Friday, November 16, 2012


At our local authors' annual presentation at our public library, I was asked to take a couple of minutes and comment on what is the best thing you can do to a manuscript before you submit it to a publishing house. This was my answer: 1. We’ll start with the assumption that you have already read your manuscript to your alpha readers. Alpha readers are your critique group that reads each chapter as you write it and they give their suggestions for improvement and catch inadvertent errors. 2. Then we assume that you have already gone over it with an eye to too many adverbs – those descriptive “LY” words we love to use to impact our writing. Quickly, sleepily, beautifully, suddenly. Most of them can come out and make the story better, flow more smoothly. Editors are not fond of adverbs. 3. Then we assume you have already done a word search for words like “was” and “were” and “then” and “that” and “is”……all of these are weak non-descriptive verbs. Replace them with action verbs and your writing takes on a new vibrancy. Some sentences will need to be revised: “She was going to call him” can read “She planned to call him”: or : She needed to call him.” Get rid of lazy weak verbs. Nine times out of ten you can revise the sentence with an action verb but there are a few times nothing really does the job better than “was”. 4. Then we are assuming that you have given the completed polished work to your beta readers – beta readers are friends, teachers, avid readers, and people who can spot errors in grammar, continuity, typographical errors - and you have made any corrections needed from this group. New writers are always concerned about someone stealing their ideas so they don’t want to share their stories with anyone. You don’t have to worry about that. Experts say there are only 8 basic story ideas in the world and everything else is a variation on one of those. And we have great copyright laws. 5. You’ve edited and polished until you are sick of your story, but there is one final thing you must do before you send your baby off to be birthed by an editor: You must read it aloud all in one sitting -- if that is physically possible. An amazing thing happens when you do that – a sentence that seemed perfect before will suddenly stop your flow. If you tweak it – change a word or two and read it again, it now flows beautifully. This will probably happen dozens of times as you read. And only by reading it out loud can you discover this magical ebb and flow of your words that will raise your manuscript up a notch or two and have an editor read to the end instead of circular filing it. Anything that brings you out of the dream you have woven as you read it aloud is an immediate flag that something needs to be fixed. Don’t submit anything that is not the very best that you can do.

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