Yesterday, I attended a workshop, held by a well-known agent, former buyer of fiction at Waterstones.
Although the workshop was called 'How to get an agent/to get published', I want to concentrate on her point of view regarding submissions.
Apart from the obvious like, addressing the agent in person, especially if there are more in that agency, doing the research etc. she gave some valuable information which gave me hope.
It is preached everywhere that you manuscript has to be perfect, or in a near-perfect condition to be considered by an agency. So far so good. But what defines 'perfect'?
Surely, it should be grammar and spell-checked. Also it should be punctuated as best as you can.
One of the attendants compared the submitting process to the music industries, saying that record companies used to get demos and had to decide if the raw quality is enough to make something out of it. Surprisingly the agent agreed to have experienced this in her job as well. She even said, that sometimes she prefers the rawness of a draft, 'hearing' the author's voice, rather than the one of many editors that went over it.
There are a lot of opinions about how and when agents decide it's not for them. For instance: the manuscript has punctuation errors, clearly a weakness of the author, they will reject you. Or: the writing is in first person present tense, rejected. Not starting with a big bang, rejected.
I learned yesterday that it isn't the case. At least not for this agency. She said, that when the query letter hooks her, she wants to see the synopsis (1 page A4, double spaced, by the way), and the whole manuscript. She stated that if the synopsis intrigues her, the book doesn't need to start off with a bang, she wants to see the story unfold. Also, that if the writing is compelling, but there are some issues that are not there yet, then she writes back to the author, addressing the points of concern, encouraging the author to send the revised material.
As she works for an agency that also offers editing, she'd be prepared to help the author with a punctuation issue, of course only if the writing appeals to her and she sees the saleability.
I must say, I left this workshop being uplifted, knowing that there are agents out there, who don't expect everything to be 'perfect' and that a missing word, some misplaced commas or the 'wrong' tense doesn't put them off, as long as they see a strong story and 'hear' your voice.
How she will react to my submission though, only time will show.