Monday, February 14, 2011

I'm Famous! (Ok, not really...)

So for those of you that subscribe to Nathan Bransford's blog, you will know that he usually brings up a few popular or interesting topics being discussed in his forums. I was incredibly shocked (and pleased) when he mentioned a forum topic that I started regarding whether it is better to spend money on a conference (in order to network) or hire a copy editor (to polish your manuscript). It has been an interesting debate, and I've about decided to hire a copy editor to point out my typos, grammatical mistakes, etc. so that I will have the best possible manuscript to submit to agents. Of course, it would be pointless to network with agents (and potentially get requests for partials) if my manuscript is not as polished as it should be.

I was very interested in the heated debate that ensued during the topic's discussion. It seems that some folks think that it is a publisher's job to copy edit a manuscript before sending it out for publication, while others believe that you'll get a major leg up by presenting your best work possible.

I think all this debate should lead to the definition of 'polished.' I think we all can agree that a manuscript should be generally free from errors. And it helps to have had a few betas take passes at it so you can fix anything that is confusing.

But is that it? Is that what agents mean when they say, "submit your best work?"

It's a tough question to answer. You certainly want to put your best foot forward, but I would love to know what my competition is. Am I obssessing when I shouldn't be? Am I going to be pitted against those poor souls who have been fooled into thinking that their writing is good? Am I one of those poor souls?

I always feel sorry for those folks who audition on shows like "American Idol" or "America's Got Talent" and just stink. I often wonder, "Who gave them the notion that they could sing?" I would want to be pretty sure that I had talent before exposing myself to national ridicule. And while the stakes are not quite that high when you submit to an agent, I want to be certain that I'm not about to launch myself into a shame spiral.

I'm a realist...first and foremost. Personally, I never even considered my writing worthy of publication until last year. It was something that I did to amuse myself, and when I finally got up the gumption to submit to some disinterested parties (i.e. no family), I discovered that maybe I did have something. Or at least they thought I did. So I guess I won't really know until I start querying. Until then...I'll just keep on writing.

So what is your definition of 'polished'? Do you think you can under polish and still get a contract? Or is it better to err on the side of caution and over polish a manuscript?


  1. I think it's important to "polish" your MS on your own. I believe editors and publishers want to know how well you write, without the help of a professional. I know it's tempting to hire an editor, but you can learn so much by doing it yourself.

  2. LOL I saw Nathan's post and was like, Hey! That's Caroline! Cool!

    Awesome question, too--While I think it's important to have a polished MS, I also don't think that a typo here or there is killing your chances. Whenever I read why agents and editors pick books, it's the story, the voice, the writing. I've never read an agent who said "Yes, I loved the book, but they spelled "there" wrong three times, so I rejected" or "Well, I had to offer representation--it was just so clean!"

    I think, if you're going to hire an editor, going for a substansive edit that looks at plot, character, and pacing would probably be more beneficial than basic copy-editing.

    And hey, at least submissions are reasonably private and not televised like American Idol! :)

  3. I think most good agents can spot the difference between a typo and an illiterate! Having said that, the best thing to do is, when you think you've finished editing, put it away for a few days and look again with fresh eyes. You'll be amazed how many mistakes you pick up once you're over manuscript fatigue. That's what I call it when it doesn't matter how many times you read a page, you see what you think you typed, and not the forty-seven stupid errors you actually did!

    I'm with Rowenna - choose an editor that can give you hints on plot and character development and things. It's the execution that will matter to the agents, not the smaller errors that are so easily fixed.