TOP FIVE MISTAKES To Avoid When Submitting Your Manuscript to Agents: What TOP GUN Taught Me About Bail Outs, Flame Outs and Black Outs

TOP FIVE MISTAKES To Avoid When Submitting Your Manuscript to Agents:
What TOP GUN Taught Me About Bail Outs, Flame Outs and Black Outs

1) “I heard that about you. You like to work alone.”

Mistake #1: Always working alone.

We all do it. We know the long missions all too well. Iron Keister One, do you copy? Yet take a look at your horizon. Where does the ground stop and the sky begin? Hard to tell sometimes because you’re so far into it. Gain perspective from friends, family, colleagues, editors, agents, and writing groups. Your best work begins with the input from others. It’s never too late to engage. They’ve got your six. And if things really go south, then they’ve got your six pack.

Lesson learned: “I’m not leaving my wingman.”

2) “Rules of engagement exist for your safety . . .”

Mistake #2: Rules don’t apply to me.

Really, they don’t. But alas they do. Time to brace up and fly right. Formatting (Times New Roman, 12), overall word count (70K-85K words), agency submission guidelines (follow them), compelling query (250 words; see, spelling (no typos), running headers, Oxford comma, and the list goes on . . .

Lesson learned: “Either obey them or you are history. Is that clear?”

3) “I feel the need. The need for speed.”

Mistake #3: Expecting agents (and editors) to fast track my work.

You know it. You’re doing it. Full throttle to the firewall. Pushing the envelope . . . and the “send” button. You want your greatness acknowledged ASAP. Hey, we all do. But sometimes the harder you push, the more resistance you get . . . especially if the reader’s door you’re trying to open says “PULL.” Traveling too fast to see that one, weren’t you?

Lesson learned: Don’t “ride into the danger zone.”

4) “Son, your ego is writing . . .”

Mistake #4: Letting your ego write anything.

My ego drove my 450 page, 150K word debut manuscript. Yeah, now I know. My ego also let me think my first draft was awesome. I would have submitted it to agents. Then I got lit up by an awesome editor. And she shot me down in flames. I bailed out and cut 75K words in the process. My clever darlings didn’t make it either. Murdered by my hand. (See Darlings Found Murdered). I replaced my ego with solid content. Yeah, now I know better.

Lesson learned: “Gutsiest move I’ve ever” made

5) “That’s a negative, Ghost Rider, the pattern is full.”

MISTAKE #5: Taking rejection personally.

Agents are slammed. To rise in the slush pile, you need to be the best of the best. You need to be doing it better and cleaner than the other guy. But don’t be a clown. Keep your composure. Keep things professional. Keep it simple. Don’t harass. Ever. Don’t nudge like a stalker. You’re in this for the long game. And if I were to say to an agent “you cannot help but like my manuscript,” then this personal rejection would make me smile: “that’s a double negative, Ghost Writer, your word pattern is bull.” Not that I’m actively seeking amusing rejections.

Lesson learned: Avoid the “circus stunt fly-by.”

So you may recall the solid advice in TOP GUN’s final scenes: “A good pilot is compelled to evaluate what’s happened, so he/she can apply what he’s/she’s learned.” So it’s OK. Maybe you flamed out and made a mistake. Maybe you bailed out of a manuscript because it didn’t work. Maybe you blacked out because you turned and burned pages or worse, agents. It happens. You gotta keep going. Keep evaluating. Keep improving. Keep applying. I crashed and burned on 1) my first draft, and 2) the first round of my agency submissions. And as for the second ones? Well, they’re looking good so far.

CHAD EHLER is a debut author doing his level best not to be a total write-off. And yes, there are two e’s in Ehler. You’ll find him avoiding Charlie Foxtrots at

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