Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Agent Tweets #8: 2-in-12,000 Shot

Editing is the bane and the blessing of a writer's existence - a bane because it is so frustrating and time-consuming; a blessing because if managed properly, it puts a writer's work out front as the shining gem of storytelling that it is.

More importantly, editing is the key to getting noticed.

If I repeated every tweet I've seen on this topic, this blog would be about nothing BUT editing. Even so - there were six recent tweets about editing that really stood out (Ha! I'm an agent for agent tweets...there's some irony in that...).

TWEET #1:  

I get 800-1000 submissions a month and maybe take on a couple new authors/yr 

Eye-Opener: I'd lie if I said my eyes didn't widen just a wee bit when I read this one. The 800-1000 submissions per month I totally understand; but out of a potential 12,000 submissions per year - only two are taken on?

Yoiks. This means if I want to stand out, I need to make sure my manuscript is in the best possible condition before sending it in.

TWEETS #2 and #3:

Finish your ms and edit and polish it before querying. 
You can't expect an agent to help you finish writing it 

Sloppy, typo-ridden final manuscripts just reek of unprofessional entitlement to me. 
Your editor is not your MAID 

Hard But True: Both of these tweets back each other up with the same reality: you can't expect an agent to be so wowed by your story that they'll overlook typos or loose writing, and just "let the editors fix that later." As we discussed earlier in our Agent Tweets series: the query letter - and then the manuscript - is more or less part of a job interview. Editing is the way you dress it up right for the interview.

Yes, yes, I hear you wail. I hear this all the time!!! But how much editing is enough? There is such a thing as spinning your wheels for too long.

I completely agree. Sometimes you need to know when to stop tampering and just send it on.

So how DO we know when enough editing is enough? Here are a couple agent responses:

TWEETS #4 and #5:

You shld finish the ms, edit it, polish it, get some1 else to read it, re-edit, sit on it a wk, re-read it & THEN query

One of the best and most underused tools for polishing your query is TIME. Let it sit for a week. Then review & revise

Time is Your Friend:  Though the second tweet specifies "query" and not "manuscript," the principle is the same for both tweets ~ to really get a polished manuscript, you need time - not just to work on it, but to walk away from it for a while. Get some emotional distance from it. Then go back and edit. This is what is generally called a "cold read" and it is hugely valuable to writers, enabling them to become more objective about their own work.

Notice that both tweets hint that editing your manuscript comes in repetitive stages:

Write - Edit - Polish - BetaReader - Wait - Edit - Polish - BetaReader - Wait - Edit...

Most published authors that I read and admire generally advise going through these "layers" a minimum of three times before sending out that first query letter. Remember: agents want the manuscript finished and at its glossy best when you query, so that when they make that full request there are minimal hitches in the proceedings.

Okay.....so how horrific are these editing stages we're talking about?


Sometimes #editing has to be drastic, entire scenes and sections lopped off. What's left will be stronger for it./ Every #word on the page must have reason to exist; it should add to the story or your piece./If you, yourself, feel a loss over a word or line cut from your story or piece, then it needed cutting. 

Bruised Egos:  None of us like to be told that some interlude of which we are very proud isn't worthy of the whole story. But therein lies some advice that is also some of the oldest, and difficult to accept, which the above tweet touches on neatly: If you or I are deeply attached to any character or scene, or prosy description, because we feel we "did so well" at that point --- chances are it shouldn't be there, because we're just showing off.

Bottom Line: "Editing" is not merely a matter of correcting grammatical and typographical issues. It involves removing those bits that burden the tale unnecessarily, and hold back your manuscript from being its best - from being a two-in-twelve-thousand chance of catching an agent's eye, and finding your way to the publisher's desk.


  1. Good post and a bit of an eye opener. I have a question. What's the difference between "edit" and "polish"?

    1. eeep! Meant to post my longer answer here in direct reply to your question (see below for full answer). Thanks for such a great question! I may do a followup post on this very topic later this week.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Y'know, that's a good question, and I had to go do a bit of searching around for an answer myself. From what I understand, "edit" means to take care of those glaring errors - typos, misspellings, etc - whereas "polish" means to look at a sentence (or paragraph) and say "This is good, but how can I make this great?"

    In my composition classes (I teach high school), I tell my students they should always check their writing for syntax (grammar) and then for semantics (does it make sense?). Semantics has to do with the "big picture" reasoning of what you're writing --- whether you're consistent in your points, your details, guarding against your characters having even minor personality changes along the way.

    That's how I interpret the difference. Editing = Syntax. Polishing = Semantics. Does that make sense?

  3. A lot of people also seem to use "edit" and "revise" interchangeably, which I find confusing. I've pretty much gotten to where I think of "revising" as the big-picture stuff--cutting out chapters, reworking character arcs, etc--and "editing" as the line-by-line stuff.

    1. Fair point. That's a great definition, actually.