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Agent-Author Lois Winston Dishes on Top Ten Reasons Your Novel Is Rejected

Whether you've been looking to break into publishing or you've grown frustrated with rejections and want to "bulletproof" a future submission, you might want to check out this offering from someone with a unique perspective. Award-winning crafting mystery, romantic suspense, romance, and humorous women's fiction author and (in her other life) literary agent (with the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency) Lois Winston has a brand new e-book designed to guide you around the most common pitfalls.

Since I've known Lois for years, mostly as a fellow author, and respect her opinion on publishing matters, I asked her to stop by the blog today to answer a few questions about Top Ten Reasons Your Novel Is Rejected and How to Avoid Them. (Click the link to find buying links for all e-book platforms.)

BtO: Thanks so much for visiting Boxing the Octopus, Lois! We're delighted to have you here.

First question: I've known a number of agents who are also (sometimes pseudonymously) published authors. Which came first for you, and how has one career impacted and informed the other?

LW: Thanks so much for inviting me to be your guest today, Colleen. What most writers don’t realize is that there are quite a few agents and editors who are also published authors. The majority of them write under pseudonyms, sometimes closely guarded pseudonyms, an option not available to me since I sold prior to becoming an agent.

After selling my first book in 2005 (Talk Gertie To Me, now available as an e-book,) I was invited to join the agency that reps me. For several years prior to selling, I was receiving rejection letters that had nothing to do with the quality of my writing. My manuscripts were the victims of circumstance – lines being cancelled, editors leaving, similar books having just been purchased, marketing unsure how they could sell the book, etc. At the same time, I was helping friends rewrite their proposals, and they’d go on to sell their manuscripts after revising according to my input. My agent recognized that I have a talent for identifying what works and what doesn’t work in manuscripts, and that talent could be advantageous to the agency.

BtO: How has one career impacted and informed the other?

LW: For one thing, I think I have a unique insight into publishing, given my seat on both sides of the table. Having received my share of rejection letters, I know what it feels like. However, I now have a better understanding of the business side of publishing and how the rejection process is never personal but always motivated by business decisions. Writing is very emotional, but publishing is always ruled by the bottom line.

BtO: How did you come to write Top Ten Reasons?

LW: I’ve been giving online workshops, writing articles, and presenting programs at conferences and to writing groups for over six years. I also teach continuing education courses on writing. Many of my students and workshop attendees have urged me to make my workshops available in book form. With the phenomenal sales of e-readers over the past couple of years and the availability of indie publishing, I finally decided the time was right to heed their advice. I chose to begin with Top Ten Reasons Your Novel Is Rejected because it’s been my most popular workshop.

BtO: I know that manuscript evaluation is highly subjective, but can you share just a few common problems that will immediately land a submission in your rejection pile?

LW: Well, that’s what my book is all about. However, I will give you one example: too many writers open their books with page after page of back-story and description instead of with a dynamic opening that grabs a reader’s attention and makes him or her want to keep turning the pages. Filler is deadly, and I see way too much filler in submissions.

BtO: Is there one "simple" fix you'd like to pass along?

LW: Other than to read my book? Don’t fall in love with your own words. Sometimes the delete key is your best friend.

BtO: Thank you so much for the helpful responses. I'll definitely be recommending your book at my next workshop. But I can't let you go without sneaking in the traditional BtO bonus question. What're you reading for pleasure these days?

LW: Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, I was without power for going on nine days. With no computer access, I couldn’t work. So I whittled down my TBR pile as long as I had daylight streaming in through my windows. I read Melinda Leigh’s Midnight Exposure, Shelley Freydont’s Foul Play at the Fair, and Julie Hyzy’s Buffalo West Wing. Now that the power is back on, I’m playing catch-up and won’t have time for any further pleasure reading for a few weeks.


Ana Morgan said…
I bought your book, Lois, and found useful information presented clearly. Thank you. I am trimming my opening chapter today.
Thanks so much for stopping by! Lois is out of pocket for a few hours, but will pop back over soon to respond to comments.

Congrats on trimming that first chapter. I see that mistake (and have made it quite a few times myself) in contest entries I've judged.
Roxy Boroughs said…
Sounds like a good investment.
Melinda Leigh said…
"Don’t fall in love with your own words. Sometimes the delete key is your best friend." Wisest words ever.
Gerry Bartlett said…
Great advice, Lois. I see the wrong beginnings constantly in contest entries. Your book should be required reading for anyone entering RWA contests.
Bethany said…
Sounds like a good read for any author, whether published or not. Thank you for having her, Colleen and thank you Lois for sharing some of your insight. :-)
Thank you for stopping by, Roxy, Gerry, Bethany, and Melinda. I'm sure Lois appreciates the kind words (just as I do) and know that she'll be stopping by soon.
Lois Winston said…
Hi Everyone! Sorry I'm a bit late to respond. I actually took a few hours off today to get some early holiday shopping done with a friend. We figured we deserved a girls' day out after dealing with no heat or lights for 8 days, thanks to the hurricane.

Ana, thanks so much for buying the book!

Roxy, Melinda, Gerry, and Bethany, thanks for stopping by and commenting.
Deborah Blake said…
I connected with Lois years ago when I was trying to find an agent, and she gave me much helpful advice--she is extremely generous and gracious. Of course, it probably didn't hurt that I loved her books :-)

I'm sure her book is full of helpful information, and I'll definitely recommend it!

*waves hi to Lois*
Lois Winston said…
Waving back, Deborah! Thanks for the kind words.
Gay N Lewis said…
Love that sentence. "Sometimes the delete key is your best friend." Good one. I'm often too wordy. Thanks!
Lois Winston said…
Thanks, Gay!
Shelley said…
I"m about to spend the morning with my delete key getting rid a the beginning of my next novella. Thanks for reminding me.
Kathleen Kaska said…
Thanks for sharing your business experience with us. Good stuff.
Lois Winston said…
Happy to help, Shelley! ;-)

Thanks for stopping by, Kathleen!
Thanks so much to everyone who's stopped by, and I wanted to give a round of applause to Lois Winston for being here to share her wisdom and her fabulous new e-book!

We appreciate you!
Lois Winston said…
Thanks for inviting me, Colleen!

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