The Agent Process
Today I thought I’d answer a few recent questions about the process of agenting…
When you read a query, can you tell from ten pages or less how much work might be involved in making a manuscript publishable if it’s not already?
When I read the sample pages in the query, I’m asking myself more basic questions. Do I like it? Does the story immediately capture me? How strong is the writing? If I’m intrigued by the story and the writing is strong, I’ll ask for several more chapters. It’s in this phase (reading the partial) that I’ll determine whether I like it enough to help the writer do whatever work necessary to bring it to publishable level. It has to be really close, though. If it’s not, I’ll pass and recommend they work on it.
There is often a heartbreaking aspect of making these decisions. Sometimes I love a story idea but the writing isn’t quite there yet. The “editor in me” wishes I could sit down and do some in-depth work with the person, helping them to improve their writing. But I just can’t, so I have to pass. I often invite them to resubmit after revisions, if they are so inclined.
How much faster do you think agents and editors read than average folks? Do you routinely read an entire novel in a day?
I’m pretty sure that agents and editors are the same as the general population in terms of reading speed. In other words, some read fast, some read slow, some in-between. The difference might be that we know how to quickly learn what we need to know from a manuscript, whether that involves careful reading, skimming, skipping around, or something in between. We learn to “see things” in the writing that the average reader might not get from reading just a page or a few pages.
Do I routinely read an entire novel in a day? Hmm. I can’t remember the last time I had the luxury of doing nothing but reading a novel all day. If I set aside the time, then sure I could. But my days are so much busier than that. I read what I can, when I can. It’s pretty accurate to say I’m always reading. Days, nights, weekends. Lunch breaks, waiting for a meeting to start, carpool line. You get the picture. (Thank God for my Kindle.)
How important is formatting for a manuscript? Is it anywhere near as important as the words themselves? Could errors in formatting, such as excessive use of italics (or not using them), double spaces after sentences (sorry, I can’t break myself of a typing habit learned 40 years ago), not correctly identifying scene breaks in chapters, etc., etc. be a reason for an automatic form rejection letter?
Of course, formatting is not as important as the words themselves. But the question kind of bothers me, because it rings of a reluctance to learn the protocol of the industry and abide by it. Formatting a manuscript is really not that difficult.
To me, innocent errors in formatting are no big deal. My philosophy is, do your best, and if/when you get an agent and then a publisher, you’ll have lots of help getting it exactly right. No formatting mistakes are going to net a form rejection letter if the writing is otherwise strong.
But also keep this in mind: If I want to represent you, and you don’t fix the formatting, then guess who has to do it prior to submission? Me. If you don’t change those double spaces to single, then I have to do it. Don’t say “after 40 years I can’t change my habit.” I changed my double space habit after 40 years, and you can too. Or if you can’t, then when you’ve finished your manuscript, simply use the “find and replace” function to replace all double spaces with single ones. You can do the same with all your formatting. Write your book, then go back and do your best to format properly. It can only add to your presentation and show that you are a professional. As we like to say, it lets me know that you’ve shown up ready to play.
Formatting guidelines are NOT given just to make writers jump through hoops. When a book goes from a Word doc to being typeset, the formatting is of crucial importance. Wrong formatting makes the typesetter’s job a nightmare and costs everyone more time and money. So keep in mind, you are asked to do things a certain way for good reasons, and when you offer excuses instead of at least trying to do it right, it just doesn’t look professional.
Having said all that…no, formatting mistakes will not lead to a form rejection letter. And I’ve never held anyone’s formatting against them. In fact, I usually just fix the formatting without saying a word. So despite my ranting and rambling here, it’s not really something to worry too much about. Just do your best!
Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.