Agents are like the freckles on the beagle’s tummy – they’re all different. I lurve agents and am fortunate to work with some wonderfully talented ones. But there are a number of agents who leave me scratching my head. Many are well-prepared. I really love this and will always clear my desk for them.
Agents need to be good editors
The agents I lurve the most don’t send out a manuscript for query until it’s been edited to within an inch of its little papery life. And it only makes sense, right? You want to make a good impression, so you only send out the best.
The problem is that not every agent is a very good editor. Odd, right? I mean, shouldn’t agents be equally proficient in recognizing when a manuscript is filled with too many passive or run-on sentences, tons of fluff, or POV switches? Other agents do know the difference, but they choose not to take the time to have the author fix it.
Editing = Time
The reason for that is because editing takes time. Lots of time. They have to weigh that time expense against what they’re going to ultimately make on the deal. I know agents who are extremely persnickety about letting anything less than perfect go out. Because their partials are always clean, I always ask for the full. They realize that while it may not end up being cost effective to make the author edit the ms so that it’s ready to shoot out the door, it goes along with their stellar reputation.
In this day and age, everyone needs to consider the law of diminishing returns. Most editors are no longer taking the time for the huge edit jobs – well most of us aren’t. I still get way too involved if I love the story. But we pass because there is so much out there to choose from – truly a buyer’s market. The cleaner manuscripts/better stories rise to the top while the big edit jobs may sink.
Agents know this and have become pickier as well because preparing their client’s edits falls on their shoulders. I’ve known agents who brought in outside editors to prep a manuscript for query. They do this because they feel certain the payoff will more than warrant the special attention.
And that’s a downside is for editors because we don’t realize the author isn’t the proficient writer we thought they were. This can make editing a real eye opener – and not in a good way. The upside is that, hopefully, editing will be minimal and no one will be any the wiser.
A warning to you – the author
You may receive a rejection letter that says, “Love the story, needs to be thoroughly edited.” If so, that’s mana from heaven and take steps to have another set of eyes brush through your manuscript to look for those warts. More likely you’ll get a form rejection letter. It’s sad because you’ll never know what sunk you.
If you want to avoid the pitfalls of “death by lack of editing” then you have to know the rudiments of writing. You may have a fabulous story in you, but you’ll remain unpublished because you had too much fluff, or passive voice, or any number of fatal injuries.
Or…you may get with an agent who doesn’t know or doesn’t care, and queries you out unedited. The result is that your bargaining power is greatly diminished because the editor will point out the vast amount of editing required. Should you be in this position, your choices are death by editor through countless rejections or, should you actually get signed, a death wish from your editor.
It grates on my last nerve to sign an author who needs a boatload of editing. And really, I have no one to blame but myself, but I can’t help but wonder why on earth the agent didn’t do something about this in the first place. And you know what? I’ll be less inclined to take that agent’s queries less seriously the next time around.
Protect yourself and make sure your manuscript has been edited into fabulosity. This will make everyone sing and do the joy joy dance.