Want to get published? The secret to rising up on an agent’s wish list is to wow them from the beginning. Literary agents are busy people and rarely read manuscripts from front to back or in one sitting. They will peruse a few pages now and then come back to a few more pages later. As a writer, you don’t have any control over which pages they will focus on, with one exception—the opening pages. Almost all agents will closely scrutinize the beginning pages of your work. This is the initial screening that will put your manuscript into one of two categoriess—rejection or possible representation. If you can get past this initial screening, then you’ve put yourself on a shorter list that an agent will take more time to consider.
How do you get on that short list? Easy, don’t make rookie mistakes. A writer that wants to become part of the publishing business knows that their novel should be in (at least) the third draft before they even consider sending it for submission. Structure issues and weak characters are some of the top concerns with agents, but the most important consideration is the writing itself. You don’t have to be a literary genius with your prose to know how to write well. And those opening pages should be jammed with great writing.
There are more resources than manuscripts available to writers looking to improve their opening pages. If you really want an agent, you’ll need to exhaust every one of them. (Being an author is a job, there is real hard work involved.) Regardless of your genre, the essentials that need to be in those make-or-break pages are a clear POV with a strong voice, fantastic language and prose, and a solid emotional connection between your main character and the reader. It’s the promise of what’s to come. Agents know that if the opening pages have these elements, then readers will trust the author to take them on an adventure and will keep reading.
After you’ve crafted a brilliant beginning, don’t undo all that hard work with excessive typos, grammatical blunders and wonky formatting. And let’s face it, typos happen. No writer or editor is immune. If you can afford it, go for the full structural, copy/line proofreading and manuscript critique. It’s that important. If you absolutely can’t afford to have an editor proofread your entire work, consider hiring someone to proofread your first 25 pages (or first chapter) and then use those corrections as a model to polish the rest of your manuscript.
Editing, by nature, is a multi-round process. You edit, you make changes, you edit again, you make more changes, you proofread, you proofread again, etc. Every time you make changes to your manuscript you can inadvertently introduce new errors. Maddening, isn’t it?
And yes, even a professional editor will use another professional editor to edit their own writing. As an author, it is almost impossible to see the work with the objectivity needed to do a proper edit. There is nobody who knows the story better than you. Your mind carries all the previous versions and sleep-less night thoughts into the editing, which is why you need someone who doesn’t know the story to be able to find the weaknesses.
A professional editor will use The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, the preferred style guide in the book publishing industry, and the Merriam-Webster dictionary while editing your manuscript. A proofread will consist of checking for grammar, punctuation and spelling, and an editor may also provide an editorial letter explaining any suggested changes made to your manuscript.
To find out more about my editing services, see here.