Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How perfect do you have to be?

So, the question many writers ask is, "How perfect does our manuscript need to be when submitting to an agent?"

I had always thought this to be a silly question, and then as I thought it through, I realized what they were really wondering. If the agent is going to tweak the manuscript and mold it into something that will do better in the market, how much should a writer do?

I think we are talking about two different issues here and this is what causes the confusion.

When you send in a manuscript, it needs to be near perfect. Now what I am referring to here is the basics of the story. The plot should be free of holes, the grammar, punctuation and formatting need to be flawless. The characters need to be written well and strong enough to be three dimensional to a reader. The dialogue needs to be accurate and reflect not only the characters personalities but truly to enhanced the story.

But Scott, what is left? You're asking for perfection.

That's right, we do want it perfect. The Head and Shoulders Commercial says "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." We get a lot of submissions each week and you have to rise to the surface of this pile. You need to know that, although we are looking for the diamond in the rough - that one great story - we are also looking for a reason to move on to the next manuscript. Turing in something that is far from perfect or has huge flaws in it, just makes our life easier when it comes to rejecting you.

The tweaking and adjusting we do to get the story marketable will come from modifying some of the scenes, adding or deleting some sections to make it more stream-lined. We might have you spice up that bedroom scene for one house and then create a different manuscript where that same scene is tamer. The story is still in great shape.

So, where am I going to with this? Before you go sending those manuscripts out to anyone, make sure to really go over them. Even the proposals we send to editors for my established authors go through a lot of tweaking to make them just right. Even when the author is loved by the editor, we still have to treat each submission like a new author, and to show the publishers we still have something fresh and original.

Now, get out there and edit those manuscripts.



  1. pet peeve>>people who write different characters in one voice. The writing is technically perfect, but the men sound like women, and the children sound like miniature adults or Beaver. They tend to blur, and get all two dimensional.

    current peeve, I'm sure I'll find others, lol...

  2. I agree on this one. When I really do need to rely on the dialogue tags to pay attention to things, then you have some serious problems.