This post is related to my last one, which was about why agents sometimes ask potential clients to edit their material before taking them on; and Jeff's about the teamwork involved in publishing a book. As with Jeff's, this one deals with traditional publishing issues, and also with novels for that matter. Many of the things I talk about here are transferable to indies, but not all. I mean, all manuscripts ought to be clean before they go out into the world. How we get there, and who's paying for it, can be different in independent publishing circumstances.
So I've taken you on as a client, which means that you've stuck the landing on your draft, and I'm ready to work with you to send your baby out to publishers. Almost certainly, we will have a conversation that goes like this:
Me: So I think you need to go through your manuscript one more time and fix the section where the girl is exposed as the spy. It's almost there, but not quite, and I think you need to add a couple of sentences here or there beforehand that kind of seeds the idea in the reader's head that this is happening.
Author: I don't get it. I've been editing this (bad word)ing manuscipt for three years, and for you alone for nine months. Won't the editor get it? If they like the idea of the book, won't they take it on and, you know, edit it? That is their job title, you know. (Eye roll, shoulder shrug, like my eleven year old daughter.)
OK, so here's the thing. I get it. I understand the issue. And if you were, say, Jeff, and were on book 97, and had an editor who has worked with you for ten years like Shannon, then you can submit a book before it's completely clean. It's also likely that a) you have a contract already, and b) you've proven already that you are capable of following your editor's directions and fixing things that are almost there when you send in your draft.
But if you are most clients, then you are a debut author. You are still proving yourself at every freaking level. You had to stick the landing to get an agent, and you need to be even BETTER, even CLEANER: perfect, in fact, in order to get an offer from a publisher when I send it in. Here's the fact of it: Writers are in very large supply. You know this--if you are reading this blog you are literate in Publishing and likely understand many aspects of the business. Editors are swamped with manuscripts, all of which have stuck their landings while been vetted by agents and have gone through many additional drafts after being taken on (like yours). If you want yours to stand out, to make it through, to be undeniable, you have to, absolutely MUST, dot every I and cross every T. You have to go through that manuscript another time and another, answer all the questions, so that when the third sales rep during Editorial Board asks the editor "So, can we tell beforehand that the girl is the spy?" the editor can say "only if you really pay attention." There is no time or effort available if the answer is "well, not yet, but maybe she will fix it in editorial, but I don't know if she can."
When I was in high school, my college advisor gave me the following advice about my application essay: "Think of it this way: The college admissions guy has been reading applications for six hours. He's sitting at his kitchen table, and it's ten o'clock at night. There is a cold Heineken in the fridge, which he has promised himself as a reward when he finished the pile in front of him. Your application is the bottom of the pile--the only thing that stands between him and his Heineken. If you want him to spend more than ten seconds on it before opening that fridge, you fucking BETTER be perfect."
Editors, in one way or another (sometimes literally) are waiting for their Heinekens. If your manuscript is clean, undeniable, you just might get her to step away from the fridge.