Redrafting and literary agents/editors/publishers...

otaylor

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Hello! I'm new to the forum, and have spent some time checking out threads on the above topics. Firstly, I'd like to say a general thank you for all the resources and knowledge gathered here, it's great. I feel like a bit of an idiot coming to it so late...

Anyway, I thought I'd start a new thread to ask some advice, apologies in advance if I've missed an existing discussion where this is covered.

As background, I recently finished my first novel (dystopian, near-future sci-fi)! It felt great! Then I did some research and a little redrafting (probably not enough, but I'm a complete-first-draft kind of person), tried to find relevant agents and sent it out. A bunch of polite rejections later, I'm probably where most of you are, those who would love to have people read your work and dream of being able to make a living as a writer... Which brings me here, to learn :)

Redrafting: I find this insanely hard. I can see problems, but can't find ways to fix them. I can see endless restructuring possibilities, but moving some things undoes others, and I can rarely tell if one set up is better than another. I think this is what I would have longed for out of traditional publishing - someone to work with, who could help me make some of those judgement calls (and of course who could help reassure me that it's any good and worth the time). Basically I'm caught here between depressing myself trying to endlessly rework it (I haven't done that yet), and wanting to move on to keep the flame of writing alive, whilst hoping eventually I luck out with an agent. Any advice on this front would be great. What do you do when you are at the stage where you have a fully functional novel, that works and is coherent, with a good level of editing (as much as one person can achieve with their own thing)? It's done, it works, but of course you know it isn't perfect... Leave it and move on (I want to write fantasy novels too!), or keep seeking perfection? I probably answered my own question there, but interested in other opinions...

Agents: I'm reluctant to ask this as it will seem like I'm avoiding my own research... but any advice on looking for genre agents? I spent ages and in the end I only found about ten that I could send the manuscript to, and most of them have got back to me by now. I was being selective though. I heard there's a sort of yearly almanac with agent contact details. Has anyone tried buying this before? Is it worth it? It feels like there are so many things out there trying to profit from the dream of being a writer, my spidey-scepticism-sense is on permanent alert.

Obviously I could eventually share some stuff on this forum, but the book's 140k+ so it's a big ask to get anyone to read it, so maybe only tiny chunks here later on. I've had some really nice feedback so far, but I probably need to get out of the friends and family circle :ROFLMAO:.

Apologies for the long post :)
 
The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook is probably what you're thinking of. It's worth a look, or at least was when I was looking for an agent. All I can say is to follow their stipulations to the letter: if they want a synopsis, give them one, etc.

As for editing, I don't think you can achieve perfection, but you can certainly get to a point where you're putting out quality stuff that could be published (not that that means it will, sadly). That means not making the classic mistakes, as well as being on top of grammar and structure. That's a basic standard but a lot of people never get there. Structural problems are different and harder to figure out, but the more you read and write, the more you'll see how other authors do it.

In the meantime, practice! I would keep writing, but keep learning too. There are some good how-to books out there: On Writing is very good, and Wonderbook is often recommended. If you can find a decent writing group, join it - that helped me immensely. Also, there's the critiques section here. I think you can post stuff there after 30 posts. It's sometimes hard to see what you're doing wrong or right until someone else helps.
 
Redrafting: I find this insanely hard. I can see problems, but can't find ways to fix them. I can see endless restructuring possibilities, but moving some things undoes others, and I can rarely tell if one set up is better than another. I think this is what I would have longed for out of traditional publishing - someone to work with, who could help me make some of those judgement calls (and of course who could help reassure me that it's any good and worth the time). Basically I'm caught here between depressing myself trying to endlessly rework it (I haven't done that yet), and wanting to move on to keep the flame of writing alive, whilst hoping eventually I luck out with an agent. Any advice on this front would be great. What do you do when you are at the stage where you have a fully functional novel, that works and is coherent, with a good level of editing (as much as one person can achieve with their own thing)? It's done, it works, but of course you know it isn't perfect... Leave it and move on (I want to write fantasy novels too!), or keep seeking perfection? I probably answered my own question there, but interested in other opinions...
Being able to see and fix structural problems is a skill that in my case took many years to develop (to the extent that I even have). The more books you write, the better your chance of going back to your first one and fixing it yourself. One alternative is to make friends with other writers who already have that skill. Another is to pay an editor for their opinion, but this will be expensive and might not give you the advice that would most benefit the story. I think for now you'd be best off writing another book and looking around for a writing group to join, either face to face or online. (Posting a small excerpt in the critique forum here, when you have 30 posts, might also give you some pointers.)

I heard there's a sort of yearly almanac with agent contact details. Has anyone tried buying this before? Is it worth it?
If you're in the UK, then as Toby says this is probably the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. If you're a member of your local library, they probably have it to borrow (that's what I did). You can then mine it for information or at least see if you think it's worth buying your own copy.

Good luck!
 
The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook is probably what you're thinking of. It's worth a look, or at least was when I was looking for an agent. All I can say is to follow their stipulations to the letter: if they want a synopsis, give them one, etc.

As for editing, I don't think you can achieve perfection, but you can certainly get to a point where you're putting out quality stuff that could be published (not that that means it will, sadly). That means not making the classic mistakes, as well as being on top of grammar and structure. That's a basic standard but a lot of people never get there. Structural problems are different and harder to figure out, but the more you read and write, the more you'll see how other authors do it.

In the meantime, practice! I would keep writing, but keep learning too. There are some good how-to books out there: On Writing is very good, and Wonderbook is often recommended. If you can find a decent writing group, join it - that helped me immensely. Also, there's the critiques section here. I think you can post stuff there after 30 posts. It's sometimes hard to see what you're doing wrong or right until someone else helps.
Thanks Toby - yes, that's the book I was thinking of. Good to know you found it useful.

It's tough with the editing. I think I'm at the stage where it could be published... but I could easily be deluded. I do read an enormous amount, and have spent most of my life writing in some form or other, but have only recently had the courage to really dedicate myself to creative writing and manage a novel-length piece. I think I can see my own stuff critically, and I am proud of it, but I'm definitely at the stage where to improve it I need help. My guess is that will only come in a commercial setting due to the length.

Writer's groups seems like therapists, takes a while to know if one works or not, and so shopping around really takes time. I tried an online one for a bit, based in my home town, but physically I'm in France. That said I will follow your advice and start looking again. Anyone who can recommend a group, I'd appreciate it! :)
 
otaylor-

First and foremost, don't get discouraged. Many published authors had to get past far more than 10 rejections to find an agent, so don't let that kill your fire. Start a new project while you shop the current one around. Or, if deep down you know it could be better and probably isn't ready for primetime just yet, trunk it until you've honed your craft a bit.

How do you hone your craft? By learning about writing as much as possible. You wouldn't expect somebody to walk in off the street and do your job perfectly, so why should the vocation of writing be any different? Here are a few places to start:

The Writer's Compass by Nancy Ellen Dodd (a method for breaking down your writing process so that you avoid the problems you describe in your OP)

How NOT to Write a Novel, by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman (a stingingly entertaining book that highlights the top 200 mistakes writers make, and how to fix them. The approach is through humor but the advice is solid. If you're doing any of these mistakes, that'll kick you out of the slush pile right away.)

Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King (a more serious treatment of the most common problems plaguing manuscripts and how you can learn to see/fix them for yourself)

All the craft magazines your public library subscribes to, and their websites: The Writer, Poets & Writers, Writer's Digest, etc

The Query Shark - Janet Reid's excellent blog all about querying

Putting up samples for critique - as mentioned earlier, after you have 30 posts. Thick skin required, but sometimes a necessary experience to see what you're missing

Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing. And if the thought of tackling a whole 'nother novel is soul-crushing right now, consider trying out the short story form. Much more manageable word counts (anywhere from 1000 to 10,000 words, give or take) and faster turnaround for both writing it, and shopping it around. Also, the form encourages much tighter writing since words are limited. You learn really fast how to get the most out of every single word.

Good luck and keep writing!!
 
Redrafting: I find this insanely hard. I can see problems, but can't find ways to fix them. I can see endless restructuring possibilities, but moving some things undoes others, and I can rarely tell if one set up is better than another.
You may want to consider starting a second novel. I found that I learned a lot on my first attempt and that it was far easier to create a much better story from scratch than to fix the issues with my first one. Take this recommendation with a grain of salt, though. I'm on my fourth novel and none of them has progressed beyond living on my hard drive.
 
It sounds to me like you want an editor before you want an agent. Alas, as with critique groups, finding a good one can be extremely time-consuming as well as expensive. Personally, I'd go with critique groups first--expect to invest a year or more finding a good match. Then go looking for an editor to get the manuscript as clean as possible. Then submit that (just samples, likely) to agents. Then wait years before they find a publisher who in turn actually gets the dang thing out the door.

All of which is to make Wayne Mack's point: get busy on the next book. Don't work on this book until you start to get useful feedback (useful here defined as criticisms that seem right and helpful to you). Once you have some of that, you can treat it as backlog, working on it when work on the new book stalls from time to time. Between planning, writing, editing, and marketing, there's plenty of overlap. You should always have at least a couple of works in the queue.
 
I used QueryTracker to find agents and kept an eye on Twitter too - lots of UK ones on there.
Unfortunately there are not that many agents that take genre work. You could try US ones too, depending on the manuscript - it might suit a US market more, for example.
In my experience, when I was rejected by a raft of agents I realised that my story was probably dated and needed more work than I could do - I'd be better off starting over. However, this depends on how much you believe in your book. As long as you do, keep going!
 
My preferred method of finding agents is to work out whose writers I think do outstanding work, then look up their agents.

As for knowing when to stop editing or what to edit - how many other pairs of eyes have you had on it?
 

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