Fourth Time Lucky. How Many Drafts Does It Take To Interest A Literary Agent?

Posted on 24th September, 2016

How many drafts of a novel do you have to write before a literary agent says yes? In my case, it was four.


The original version was written several years ago and I submitted it to the RNA for a critique. The reader adored it and couldn't praise it highly enough, so it was put forward for a second read. Well, you wouldn't have thought the two readers had been presented with the same book, because the second reader didn't like it at all and spent several pages telling me so.


It was always my intention at that point to put the book aside to write two or three more, my long-term plan being to get three or four novels written in order to have a body of work to offer. Two novels and two critiques later, I returned to the first book and spent that summer producing a second draft - and, yes, I did use some of the ideas from the crushing critique. Three, to be precise.


The second draft was set aside while I worked on another book. I also read various books about writing. In particular I wanted to nail viewpoint writing. Some months later I was ready to write draft number three.


When I thought it was as good as it could be, I started submitting it to agents. I had two or three standard rejections, but mainly I received personal letters - rejections, yes, but including positive comments and encouragement. It was while I was in the middle of this process that I realised I had started the book in the wrong place, so I stopped submitting and started rewriting - using the agents' comments and also another book on writing which helped enormously.


At last I had my fourth draft - the one that generated requests for the full MS and which led to my now being represented by Laura Longrigg at MBA, the wonderful agent who was top of my wish list.


But my point is this. When I sent off the first draft for its RNA report, I thought it was ready. Okay, that was naive, but I believed it at the time - or I wouldn't have sent it. Likewise, I submitted the third draft to agents because I thought it was ready, only to realise it wasn't. And again, the fourth draft seemed spot-on.


Well, it was sufficiently spot-on to attract requests for the full MS. It was good enough for me to be signed up by MBA.


And I thought that would be it. When Laura Longrigg said she had some editorial notes for me, I imagined a few tweaks here and there. Not so. I've done major re-working of the first and final thirds of the books and now I have... a fifth draft.




And you know what? Yet again, I think this is as good as it can be. Except that...


Should a publisher be interested, more edits will undoubtedly be required. But will it be tweaks here and there or will it morph into... a sixth draft?


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Comments (10)

Great post :-) I've just finished my fourth draft - hoping it's enough! I found reading my manuscript aloud a great help, it distances you from the work and allows you to be a little bit more objective.
This is such an inspiring post, Sue. I'm only on the second draft and have just started submitting. I'm so pleased that you now have your agent and I'm sure your hard work will be worth it when we are all able to read your published book. Congratulations! :-)
What a lovely expression, Jen - being a rewriter rather than a writer! I know how it feels. And isn't it interesting how the book gets better each time?
Oh, how your post resonated with me, Susanna. I lost count of how many rewrites I did of the book that captured my agent's interest. Or how many drafts I subsequently worked on with my agent and now my editor. It's not my first book, either, so there were rewrites of the books that came before it, too.

Sometimes (and speaking as someone currently revising an early draft of a contracted book), I think I'm a rewriter, rather than a writer!

Well done you for all your hard work. And happy writing!
Christina, how generous of you. I'm delighted that you think I have written good advice. Thank you for your good wishes.
Congratulations on signing with your agent, Susanna, and for writing such a terrific post. I hope you don't mind but I've shared it on Twitter - such excellent advice demands to be disseminated. Good luck with the next stage of the process; I hope to see your novel on the bookselves soon. C x
Thank you so much for your kind words, Carol. Coming from such a well-established author, they carry extra meaning. You're right to call it a learning experience. As writers, we are learning all the time, aren't we?
Well done, Susanna, on ALL your hard work. An agent's acceptance is no mean feat. You have such a professional attitude. However many drafts, your first book will be the foundation of your career. Well worth all the effort you have put in and the best learning experience possible.
You're right, Louise - it is difficult to get taken on by an agent. When a writer is signed up, it means the agent believes is her/his work and is going to be thoroughly committed to it. Thanks for commenting.
I am not an author, but I know it is difficult to get taken on by an agent or a publisher these days.It is amazing to think of all those re-writes before your book was "good enough." Well done!