Call the doctor: time for the literary editor

June 26, 2015 § Leave a comment

Books about ‘getting published’ will usually outline the steps to getting an agent. Although the process is not simple, it appears straightforward. The aspiring writer should write well enough for the genre and submit the sample writing required to an agent. Of course your book, however good, may be rejected because it is not to the agent’s taste.

Some writers, despite refusal, keep applying to agents. Marjorie Blackman, I believe, submitted to about 83 agents before one of them agreed to represent her. Perhaps Marjorie Blackman received some encouraging responses along the way, and such encouragement was the reason for her doggedness. If we look, however, at the figures the odds against succeeding by direct application to agents are very high.

Thousands of unsolicited submissions are made a year to literary agents and only a handful of clients are taken on, and these clients are not all necessarily from the unsolicited submissions. Ahead of the unsolicited submissions will be the writing-competition-winners, and unpublished writers that other agents have recommended.

My view now is that most unpublished writers don’t have a chance because there are far more writers than there are places on agents’ lists.

Of course, if your book is BRILLIANT, you may triumph. But, more likely than not, your book is not up to scratch. This is a conclusion I have reached about my recently finished manuscript. I did not arrive at this conclusion unaided. I arrived at it because of a critique I received from TLC (The Literary Consultancy). Yet when I received that critique I was delighted. I had been afraid that my astute editor (or reader) would give me to understand that what I sent in was neither a ‘book’ nor a ‘book in progress’ but ‘convoluted mush’.

My editor did not think the book was ready to publish. She advised me in what ways I might improve the book. Oddly enough, she did not attack the book in any of its fundamentals. I had been afraid that she would say, “That’s a far-fetched plot you’ve dreamed up, change it.”

Before the report, I was like a person afloat on a sea, surrounded by fog, not knowing if I ever would reach land. Then I got my report: the fog lifted a little, land was in sight, and I had been given a compass. I know my novel is not ready for publication and I also know what I must work on to make my novel ‘publishable’.

I have begun the revisions, recommended by my editor. The revisions turn out to be much more extensive than I had realised. But I believe the book will be far better than my original conception. Now I begin to understand why agents take on writers and then spend two years working on the draft novel.

I would recommend that an unwaged unpublished writer consults a literary editor, but only where:

1. She has already worked hard on her manuscript, and has either finished it or needs guidance before she can confidently proceed further.

2. She is committed to making it the best she can: she is open to taking the advice of an expert*.

And finally a word of warning: don’t be in a hurry to send unsolicited submissions to literary agents as their responses may be brutal. In the past, I received two devastating criticisms from literary agents. These “ladies” undermined me. Their advice was freely (without tact and without charge) given. Advice one might pay not to have had.

 

*One writer told me that she got two lots of advice, from the same editor, about her memoir. The writer found the advice excellent, and agreed with 70% of it (I don’t know if this was on the first or second round). However, she balked at emphasizing too much the ‘poor girl made good’ element of the memoir which her editor had recommended. This was not the direction the writer wanted to take. She didn’t. I, on the other hand, believe I am adopting my editor’s advice 100%.

 

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