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How Do You Know When Your Writing Is Good Enough for an Agent?

March 31, 2017

By Annalisa Parent


“Nobody should be looking for an agent if their manuscript isn’t ready,” Eric Ruben, Top Literary Agent said in a recent Writing Gym podcast interview. Eric represents not one, not two, but many New York Times Best Sellers--so he should know.

How do you know if your manuscript is ready?

Eric highlights these reasons manuscripts are rejected:

Word count too low
Word count too high
Not the right voice
Big gaps
Oddities that just don’t work

How do you know if your writing will make the cut? Is your writing good enough?

Agents won’t give you that feedback. Eric Ruben says that, once rejected, authors often write to him asking for “feedback or edits. The answer is no, because I don’t have time and I don’t get paid to do that.”

Agents aren’t going to spend the time giving you the feedback you need. “I only get paid when people’s work sells, and that’s important for people to realize,” Eric said. Relying on agent feedback is not the solution and you don’t want to waste their time, or the one precious window you have with them, by sending them unpolished work.

We all know the blood, sweat and tears (or at least the sweat and tears!) that go into finishing a manuscript--the barbecues you missed, family dinners, hours of sleep so you could get up a few hours before you need to leave for work to write, over a period of weeks? No. Many authors spend years making these sacrifices in exchange for that magnum opus. You know it’s your best work, so why would you throw all of those sacrifices away? Why turn them into a waste by pushing send--without really knowing if it meets the standard agents are looking for?

Because we all know you can’t hit unsend. People wait months MONTHS! to hear back from an agent. Do you want to stare at the ceiling at 2 AM wishing you could take it back for months? “If I could just go back and hit unsend, I’d rewrite that one scene where…”

At the heart of it all, you know that your piece should be fully formed and ready to go out into the world before you send it to an agent. “This is the NFL, as it were. You have to be willing to hear straight talk about your work,” Eric says. Would you go out on the playing field without practice, without equipment, with a coach? Of course not!


Would you give your sick friend a cake without baking it? Send your kid to school with no pants? Of course not. You’re a good egg. I know that. So why would you even, for one teensy weensy little millisecond think about sending your precious book baby out into the world unprepared? You’re not that kind of parent. I know that. You crafted your manuscript with love, care, and hard work, and I know you want to give its very best chance of success.

“Learning your craft is the number one thing [to getting published]” Eric went on to say. Great we all know that.  But, how to do that?

Do yourself a favor: hire a writing coach, and save yourself the hassle of that rejection and frustration. You don’t know why you’re being rejected or which of Eric’s reasons your manuscript is suffering from.


Working with the right writing coach will help you to see where the strengths of your manuscript are, and also what needs to be fixed. You need a writing coach who knows the industry standards, a writing coach who knows literary agents, what they’re looking for; you need a writing coach who has published not just one, but multiple times in multiple genres, a writing coach who understands how the publishing world works, and what a salable manuscript looks like.


What solutions have you tried to whip your manuscript into publishing shape?



Annalisa Parent is an author and a featured speaker at the Writers Digest Annual Convention. She is the Writing Coach in Residence at the Writing Gym, which accepts writers who are serious about the craft without taking themselves too seriously, and helps PUMP their writing into publishable shape. To apply visit www.writing-gym.com.