So, I have just been tweaking my first three chapters prior to embarking on another round of querying agents. Naturally, this involved doing all the usual stuff that gets done at this juncture: swapping adjectives, tightening up the text, removing adverbs, changing ‘that’ to ‘which’ and then ‘which’ back to ‘that’ again before eventually getting rid of the ‘that’ because it’s unnecessary. You know the drill.
Anyway, apart from making the changes that really need to happen, I found myself scrutinising the text perhaps a trifle more than is required at this point in the proceedings. For example, I changed the name of a starship from HMS Clevland simply because the word that follows HMS Cleveland is ‘and’. And that didn’t really work.
Yes, yes, I know this may be finicky and a little over the top… but that’s exactly what got me thinking on the question posed in the title: What do agents see in a manuscript? More to the point, are all of these little changes really worth the effort? I mean, I’ve been rejected by about 30 agents so far (which is only to be expected) but will minuscule tweaks of my work really make a difference? I’m sure that many agents don’t even get past the query letter and synopsis before they reject a submission. Fair enough; they’re busy people with a slush pile the size of corruption allegations against FIFA. Of those that do actually read what we’ve sent them, is it really that important that the work is as impeccable as can be, including those teeny-weeny details such as an ‘and’ following Cleveland. Aren’t any books accepted by a publisher going to be given a whopping great dose of the red-pen treatment by an in-house editor anyway?
The answer to this is no doubt, yes. But then again, do all of the tiny adjustments we make between sending stuff off in queries actually have an impact. I believe they do. Granted, when an agent reads those proverbial “first three chapters”, they’re looking primarily at the marketability, the concept, the voice, etc. But I do think that the general finish and sheen is important. Even if an editor is going to have a go at your pride and joy later on on the process, it must still blow the agent away by how much it has been polished.
Or should it…?
Agents are astute readers. They can tell when a huge amount of work has gone into a draft, and this must have an impact on their overall view of you as an author.
Or does it…?
Oh, I don’t know. Anyone who does know, please get in touch.
In the meantime, I shall carry on querying with the very best that I can offer… only to subsequently refine that very best that I can offer when I go back, re-read it and realise this wasn’t in fact the best I can offer and start making more changes. Circle of life.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. Sorry if you read this thinking that I was going to impart some wisdom as to what agents see in your manuscript. I wasn’t. The title wasn’t rhetorical and I really am seeking the answer to this question.