10.03.2006

The 13 R's

Dear Miss Snark:

My agent has been submitting my first ms. for the past eight months. So far we've received ten rejections. He says he still loves the work and will keep trying. I've now completed my second ms. and I'm ready to send it. Before I began writing, I ran a synopsis and example of the voice I'd be using by him and received a green light.

My question is really about what you, The Great and Powerful Snark, see from clients on your side of the curtain. Although this new ms. has been through my critique group, and I'd call it pretty clean, it's still my first draft. I look forward to and need my agent's comments and guidance regarding story-line, plot, character development, etc. -- only, the 'newbie' in me is terrified to send it, especially since my first work hasn't sold.

So, would you mind describing how you work with your clients as they develop their latest work?

Thank you, and best regards and markings to Killer Yapp from Piddling Papillon!



Here's the thing: I hate reading stuff like this. Give me something ready to sell.

Of course, that never happens and I've read some works in progress a dozen times. If I had a dollar for every page I've reformatted, repositioned, regurgitated, repaired, renovated, retrofitted, resupinated, resusitated, retooled, retouched, retrenched, and retrofired I'd be retiring the national debt of Rabbitania.

Get that thing as ready as you can. Imagine your agent ISN'T going to change a single solitary word.

Agents provide career guidance, not editing guidance. Editing doesn't earn money. Sales do. Don't plan on sucking up too much time with questions about whether plot points work or characters develop. That's your job.

Here's the thing: every project that needs work, or my R-tful input gets put on the back burner. The person who gets my full attention each and every day is the client whose work I'm actively pitching. Be one.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark said: Agents provide career guidance, not editing guidance.

MS, I know of several agents who edit their clients' books. I know of one agency that makes their authors edit until they think they have a timeless classic. They don't submit until they feel they do.

I'm not trying to be snarky (but this would be the blog to do that, wouldn't it?) and personally don't prefer to have an editing agent. But I have friends who do, so I guess that all things aren't equal.

-c- said...

You should tell your agent you've completed a clean draft and are going to put aside for a month or two and then see what it needs. If your agent doesn't want to wait, he or she will let you know.

During that month or two, if you can find any generous souls to read it for you and give you general feedback (not line edits), that would be a plus.

Anonymous said...

[i]" it's still my first draft"[/i]

Why would you want to put your first draft out there?

Get working on the second draft and let your agent worry about the ms that's out there.

Anonymous said...

I know of agencies (here in the UK) that employ an "editing person" for this very purpose. The agent herself doesn't do it.
My agent didn't do it at all. My first drafts went straight to my editor and she did all the editing. That's the way it should be, especially if it hasn't sold yet, as you don't know what YOUR editor will want done to it.

Anonymous said...

"I know of one agency that makes their authors edit until they think they have a timeless classic. They don't submit until they feel they do."

This is not the same as the agency having to comment in detail, telling the author exactly what needs to be changed and how, and precisely where, and/or edit and give detailed critiques themselves. "...makes their authors edit until they think they have a timeless classic" would mean, imo, requesting work on certain weak areas - such revision to be done *by the author*.

If several agents "edit their clients' books", perhaps those agents have few clients, but those clients are big names who are big sellers. Can't imagine why else an agent would consider doing all the editing, which can mean an enormous amount of rewriting, for a start.

Anonymous said...

You shouldn't "look forward to and need my agent's comments and guidance regarding story-line, plot, character development, etc.", you should look forward to your agent's comments about your finely edited & perfectly polished MS. Draft #1 is never that.

WV: detjoy -- paying my VISA bill that covered the paper, ink & envelopes for my MS that just sold.

Anonymous said...

I have two MS goddesses. They are the pre-industrial forces that help ready my manuscripts for public consumption.

Goddess #1 is the content editor. She lives in a book world. She is kind enough to read everything I suggest, plus more and better books than I have time to read myself besides. She has the better ear for poetry and lyrics, and understands my love affair with...well...the little theories and places and people that populate my word-addled brain. She reads my MSs for continuity and depth, and she asseses my characters for psychological consistancy. Her professional degrees back up her opinions, and I've learned to trust her intuitions and hunches above even my own sometimes. (Why would I do that? Because sometimes what seems right at first is unreadable to anyone who is not me. It's called the Get-Over-Self pill, and Goddess#1 administers it as needed).

Goddess #2 is my line editor. She is, in addition to a generous pal, a CSJ (Columbia School of Journalism)graduate, a long time professional editor, and the one who finally trained me out of my many bad habits, such as using which when I really meant that. Even though my brain still says which. But enough of that.

My point is, writers don't know it all, not even about our own MSs. We need other people who support us but who won't bullshit us or let us live with the delusion that a finished MS is necessarily a very good book. Yet.

With their help however, sometimes we can luck out.

Kimber An said...

Sounds to me like the writer of this question is simply feeling insecure about the quality of his work because his first manuscript hasn't sold yet. I can imagine that is a scary place to be. No advice, just empathy.

Bernita said...

If it's been through a critique group and presumeably self-edits, how is it a "first draft"?

Anonymous said...

My darling agent (and all agents in his agency)is always dying to get his hands on my next ms, even the first draft, and dives into it right away.

I think every agent works differently.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I feel naive. I thought the writer did the writing and the agent did the agenting (I'm not trying to be cute here--I'm serious).

I figured the most my (future) agent would give me was a few suggestions on how to tighten up a ms. Now it sounds like a collaboration, at least with some agents. If mine looked at an early draft and then came back with detailed suggestions for the plot, characters, theme, dialogue, description . . . sounds like they'd deserve more than 15%. Who wants that much feedback when beginning a novel? Not me. When I'm in the process, it's all mine. If some really bright people want to look at draft 6 or 10 or whatever and tell me what's wrong with the thing then, I'll gladly take that input and use what I can. But not on draft 1--I can't work that way.

Anonymous said...

It strikes me that we're all talking at cross purposes here, because everyone means something different by "first draft" and "editing". It sounds to me like the questioner has pretty much finished the book and wants to see if his/her agent has any general comments or suggestions before they do the last bits of polishing and proof-reading. (ie They don't want to spend ages polishing it if the agent is later going to suggest massive cuts or changes.) This isn't the same as showing someone your "genuine" first draft, which is almost inevitably going to be full of continuity errors and general bad writing. I would have thought it's not unreasonable for the agent to read the MS at this stage, but I guess all agents work differently, and reading a full MS is always going to be a fairly onerous undertaking.

I.J.Parker said...

It never occurred to me to send out a first draft to anyone (including my readers). A good thing, for neither my agent nor my first editor touched the two novels after they left me. Agents should not be expected to edit.

Ray Goldensundrop said...

There's a memory knocking around the marbles about Dostoyevsky dictating his big, thick, character-laden novels to his wife in later life. Maybe it was just one?

Whatever, that's true love. Oh yeah, and genius on his part.

Maybe a story is finished when the author can dictate it?

JT Ellison said...

I don't disagree with anything Miss Snark said, or the comments. Find yourself a god or goddess (love that, I have a couple myself, plus a very good critique group) to give you feedback.
But...
Kudos to you for continuing to write, finishing a new book, and not resting on your laurels just because you have a manuscript being shopped. It's a syndrome I see and hear about too often -- waiting to move forward on your next book because you've gotten interest on another. Keep writing. Forward momentum is key. It will happen.

Anonymous said...

I wish my agent were more like Snark: Intent on getting my ms in front of editors! Instead, i'm caught in a Purgatorio of rewrites and discussions over a manuscript that, in my opinion, is as polished as it's gonna get.

also said...

I can't picture an agent playing such a mother role. An agent with a client list is going to be too busy to edit material. Hopefully, any recommendations she makes for my work will be minimal and can be accomplished quickly. What I want from her is a sale, not a critique.

Ryan Field said...

I was lucky enough to have the most wonderful En101 teacher my freshman year in college. Her lectures always included: "Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite..."

Sherry Decker said...

I don't even allow my writer's group to read my FIRST DRAFT. !! Aughh. It's always crap. They read the second or third draft, but of course we're talking short fiction, not a novel.

lizzie26 said...

Yeah, I can understand where the writer feels a little scared/uneasy about showing his/her agent the next ms. I mean, after eight months and ten publishers and no sale, that's daunting.

BUT--I say, wait. Ten publishers is nothing in the publishing world. Nor is eight months. It's like a nano-second.

She/he should ask the agent if she/he should tweak the first ms. I'm sure some editors gave comments why they passed.

stephanie said...

I'd rather burn my first drafts than let any other living person read them.

As I've never gotten so far as to have an agent try to sell my novel (I'm still trying to find an agent), what happens when I send a--what I think--is a polished final version? There is some editing (for things like dangling modifiers, etc.), somewhere, by someone, right?

p.n. Elrod said...

In the two years it took for an intelligent and perceptive slush pile editor to find my first novel I was busy writing the second and third in what I hoped would sell as a series.

The publisher wanted to see them. The second was done, the third a partial. They bought them, and I landed a multi-book contract.

Imagine my horror months later when the second book--which was still in very rough draft form--landed on my desk all copy-edited and just needing my ok before they sent it on to the printers.

While the 1st had been polished clean, THIS one was still (to my older and now more experienced writer's eye) a mess.

In terror I rewrote the whole thing within their 2 week deadline--on a manual typewriter, carbons, White-out and all.

My editor was none too pleased to have to copy edit the book all over again. So far as she knew it was final draft.

Another publisher accepted an e-copy and it went straight to the printer, I never saw the galley. Good thing it was final draft!

My big lesson was NEVER turn in a work in progress and think you'll have time to fix things. Make dang sure it is as final as possible. Get feedback, beta readers, gosh, even check it against Strunk & White's "Elements of Style!"

Get books on how to be your own editor. The ones you will work with in the future will bless you for giving them less work. Each house does things different, so make sure you know the rules. Assumptions will lead to panic attacks in the wee hours.

ALWAYS turn in a final draft copy!

Anonymous said...

This is not the same as the agency having to comment in detail, telling the author exactly what needs to be changed and how, and precisely where, and/or edit and give detailed critiques themselves. "...makes their authors edit until they think they have a timeless classic" would mean, imo, requesting work on certain weak areas - such revision to be done *by the author*.

Yes, the agents in this agency DO EDIT the work themselves.

Anonymous said...

I wish my agent were more like Snark: Intent on getting my ms in front of editors! Instead, i'm caught in a Purgatorio of rewrites and discussions over a manuscript that, in my opinion, is as polished as it's gonna get.


Thank you, Anonymous, for saying what I've said two times and people just don't get. THERE ARE AGENTS WHO EDIT, FOLKS! And I'm not talking about just running through it for mistakes and typos. I'm talking real, honest to goodness editing that requires rewrites and big changes.

I never knew the word editing could have so many meanings.

Anonymous said...

p.n. elrod, egads! And when you're under deadline to produce, and the book really needs to sit in a drawer for a month and then get another draft, and perhaps another...

This perhaps explains some of the dreck that is published. (Present company excluded, of course!)

Anonymous said...

what happens when I send a--what I think--is a polished final version? There is some editing (for things like dangling modifiers, etc.), somewhere, by someone, right?

This is just my experience, as a writer and as a freelance editor. Your mileage may vary.

You send your polished version to the agent. The agent (we hope) decides to represent you. He might well ask for a certain amount of polishing, but from everything I've heard, this is more likely to be structural stuff ('you need to tighten up Chapter 6, develop the Killer Yapp subplot and cut that tangent in Chapter 12') than line editing dealing with things like dangling modifiers. My agent gave me five or six suggestions for minor cuts before he submitted the book to editors, but I know he's worked closely with other authors on extensive structural rewrites.

Then he submits the revised version to editors. One of these - we hope - buys your book.

If the editor thinks more structural work is needed, she'll guide you through that. Either after the structural edit or at the same time, someone - either an editor at the publishing house, or a freelancer they've hired for the job - will line-edit your work, correcting dangling modifiers, punctuation glitches, overwriting and everything else.

You should correct as many of these things as possible before you even send your work to an agent, because that will improve both your writing and your chances of acceptance. But the odd glitch isn't going to be a deal-breaker. I've edited manuscripts (and these had been accepted by major publishing houses) where the punctuation and grammar were just horrendous - but the agent and the editor both believed that the story was strong enough to be worth the heavy edit.

Paul said...

I've been a freelance book editor for a number of years and I've NEVER seen a manuscript that hasn't needed fixing - from a little to tons - no matter how many times it's been run through the mill.

Beth said...

Anon #3 said: My first drafts went straight to my editor and she did all the editing. That's the way it should be,

Actually, the way it should be is for you to learn to edit and rewrite your own work. Revision is where writing stops being an exercise and becomes an art. No editor (or agent) needs to be spending her time turning sows' ears into silk purses. That's the writer's job.

Anonymous said...

Hi All:

Thanks for your comments. Just thought I should chime in to say I was not referring to line edits in any way, shape or form -- I consider the ms. to be a first draft because I know how many times it can change if, say, my agent doesn't like my ending, or the publisher has his/her own desires. It's been looked over by my critique group, etc. and, I write pretty clean 'first drafts,' if I do say so myself.

One person asked if the first ms. should be tweaked since it hasn't sold. My agent sees nothing wrong with it -- except that none of the editors have, thus far, connected with the 'voice.' The voice of the first ms. is pretty strong. It's not anything I would choose to re-write at this point, so I'm moving on -- and will continue moving on until I get a sale.

My agent is expecting the ms., but of course, I am anxious about sending it. I like it. Everyone who's read it loves it -- and I need my agent's input. He had valuable input after reading the first ms which strengthened the last 20% of the book. He didn't touch the first 80%.

I wrote Miss Snark because I knew she'd be helpful, telling me her perspective from the agent's side of the desk. And, I knew you all would have insightful things to say, as well!

After reading your comments, I think I will e-mail my agent and tell him the ms. is completed == that I'm putting it aside to age for a few weeks, and if he wants it any sooner than that, to let me know.

After a final read-through I'll send it on.

It's very difficult to have a piece of work, and NOT send it. So, once again, Miss Snark, and all Snarklings, I appreciate the therapy. I needed it!

Anonymous said...

Beth,

Thanks, but I'm actually quite good at rewriting and editing my own work. I meant that she gave me suggestions for plot development and improvement. Her advice was always spot on. She's a brilliant and very senior editor at a major house and I assure you she would never have even accepted my work if it was sow's ears.

anon 3.