Monday, August 30, 2021

Do I need a good score to get your attention?

This is probably a ridiculous question, but here goes. Does the "score" or "grade" from an online editing program such as AutoCrit make a difference with an agent?
In March I attended a writer's conference via Zoom. One of the speakers, a NY Times bestselling author, recommended the program and stated that after requesting a full manuscript some agents are plugging the manuscript into the program to find out the score. 
The theory being that writers tend to polish our first pages, but the rest of the work might not be quite as shiny, and this saves the agent time. 
Now, I realize that the primary goal was likely to sell the online editing tool (not cheap) and that these tools don't take a lot of things into consideration such as dialogue and does NOT take the place of a human editor. The program is useful because it points out things to reexamine. But...if a writer has no publishing credits would a high score be worth including in the query letter? This cook has no recipes, lol.


I don't think this is a ridiculous question.

Where do you keep your ice? is a ridiculous question (in a shoebox in the closet of course, where do you keep yours?)

I had not heard of AutoCrit until you brought it to my attention.

I'd certainly never used it.


So, I figured I'd check it out:

Here's the text I uploaded to assess utility:

The Duchess of Yowl

The free option will give you a list of things that need revising:


The only way to get add'l info is to upgrade.

$30 a month/$297 annually

So, I took advantage of the intro price ($1!) and upgraded.


The program gives you a LOT of information.

But of course, it doesn't tell you what the info means, or how to use it to revise.


Will this be of value to writers?

Sure, some, I guess.


Some being the folks who need remedial work on things like grammar and syntax. There are a lot of writers out there who don't know what they don't know. Software like this could be quite useful to them (if they actually pay attention.)


But those aren't the writers that make it past the first cull in the incoming queries. Writing with those kinds of problems gets a pass no matter how interesting the concept. I'm not an editor. I'm not going to edit your book.


What this algorithm can not tell you is if something is interesting.


It can't measure tension. It sure as hell can't measure style.


As to your initial observation:

Telling a writer that an agent will dig in to the granular level of a manuscript to find out "what's wrong" demonstrates this author does NOT know what an agent does.


An agent is NOT interested in editing your manuscript.

An agent is NOT interested in finding out what's wrong so she can tell you what to fix. (or, heaven forfend offer to help you fix it!)


I'm interested in reading your manuscript to find out if it's something I love and want to champion.


You don't assess art using an algorithm.


And further, as a person in sales, I am totally turned off when I see anyone sell a service using scare tactics like this.  If you can't sell a service on its merits, you need to rethink your strategy.


Much more effective: agents don't want to edit your ms. They don't want to find errors. Here's a way to spot those before you send your ms out. 



Last week I posted a comment about "the gasp factor" in The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen.


Increasingly, I look for the gasp factor in manuscripts I'm requesting. 

No algorithm can assess that.


This service offers remedial level writing help.

Whether it's useful to you is something you'd have to assess yourself.


It's not useful to me as an agent assessing manuscripts.

So to answer your question Will it help me if I don't have any pub credits?



(and you don't need pub credits to catch an agent's interest. I've signed and sold at least a dozen writers that had no previous publishing experience.)



nightsmusic said...

No online editing program is going to make up for human eyes with a great understanding of grammar but also with those things Janet mentioned, the tension, emotion...the "gasp" factor. There are way too many companies and individuals out there just waiting to take money from those who have a desperate dream and want more than anything to be a published author. Write the best story you can, polish it as much as possible and query, query, query.

Mister Furkles said...

For my money, an online crit group is more valuable and often free.

If you want the definitive linguist grammar book it is "The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language" for a small fortune: $300. There are many good grammar sites online too and they are free.

Previously the definitive grammar book was Fowler's but not one of the co-authored editions. These books are also less expensive if used and you can check out in the library to see of they may help.

Once upon a time, programmed textbooks were available. That includes almost any topic that requires learning in steps. I had a drafting text and a bridge (card game) text and they make learning easy.

KMK said...

Wow. I understand the dream that somehow there's an algorithm that will point you in the right direction with a story. But to me, it is, in the words of a far smarter person "like dancing about architecture." A spell-and grammar-checker are invaluable for good, clean copy, but for the story and the FEEL, you need real, human readers and fellow writers. At least I hope so.

Colin Smith said...

Maybe not 100% applicable in this case, but here's my general tip of the day:

Don't take a writer's advice on what agents want. The only way any of us can get away with it is because a) we're simply repeating what we've heard agents tell us, and b) Janet will tie us up by our toes and whip us with cold wet vermicelli if we're wrong. Or she may offer a polite correction. Depending on her mood.

As a general rule-of-thumb, get your agenting advice from agents. They're the best ones to tell you what they want.

Do you hear me, Stephen King? 😉

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yeah, thank you no. Not for me. Each writer has their own process. Each agent has their own method of figuring out what they can and cannot sell. Do what works for you and keep writing and revising your process until you hit on a winning formula. And that might vary book to book.

I love regular blog posts. Thank you so much for your time and effort, Janet.

BrianH said...

Quantophrenia: (n) the irksome need to express every darn thing--especially what's unquantifiable--as a numeric score. See also Standardized Test

Timothy Lowe said...

Could we all be replaced by machines?

Timothy Lowe said...

Here is the link if you want the AI to imitate your writing style

John Davis Frain said...

"You don't assess art using an algorithm."

This totally reminded me of the scene in DEAD POETS SOCIETY where Robin Williams is charting poetry on the x and y axis per the Introduction in their textbook. And then he has the entire class RIP the page from their books. What a wonderful sound from all that ripping and tearing and shredding.

, I'm giving your comment an 8.6. But it's on a scale of 3 to 8.6.

AJ Blythe said...

Sticking my hand up as someone who uses AutoCrit. I started using it many years ago when it first appeared - with the result I was fortunate enough to be offered a life time membership for a once off fee, so I have kept using it because there is no cost for me.

I use it primarily for 2 reasons... I check my overused words (it finds them for me), and after my first dirty draft I use it as Janet said, as a first-step check of my ms. I don't think the score has any benefit anywhere and my thought would be not to include in a query, because it almost implies that you haven't used crit partners, beta readers etc.

Sherryl said...

I'm really interested in your comment about looking for the gasp factor in manuscripts you read.

Can you please expand on that and tell us more?
And do other agents and editors feel the same way?
(Obviously I am thinking - where is my gasp factor? How the heck do I get one in my novel?)