OK, so yesterday Jeff Cohen wrote a terrific post here--so terrific, in fact, that I thought it deserved to be up for nearly two whole days! Actually it had to do with the busyness of my Tuesday and the fact that it's now almost 10 pm before I can sit down and write before the clock runs out and the estimable Lynn's next post takes primacy.
But Jeff makes a number of points in his post about what happens between the time that a writer completes a novel and said book finds a home with a publisher (or Doesn't and the consequences of that Doesn't need to be confronted).
Before I get into the Agent take on the process, I wanted just to give a little tweak on one of Jeff's points. He says that when a manuscript doesn't sell it's due to one of two things: either a publisher can't figure out how to market the book and recoup its advance, or the book isn't as good as the author thinks it is. Jeff's thesis is that the latter is more likely than the former, and I suspect that often that's true, though I would add "and agent" to that sentence, since most of the time the agent is putting the book out there and believes in it, and we are also baffled by the fact that no editor is recognizing our client's genius/marketability/foresight/astonishing good looks.
But it's Jeff's next point that I want to address, and largely reiterate: before you send out your book, whether to agent or publisher, it is extremely incumbent on you to be absolutely certain that the book is the best it can be at this point. Your agent will (or at least ought to) work with you to get the book in shape. And he or she will likely go through it with you any number of times to be sure it's Ready. But before you give the final OK to your agent to let it go to publishers (or, for that matter, if you need to act as your own agent when you are ready to send it out for representation), you need to be sure that you set your best foot forward.
That means, besides filling your plot holes and character flaws and pacing issues, that you have read it ONE LAST TIME all the way through as a reader, not an author. Did you like it? (Forget that you are sick of it and want to put an ice pick through the skull of your romantic lead.) Don't say "Eh, I'll just attach chapters 4, 7, and 9--they're the good ones." Be prepared to stand behind every single word. Your agent will have to if he or she is asked about it by an editor, and will only do so if he or she knows you have given it absolutely 100%.
Then we, as your agent (getting the singulars and plurals right in this post is TOUGH!), will look through our editor database and match your work with what we know our editor colleagues have told us they like over lunches or drinks or on the phone or at conferences. We look through our lists of deals and through Pub Marketplace. We will ask our colleagues at our agencies or in other agencies who might be best (and we do talk. All the time. And help each other out with all best hopes for our friends' success.) And we make our calls and write our pitches and email over our manuscripts and we sit around and wait for The Call and want desperately to then turn around and make The Call to you.
And if it doesn't work, and all of our ideas, and those of our colleagues and friends don't work, and we become the Voice of Death to you and you can't stand to see our emails any more, we know that at some point we will be blamed. It's part of the job, and that's ok. We just hope that that blame isn't the last stage of grief, and that the author takes everything--including our efforts and intentions--into account. And then moves on. And then perseveres and succeeds the next time.