There's a very famous quote of Hemingway's that goes: 'The first draft of anything is shit.' A sweeping generalisation, maybe, but it's essentially true. And it should be noted that Hemingway was a world famous author when he said that, so you can imagine what my first draft was like.
Although I was up against a self-imposed deadline, I knew I had to give myself enough time to produce a second draft before sending it out to prospective agents. The manuscript simply wasn't good enough as it was and needed a lot more work. And I mean a LOT. But I also knew I needed some time away from the story in order to be as objective as possible. So as much as I wanted to get straight onto the second draft, I forced myself to take a couple of weeks away from it so I could come back and look at things with a fresh perspective.
But they weren't wasted weeks, oh, no. When I wasn't at my day job, I was spending every spare moment thumbing through the Writers and Artists Yearbook, looking for literary agents that might be interested in representing another thriller writer. Although there was one agency I really liked (and who helpfully had a full-page ad on the inside front cover), I came up with about a dozen more possibles in case they weren't interested. I'm sure I could have found more, but I felt a baker's dozen was enough to be going on with. I also did a lot of research on how to submit to an agent. Fortunately the interweb was full of helpful sites that gave me the information and advice I needed. Such as: how to structure the query letter, making sure keep the thing as short as possible, don't submit blindly, name the agent correctly in your letter and on the envelope, etc. Most of it was common sense stuff I'd already worked out for myself, but it was good to have it confirmed.
Once that was done, I spent about ten days working on the two things every agent asks for: a query letter and a synopsis of the book in question. And I thought writing a novel was hard! But synopses. Man, don't get me started on synopses. All I'll say is that they're not one of my favourite things in life. But I did it. I sweated and I raged, but in the end I did it. Yet I knew the query letter itself was far more important, since this is what the prospective agent sees first. I probably spent a whole week on that letter, polishing it into something I felt no agent could ignore. By the end, I was left with just a couple of paragraphs, but what paragraphs they were! After working and working on them, I was finally satisfied that they contained everything that I wanted to get across.
So with those tasks done, I then came back, read through the manuscript again, hung my head in despair and really got down to it. Whole chapters of the book got moved around while others were erased completely. Numerous plot holes got filled. Dialogue got polished. Characters got fine-tuned. To be honest, I could have spent the rest of my life trying to make it better, but at some point you have to let go and just put it out there. So I made copies of the first three chapters, stuck them in three large manila envelopes along with a synopsis and a personally addressed query letter, and sent them off to my top three choices.
And I waited...