How to Stand Out For Agents and Publishers

It’s what every would-be author wants to know. The general advice is to stand out in order to make an impression. But how can aspiring authors stand out among thousands of others among the slush piles, especially as it’s so hard to get a foot on the publishing ladder?

The simple answer is to write a great novel that is unique or different, with a standout story and standout characters and one that is well written. Agents are looking for a story that stands out from the crowd; a story worth reading. But of course, you have to stand out in the first place.

Being noticed by agents isn’t just about writing a really tight, well thought out story. A good novel should be near perfect as it can be for an agent or publisher, one that has been edited a number of times and polished to perfection. That means there shouldn’t be any of the following:

1. Silly grammar mistakes.
2. Story structure issues. 
3. Plot holes.
4. Lack of pace.
5. Lack of tension, drama or atmosphere.
6. Lack of conflict and crisis.
7. Incorrect POVs.
8. Bad tenses.
9. Non-existent or badly constructed subplots.
10. A contrived or ridiculous ending.
11. Errors in continuity.
12. No characterisation.
13. Terrible exposition - lots of telling and no showing.
14. Too much narrative or dialogue.

These errors are just some of what agents and publishers look for and ones that may well end up getting your novel rejected. If it seems like a long list, that’s because it is and that’s the reality. The list could be infinite, but these are the main points to cover in a novel to ensure you have all bases covered if you want to get noticed by agents.

Novels are complex, so there are so many things an author could get wrong, but equally, there is everything the author can get right, which is why it is so important to take the time to polish your manuscript to the best it can be prior to submitting to agents and publishers.

What a good novel should have is:

1. Excellent grammar.
2. A gripping, believable story structure.
3. A water tight plot.
4. Lots of pace – just like a rollercoaster ride.
5. Plenty of drama, atmosphere and tension.
6. Lots of conflict and crises.
7. The correct POV all through the book.
8. Told with correct tenses – it shows you’re in command of them.
9.  Interesting, supporting subplots.
10. A satisfying ending.
11. Zero continuity mistakes.
12. Full characterisation of believable, likable characters.
13. A balance of indirect and direct exposition – i.e. lots of showing rather than too much telling.
14. A balance of narrative, dialogue and description.

It’s not just the cosmetic or the technical aspects like these to get right. You can also stand out because your story is different – perhaps it’s told in a unique style, or it’s a story that hasn’t been told before. Maybe the story is based on a familiar theme, but with a new twist, or a brand new way of telling it.

Your unique style and voice should provoke readers, so make your novel the best it can be; make it something different, something unique – something that makes agents sit up and take notice.


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