I have finally finished The Novel (one of them anyway). It's taken me something like four years in all... I thought I had finished it a couple of years back and let maybe a dozen people read that version of it because, well, feedback is important when you're working in isolation. Nobody was sick, died, did a United Airlines on me or sent it back, so I took that as a good sign that at least it didn't royally suck.
The best advice I ever saw about writing a book is this: when you think you've finished it, throw it in a drawer and forget about it for six months before you read it again. This I have done. Twice. I guarantee, the distance between you and that 'final' piece of work will dictate how good your book is. If you read a lot, you'll see the holes in it easily... and those are holes you really don't want an agent or a publisher to see that's for sure.
Which brings me to the point of this particular post. The book now needs to be out in the world doing what books do... and to do that properly means being represented by an agent and on that front I discovered something else equally as valuable as that previous advice.
Some agents will ask for a few paragraphs in synopsis, some will ask for a full page... but some will ask for a detailed synopsis: chapter by chapter. So requested one of the agents I would love to work with. Thus, I sat down to work through the book and do this very thing. If you've ever done this, maybe you found the same as I have:
Chapter Sixteen: Jesus. Hardly anything happens in this chapter. There isn't anything to actually write about it that I want to tell anybody... that I can tell anybody...
Then you have two choices. Kill it or rewrite it. If there are some things that are relevant but most of it is dull, I guess you could include the important information in the previous chapter or work it in somewhere else but I found exactly this scenario with of my two chapters. I threw them in the bin without a second thought and honestly, it didn't make any difference to the story. I'm not even sure why I wrote them in the first place. There was some good material in there but it didn't add anything to the big picture.
Just because there's chocolate in the cupboard doesn't mean you have to include it in the cake - particularly if there are stronger flavours already in there.
Being an editor of a magazine, I do this a lot. Regardless of personal opinion or who wrote it or what the writer says about it. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. The only thing that matters - ever - is the person who bought your book/magazine. That's what the words are for... somebody else, otherwise you may as well keep a personal journal under your mattress and be happy with that.
And as odd as it may seem, what you leave out is sometimes way more important than what you put in. I've read novels (and ditched them) that are drowning in paragraphs and chapters that are so dense it takes all the enjoyment out of reading.
I guess at this point, we could all sit here and say 'but you've never published a book before' and you would kind of be right. My books here all went through this process anyway. I choose to publish them myself because there's a limited audience for afternoons I spent with bands and/or hard-boiled travel writing, but I didn't learn nothing at all from 14 years of editing magazines.
Just a few observations that might be useful if you're in a similar boat.
I've never been through this process before. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens. I suspect being a literary agent is a lot like being Catherine Zeta Jones lost in an all male sports college. Everybody wants to ask you out just because they are male.
Note to self: Don't ever write a book about analogies.