This is an old interview on the SFX site but still interesting for all that. Simon Kavanagh is a literary agent who works for Mic Cheetham's. Before that job he also read some typescripts for Peter Lavery at Macmillan. One of the typescripts dumped on him, along with the question, 'Is this any good?' was from a little known SF author and bore the title Gridlinked...
SFX: What’s the most powerful lesson you’ve learned about the writing business?
“That plot is everything. I once heard an editor say that ‘character’ was the most important element of a novel. Tosh. Dickens creates great characters – but Oliver Twist would be a bloody short book if Oliver lived with his mum and dad. It’s a constant curiosity to me that this element of fiction is so ignored by literary critics. Stephen King and Peter F Hamilton, for example, are Paramount Grand Masters of plot – but that aspect of their work is never given the ‘literary’ credit it deserves. Then again – who cares? They sell well and the public get their money’s worth. So bear in mind that publishing exists in a world dominated by sales figures. It has to in order to survive and compete with film, TV and games. It’s not exactly ‘three strikes and you’re out’ but you have to sell copies in order to survive.”
SFX: What’s the biggest mistake that inexperienced writers make when trying to break into the SF scene?
“The biggest mistake is trying to be someone else. Don’t try to be Tolkien. Don’t try to be Neal Asher, JK Rowling or Ken MacLeod. All writers steal ideas, scenarios, inspiration, characters from each other – how could they not? But they have to find their own voice in which to tell their story. If I’m in a bookstore and want to read something like George RR Martin then I’ll buy George RR Martin and not the chap who’s like him. That’s easy advice to give, but incredibly hard to implement when you’re staring at a blank page.”