

Two books might help:

Stephen King "On Writing"

Dwight Swain "Techniques of the Selling Author" who's very good on the micro structures which make up style.

King's credentials are obvious. Swain was a kind of uber pulp writer in the 70s(?). A lot of people, including pros, recommend him. (It was Janny Wurtz who pointed me his direction).

Both are pleasant and quick reads

Anonymous said...

I looked for Swain's book and the title is "Techniques of the Selling Writer". Thanks for the tip, Z!

Anonymous said...

For a good, open, free writing group online, try Forward Motion, sponsored by Holly Lisle.


Anonymous said...

As usual, Miss Snark, you hit the nail right on the head: impatience and for that I need to be bitch-slapped and drop-kicked.

The agents who passed received a version that was completed more than eight months ago. After I received their rejections I put the ms away and worked on a second novel. Then I did some soul searching and pulled the ms out and reread it and discovered they were absolutely correct to say that in its present form, it was a long way from being ready for prime time.

I think with a first novel, because you have to rewrite it so godawful many times over a period of years, you get to a point where you can't stand to work on it any more. At least that's what inspired me to send it out like I was buying a lottery ticket.

I just completed ANOTHER rewrite based on my Beta readers and wrote to Miss Stark to see if I should hire a freelance editor because I guess I've lost my confidence - that's why I assume I'll be turned down by the current agent reading it. If I am, I will follow Miss Snark's advice to find a writing/critique group because I can't see the forest any more for the trees.

Thank you Miss Snark for you support and wisdom.

Bella Stander said...

I have a short list of reputable freelance editors on the Resource page at http://www.bookpromotion101.com

Anonymous said...

I will add my favorite critique group to this--Critique Circle at http://www.critiquecircle.com/default.asp. They came in first for Writers' Workshop in the same Preditors and Editors poll that placed this blog first for Writers' Forum and Writers' Resource.

Anonymous said...

Critique groups can assuredly help tune up your manuscript. Even more valuable, if you can bring yourself to state your objectives plainly for a scene or chapter or character, is to have them answer a few direct questions: This is what I was aiming for; did I succeed? If yes, what contributed, if no, what detracted?

I put my first completed (and twice rejected, two-years-in-the-dust-bunny-farm)manuscript through a small group process last year. Then, after a couple of months of teeth-grinding, I spent the summer rewriting, re-motivating, and generally trying to do a proper job of filling in the credibility gaps, explaining the motivation leaps, and, sadly, killing off a few extraneous characters.

This is the same story I've been trying intermittently to sell for five years (while writing other things that did sell), but it will make a significantly different BOOK from the first (unsold) version. If THAT had seen print, I'd be one embarrassed writer today, and possibly not even listing that book on my website.


Anonymous said...

Renni Browne and Dave King's "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" also may prove useful.

In addition, the aforementioned Renni Browne's editorial company The Editorial Department (editorialdepartment.com) has a good rep. Not cheap, though...

Anonymous said...

Thanks everbody for all your help. It's nice to know there's a community of writers hanging out at Miss Snark's blog who are so eager to help. I will follow up on all your advice.

Writer on the Verge said...

In book form, my first coach was Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. It kick-started my whole approach to the writing process.