What DO agents see in your manuscript?

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.

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Ready to surrender… but an agent’s rejection stalled the white flag

So I’m at that joyous point of the querying process where the rejections are rolling in thick and fast. Now, I’m tough enough to accept rejection, but the hard part here is that, without exception, every email from an uninterested agent comes across as – and most probably is – a generic response with my name merely pasted to the top (although I did get one “Dear Author” email too. Nice). And even though us novice writers are told to expect rejection, it does knock your confidence a little when it’s relentless. Hence, these rejections and their detached nature began to make me feel a little despondent.

As a consequence of this (and the fact that I’m slowly running out of agency options) I was about ready to give up on a traditional publishing deal and head down the self-pub route instead (or just head down the pub). Whilst self publishing was always a plan B for me, it was still a prospect I’d hoped to avoid… and it was knocking the wind out of my follow-up novel too.

However, in the space of just a single email, my faith in my book was restored. Continue reading

Why do kids’ Christmas films insist on promoting the idea there is no Father Christmas?

With the festive season fast approaching, I thought I’d get into the spirit of things and write a post about Christmas.

And in the spirit of that classic Yuletide tale, A Christmas Carol, I’m going to get a little Scroogey and have a bit of a moan.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 23.30.36My beef (or should it be turkey?) is with the film industry and their sometimes misguided efforts to persuade us that Father Christmas is real. Continue reading

Screw you and go cork yourself: a debate about wine

Am I a wine-snob? I don’t think so; not really. I am a cheese-snob, a bit of a film-snob, and most definitely a book-snob. But wine? Not so much. I can down a ropey bottle of plonk with the best of them and still enjoy it.

However…

If the wine is furnished with a screw cap as opposed to a cork… well, then I’ll turn up my nose, mumble something derogatory under my breath, and walk away. Well, at least that’s what I’d like to do. In reality, I’ll just mumble something derogatory under my breath and drink it anyway (I won’t be happy about it, though).

But why? What is it about screw-cap wine that invokes this reaction in me?

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Learn from my mistakes… please: Three things not to do when querying agents.

So I’ve now finally entered the part of my adventures into publishing where I begin to query agents. It was never a part that I looked forward to, and I’ve already gone and made some catastrophic blunders.

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 12.46.52

I know that a few others who read this blog are around the same stage as me, so I shall share with you said blunders as a reminder to… well, to not make the same mistakes.

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What on Earth has happened to Apple?

I had a funny (?!) incidence the other day when my 5-year old daughter went onto iTunes and, thinking she was just listening to a song from Disney’s Frozen soundtrack, she actually went and bought the whole flippin’ album.

Not such a huge issue, I know. But to stick a fly in the ointment, I had literally just walked away from browsing a couple of albums that I really wanted, telling myself that I couldn’t afford them at the moment cos’ the kids need new shoes, swimming lessons, days out, food, &c.

So, on seeing my library filling up with a load of music that I really didn’t want, but would still have to pay for, I stopped the download and asked iTunes for a refund.

Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 11.32.48Now, before you go thinking what an awful father I must be and that perhaps I should have just shrugged my shoulders and bought this album for her, let me reiterate two things: (a) she only wanted one track, and (b) I’m skint until payday.

Anyway, I emailed Apple and they very kindly gave me a refund. But the person on the other end of the email was surprising, to say the least. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always seen Apple staff as funky, laid-back types, who could easily be one of your mates. The girl who dealt with my issue, however, was quite the opposite. She seemed very, very nice, but oh my god, she also to seemed have the persona of an overly sycophantic robot. Maybe that’s what she is.

Just look at one of the emails I received…

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Chipping away at MY genre.

So I’ve just had another dent in my bid to become the biggest sci-fi author ever born (or something like that) as I watch what I thought was a new concept and perhaps even a new genre go to the proverbial dogs.

Actually, it’s not that bad, and I’m not so naive to think I’d created a completely new genre. But still…

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 19.23.46Nobody said it’s easy getting a story published, and I’m expecting my fair share of knock-backs when I eventually do set upon the task of trying to get a publisher. But I hadn’t expected to receive any knock-backs quite this soon in the process.

You see, when I initially came up with the particular genre of sci-fi I wanted to write, I thought the idea may be a little novel (pardon the pun). Not unique, perhaps, but at least different.

That – as it happens — is apparently not the case. It has been cruelly demonstrated over the previous few months that others may have already had the same idea as me, dagnabbit.

Still, looking at things optimistically, I’ve done my best to see the positives in all of this.

But I’ll get to that in a second…

After I’ve had a moan…

Ok, so deep down I knew I was never going to find anything entirely original. In all honesty, I just really wanted to write this book. In the back of my mind, though, was always the hope that perhaps there was something new in my novel, and that this would stand me in good stead to get people interested in reading it.

Nevertheless, to find something so close to what I have written is a blow.

But before I continue, it might be prudent to quickly explain what my genre is. Continue reading