Finding an Agent #1: Line Edit
Yeah, you can't skip this. I tried.
It isn’t over.
It’s never over.
This novel writing business? Never ever ever over. *Presses play on “The Never Ending Story” by one-hit wonder Limahl.*
Remember how I won that big award back in May? An award, I should mention, that entailed sending over an entire manuscript to a committee? It was exciting! Thrilling! An official announcement came out! I had agents sliding into my DMs wanting to take a look at my work! MY work!
All 119,000 of my words, give or take.
This was around the time I was packing up my entire life in Chicago, so did I take a step back and think, “hmmm is this ready for an agent?” HELL, NO! I sent it off to two and went back to donating the bulk of my books to Open Books Chicago.
I have yet to hear back from one agent, but another responded within 24-hours to say what I’ve been too scared to confront: “This manuscript is too long.” Her recommendation? Cut back between 30,000-50,000.
She was very nice and professional about it. She said that there are agents out there who might not be bothered by the length. She said if I was willing to pare it down, she would like to take another look at it. Maybe if I hand’t suspected that this was the case, I would have scoffed and moved onto the next one.
But deep down, I had that hunch. My book was too long. As the summer went on and I listened in on other workshops about querying agents, the message was reiterated, unprompted. YA novels are ideally between 70-90k and very difficult to sell as debuts if they’re over 100k. The Lee & Low New Visions Award caps submissions at 95K.
There was no way around it. I was going to have to line edit. Line edit like hell. This was, by the way, a process I had never done before.
Line editing isn’t revision, where you focus on whether major aspects of the novel like plot development and character-building make sense. Line edits are really about words, sentences, style. Are you repeating the same info over the course of several chapters? Are you using three adjectives when one would suffice? Is that sentence too long? Too short? Why do you use the word “just” every time you can?
Since I had no idea how to approach it, I did what any person does on this day and age: whine about it on social media and ask for help. Here are some of the tried-and-true tips that writer friends suggested:
1. Read your work out loud
“Read your work out loud to yourself (or your pet)! It's my favorite way to find missing words, typos, and just cut down on wonky sentences.”—Erika Geller
“The best tip I've ever gotten is to read it out loud and see (in my mind) what's on the page as I read it. It's worth the extra time it takes because we speak more slowly than we think so we're a lot more likely to catch mistakes. It also gives us the opportunity to notice things like how well the voice of the piece is coming through on the page, where there may be reiteration of ideas or information, to more quickly spot where the same word is used over and over, to notice where energy flags, to see what should be on the page but isn't, if the structure could be sharpened or shifted, and where I feel myself rushing to get through a section or excited to be in that moment.”—Julia Borcherts
2. Check your word frequency
“I just did an edit of my manuscript and ran it through a word frequency counter and then looked at what were my high usage verbs. I discovered that I used "going" 209 times and "looked" 207 times. After editing I had them under 80. It's a good way to identify your writing tics.” —Len Joy
“I go through it for "that" because I use it A LOT. Also, "said" is your friend when it comes to dialogue tags!”—Lauren Emily
“Circle all the verbs on a page. Are they boring, overused, structurally homogenous? Too many linking verbs? Good verb command fosters strong sentences.”— Steve Trumpeter
“Make note of the start of each sentence. Too many sentences that start the same is often indicative of larger problems looming beneath the surface.” — Emily Florence Maloney
3. Change how you read it
“Print it out and put a check mark on every word as you read it and confirm to yourself that it is factual and used properly (yes even prepositions and articles and such). This will drive you insane and you will still find typos in your finished work, but it's solid advice!” — Rachel Cromidas
“PRINT! IT! OUT” — Michelle Sharpe
“Change the font type or font color so that it feels like you're reading the text with new eyes. Bonus points for 16 pt font size.”—Onicia Muller
“Pass along a copy to have another set of eyes look at it.” —Kathy O’Neill
5. My Personal Favorite
“Read the piece backwards, sentence by sentence. This makes it harder for your eye to jump ahead with the story and miss typos.” —Dawn Goulet
I ended up doing a combination of all of these, but the one that worked the best was reading it backwards. Not sentence by sentence, but chapter by chapter. At the end of the process, which took the bulk of my summer, I had cut my manuscript down by forty pages. FORTY!
But it’s still at 103,203 words. That means that I have another round of line edits to look forward to and I honestly don’t even know how I’m going to accomplish those. I might very well do this to ALL my pages:
Do exactly what writer Blair Hurley recommends. Let me know if it brought you to tears.
State of My Wallet
April Invoice: $5,361.55
April Received: $4050
May Invoice: $7378.90
May Received: $9399.75
June Invoice: $4266
June Received: $1813
July Invoice: $9582
July Received: $8140.70
August Invoice: $3950
August Received: $5950
The keys to my excellent financial summer: consistent, weekly work with high-paying clients. Keep that network from your previous industries alive! I’m so thankful that my former ad buddies referred me for some gigs that made this type of income possible. That means that I’m pretty set for the next 2-3 months. But of course the hustle never stops LOL. It does mean though that I can focus on the kind of work that doesn’t have immediate ROI like pitching, line editing, and focusing more on this newsletter.
As for that June dip, it can be explained by one simple fact: checks are not a freelancer’s friend, especially if you end up moving and USPS takes forever to forward your mail to your new address.
I’m terrorizing your ear buds this month! I was on my friend Erin Conlon’s podcast This Is Not Advice, where we talked about my disdain for office jobs, why I don’t believe relationships should be hard work, and how my parents modeled the nomadic life for me.
I was also a guest on The Chicago Writers Podcast , with nicest guy alive Dan Finnen, to talk about why networking isn’t a dirty word, especially if you’re a writer.
Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy
Wherein I recommend a bunch of stuff, with some justification.
Podcast: How’s Work with Esther Perel. Yes, the sex therapist and relationship expert is now taking on the most toxic, dysfunctional partnership of all—work. Listen, I’m still reeling from the lack of gossip this pandemic has wrought and to hear petty workplace grievances is close to scratching that itch.
Newsletter: Housewives Institute Bulletin by Vulture’s Brian Moylan. As with most reality TV these days, you need to know what happens between seasons to fully understand the complexity of the Real Housewives of XXXX while it airs. I HAVE A PROBLEM, DON’T JUDGE ME.
Interwebs: PostScan Mail. Not because I think it’s the best virtual mailbox out there but because I’m still in awe that virtual mailbox services exist (and are a lifesaver at the moment.)
Feel Good Org: Cajun Navy Relief. Help local volunteers in NOLA rescue people in dangerous conditions and bring others much needed supplies, while the city waits weeks to get power back up.
Books for Fun: Made for Love by Alissa Nutting, which I think was turned into a TV show too? In any case, definitely for you if you’re into absurdist humor and critiques of Silicon Valley tech gods.
Books for Writing: Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. Yeah, I’m really into this whole lets-reduce-our-time-spent-online thing.
The second half of the Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy list will be on the next free edition of the newsletter. Didn’t want to make this any longer than it already is!