I frequently read interviews with debut authors. Almost all authors mention how much their agents contributed to their manuscripts, including numerous revisions. This is also a common theme in the acknowledgments of debut books.
Agents often say they are looking for very polished manuscripts. However, it seems that many agents still provide a degree of editing, some of it substantial. I’ve heard from recent debut authors about how their agent changed the solutions of their mystery novels, re-worked flat endings, added character POV chapters, and other major changes that weren’t caught by betas or CPs.
So, I’m wondering, what is going on when agents decide to take on a project which they still intend to edit significantly. What are the deciding factors that prompt an agent to offer rep on one MS that requires work versus another if both were worth a full request? How does an author know when her book is ready to query if many agents still expect to make big revisions? How does she know if she’s done her due diligence with revisions before querying?
Ok…that was many related questions! As always, thank you for all you do for writers. Your blog is my absolute favorite for understanding publishing and writing. I’ve learned so much.
ok, so you are running that rodent wheel full time aren't you?
Are you using it to heat the Jacuzzi during this cold spell?
I can only answer for myself on this.
I read requested fulls all the time.
The first thing I look for is voice.
I can fix almost anything but voice.
The next thing I look for is interesting plot.
I can make suggestions for improving the plot, but the plot has to be there before I can revise it. And it has to be something I'm interested in. You have ZERO control over this and shouldn't worry about it.
Then I look for pacing and tension.
This is where most manuscripts crash and burn.
When all those elements are in place, I can usually see some places that could use some polish. Or, some geographical elements in NYC need to be corrected. Or something.
But this doesn't address the real question you're asking: how do you know when your ms is ready?
That's an answer that varies author to author, ms to ms.
However here are some guidelines:
(1) Have you revised more than 20 times?
No, I'm not kidding. It's the revisions after you think you're done that produce the best writing.
I know this for an ironclad fact (for me!) because the lines you all mention in particular blog posts are almost always the very last line I wrote. And often wrote after I thought I was done.
(2) Have you made an index card for each scene listing how the plot moves forward or characters change in each one?
(3) Have you written a synopsis that includes words and phrases like "must choose" "But then", "unexpectedly" "except" that turn the plot in a different direction? Without a twist, or surprise, the book is probably flat.
In the movie Spotlight, a fairly straightforward chronological narrative, in which the audience knows the extent of the problem before the main characters do, the plot twists when the team learns sealed court documents are now public; and, when they learn to their dismay that they had all this information years ago.
Twists can deepen the story, as it does here.
Or it can turn a story on its ear as it does in Gone Girl, Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River, and almost every Agatha Christie novel ever published.
Without plot twists, without surprises, I'm just moving my eyes across the page, I'm not enthralled.
The other thing to remember here is that the experiences of other writers will not be yours. While it's interesting to hear other writers talk about how they found their pet shark, or how the manuscript was gnawed to perfection, that is NOT replicable. Writers are not fungible. Neither are manuscripts.
Is your book ready?
The best way to assess is to recognize good writing and see it on the page even if it's your own work.
I've gone back into this blog's archives on occasion, and sometimes I think "that was a deft turn of phrase, I'm so glad Barbara Poelle said that!" and a lot of times I think "oh man, I can make that better!"
Good beta readers; an outside editor; contests; classes. All those things can help you assess.
But remember this too: lack of success is not failure. Not trying is failure. If you think you're ready, go for it. The worst thing that will happen is you'll