Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How do you know when your manuscript is ready ?

by Stephanie Morrill

This is a question that was asked on the Go Teen Writers Facebook group, and it's a tricky one to answer. Especially when you're still early in your writing journey and it seems you learn more about writing and storytelling everyday. How do you know when to stop fussing with your manuscript, take the plunge, and send out queries to agents?

I would start by asking yourself if you've done your best. Your book isn't perfect, of course, but did you do your best with the knowledge and skills you have? Or were you being lazy with character development? Is that plot twist at the end really more of a plot pivot? Did you have an idea for how to improve it ... but you're not in the mood for yet another rewrite?

If you've written and rewritten and revised and edited and rewritten and revised again, and you feel this is the best story you can produce at this point in your journey, I say go for it. Send out the queries. See what happens. 

I honestly didn't know if my writing was "there" or not, until an agent said, "I'm so excited about this project. Can you send me the rest right now?"

And I didn't dare say it out loud, but I had this moment of, "Really? I did it? It's good enough now?"

While I had been pitching projects for a few years at that point, I never really knew. I always just did my best with where my skill level was, put it out there, and braced myself for the feedback.

This is a rather uncomfortable way to determine the quality of your writing abilities, but it's about the truest mirror you'll find. Not to say that agents and editors don't make judgments in error or guess wrongly about what will sell and what the public wants (all big authors and books have received at least a handful of rejections) but typically I knew in my gut if they were right or not.

Like on the first book I sent out. Hardly any editors bothered to read it (no surprise, since I printed out all 90 pages of it and mailed it to anyone who accepted unsolicited manuscripts) but one did and they told me my ending lacked oomph. And you know ... that sounded right. Now that I considered it, I didn't have much of an ending, did I?

By now, I have a definite procedure I follow before I declare myself done with a book. Even then I still get feedback from my agent or an editor on things that need to be changed. But before it lands on their desk, I always:
  1. Write a bare bones first draft
  2. Let my draft sit for 6 weeks
  3. Read through and edit the big problems (plot problems, character flatness, etc.)
  4. Read through and edit smaller stuff (raising tension in scenes, correcting passive sentences, etc.)
  5. Do a final edit in which I get really super fussy about word choice and sentence structure.
  6. Send to my critique partner and wait for her thoughts.
  7. Make her changes. Send to agent or editor, whoever is waiting for it.
And to be honest, even now when weeks go by and I haven't heard back from my agent, I slide into a pit of thoughts like, "She hates it. She's wondering why she ever took me on as a client." Every time the phone rings, I'm thinking, "It's her. She's calling to say she hates it."

And most my writer friends do the same thing. Those who don't ... I can't prove it, but I'm pretty sure they're lying.

While I've gained confidence in my ability to know if my story is a good idea or not, and while I'm mostly confident in my writing style and voice, I still tremble a bit before I send my stuff out. For whatever's that worth.

What about you? Is there anything you always do or always check for before someone looks at your work?

26 comments:

  1. this is a really big help. I'm terrified of my story not being ready. Before I let anyone read something of mine, I read it out-loud. If it sounds cheesy I completely cut it and re-write it until it's at the point where I wouldn't be embarrassed when they read it in front of me XD

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    1. That's actually a really good idea, reading it out loud. I'll have to do that!

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    2. That's a great idea! I've done that a time or two, and it really helped me to pick up on repetitive phrases and such.

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    3. Another great help is having it read aloud *to me.* Panopreter.com is a great way to do this. Much less embarrassing than asking someone, hey, can you read this sticky scene to me so I can find the flaws? ;)

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  2. I usually write the rough draft and send it out for critques straight away...then I go through and make my edits at the same time that I'm making the critque-edits. It saves time that way. :P

    This was a really relevant post -- I'm nearing the end of my editing journey and I'm getting a bit impatient to be finished and just call it "done."

    Unrelated question: What are your thoughts on the Amazon Breakthough Novel Award Contest?

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    1. I don't know a ton about it, Olivia. My impression of it has always been that it's a good contest and rather prestigious. Let me actually take a look, then I'll get back to you.

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    2. A writer-friend mentioned it to me about a year ago...I've been hoping to enter ever since. The contest is what I'm grooming my novel for right now, actually.

      Thanks for looking into it for me. :) I've already been to the website, obviously...but I can't wait to hear your thoughts as well.

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  3. For the story I'm editing now, I wrote the 1st draft and only showed it to my sister, my mom, and the friend who said, "you should write a sequel to that short story!" (My book started out as a ten-page short story, and a friend asked for a sequel. A few months later, I told my friend I had written her a 65,000 word sequel).
    I just finished the 2nd draft, and now I'm sending it to a couple of writer friends for their critique. After that, I think I'll revise again based off their suggestions and focus on any grammar problems.

    Question: It's okay if I mush steps 3 and 4 together, right? My personality doesn't let me focus on one area that needs editing. I feel better and less overwhelmed taking it chunk-by-chunk and doing my best with a section before moving on.

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    1. I mean, I have problems focusing one type of thing that needs editing (plot problems, for example). It's easier for me to focus on a piece of the story and work with it before going to another piece. If that makes sense...I think I just confused myself ;)

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    2. Yeah, that makes sense! I generally do that too! :)

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    3. Mash away :) It's about finding what works best for you.

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  4. I've been guilty of the "I'm-so-sick-of-this-project-and-I-just-want-to-be-DONE-already" before...but I almost always tell myself, "No. It's NOT done yet. You'll just have to keep working on it. You don't want someone to read that story, do you? Not yet, at least." I get embarrassed when someone reads it in front of me anyway, though. Even if I'm satisfied with it. xD

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    1. I totally understand!! I self-published my story, and I had it to the point where I was completely satisfied with it, but then somebody started reading it aloud and I was like this is awkward! I'm leaving.

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    2. I too know what you mean about getting embarrassed when someone else reads my work! even when I am satisfied with it. I just die at the thought of them not liking it because after all the blood, sweat, and tears I put into it, it becomes a part of me. And if they don't like it, I feel like they don't like a part of me and oh! It is such an awful moment. I have gone through it only three times since I got serious about writing but that feels like plenty enough time!

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    3. That doesn't go away when you're published :) Once at a family reunion, my aunt was reading one of my books. I finally had to leave the room, it was so awkward.

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  5. In addition to all the things you mentioned, I also (a) do a check for -ly words and "just", because I just don't see them on read-throughs and (b) cross my fingers and (c) stick my tongue out just so... ;-)

    Yeah, always nervous! LOL

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  6. I am in the process of writing my first ever novel (!) so I can't say much about how I know whether or not my work is complete and is ready to send out. Because all I have ever written are shorter stories that I did for mere pleasure and for my eyes only. I would like to think I would see my story as a rich, entertaining, and worth while novel once it is done but, I am sure I too will have my insecurities. I can only do my best I guess. That and hope that in knowing I gave it my all, didn't rush, and sought out professional writing help when I knew I needed it, I will have the courage enough to let others read it and eventually, seek publishing.
    Great blog post!

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  7. I'm stuck in an endless loop of editing to make sure my novel *arrives*. If I send it out...will the world hate it? Only one way to find out, I know, but here's a question. What are some good ways for dealing with manuscript rejection?

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    1. I'm a perfectionist and do the same thing!

      Here's some older GTW's Blog posts on dealing with rejection.

      http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2012/07/how-do-you-handle-rejection-as-writer.html

      http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2012/03/dealing-with-rejection.html

      http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2010/07/in-face-of-rejection.html

      As a side note, my writing buddy and I are turning our rejections into a contest. Whoever gets the most rejection slips this next year wins. We figure it'll help deaden the hurt, plus contests are fun. Now all we need to figure out is a really awesome prize...

      Oh, and afterwards we were thinking about burning the rejection slips. :)

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    2. From Amo Libros:
      Ooh, that's a good idea! I'll have to keep that in mind for when I start sending stuff out!

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  8. Thanks for this post! I'm nearing the end of my first ever first draft (my NaNo YWP rebelling should finish it off) and then after the holidays (which are conveniently starting soonish and are 6 weeks long) I'll go back to it and begin editing.
    Just out of interest, how long does the editing process usually take you?

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  9. Yesterday, I pulled up this page and was so excited to start reading and then....my Internet went out. Grr! I was out all day& i kept wanting to read this :( so glad it's back.
    I haven't figured out how to know yet, I'm going to enter some contests and see what they say?! Getting my entry ready has been hard I keep re-reading and tweaking I can barely see it straight anymore, I showed it to my mom & she said its worth entering. It surprised me she said it was good but she doesn't know the ins and outs of the craft, she doesn't understand why I'm agonizing over such small words.

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    1. Or that even though my MS has the word count its need a total rewrite. "But you wrote it, just edit" me : "no the plots not right it needs help"
      We'll see what happens! All I know is every time I feel like I'm making progress something happens and I feel more confused than ever.

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  10. This is an interesting post, Stephanie! Actually, the game plan I've got going in my head for my current WIP - which I hope to eventually publish - looks a lot like those seven steps...probably because all of the great advice and tips I've received from Go Teen Writers. :) At any rate, I'm in the midst of phase three - writing the second draft - and I think it's going pretty well. Fingers crossed - and thanks for all of the helpful posts you and Jill (and Rachel and Roseanna!) have posted! They've been a big help! :D

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