Literary agents are the gatekeepers of the publishing world. Their verdict on a five-page submission can make or break an author’s dreams. It’s critical to ensure your submission catches an agent’s eye and doesn’t immediately get passed upon.
This two-part series covers advice I received from a local literary agent. These editing guidelines ensure a submission is agent ready. Part 1 looks at developmental editing.
What Is Developmental Editing?
Developmental editing covers the overall story progression. It is not a look at grammar and formatting (we’ll cover that in part two). Instead, developmental editing ensures the story is told in the right order and captivates the reader.
Follow the In Media Res Principle
Stories should be interesting. If an agent will only see the first five pages of your manuscript, it’s crucial to capture the reader. One way to ensure a reader is hooked is following the principle of in media res — or, in the middle of things.
Stories should begin in the middle of some form of action. When the first five pages of a story focus on descriptions or world building, the reader is turned off or confused. Instead, action should drive the pages.
While opening action can be a major fight (think of the beginning of almost every superhero movie), it can also be something subtle. Stressing over a deadline is a form of internal in media res conflict that unveils a lot about the character without requiring too much explanation.
Beginning in media res captures the reader’s attention and hooks them into the rest of the story.
Read your work out loud before submitting to an agent. Verbal reading requires the brain to process the words audibly. Our ears have a keen ability to notice when something is out of place.
Reading out loud highlights structural issues and helps you check that the tone, voice and point of view all work as intended. While we’re not focusing on copy-editing in this portion, reading out loud often flags common grammar mistakes.
Find a Team of Beta Readers
Beta readers should be an important part of everyone’s editing process. Before submitting work to an agent it should pass through multiple beta readers.
While having friends or family members read through your work is nice, beta readers are people who will be critical and constructive.
It is vital to find beta readers who have different backgrounds and cultures than your own. This helps point out cultural issues or phrasing that you might not be aware of.
Additionally, find beta readers that also represent your characters. This is especially important when characters have different ethnicities, generations, or gender identities than your own or if they struggle with an affliction or mental health issue you do not. Beta readers will help flush out the feelings of someone in your character’s shoes and ensure terminology is used properly.