Many aspiring authors communicate things they think are positive, or at least in the spirit of honesty and transparency, but end up being understood entirely different than the intended message.
In an attempt to show commitment, an aspiring author says, “I’ve been working on this book for ten years.”
An agent hears, “I am an extremely slow writer and once finished, enter a protracted spiral of self-editing which can take years. Don’t get your hopes up regarding deadlines.”
Hmm, doesn’t sound like a good prospect to represent, but I’ll still review what they have, only now with a skeptical eye.
Author says, “I already have the manuscript finished and the cover designed!”
Agent hears, “I know books can be published in two weeks once you have a manuscript and a cover finished.”
This is traditional publishing. It will take one to two years to get your book published, and the publisher decides if the book is finished and will design their own cover. Relax.
Author says, “I already hired an editor to edit my manuscript.”
Agent hears, “I’ll decide how the manuscript is edited, no one else.”
Again, this is traditional publishing. Publishers edit you. The manuscript is finished when they say so. Get ready to be in full collaboration mode.
Author says, “I don’t care about an advance or any royalties. I just want my book published.”
Agent hears, “I want you to work for me with no compensation.”
I often wonder if this author would ask a real estate agent to help them give away their home. Literary agents are paid when we sell something for money. Publishers make money by selling books for money, generating revenue and profit. There’s no need to forego advances or royalties. Writers should be paid…in money. If you want to give away all your earnings from writing, go ahead, but don’t expect everyone to do it.
Author says, “God told me to write this book.”
Agent hears, “I will be difficult to work with if you fail to sell my book or try to change anything.”
Honestly, I hate having to feel negative about this, but as the years pass, we all meet people who invoke the guidance of God when they simply want to eliminate discussion or disagreement. If I responded, “I don’t feel led by God to represent you,” an author might question whether I am truly discerning God’s leading. Let’s just assume believers are all on the same wavelength and leave it there. Then, write the book well and convince me why it is worthwhile, leaving out God’s endorsement.
Author says, “This book is for everyone.”
Agent hears, “I have no idea who this book is for.”
No book is for everyone. Not one. You might be able to make a case the Bible is for everyone, but even with the Bible, those who don’t believe in God and are not drawn by God have no idea what it means. And we don’t even address the language issue, which further limits readership. Most people in the world don’t read English.
Author says, “This book is for a crossover audience.”
Agent hears, “This book has objectionable stuff in it.”
Words matter. Those who write should be able to discern the meaning behind them, both obvious and not-so-obvious. When writing to a publisher or agent, spend as much care on the cover note and proposal, thinking about the reader, as you did writing the book.
Many a book has been torpedoed by a careless choice of words in the proposal or cover letter. I should know, I’ve done it myself.