How can this be?

Synopsis crisis 1Submissions 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.

Where the wind blows…

I feel a little unwell; light-headed and a bit giddy. Random stars and spots drift across my field of vision and I’m in danger of hyperventilating. As the wind whips into a pre-storm outside my door, I’ve had my finger poised over the Big Red Button on my PC so long that it went numb. Eventually I did it. I pressed ‘send’ – twice – and dispatched SINGLED OUT to two agents.

Only two, you say? Yes that’s right, only two; two important agents who’ve been recommended to me, either of whom I would be thrilled to be represented by. This is where it starts. I plan to take things slowly, in case it transpires (imagine!) that I receive any feedback. I might have missed something, or have something to learn, an error to correct, or things to polish, to improve my approach and raise my chances of success in the future. I don’t want to burn all my bridges at once.

It’s also inevitable that, despite having poured over my manuscript sample, synopsis and query emails for the last several days, tweaking this word and that, I will reread these documents in the morning and cringe – or cry. Most likely, I will reread the Nth redraft of my synopsis and want not so much to burn the bridges, but throw myself off one of them.

I’m the first to admit, I made heavy weather of the synopsis thing and I still wasn’t happy with the end result. Happier than I was, but I got nowhere near the smug glow of satisfaction I was hoping for, when I first imagined that if I reworked it diligently enough, I would eventually produce the perfect synopsis. Okay, you can laugh. But that’s the problem when you’re a bit of a perfectionist and your only deadline is self-imposed. Perfection feels tantalisingly within your grasp, so you keep reaching for it. Guess what, it isn’t.

But I admit it, there’s a nano-hope glinting in the corner of my mind and you must allow me to tease myself with it, at least for now. My nano-hope is that one of these two formidable agents finding my query email in their in-trays tomorrow morning will get a shiver of excitement when they skim through the contents, and I in turn, will get a request to submit my full manuscript. One step, one step at a time. I dare to dream. How about that?

But for now, it’s Sunday evening and there’s some kind of a weather event set to blast across the South East tonight, which will be my excuse if I can’t sleep. Right now, I think brandy is in order. Then at least I’ll be able to breathe again.