A lot of people say it, but I’ve really learnt, you do only get one chance to make a first impression. And in publishing, there is no second chance, once your work has been seen by an agent or publisher, that is really it, there is no going back with revisions. So if you can still see a problem in the work, or have a question about it, resolve it before you send it out. Actually, resolve it, sit on it, then look again. Get a second opinion. Or third. And only when you are absolutely sure that the work is working, get everything together to be ready to send it out.
How many drafts?
I’ve heard published writers say they usually wait until a third draft until they send it to their editor/publisher. For debut authors, I’ve heard wait until at least the fouth draft. For me, it’s only now that I am at the 7th (700th?) that I feel confident that the work is whole and complete. That I know what is going on in every scene, and that every scene needs to be there to tell the story. That every character is relevant, what their arcs are, and how they contribute to my protagonists’ journey and the manuscript as a whole.
To that point, it’s important to think about what even constitutes a draft. I haven’t found a solid definition, but I have come to consider that when I undertake a substantial change to the architecture of the story, that is a draft. The uncountable reviews that involve reading and tweaking and making small edits do not constitute a draft to me.
Knowing you are ready
In retrospect, I can say that the ease with which you can put your submission pack together is a good indicator of if you are ready to submit.
Writing a synopsis is daunting. When I first thought I was ready to submit, it took me the better part of two weeks to write a synopsis. After several more drafts and substantial rework, it took me about two hours, a sign to me that I knew and understood the story.
The submission pack
There is a standard format for the submission pack. Different agents and publishers will ask for different components or variations, eg one page or two page synopsis, three chapters or the full manuscript, but the core materials are the same,
- Cover letter, which serves as your pitch
Crafting your submisison
There is a plethora of articles and tools out there to help you put together your submission pack, of most value to me have been:
- Melanie Ostell’s how to pitch course
I am not sure if she is still doing this, but it was run through Writers Victoria over two weekends. She really teaches the skills to get your synopsis and cover letter together, and, if it’s going to be required, your verbal pitch in place.
- Curtis Brown Creative, Edit & Pitch your novel online course
For the skills in pitching as well as editing, I cannot recommend this enough. The course structure organically helps you be ready to pull together a synopsis and pitch based on the analysis and interrogation of the work you do in the editing stages. If you only have money for one course, do this one.
Jericho Writers also have some great articles on “how to”. It comes across as a bit paint-by-numbers, but the formula works and is a great place to start.
I also found the film approach to loglines, or the elevator-pitch helpful. Save the Cat has a formulaic but fabulous article that can be helpful to write a compelling “one-sentence-about”.