I have actually lost count of how many times I’ve revised my manuscript. It makes no sense to talk in terms of numbers of drafts any more. I’ve made minor alterations and I’ve done full scale re-writes. I’ve made changes and unchanged changes.
It is said you shouldn’t submit your novel to agents until you are absolutely convinced it’s in the best shape possible. But, we all know that if you work on your manuscript until it’s ‘perfect’ you may never send it anywhere. Put it away in a drawer and take it out in six months’ time and there’ll be plenty you want to change. Put it away for another six months and the same will be true again. You can go on like this forever.
The problem is you are just too close. Whilst you can gain some perspective by discarding it for a while, you are still too close, emotionally as much as anything else.
At some point you have to take the plunge and submit to an agent. I would argue that the act of doing this is, in itself, a way of gaining perspective, of seeing the novel better. One reason, of course, is that you may receive constructive feedback. But even an agent’s feedback is subjective and, often, contradicts another’s. What I’m arguing is that the very act of submitting brings a fresh perspective, irrespective of the outcome.
It’s like handing in your paper at the end of a maths exam. Sometimes it happens that the moment you let go of it, the moment you surrender it to the invigilator, you realise you got a question wrong and you know, all of a sudden, what the answer should have been. Somehow, it was the act of handing it over that triggered this realisation. You might never have spotted the error if you’d kept staring at the sum for the rest of the day. Or if you’d put the sum away and come back to it at a later date. Something about relinquishing it for good released a thought pathway that was supressed, or blocked, before. The same can be true when you release a manuscript for the perusal of an agent. It might not be an instantaneous realisation, or a simple one. But it can trigger something.
The downside is that the first agent, or round of agents, who receives your manuscript, gets the dud submission. Why risk such a waste? Surely, the same revelations can be triggered by submitting to a trusted reader for constructive criticism. To a degree, yes. But not completely. In this scenario you have nothing to lose. The worst that can happen is that they lay into your novel and you decide whether or not they’re right. This is not the same as a rejection. A rejection is like a fail in your maths GCSE. It is an irredeemable loss. That’s why, I think, something in the brain gets released as soon as you make the possibility of that loss a reality. And that’s a useful thing because you can do something about it for next time.
If you’re lucky, you get to pass your GCSE, despite the error, or the agent takes on your manuscript, warts and all. However, for most un-agented, unpublished writers, the submissions process is ongoing. Most of us don’t get snapped up right away. It’s important not to get defeated by this. As I mentioned in my previous post, agents’ tastes are highly subjective. Hopefully, as I go along, honing, improving, refining, I will end up with a manuscript in which I believe completely. Which I feel to be as good as I can get it. I hope to reach a time when I can hit the ‘send’ button without thinking in the ensuing minutes, days or weeks, ‘Shit, I should have…’