As aspiring authors, we hear it often: polish, polish, polish before you submit. Agents and publishers and industry experts all say it’s one of the most important things you can do. And of course, we know it’s important. But for many of us, we never really stop to think about why that’s so.
Consider it from the editor’s perspective. Author Lynne Barrett, guest posting in The Review Review, points out, “The editor wants nothing more than to read something so fresh and powerful and polished there is no question it must be [published.] Instead the editor, having read 17 things this morning, keeps going, thinking: “A run-on sentence in the first line!” The editor reads till unable to process any more, goes to get some more coffee, and starts again, resolving not to give in to the temptation to say no as fast as possible in order to shrink the pile on the table, or the long list of files on the computer.”
When we’re so intensely focused on getting our manuscripts in front of agents and publishers, we tend to forget about what it’s like to be an agent or publisher. What they go through day in and day out. What that slush pile really looks like from their perspective. When I read Ms. Barrett’s post, it got me thinking back to my days as a hiring manager in the administrative and accounting field.
Imagine this: You’re going for a job interview. You’re smart, you’re competent, you’re confident. You’ve got this in the bag. But you’ve shown up for the interview in a stained tee-shirt and flip flops, with a half-eaten Big Mac in your hand. What do you think the hiring manager’s first impression will be of you?
Submitting your manuscript to a publisher or an agent is a lot like a job interview. You’re one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of applicants. To stand out, you’ve got to make the best impression you possibly can. If and editor or agent can’t see past editing mistakes, they’ll never stick around to see the dazzling piece of literary genius your manuscript surely is.
When my manuscript was accepted by my publisher, it was as clean as I could make it. I’d had beta readers weigh in, too. And still my editor, on the first round, found small errors. From this I learned that, no matter how clean you think your manuscript is, it can always be cleaner.
That’s not to say that your manuscript will be rejected at the first sign of a spelling or grammar mistake. It’s to be expected—we authors are only human, after all. But it’s always best to make your manuscript as clean as it can possibly be so that the editor or agent reviewing your work isn’t put off by the prospect of intensive editing.
Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency puts it succinctly when she says, “If I had a dollar for every time a writer re-queried me for a project significantly revised since my rejection, I could live large. Often writers ask if they can resubmit, and 99% of the time, I decline. There simply isn’t enough time in the day for me to read submissions twice. Agents expect you to be ready the first time around. Don’t blow what might be your one chance with a particular agent.”