Feedback on your fiction or non-fiction manuscript can often be confusing… or even contradictory.
A complaint I often hear is that several literary agents or publishers are giving conflicting advice. Whose advice should you listen to if you want to get published?
For example, an author recently emailed me recently saying that two separate publishing houses have asked to read the entire manuscript for his crime thriller.
Publisher A rejected the manuscript saying the plot was too complex.
Publisher B said the book was too long and identified various sub-plots to be removed if they were to publish the book. The author did this, but was then told that the plot was “too thin”.
He said: “This has left me a little confused; now with two versions, and two opinions, I’m not sure how best to improve and move the novel forward, before resubmitting elsewhere?”
Here is my advice, which I hope will help any other author who is in a similar position, whether they are writing a novel or non-fiction.
First of all, to get ANY publisher or literary agent to read your manuscript is extremely encouraging and is a signal that your manuscript is marketable. This alone, is a very positive sign. Most publishers and agents receive hundreds of manuscripts per week. They certainly won’t read your book unless they think it has promise. They simply don’t have the time or resources for flattery!
Yes, responses to a book, likes and dislikes, can be very subjective. However, bear in mind that all publishers have a different ‘housetyle’. Think of this as a ‘brand’ or ‘hallmark’ that differentiates them from one another.
So first of all, check if they are actually reading your manuscript. If you are receiving a ‘generic’ rejection letter that looks like it has been xeroxed and could easily be sent to any author – then the chances are that your submission letter and pitch were not compelling enough.
If this is the case, then you need to go away and work on writing a more attention-grabbing letter and synopsis.
If, on the other hand, editors and agents are reading your submitted manuscript, then you need to assess whether they are simply asking that you adapt your book to their particular housestyle. This can make sense of what otherwise may seem like conflicting or contradictory comments.
The time to consider rewriting your book is when you are getting the same feedback consistently. For example, several editors may tell you that your first chapter is weak. Or they may say there is not enough conflict in your plot. If this is the case, it may be time to give your manuscript an overhaul.
You can do this with the help of a literary consultancy or a writers’ coach who will give you an objective opinion on your book. Critique services at Oxford Literary Consultancy, for example, include a 10-15 page report giving feedback on your manuscript, highlighting strengths and weaknesses, as well as making suggestions for improvements.
This can make an enormous different in fine-tuning your writing you before you begin submitting your manuscript again.