Before You Send it to the Editor

You’ve finished your masterpiece and now you’re ready to send it out to the first editor you can find, right? Wrong. There is still a lot you can do to make sure your manuscript is ready for the editor. By following these suggestions, you’ll get the most for your editing buck.

Rewrite

Did I just say rewrite? Yes, I did. No book is ready for publication as a first draft. First drafts are just that…the first version of the manuscript. This is where you maniacally put all your words down in a flurry, just trying to get your story told. First drafts are known by many different names. Rough draft, shitty draft, and crap are just a few I’ve run across. First drafts are first drafts for a reason: they give the author the chance to just get everything down on paper (or the computer). Now is when you revise, refine, and rewrite.

Get rid of excess words. Look at the scenes–are they really working? Maybe it would work better if this happened instead of that. Did you forget any crucial parts of the story? Do the words flow? Can you say this sentence better? You get the idea. Sharpen your story to a fine point. It is impossible to get all the details in place correctly with a dull point, to borrow a drawing analogy.

Structure Analysis

Now that you’ve identified any gaping holes in the hull of your story, check your structure. It doesn’t matter if you outline your story or write it on the fly…you still need a structure. Structure is the skeleton that supports your story. Can you build a house without a framework? No. And you can’t write a story without a structure. Sure, it’s possible that the structure automatically flows from you as you write. But it’s still important to check that everything is in it’s place.

Readers expect stories to move and develop in a certain way. Structure helps you do just that. If you find holes, fill them in now.

Self-Edit

If you’re not sure how to do this, there are lots of books on the market on self-editing. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print springs to mind, or Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing. These are skills every writer should work on. Editors, agents and small presses really appreciate receiving a manuscript that has been cleaned up to the best of the writer’s ability.

I’ve heard the analogy that errors on the page is like handing it to someone with snot smeared on it. While it isn’t my favorite image, it holds true. Writers should learn their craft, and this includes the mundane tasks. Grammar, punctuation, and spelling are still important. Yes, the editor will fix any you missed, but if you’re working to eliminate them before you send it to the editor, you’ve got more eyes looking for errors. Believe me, the more eyes you have looking for errors, the better.

Get Opinions

Don’t be afraid to let others read your book. If you know a few people who read a lot, use them as beta readers. Ask for their feedback. What is working, what isn’t? Ask them about your characterization, plot, and flow. Incorporate their suggestions.

What this means is you need to get a bit of a thick skin. Not every critic will phrase their suggestions nicely. Write down the suggestions and think about them. Look at your manuscript… are they right? Is your main character shallow and two dimensional? Is there a major plot point missing that leaves readers lost and confused? Could you clarify the link between this action and that reaction? Be open-minded and honest with yourself.

At the same time, if most of your readers say a certain point is fine and only one is insisting that certain point is stupid, think about it long enough to consider who is right. If you need to go with the consensus, fine. Don’t let one person bring you down. No book will be the perfect read for everyone.

Now that you’ve got your manuscript polished as much as you can, it is time to send it to your editor. They will hone that shine until you need sunglasses to read your book.

 

Our Interview at Edin Road

We did an interview on BlogTalk Radio today. For once, the shoe was on the other foot for John. He got to answer questions instead of ask them. He brought me on and I answered some editing questions… check it out for yourself. :) We covered all sorts of topics, from how to develop a book idea to selecting an editor to choosing cover art.

Jess at Edin Road was a fun host, and I hope we’ll get to know her better. Maybe I’ll get better at being interviewed, too. :)

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/edinroad/2012/01/17/author-and-radio-host-john-rakestraw

Torture Your Characters

While you don’t have to be a member of the Spanish Inquisition, it is your job, as an author, to torture your characters. Of course, torture can take many forms. You don’t have to tie your characters to the rack or have them drawn and quartered. But as a writer, you do have to complicate their lives.

Without complications, a story is boring. Who wants to read about someone going out for a cup of coffee and then go home? No one. Not unless something happens while they’re having coffee. Maybe an old flame shows up that your main character never wanted to see again. Already your main character is on edge. The old flame wants to renew their connection, but your main character has a terribly jealous spouse. Instant conflict! Or maybe, your main character just sits down at a table with their favorite espresso when a bomb goes off outside the coffee shop. Glass flies everywhere, and people are hurt, screaming, and possibly dead. What does your main character do? How does s/he react?

Having said all that, there is a caveat I’d like to put in place. When it comes to torturing your characters, don’t torture them for torture’s sake. While that complicates their lives, it doesn’t further your story. Make sure that the complications you throw at them either reveals part of their character or helps the story move forward. If the bomb happens out of nowhere in a romance and is never brought up again, having only made the main character’s cup of coffee more difficult, don’t put it in. However, if the bomb is part of the story line of your thriller, and it was set by the villain in an attempt to kill your main character, or maybe how your character reacts in helping the injured parties leads them to resolve some issues they’ve been having trouble with, cool.

Another thing to keep in mind is that torturing your characters can be hard on you, too. It can be difficult to keep putting your hero in harm’s way or breaking their heart. The writer must harden their heart a bit, while still keeping the door open to the experience their characters are going through so they can write it effectively. The other extreme is when you keep throwing one thing after another at your characters until your readers begin to think that the characters should just drop dead from stress. There is a balance to maintain. Sure, things always escalate as you approach the climax of your story, but remember to give your characters a little respite now and then as the story goes on. These scenes give your readers a chance to rest and catch their breath, too.

 

Preparing Your Manuscript for Submission

You’ve written your book and have decided to submit it to an agent or small publisher. Before you just shoot your chapters or full manuscript off into cyberspace, make sure you’ve prepped it. Lack of preparation could mean you’re turned down…even if your story idea is good.

1. EDIT!

Edit your manuscript. I can’t stress this enough. After you finish writing, go through it again. Look for holes in your plotline. Look for wordiness. Are you using 5 words when you could use one? Give your book to beta readers and take their feedback to heart. Work with an author’s group. Make changes.

2. PROOFREAD!

I admit proofreading your own work can be difficult. Your brain is so familiar with the story that it fills in what should be there. Use your spellcheck; while it is not always correct, it can help you make corrections in those little words that your brain corrects automatically, like teh for the or double words that your brain automatically edits away for for you. Annoying, isn’t it? Get some fresh eyes to go through it and mark problems they see, then double check those places and make corrections as needed.

3. MAKE IT LOOK NICE!

Formatting your file can be challenging at first, but once you figure it out, it becomes much easier. Make a page break for new chapters, don’t keep hitting the Enter key until your text appears on the next page. Please. I beg of you. This can shift when the file is opened, leaving a lot of blank space in the middle of a page and your chapter may start at the bottom. 😛

Don’t use the tab to make your paragraph indent. Word makes it so simple to set your indents automatically, and most of the other word processing softwares also have easy ways to set this up. If you later decide to self-publish an ebook from your manuscript, you’ll be thankful you did this.

If you want to place a header in the manuscript, do it properly, so you don’t get your name or the book title appearing in the middle of a page. You cannot make headers by using a carriage return and using right justify.

Space your lines so they are easy to read. On a computer screen, 1.5 is a nice width. You can choose this easily with your word processing program. If you don’t know how, look it up in the Help section. Learning how best to use your word processor is an asset every writer should develop.

4. DON’T DO THIS!

Choose a simple, easy to read font. DON’T send a manuscript all in italics or in a curly font. It is too hard on the eyes to read these styles for an entire book.

DON’T assume you can have large chunks of text in bold. Chapter titles, headings and subheadings, sure. Not large portions of the story.

DON’T send manuscripts full of typos. Learn your punctuation. If you have dialogue and you want to add a ‘said Todd’ to let the reader know that Todd is speaking, do it right.

“I’m going to the store.” Said Todd, putting on his coat.  THIS IS WRONG. DON’T DO THIS.

“I’m going to the store,” said Todd, putting on his coat. THIS IS CORRECT. DO THIS. You can also replace the comma in this example with a question mark or exclamation point if it is applicable to the dialogue.

 

Of course, you still need a good, solid story, but making sure you attend to these things before submission will help save your book from ending up in the slush pile due to careless errors.