Do most agents/editors look more for what’s wrong than for what’s right in the writing? Do they focus more on errors than on strengths?
Quick Answer: Yes
Longer Answer: I know it sounds as though we are a heartless coven of witches and warlocks who sit in our darkened caves while sipping the blood of rejected authors. In truth, we’re not denizens of cynicism, but rather, we’re efficient.
The longer agents and editors are in business, the better able they are to sniff out a bad egg early on. We utilize those early cues such as spelling, grammar, organization, and sentence structure to wave our personal red flags. If a work is overloaded with these elements, why continue reading? It’s true that a fabulous story could be hiding amongst the mess, but I have yet to see it. Great writing and proper formatting, spelling, and structure go hand in hand.
I won’t cop to “this is how we all work,” because I know some of my brethren don’t have as itchy a trigger finger as others. However, the generalities are such that most of us look for a reason to continue reading. We read one line. If we like it, we continue on. If we like the page, we continue on. If we like the chapter…ok, you get where I’m going with this. Peter Cox – agent extraordinaire – calls it “moving to the couch.” If we continue to be entertained by your words, we’ll toss the beagle off the couch and read in comfort.
Why are we such crabby pants about this issue? Shouldn’t we be focused solely on the story?
Absolutely. To a point.
See, spelling, sentence structure, and organization are all a part of effective communication. If you choose to omit an integral part of communicating your story, then you’re no better than the idiot mechanic who told me he hadn’t the foggiest notion as to why my car made a clangy-bangy sound when I came to a full stop. #2 Son Spawn looked underneath my car’s Victoria Secrets and discovered I’d been dragging a tunafish can all over town. Crikey, it was as obvious as the margarita in the beagle’s blender, but he never thought to look there. Dumb!
Words, imagination, and understanding the English language are the writer’s tools, and writers have a responsibility to know every aspect of their craft. Banging out a story is only half the job. You can’t create an effective product if one of those elements is missing. I [and nearly all of my fellow coven members] are extremely unforgiving of spelling and syntax blunders because there is simply no excuse for it.
The idea is to never ever give an agent or editor a reason to reject your work other than it’s not right for them. To be rejected because you fell asleep in English class is akin to the beagle forgetting to add a half a can of beer to the margarita mix. Last time she pulled that, I made her clean the showers. Don’t put us in a position where we hand you a scrub brush and Tilex.
Now, I’m off to my broom. I hear the wails from one of the coven members in New York screaming about POV switches.
*Thanks, Pelo, for the question.