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An Agent Requests Your Manuscript . . .

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An Agent Requests Your Manuscript, Now What?

Conferences can be a great way to find an agent.

I recently attended the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference in Seattle, Washington, as a senior editor with Allegory Editing, along with the founder, Andrea Karin Nelson.

It’s a lively conference with terrific speakers, excellent panel topics, and the opportunity to pitch work to agents and editors.

One of the best ways to land an agent is to meet them in person, interest them in both you as a person and as a writer. Rather than sending a cold query that sits in a slush pile, it guarantees your work will be read.

But is it the best thing for an author?

“Well . . .” she said, taking a sip of her coffee and settling in for a chat. “It depends.”

Agents want to see your most polished work.

There are complications for a writer using a verbal pitch compared to an agent seeing a sample of the writing. Here are a couple places a writer can get into trouble.

  1. No command of basic grammar and style.
  2. An unclear understanding of genre and why it matters.
  3. Pitching a first draft, but telling the agent it’s polished. (Or, thinking it’s polished when it’s not . . .)

Dear Agent, it has been twenty years since my freshman English class . . .

Most of us read all the time. But if the majority of your reading and writing lately has been on Twitter and memos with co-workers, you may need a refresher on basic grammar.

Yes, spell/grammar check and Grammarly can help (I’m not recommending Grammarly here, I’m just acknowledging it), that’s not the same as working on the basics of your craft.

For a great book on grammar, take a look at The Elements of Style by Strunk & White.

For a great book on why you should take a look at The Elements of Style, read On Writing by Stephen King.

You may have the most interesting, creative idea for narrative non-fiction or a novel, but if your writing lacks basic grammar, it won’t matter. A person could have a great idea for a cake recipe, but if they don’t know how to turn on a stove . . .

Dear Agent . . . Genre, Shmenre

A question I often ask writers interested in working with me as a developmental editor and writing coach is “what’s your genre?”

Usually followed up with, “what’s your subgenre?”

The reason I ask this question is two-fold. First, I like to know how familiar I am with the genre the writer is working in. But the second reason is I like to have a sense of how much the writer understands about this part of the industry.

Genre matters. The difference between Romance and Western might seem obvious on the surface, but what about a love story set in the 1850s? Should the writer pitch to Harlequin? Or Dusty Saddle Publishing?

Photo by Bhakti Iyata on Pixabay

Yes, during a verbal pitch, this has probably been explored with the agent, but if the writer is unclear about the genre their work fits into and misrepresents it to the agent, the agent may not realize it until they read the submission.

Secondly, before a writer pitches to an agent, if the writer is unsure of their genre, they may choose the wrong agent to pitch, missing out on an opportunity to pitch the agent who would be interested in their work.

Subgenre can be just as important. For example, the difference between a cozy and a thriller is huge and many agents don’t represent all the subgenres.

Dear Agent, My manuscript is complete at 85,000 words . . .

There’s a tremendous difference between a finished manuscript and a polished manuscript. For my novels, I rewrite somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty to one hundred times. You read that right. Fifty to one hundred times. That’s reading through the complete draft and making changes.

In the last round of edits with my publisher, I rewrote the complete manuscript three times in three weeks. In between those three rewrites, I printed it out and marked changes on a hard copy twice. So I went through the manuscript 5 times in 3 weeks. This is on a manuscript I have worked on extensively FOR YEARS before it found an agent and a publisher.

Writing is rewriting.

It’s an old saying, but a good one. Let me say that again, Writing is rewriting.

Do some authors have a stronger first (tenth, twentieth) draft than I do? Sure. But I’m not unusual in the writing world. There are plenty of authors out there who will talk about doing rewrite after rewrite. The international bestselling author Steve Berry talks about doing something like eighty rewrites on all of his books, and this is a man who has sold millions of copies and written nineteen novels, multiple e-book originals, and collections.

So if you just did a great pitch on your first draft, and an agent says “I’d love to see your work” – that’s terrific. It means you have a great story you are passionate about and know how to “sell.”

But it does not mean your work is ready to be read.

Do yourself a favor. Make sure you’ve done a lot of work on that draft before you send it in. Give it out to trusted beta readers. Preferably someone who reads in your genre and can be honest with you about what does and doesn’t work.

Ask a writer in your genre that you respect if they are willing to read the first chapter. A lot of us were helped out by people ahead of us and we like to pay it forward.

Take classes, read craft books, and read, read, read in your genre.

Still not sure? There are a lot of great developmental editors out there you can work with. I’m a huge fan of Erin Brown. I worked with her early on in my career and still use the information I gathered from her on my current work.

You can also work with Allegory Editing. Andrea Karin Nelson reads everything I write. I read everything she writes. Working with either of us, or any of our editors, can help you get your work to the level that earns not just “I’d like to read your work” but “I’d like to represent your work.”

An agent that’s interested in your concept will still be interested in a few months after you’ve polished up your material. Don’t lose out on the chance to turn the “send a few chapters” into “sign on the dotted line.”

If you’d like a free sample of Allegory Editing’s services on your current manuscript, click the link here.

We’re all in this together! Happy Writing.

Want to read more about pursuing a writing career? Read some of my other posts on writing by clicking the link here.

Header photo from Pexels on Pixabay, click the link here for more information.

Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.

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