1. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    how forgiving will an agent/editor be?

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by 123456789, Nov 8, 2015.

    Apologies if this topic has already been covered.

    I know next to nothing about publishing, so my question may be obvious and or naive. If your story is a whole is good, and the beginning is good enough to hook an agent/editor, will the agent/editor be forgiving if some small sections later on in your manuscript need slight improvements? If so, how forgiving? Let's say your 1000th paragraph has some small pacing issues? What if one your characters needs work in multiple section? Any insight would be great. Thanks, guys.


    *I just realized this is a poor thread title. It should be something like, "how forgiving will an agent/editor be?"
     
  2. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    Hi 123456789:)

    I've been reading Janet Reid's blog lately (http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/). She's a literary agent with loads of great advice on just these sorts of questions, so you might want to check it out. I remember a few recent entries about what kinds of mistakes are forgivable, etc, and I think what it really boiled down to was that mistakes in SPaG and mechanics were basically viewed as an 'instant fail', whereas pacing and things of that nature depended on whether they affected the quality of the story. In other words, story quality is paramount and needs to pull the reader in, period. An agent/editor may suggest improvements, (because no story is ever perfect) but SPaG issues are considered unprofessional and may demonstrate poor work ethic on the author's part.

    This is what I've seen on her blog and in other places. Other people may have more to add.
     
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  3. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Like @aikoaiko I only know what I've learned from reading agents' blogs, but my impression is the same.

    I've also seen stories from authors who had full manuscripts rejected for various reasons, usually 'it won't sell in the current market' but the agent liked them enough to ask them to write something more commercial and then took them on.
     
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  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    There are several other factors that I think go into this, so it's a difficult question to answer. For example, if you're a newer writer, chances are that editors aren't going to be as forgiving. I agree that SPaG issues would certainly hurt your chances. Things like pacing, characterization, etc. are more open to interpretation, so the editor's personal tastes will come into play. (A lot of the bigger publishing houses/magazines have a team of editors that sometimes get together and discuss a single manuscript. If everyone has a problem with it, then it's likely that there's a flaw in the writing somewhere.) In this case, the editor may ask for small changes in the plot or whatever. Again, it's very hard to answer this. Everyone's experiences are going to be different.
     
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  5. Tim3232
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    Tim3232 Active Member

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  6. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If the story is strong and engaging, an editor for a publisher won't reject it over a minor concern here or there. Manuscripts are going to be edited/revised and will in no way go to press without it (or at least no reputable publisher will). So, if there may be minor problems that are fixable within a manuscript, that won't hold you back.

    Of course, you want to send the best you can offer, because you only get one chance. So if there is a problem you recognize, do what you can to correct it. On the other hand, you can go into the 'forever minor revision loop' and never actually send a manuscript off to find a home (or representation).
     
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  7. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Someone who works for a publishing house just said this on the NaNo forums:

    But - having an initial edit by a freelancer before you start submitting your manuscript around to either houses or agents obviously can't hurt, but I know that our submissions editor doesn't worry about perfect grammar. Professionally they're able to look for the potential of a manuscript. Agents can also.
     
  8. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Changed it for you :)
     
  9. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    Don't have an agent so working off the top of my head, I would think spelling and grammar are minor issues - depending on the extent of the problem of course. So an agent shouldn't be perturbed by seeing them - especially considering that they already know every book they accept will need editing. If every sentence has a problem, then you've got a problem.

    Where it comes to story, pacing, characterization and that inevitable "x factor" that's a much harder fix. Yes they can go for a developmental editor etc instead of just a copy editor, but that costs much more in terms of time and money. It may make a book too much of an issue for them.

    My thought is that if you're going to go for a trade deal, get your book to the absolute best stage you can first, before submitting, but without hiring an editor. That means multiple beta readers and then using ever damned spelling/grammar checker on the market first. If you hire an editor for going trade, it may well cost you more than any advance you could expect.

    If you go indie, you have to stump up the costs for an editor yourself.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  10. Krishan
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    Krishan Active Member

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    Generally speaking, if I love a story enough I'll be willing to work through any minor issues that it has. If I think that it has potential, then the extra work will be worth the effort.

    Multiple spelling, punctuation or grammar errors wouldn't instantly put me off an otherwise-excellent manuscript, but would certainly make me more sceptical of it.
     
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  11. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Are you an editor/agent, if you don't mind my asking? What if, say, paragraph # 413 is just a plain bad paragraph?
     
  12. NiallRoach
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    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    They'll ask you to change it. A single paragraph being bad in a whole novel is not grounds for rejection, no matter who the editor is.
     
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  13. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Guys, thanks a lot for your help. I'm getting to the point where it's time to show my novel to others, and then prepare for submission. In other words, it's getting hard to be able to tell if every single paragraph is "good enough," so knowing there may be some leeway is extremely helpful.
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @psychotick - I'm not speaking as an agent at all, but I'd be cautious about being too casual about any SPAG errors. An occasional typo is forgiveable when it's clearly a typo and not something the writer does consciously, but even typos should be caught and corrected before submissions as well. Every obvious 'error' is going to knock the reader (in this case a prospective agent) out of the story, and make them wonder about the level of the writer's professionalism.

    Any writer who is at the stage where SPAG errors are still an issue should NOT be attempting to submit for publication—in my opinion anyway. Okay, the occasional literary gem might get picked up despite them, but that won't happen very often. Find a reliable copy editor (or grammatically gifted friend, who may do it for free) and pay them to help you.

    If you're in a rush to get to publication, think of all the time and effort you'll waste by jumping into the submission process too soon and receiving nothing but rejections for months and months on end. And once you've exhausted all your prospective agents you can't submit the same story to them again, can you? Rejection is final. Better to have spent the time creating an error-free MS in the first place? At the very least, it won't hamper your chances.

    @123456789 - I agree with @TWErvin2, that if you know a passage needs work, or something niggles at you about some aspect of your story, it's probably best to tackle that before submission. Sometimes a bit of distance can help. Put the thing away for a couple of months, work on something else, then go back and see if you can eradicate the niggles. Unless you are on the last lap of your life, there isn't any great rush. Time taken now will pay off later.

    I know I'm doing that right now, with a story I have (many times) pronounced : finished. There is one chapter in particular where I don't think I'm striking the right tone. So I'm still working on it. Yeah, it takes bloody forever, but I have to say that every time I make changes like this, the story does improve. It's worth it, even though I plan to self-publish. What I would really hate is to get it out there on Kindle and print-on-demand and THEN realise what I could have done to improve it!
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2015
  15. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    One thing that I have seen editors say is that they are often looking for a reason to reject submissions quickly. So that they can get on to the next thing in the huge pile of stuff to be read. This makes me think that SPAG is important as it can be an excuse to quickly reject.

    Having looked at what is published by difficult to get into places to publish, I do think having a good 'writer style' and mechanics is very important.

    This is why I prefer short fiction for now. I don't want to not submit things, as how else am I supposed to know if I'm 'there' or not. But, if I had only one manuscript and it would take me months or years to write another, then it would be a major concern if I couldn't submit what I have to a particular destination. With short fiction, I can keep on writing new ones and submitting them.
    This is particularly the case given that I am not confident of my ability to know what is most preferred by potential recipients of my work. I can't keep polishing it until it's perfect, I may well end up editing it into a worse state. Especially after the first four or five edits.
     
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  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, long fiction is a bigger step, for sure. However, I have no interest in writing short fiction. I have beta readers (as many as possible) let me know if I'm 'there' or not. If they have enjoyed my novel I can usually tell, because they start discussing characters and what they do and what happens in the story, rather than the mechanics of my writing. I know I'm 'there' when I reach readers this way. I am an ex-English teacher, so I'm pretty confident about my SPAG and other such issues. It's the art of storytelling that I had to learn from scratch, and I'm glad I took the time to learn it. I've never had so much fun!

    I have found the 'worse state' editing problem really only happens when I've not let enough time elapse between the original writing and the editing, though. You know, when you get to that state where you're changing stuff one day, then changing it back the next? That's when I stop entirely and let it sit a good long while.

    The changes I make after that distance break is over, are the ones I keep. Not only is it easier to spot problems, but it's a lot easier to know what to do to solve them, after a long break. It's important to look at the story from the viewpoint of a reader, and I find it impossible to do that too soon after I've been the writer!
     
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  17. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi Jannert,

    I agree, you don't want to submit to an agent a doc that's riddled with SPAG errors. But if you're going the trade route you also don't want to be paying for editors. They'll cost you more than you could hope to make. That's why I said you get it to the best state possible without paying for editing. You get professional editing if you go indie.

    But the part about never being able to resubmit is wrong. And the idea of an error free document is just frighteningly bad. It's simply not realistic and trying to achieve it will crush people. You clearly haven't read all the horror stories I've read of people who've spent years and even decades polishing and polishing their one novel, rewriting it and rewriting it because it gets rejected without even knowing why it was rejected.

    I don't know if you're an agent or not, but speaking as simply an author I find when I read other people's work, I don't care about those sorts of things particularly. I'm looking for something that catches my imagination. A hook, a writing style, a character, a plot element. Those are what separate the mundain from the fresh. And those are the things that no editor can help you with. And I would imagine that any agent would be looking for those things first.

    And the one piece of advice I have for all writers is publish and be damned. Every author should set themselves a limit. So many submissions. So many months submitting. Then go indie. Put it out there in the best possible shape you can get it, and let the world judge it. We live in a new world in which indies have power. Fifty shades was a self published serial as I understand it which got a favourable reaction from readers and brought agents and publishers running to the author - not the other way around. And it supposedly had issues. Wool was self published first. These are far from the only examples.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    No, I'm not an agent at all. :) I did say I wasn't speaking as one, but that could have been open to other interpretations, for sure.

    There is sense in what you say, especially about worrying to the extent that people get crushed, or thinking their story will never be totally error-free. I know I've had a red face recently over stupid mistakes I made during editing and formatting. (Change one part of a sentence, and it's important to change the rest so syntax is correct!) However, I'm not trying to submit or self publish yet, either.

    I'm not saying an agent wouldn't forgive an error or two. It's just that I worry if new writers think these kinds of errors don't matter because they can be corrected later on - by somebody else - or that a reader will enjoy the story anyway. As a reader (and author) I can't get engaged with a story if it's rendered either awkward or unintelligible with SPAG errors. The great hidden Idea the writer had will likely remain hidden, at least from me. However, I don't cut and run at the first hint of a mistake either. But then again, I'm not an agent.

    Writing requires basic tools, and one of them is a command of SPAG. Not being able to write without SPAG errors all over the place is kind of like building a house from scratch when you don't really know how to do it—even if you have a great stonking vision of what a house should look like when it's done. You'll need somebody to help you get it built properly, and you'll probably need to pay them for their time and expertise unless you have a generous friend or family member who can do it for free. Either that, or you can take the time to learn the basics yourself. But somebody has got to get the basics right, or the house won't stand.

    I agree that paying for an editor to correct basic mistakes is costly. But sometimes that cost can be worth it, if it makes the difference between getting published and not getting published. Obviously avoid the chancers out there who are trying to make a quick buck by pretending to be able to edit when they can't. But you could try sending off an excerpt and see how well they do with it. And if they do a great job, you can either opt for them to continue ...or maybe learn how to do what they did yourself.

    I was under the impression that once a MS has been submitted and rejected it can't be resubmitted to the same people. Well, I mean it can, but they won't be happy at all if they recognise you, especially if the reason they rejected your inital MS has not been corrected. But I won't go out on a limb with that. Have you had success with resubmission yourself? I personally would like to think that resubmitting something that has been corrected WOULD be an option. I have just been led to believe that it's not. :(
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2015
  19. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi Jannert,

    I'm pure indie these days so have never resubmitted anything. I went the submissions route ten to fifteen years ago and grew discouraged when half the agents didn't even bother responding.

    These days if an agent wants me, they're going to have to knock on my door. I don't know if any of them can actually offer anything more than I've already achieved on my own.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  20. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @jannert

    From one aspiring novelist to another, my biggest fear right now is that I don't learn when it's time to move on to the next stage, in my case, preparing for a serious attempt at submission. It's common advice around here to "edit to perfection" and "take as long as you need," but if like you said, you know you're "there" in terms of writing, because your test readers truly liked your story, then maybe it's time to go ahead and try to submit.

    Speaking for myself, I have invested a lot of time and energy into my WIP and there are many more novels I wish to write. And I also am wary of editing the soul out of my novel. I've read and myself believe that that is a real risk of too much editing. It would be nice to know that editors are there to help good novels be a little better, and not to swipe down anything less than absolute perfection. With that being said, I have read that the first few chapters should be perfect. No idea if this is true.
     
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  21. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've gotten compliments and thanks from publishers' editors for submitting "clean" manuscripts, and I'd still say I have... maybe... twenty or so full-on errors per novel? Like, not judgement calls or "please clarify" or whatever, just about twenty times per novel that I'm full-on wrong. Often typos, but also my personal bugbears (further/farther, choose/chose, and a few others).

    The MS I submitted that got me my agent had about that many errors, too.

    So, no, your MS doesn't have to be perfect.

    That said, you should make it as good as it can be. There are probably things about your MS that make it challenging that you really care about - length, unsympathetic MC, different perspective on race/gender/politics/whatever. Those are the places you want to spend your agent-goodwill-credits. Not on stupid stuff you could have caught if you'd just taken the time to read your story out loud or backwards or whatever.
     
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  22. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Just curious. Have you had anybody else read it and give you feedback?
     
  23. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Surely, SPAG isn't expected in dialogue, though... right?

    If so, I'm screwed.
     
  24. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, spelling is expected. But perfect grammar isn't.

    Perfect grammar isn't even necessary in narration, as long as the breaches are consistent with character voice rather than with authorial incompetence.
     
  25. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, I've been following Stephen King's advice (OK, not entirely, I couldn't help myself and had someone read the first six chapters), which says to keep your novel "behind closed doors" until its as good as you can make it, without outside help. Then you give it to betas, make whatever changes you feel necessary, based on their comments, another round or two for SPAG, which I consider part preparing to submit.
     
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