Error-Free Manuscripts

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Feb 25 2009

I got a question recently from an author who was distraught about a recent submission he had made. Two different agents had requested his manuscript, and like any good author he carefully went through the work, edited and revised and made sure he had sent his best work out. But, as we all know, mistakes happen, and while one agent received his best work, the other received one that was riddled with errors.

The author in question wanted to know how to handle the situation. Would it be appropriate to email the assistant of the agent with the mistake-riddled manuscript to ask if it would be okay to resubmit? Would it be a mistake to let the agent know you had made the mistake, therefore labeling you as unorganized and careless? I think you need to do what is going to make you feel better. And in all cases I would suspect that’s to get in touch with the agent or her assistant and ask if you can resubmit. The worst they can say is no. The truth is that you’re stressed about this. You’re thinking about it constantly and, if the agent does reject the work, you’re always going to wonder if it’s because she really didn’t like the book or because of the mistakes.

I receive emails like this all the time, and frankly the ones that bother me the most are the ones who have completely rewritten the work. My concern there is that you were sending out material much too prematurely, and I always doubt then that the material I do have is even ready. Just as agents will sometimes put the wrong letter in the wrong SASE, we understand that authors will sometimes put the wrong name at the top of the query or the wrong manuscript in the package. Mistakes happen and we could all do well to remember that none of us is perfect.


13 responses to “Error-Free Manuscripts”

  1. Avatar Violet says:

    I’m glad to know we aren’t expected to be perfect. If we were, I would have to give up now. Thanks again.

  2. Avatar The Rat says:

    This happened to me-the exact situation! Now one agent has this manuscript of mine that I’m completely horrified by (okay, fine, it’s not that terrible, but certainly some mistakes). I have been agonizing over whether or not to get in touch with the agent to resend it. You’re right, sometimes, we just make mistakes. And maybe it would be better for my conscience to write to her. That way if there is a rejection, I won’t convince myself it was because of those mistakes. Thank you for this.

  3. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I admire your attitude and agree that contacting the agent is the best solution. Re your comment about a writer rewriting a submission: I sent a query to an agent who rejected it, and it got me thinking (maybe a little obsessively) about why, and I decided it was most probably the hook. After considerable thought, I decided to change the hook (which I’d originally thought was wonderful). Would thatfall within the group of people whose later writing you’d not trust?
    By the way, I keep trying to post with a google id and am always told my password is incorrect, even after I adopt a new user name with a new password!

  4. Avatar writermomof5 says:

    I once wrote Mr. “Agent” instead of Ms. “Agent”. It was typo… I was sending a requested partial… I was so embarrassed I could have disappeared into the ground. No, she didn’t ask for the complete manuscript but I don’t think it had anything to do with my flub.

  5. Avatar Sooki Scott says:

    Another excellent post, Jessica. Mille fois merci.

    Thanks for understanding the inaccuracies of the human condition. No matter how hard I combed through a blog post, I seem always to find a spelling or punctuation error. It’s said love is blind. Writers are as well to our own work.

    Confucius say; war not determine who is right, war determine who is left.

  6. Avatar jfaust says:

    Anon 10:27

    That is actually an author I want to hear from. the ones who bug me are the ones who submit a requested partial and then email a few weeks or a month later to tell me they’ve been working on it and have completely rewritten in. At that point you should be writing your next book not revising a book that’s on submission.

    Sooki Scott:

    If I lost a reader for every typo, grammar or spelling error in a blog post I would be in the negatives by now.

  7. Avatar Sheila Deeth says:

    Comforting advice. Thanks.

  8. Avatar Sooki Scott says:

    And the streak continues. I wrote ‘combed’ instead of ‘comb’ in my previous post.

    Jessica, thanks for the message. It made me smile.

    Word Verification; Rolyport. Is that an airport for roly polys?

    Confucius say; Confucius say too darn much.

  9. Avatar j h woodyatt says:

    I wonder if I should be stressing about this more than I am. I don’t feel particularly stressed, but…

    I got a nice request from a well-respected agent for my full manuscript. I printed it out and shipped it off the next day. The following day, I upgraded my word processing software and discovered that it now has an automated proofreader. I applied proofreader to manuscript, and it quite naturally made a few good suggestions. An almost [but not quite] embarrassing number of them, actually.

    I’m thinking: oh well, sometimes you’re the bug. The next agent gets a slightly better version with these little minor issues fixed.

    Thing is, I fully expect that there are things in the manuscript too subjective for any automated proofreader to find, and those are the things that will make or break it for me. Are the character motivations clear enough? Does it drag too much in the second act? If there are problems there, then I’ve got a real issue. I don’t think I can fix them myself. I need an editor to step in and say This Is How I Want It Fixed. If those issues are just too much, then my project is just doomed: I’ve already done one complete rewrite from scratch, and I’m not doing another.

    Should I really be stressing because my automated proofreader finds about twenty or thirty worthwhile things to change in a 474 page manuscript? I don’t think so, but…

  10. Avatar Kim Kasch says:

    One of the hardest things for me is to put the manuscript away – even when I have a new WIP.

    Odd ideas pop into my head and I think, “Oh, that would make it more exciting, more interesting or just plain . . . better.”

    Now, I know I need to work on that area – too.

  11. For me the best way to check for typos etc. Is to put the ms away for at least a week and go back to it. I am always amazed at the little things I find that were right in front of me all along, but looking at a ms day after day your brain just reads what your minds wants it to! IMO

  12. Avatar MJFredrick says:

    I did something similar-sent an electronic copy of an older version of my ms by mistake. I’d spent last summer working on the new version, and just…spaced, I guess. LUCKILY, enough was good about the older version that the editor requested revisions (and was quite impressed with the depth I achieved on the revision after 2 weeks.) No, I didn’t tell her my mistake. I didn’t want to look flighty. I actually wouldn’t have noticed except I KNEW I’d made some of the changes she wanted me to make. Only when I looked at the sent email did I realize my mistake.

    I ended up contracting the book, though!

  13. Thanks Jessica. I think this was a very insightful blog, so please keep writing!