Submissions to agents require that you send a sample of your novel. Typically this is described as sample chapters (usually three) or 10,000 words. Often you’re told to conclude your sample at a sensible end point, rather than get too hung up on precise word-count.
My novel, Singled Out, is divided into eight days (a one week holiday, see?). Each day is divided into between 8 and 12 individual segments, each segment written from the point of view (POV) of one of three main characters. I realise a day in this construction is too long to count as a chapter, but the individual segments are also too short. Day One is around 12,000 words and to my mind marks a sensible end point – so that’s what I’ve been sending as my sample. I figure if I’ve failed to excite an agent, it will be well before that 12,000 word mark and they’ll simply not read to the end. If I’ve excited them, a few extra words are unlikely to put them off. Hopefully.
However… one of the agents I’m currently keen to tempt with Singled Out specifies three chapters as the sample length, but then goes on to make the point that this limit should be strictly adhered to. So yesterday, I was reviewing my sample document, to create a shorter version for this particular submission.
And on the first page – the very first page – I found a typo.
I know why this is. This particular section has been in the past tense, then in the present tense, then in the past tense again (and perhaps even back and forth another couple of times – I forget). Somewhere in the transition from ‘He chose’ through ‘He chooses’ and back to ‘He chose’ again, I left a verb in the wrong tense.
I could have wept.
It seemed prudent, after approximately 20 minutes of swearing, cursing, throwing stuff around, stomping, stamping and kicking the cat (I lie – I don’t have one), to use the opportunity to review the whole sample segment, just in case anything else had slipped through in those first 10,000 words. So I read it very, very slowly. I found a few dozen more words I could do without, which was a plus.
But then I found another typo.
The error was not in a word, but in its absence – it was a missing word. I’d probably read right through that invisible word two or three dozen times, failing and failing again, to notice its nonexistence.
Just in case you’re wondering how I’m dealing with this catastrophe of care and diligence, here it is. Yesterday evening I prowled my kitchen for comfort food. There wasn’t much, because I’m being very good lately; vegetables don’t even nearly qualify. I managed to find three Rich Tea biscuits (stale), which I covered in butter and the dregs from a bottle of salted caramel sauce (Christmas leftover). Thence to a restive night – I gave in to the TV and a repeat of The Jeremy Kyle Show at 5:15am. Today finds me curled up on the armchair in the corner of my office, rocking from side to side, cuddling a cushion and snivelling into a Kleenex. It’s too early for alcohol, but I fear this may feature as the day advances.
By the way – there’s a lesson. Now I understand what people mean when they say the final level of edit should actually be to read your novel backwards, word, by word, by word.