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Six Mistakes That Make Literary Agents Toss A Manuscript

Taking the leap to querying literary agents or publishing house acquisition editors is a milestone in any author’s life. But before hitting the send button, eliminate these common mistakes that could make an agent or editor—who get tons of stuff landing on their desks every day—toss the book instead of scooping it up over other submissions. 

1. Misfocused/lack of focus

Every book has a theme; each chapter must adhere to and support that theme, even if the chapter addresses a counter argument. Manuscripts that digress into associated but irrelevant content easily lose their focus.  

Deciding which BISAC category is a book’s primary one helps an author keep their message/theme strong and on target.  

But how does a writer decide which BISAC category their book fits into? The Book Industry Study Group lists every BISAC category along with its subcategories. Those groupings determine where sellers will position the book for greatest success. Most books fit into multiple categories: a self-help title that fits into a psychological category could also appeal to readers of health-and-fitness, body-mind-spirit, or even social science.

Though your book may have broad appeal, it has to have a clear and consistent focus. If it talks about improving your diet (a hugely sellable evergreen topic), digressing into the history of diets will, in many cases, dilute both the focus and impact. 

2. Missing attributions/plagiarism

It’s one thing to use quotes to enhance your points; it’s quite another to use someone else’s words but claim them as your own. 

Citing an expert can enrich your own message. But those experts must always be credited! Not only does plagiarism rob the original author’s authority and hard work, it’s a dreadful way for writers to present themselves as experts. A lot of money is made with plagiarism lawsuits.

3. Fictionalization of nonfiction content 

In nonfiction—including and especially in memoirs—when the author didn’t actually witness an event or go through an experience, it’s a major no-no to pretend they did. Making assumptions about another person’s thoughts and feelings, or to relaying actions the author couldn’t have done or seen because they weren’t there, can make an agent or editor distrust the manuscript’s other info. Nonfiction material must be represented either by the author’s lived experiences or their research. 

4. Excessive block quotes

Nonfiction writers are claiming to have expertise in their subject. But if an author uses long quotes from other writers to make a point, that tells literary agents or acquisition editors the author isn’t a credible expert.

A short quote to emphasize a point can be a powerful tool. But no matter how perfectly someone else said something, every author should be able to restate it in their own words, thereby demonstrating not only their own expertise but their voice.

Even an author who creates a book from their blog posts can fall into this mistake. Especially with highly successful blog posts, state the point in a fresh way—rather than simply regurgitating it—so it matches their book’s tone and has the smooth “Slinky-flow” dynamic Claudia Suzanne teaches.

5. Missing ultimate takeaway  

Having a takeaway is essential in today’s book industry. That takeaway is what the reader learns or understands; it comes from the book’s central thesis, each chapter’s thesis as it relates to the central one, and the final message. 

Despite lyrical prose or fascinating content, if the reader doesn’t have a clear understanding about the contents, there’s no takeaway. Takeaway issues frequently happen alongside poorly focused or misfocused material.

6. No meat – content too thin 

A short manuscript is usually either an incomplete one or doesn’t have enough info for a full-scale book. An agent or editor can spot this a mile away and may not even bother to read past page number one. 

Some authors are so fulfilled by just having their main thoughts on a page that they forget to expound and expand. Some just don’t want to. Either way, a book with thin content is better turned into an eBook, a long article, or a series of articles/blog posts that could promote the author as a thought leader. 

Having a completed manuscript is fulfilling and thrilling. But part of that thrill is in thinking it’s ready to match the book industry’s vast competition. Give your manuscript its best shot at acceptance and a hefty advance by eliminating these six common mistakes.

Ready to succeed with truly successful storytelling? Remember to check the blogs on our site. And yell when you need any consults to get a client on the right track.

COVID Mindset Re-set

It’s been a crazy six months with people all locked away together. No one can blame you if your education, inspiration, or motivation has been on hold.

As we wind down into 2020’s last quarter, now’s a good time for a new perspective and gaining momentum to complete an otherwise crazy year. 

Try this COVID re-set for a few quick personal and business perspective shifts that can help move a sad acronym into a glad acronym:

C is for checking your website and other marketing materials to decide what needs updates

O is for outlining 10 blog posts for book or business promotion and scheduling them into your editorial calendar

V is for varying your workout pattern so it stays exciting and challenging

I is for immortalizing your time at home by taking selfies and writing flash fiction about each one

D is for donating your writing skills to help a non-profit, church, small biz, or others 

Want even more inspiration? Create your own definitions for that acronym and share it with your friends, followers, and fans. Who knows, maybe they’ll jump into the game, too!

Need even more help to get moving? Start planning for 2021 now, when our next Intro to Ghostwriting class starts. Great way to get your feet wet.

Ghostwriters and the Depression Demon

Any time one’s out of work, stress, and sadness—even depression—can set in. And since COVID? This time has undoubtedly created extraordinary stressors, thanks to the unusual ” -some say once-in-a-century – “challenges. The Pew Research Center’s mid-March survey found nearly one-third of those suffering from psychological issues including depression and anxiety were those who’d already lost jobs or income. 1

Retail, for example, is mostly shut down; some stores have folded forever. What does that do to executives in the mid-to-upper ranks of retail who were thinking of starting their book, or were already in the first developmental stages? When they don’t have income, you don’t have book clients. 

Here comes Demon Depression

Losing income can initiate a downward spiral of lost confidence and depression. But experts agree there are different ways to define depression.

“Depression… is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act.” 2

“I see depression as when you’re not functioning as well as you could be. You’re not hitting on all cylinders,” says Rick Hirsch, LSW, a long-established mental health professional in Pennsylvania. 

 California mental health pro Vicenza Baldino, LMFT, says these kinds of challenges have exploded since #BlackLivesMatter arose. “Some of my clients that are already depressed [have] gone into such a deep sense of despair. It’s as if they are in bereavement, as if they knew these people, because it’s affecting their community so greatly.” 

Facing tricky challenges

Outstanding challenges now face any small business. One May news feature noted, “…economists project that more than 100,000 small businesses have shut permanently since the pandemic escalated in March….” 3

That probably doesn’t include those of us who are truly small, i.e., “me, myself, and I” operations.  So, how do you proceed when you’re a ghostwriter and solopreneur?

Baldino says that even when you know, “I’m a really good ghostwriter,” it’s important to remember that disheartening news isn’t so unusual in this field. A client hates the first draft. Or you provided a potential client with a manuscript assessment, but then they say the heck with it. 

Normally, this would be a straight-forward process you could manage. But when times are tough and everything matters so much, it’s easy to lose self-confidence, to withdraw in fear of rejection.

“… Can your personality tolerate the [many] disappointments before the successes?” asks Baldino. She advises ghostwriters to ask themselves the same questions any other entrepreneur needs to ask. “What tools do [you] have to keep bouncing back? What keeps [you] believing in [yourself]?” 

“Why would they chat with me?”

It’s never too late to analyze your business challenges. Especially now, COVID’s impact is pushing us to re-examine, re-invent, and re-connect. An objective, experienced, opinion can significantly enhance your self-evaluation. 

“I would try to connect with someone that I’ve found inspiring,” says Hirsch. “Not just with possible work that they’ve done in the past, but… somebody that you can relate to and is generally a positive kind of person.”

So many fear their desired mentor will be dismissive, labeling their questions as “irrelevant,” “silly,” or some other demeaning adjective. “I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t enjoy having someone pick their brain and get that sense that someone looks up to them,” says Hirsch. (He laughs because his reputation of “knowing so much” is what brings new patients to his door.) “If someone feels that you’re sincerely interested in their work and what they do, they’ll talk your ear off,” he adds.

And he encourages an honest approach. “[The] key… is, you have to be sincere about it. And as long as someone…[conveys] the sense that they admire you (and people can pick up on that) they generally will spend time with you.”

Looking beyond the opinions of others

Baldino reminds folks that “success” isn’t always about how much everyone else approves (likes, applauds, enjoys) of what we do. 

“Somebody [can] invest in [a new skill, a new art form, a new exercise program], not for the outcome, but for the process,” says Baldino. “[Success can be] the journey of learning something then saying, “Hey, you know, I do have this skill. Maybe it’s ____.”  Then you fill in the blank: “My skill is marketable/ fulfilling/ desirable/ worth sharing/ unique… etc. 

Leaders’ insights can provide you with clearer understandings of your targeted accomplishments.  “It may mean taking a step backwards before you can build [forward] momentum,” Hirsch acknowledges. But it ultimately provides you with more easily achievable short-term objectives and foresight on long-term goals.

 Make sure you find relatively painless modifications you can make to build your ghostwriting business. That way, whatever challenges you face, you can pretty much maintain your forward momentum.

While you’re exploring new options or outlets, you can also be a leader by encouraging others to explore the ghostwriting skills you already learned! Send them to our Ghostwriter Training site (and our discount!).

And for more encouragement for your own biz, don’t forget to check our other blogs.

1 Pew Research, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/03/30/people-financially-affected-by-covid-19-outbreak-are-experiencing-more-psychological-distress-than-others/

2 https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression

3 “Small business used to define America’s economy. The pandemic could change that forever,” Heather Long, The Washington Post, May 12, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/05/12/small-business-used-define-americas-economy-pandemic-could-end-that-forever/ 

Procrastination 101

Your normal structure is gone and without any timeline for zipping out the door (at least not safely), it’s easy for procrastination to set in.

Not only is everyone at home, it’s not temporary. We’re all cramped together ‘til who knows when. That means not only do we face production challenges, many other factors have escalated, creating all sorts of reasons to walk away from work:

  • Increased interruptions. Beloved Grandma (Nana, Abuela, etc.), who didn’t even have your work number before, now thinks you’re suddenly available 24/7. “Why haven’t you called? Don’t you think it’s important to talk at a time like this?!” Or your partner figures this is the best time to start cleaning out the garage (your workspace, the basement, etc.) and not only creates a ruckus but may ask for your help or opinion or …
  • Welcoming distractions. Normally, you’d set up (and learn to stick to) your schedule, rules, or workspace specifically to avoid easy slides into postponing real work. Now, you easily justify your focus drifting into other tasks; e.g., you’ll get to work right after you’ve washed the dishes, or watched the news, or read your child a story.
  • “I’m just catching up.” Time’s flying by…but not on your work. You’re using On Demand to finish catching up on Veep. You’re trolling social media to find the cutest doggie vids, best pot roast recipe ever, or 10 sit-down exercises. 

  • “I’m not close to deadline.” You start procrastinating, so your work isn’t done. Because your work isn’t on schedule, you’re intimidated, depressed, or anxious. Now you feel overwhelmed and fearful. But while you’re in depression or denial, deadlines keep getting closer. So, what do you do instead of putting fingers to the keyboard? Something like, “Well, I can’t handle this now. I’ll just call Aunt Matilda; she’s fun. I’ll work afterward.” But afterward never comes.

Tips to keep you on track

Assert some rules for yourself and your family:

  • Set a work timeslot and tell loved ones you need to focus from 9a-12p and 3p-5p, for instance.  And re-emphasize that with every interruption. 
  • Set a “social media alarm clock.” 

For example, access social media only during lunchtime or after the official workday.  Set an old-fashioned kitchen timer or a unique alarm on your phone (dog barking, bugle, etc.) to signal when to start and end your time limit.  

  • Lose the guilt by turning negatives into positives. 

Psychologist Alicia Clark says, “If you feel afraid, envision yourself feeling excited, elated, or just simply relieved after you’ve finished the project.” 

“Imagine replacing a feeling of failure with a feeling of success.” 1

Building a room with a more positive view

Times are so challenging now that beating yourself up about what you’re not doing only makes things worse. Give yourself strokes for everything you get done, even if it’s as small as, “I outlined that next chapter” or “I set up the document,” or “I’ll do in-home walking during commercials.”

Getting started is the hardest step. Use these ideas for inspiration so that—for a few minutes each day—you can minimize procrastination and achieve that more positive outlook.

 1 “Stop Procrastination and Eliminate Anxiety,” by Alicia H. Clark PsyD, PLLC www.FindaPsychologist.org, 3rd bullet point under “Top Solutions” 

Gain Ghostwriting Recognition via a Cost-Effective Media Outlet

Say “marketing” to many small business owner and they’ll say, “I don’t have an advertising budget.” But every business should have a marketing budget. More importantly, they should understand that marketing and advertising are not synonyms; ads are just one form of marketing.

One truly cost-effective outlet for marketing your ghostwriting business is radio. Most guest spots will cost you (Are you ready?) ZERO. That’s right—zilch, nada, nothing!

If you think radio as a marketing tool has died, think again.

In one survey, Nielsen found that 93% of Americans tune into AM/FM stations.

Radio had strong listening trends during the 2016 election and the first Trump term, but after that Nielsen found audience numbers were still solid; in fact, they’d risen—7.4% of listeners ages 25-54 in 2017 rose to 8.3% in January 2018.

Getting past ghostwriting’s restrictions

Certified Ghostwriters who successfully completed the GPDP program with Claudia Suzanne know that signing an NDA is the first step in developing a client’s trust. Once you’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with your author/client, you’re legally bound not to reveal anything about the project.

So, be careful how you promote your ghostwriting business. It’s tempting to talk about a fabulous life story or business method your client has, especially when a good interviewer asks probing questions. But resist!

Instead of talking about specific projects, offer listeners insights or tips about what ghostwriters offer, the pros/cons of using a ghostwriter, or how to work with a ghostwriter. How can they get started? How do they choose a ghostwriter? What other writing services does a ghostwriter provide?

Keys to attracting bookings 

You’re used to doing the interviews but getting others to interview you successfully requires other skills. Here are five simple points to get you on the air and make your advice worth listening to:

  1. Go looking for the gig—Sounds obvious, right? Yet many potential guests dismiss radio, even though it’s an extremely cost-effective way to promote their business. 
  2. Focus on local markets—Unless you’ve penned a major leader (and have permissions to name it), you’re not going to be immediately picked up for key shows like Ellen or The 11th Hour with Brian Williams. It’s usually easier to find local outlets interested in interviewing someone in their market. 
  3. Pick a SPECIFIC topic—The contact person gets too many calls with generic pitches, like, “I can talk about social media.” Yeah, so? Pick a platform you’re good at and can easily discuss, like LinkedIn or Instagram. What about it? Starting and moderating a LinkedIn group? Easy tips for getting LI news noticed? Know how to gain Instagram followers?
  4. Get prepped—Even if you’re allowed to prepare questions ahead of time, expect segues, additional questions, perhaps interruptions. Have extra info—like stats or examples—to embellish your talk (and enhance your reputation). And don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” No one knows the answer to everything and being honest increases your credibility. Mention your website and you could build a mailing list. But avoid sounding like a commercial; the moderator will talk about your bio and contact info.
  5. Are you able to provide any offers? Giveaways (like an e-book or a free 30-minute review of what the client needs) can be solid enticements. 

Don’t just walk away

When the interview’s over, find out how to get a link to the show’s recording so you can post your own blog and social media news alerts. Remember to ask if you need special permissions to use the recording as a giveaway.

And make sure you send a thank-you to the host and/or press liaison. You can use eCards; there are quite a few free sites with a great variety. Of course, you can always write and send an old-fashioned paper note.

The bottom line: As we teach in our Ghostwriter Professional Designation Program (GPDP), no matter how good a ghostwriter is, they can’t just expect clients to come to them. Every business needs to reach far and wide to link with potential authors and writers.

Radio’s great promotional potential helps authors and Certified Ghostwriters unite!

For a solid look at a career in ghostwriting, sign up for the next Intro to Ghostwriting class that begins October 5th via ghostwritertraining.com and discover if it’s right for you.

Know anyone who wants to learn more about becoming a ghostwriter? Tell them about the next Intro to Ghostwriting class beginning June 15th at ghostwritertraining.com

Solid Interviewing: Five Tips for Ghostwriters

In non-fiction interviews, you should get solid input and real-life examples from the author you’re ghosting. But are you really, or are you just getting observations they’ve been trained to utter?

Upper echelon folks—CEOs, non-profit officers, hospital executives, and government leaders—are schooled for media interviews by their communication directors. Lesser-known folks may think they’re supplying tons of wisdom when, in fact, they’re simply regurgitating common utterances.

Here are five quick tips, whether you’re just getting started or are an experienced ghost who needs a reminder:

  1. Research— Go through your author’s material to determine what statistics, timelines, and other details are readily available. Most of your information will come from the interview and follow-ups, but doing research beforehand will give you some direction when developing your questions.
  2. The best interview option—Before the pandemic, sitting face-to-face helped a ghost expand on author insights. But now, you have to decide which telecommunication option(s) works best. Maybe your client isn’t comfortable with Zoom or other video options. Try FreeConferenceCall.com—it’s free, easy to use, and records clearly. After you’ve chatted this way a few times, maybe the client will feel comfy enough for video.
  3. Ask about future meeting options—One of these days we’ll get out of the house, but may still have to maintain social distancing. Find out if your author would eventually like a face-to-face. And where? At a nice restaurant? Who else will be there? Because the recording device may be a little further away than in pre-Covid days, meeting in quiet a place (not cafes, for instance) would be better and more effective to get a clearer recording
  4. Start slowly—Don’t pounce right in with probing questions to get ground-breaking insights. Start with ice-breaking niceties (How was your drive? Geez it’s hot! How’s your family doing these days?), then move to the basics: Where and when were you born? What drew you to XXX industry? Why have you worked in it for XXX years? (Or how did you segue from XXX to YYY biz and what insights did you bring when you moved?) 
  5. Now, be brave—The series of questions above help you start digging. WHY did they change industries? Maybe you find out that Daddy forced them into the first and it practically crippled them, so they found another way. Start pushing, but don’t bash people over the head with premature demands for intimacy or vulnerability.

Here’s a hot tip: if you’re writing a memoir but your author doesn’t go through deep emotions sometimes, you haven’t yet reached the core of their story. 

Good non-fiction interviewing is the ability to glean unusual blurts, tears, smiles, and other great emotional insights.

For a solid overview on a career in ghostwriting and to see if it’s right for you, sign on to the next Intro to Ghostwriting class that begins June 15th via ghostwritertraining.com

Want folks you know to learn more about becoming a ghostwriter? Tell them the next Intro to Ghostwriting class that begins June 15th via ghostwritertraining.com is an easy way to discover if ghostwriting is what they want to do. 

Comprehensive but Concise

I realize the impulse to write-it-all-out in analyses, proposals, query letters, and BSP is strong—oh, so so strong. But you must realize no author, agent, publisher, booker, host, etc. wants to have to read through all your verbiage. Ghostwriting Psych 101: be concise but comprehensive. Just another reason why ghostwriting is the simplest, most complex endeavor a writer can undertake (and why we make the big bucks!).