Preparing Your Manuscript

preparing your manuscriptYou’ve finally done it… written your novel. It’s complete. All those words down in one place. And you’re no fool. You’ve got an editor all lined up.  But wait.

Is it really ready for the editor yet?

When you say it’s done, is this the best it can be or did you just finish your rough draft? If you just finished typing ‘The End,’ you’ve still got a lot of work to do before you’re ready for the editor. You’ve still got some revisions of your own to do after your rough draft. Maybe this scene isn’t the best it can be. Maybe Sally should have made a different decision after that first plot point, because if she did, the whole second act would have been so much more interesting. Maybe the climax of the story still needs some work because it’s good, but it’s still oh, I don’t know, it’s missing something.

Once you’ve wrestled with all of this and straightened it out, then it’s time for your trusted beta readers, or your mom, or whoever you feel will give you the best feedback. Once you get a copy back all covered in oil stains from your mechanic (because he has true literary insight, even though he messes up your manuscripts) and you hear his critique, you can go back, fix what you truly feel needs to be fixed, and then take one more look at it.  Are you finished preparing your manuscript yet?

When you think you can’t make it any better than it is, run it through spell check. I know it won’t catch everything (like words that are spelled correctly but used incorrectly), but it will save a few of the hairs left on your editor’s head. Look at it again. Have you dotted all your i’s? Crossed all your t’s? Do your sentences have punctuation and capital letters? If not, you may need to review some basics. If you know they belong there and just didn’t put them in, put them in. Do you really want to pay your editor extra to put them in for you?

Okay, now you can send your manuscript to your editor. Your editor will appreciate all of your hard work.

You know all those horror stories about editors? About how mean they are? How they’ll tear your manuscript to pieces? A lot of that stems from receiving manuscripts that were really rough drafts. That didn’t have sentences starting with capital letters. That didn’t have punctuation at the end of sentences. That had paragraphs that lasted for pages. Dialogue without meaning that went on and on. Missing plot points, garbled structure, cardboard characters, flip flopping between tenses and points of view, repetitive anything… After awhile, editors develop twitches. And headaches. And then they begin to morph into editing monsters that lash out uncontrollably at anything that passes by that even remotely resembles a manuscript. They can’t help themselves. They hoard red pens compulsively and growl at anyone who dares reach for one. (That’s MY red pen, damn it!)  Please, for the love of God, save an editor today! Prep your manuscript properly or we can’t be responsible for what may happen next! :::eye twitches:::

:::clears throat::: Okay. Sorry about that. But it had to be said. Writers, learn your craft. Hold your head high. Be proud of what you do. Step out and say, “Damn it, I’m a writer.” Own it. Be responsible for what you put on a page. Don’t get sloppy. It’s your name on the cover, not the editor’s.

It’s amazing what a difference it makes to get a manuscript that looks well prepared. Yes, there may be shallow characters, missing plot points, repetition, and flip flopping tenses, but presentation at least shows us that the author cares enough to make it look nice. Presentation can soothe a lot of ruffled editing feathers. Nice editor. There, there.

Once your book is edited, it’s up to you what you want to do with it. You can self-publish. You can submit your story to agents. If an agent accepts it, they will probably suggest their own edits and you’ll comply. Then when they sell your story to a publisher, they’ll also send you through another editing process.

Even so, it all comes back to you. You’re the one writing and preparing your manuscript. Do it with pride.

Timing

Timing is everything. When you’re planning the publication date of your book, make sure you leave enough time for revision, editing, proofing, cover design, and formatting. None of these things should be rushed. In fact, it’s better to have scheduled extra time and be ready ahead of your date than to find yourself crunched for time at your deadline and getting errors when you’re uploading your book.

What a headache that can be!

So prepare yourself by scheduling plenty of time for each of these steps. Beta readers need time to read and give feedback. You may decide to revise something after receiving their feedback. This takes time to do it right. You hand the manuscript off to an editor. They go through it carefully and find some issues you need to tackle. You do so and hand it back. The editor goes through it again and gives it back. You both agree it’s ready to be formatted. It goes through formatting and then gets proofed to catch any last errors that may have slipped by. It happens. Any errors that are found are corrected. You upload the book. Sometimes formatting errors arise that need to be corrected, so back to the formatter it goes… and finally, it is accepted. Whew! Good thing you allowed yourself plenty of time! You’re still a couple of days ahead of schedule, so your launch will go off without a hitch! That was excellent planning on your part!

Too often I talk to writers who want their 300 page book completely edited to perfection in less than a week (at a discount, no less), then need it formatted in three different formats overnight so they can get it uploaded on ten different sites for their launch yesterday because they didn’t plan ahead. No editor worth their salt is going to put their name on a project like that. If the author is willing to do such a rush on the production work, how much do you want to bet they rushed the writing, too? The editor is asking for a major headache ten ways from Sunday to tackle a project like this.

Give your book the time it deserves.

Guest Post: The Inevitable Comma

This was written by a client of mine, Morgan Gallagher. Despite our differences (she lives in the UK and I’m in the States), we have managed to form a wonderful relationship while working on her first book, Changeling. I had asked her to write a short blurb for my Client Testimonial page if she liked my work. In response, I got this wonderful article about her experience working with an editor…me. Thank you, Morgan…you made my year.

The Inevitable Comma

by Morgan Gallagher

Using an editor is a scary business. Having spent much of my adult life rubbing shoulders with writers in the bar at SF conventions, I’ve heard a lot of comments about editors. Very little of it positive. I’ve listened to Harlan Ellison rant about editors changing his work when they weren’t qualified to… well, do check out Harlan’s thoughts on the matter for yourself! I’ve talked to James White, at length, about editors, and whilst he did have an excellent editor at Tor that he both admired and was fond of, he always told me that the trick to being published was to do the editing work yourself. We once spoke about rejection letters, and how he’d never had one, and the secret, he said, was to do all the work yourself. So there was little to reject… or edit… once you had submitted. Wield your own blue pencil. This was, basically, Harlan’s stance too – the writer could do the work and craft the words themselves. The epic depths of the stupidity of the editor, is always plumbed by mention of what was once done by a hapless editor to Damon Knight. His short, ‘Eripmav,’ featured a vegetable sucking vampire from another planet. The entire short was a shaggy dog story, leading to the terrible dénouement, that the veggie vampire was finally killed by a steak to the heart. Said hapless editor thought he’d spotted a mistake that no one else had, and changed it to ‘stake’ just before print, thus killing the story with his very own stake to the heart.

Another editor anecdote comes via a very well known children’s author, whom I cannot name for reasons about to become clear. Whilst staying with her we chatted about editors. I asked how she coped with hers, and she confided she ignored most things. She showed me the next day, that when her typewritten manuscript was returned for correction, she instructed her secretary to retype the same sentence, cut it out onto a strip, and staple it over the marked-for-change original. It was then sent back to the editor, who would then allow the correction through. She showed me one such ‘edit’ and the written comment beside it saying “So much better!” and sure enough, when you lifted the flap of stapled down addition, the exact same sentence was written underneath….
Eek!

Therefore, it was with great trepidation, I sent my final manuscript of my first novel, Changeling, off to a professional editor. I’d always taken on board the words of the writers I admired, both as people and writers, and worked hard to do most of the content editing for myself. “Murder Your Innocents” is a dictum I take seriously. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I needed an editor, I was just worried about all the bad editor rap I’d been in contact with. And the ego thing, of course. When my publisher suggested I get the final manuscript edited, and suggested a friend of hers who was very good on spotting mistakes on grammar, I bristled and said “Mistakes!” in true Lady Newbury style (“A handbag.”) My work wouldn’t have mistakes, I edited as I went along!

When the manuscript finally returned, it took me a couple of days to set aside the courage to open it. Just In Case. I didn’t peek once: I left it until I was actually going to sit and methodically work through my version of the manuscript, with Toni’s version. It felt like going to the dentist… something you had to do, but dreaded, nonetheless.

Imagine my shock, when not only did I immediately find her comments and corrections invaluable, I was actually enjoying the process within the hour. I posted on Twitter, within two hours of starting the match by match edit that a good editor was worth their weight in gold.

Finish reading the rest of her marvelous article here.