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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Your Manuscript Isn’t Ready

This is probably the number one issue I see.  Ninety-nine percent of these manuscripts are rejected.  They’re often riddled with grammatical errors, plot holes, continuity issues, and character development issues.  Some of these are evident in the submission, which is summarily rejected.  Others don’t show these issues until somewhere between chapters two and six, although occasionally you might not see it fall apart until half-way through.  Why am I so specific in saying between chapters two and six?  Because the majority of fulls I rejected for simply falling apart usually did so around those chapters, depending on the length of the book and the chapters.  Like other editors and agents that have commented on this issue, I believe there’s a very simple explanation.  I think it comes from workshopping the query, synopsis, and first few chapters until they shine, and then the author submitting the manuscript without applying what they learned to the rest of the novel.  This was always a disappointment.

However, I will admit this.  I had one manuscript that had a lot of issues.  In spite of the issues, the story itself was wonderful and compelling, and I wanted it.  I put that manuscript through three R&Rs before contracting it, and of course we still had edits after that.  (And before anyone asks—NO, it was not Carol’s.  *grin*)  Would I do that again?  Maybe, maybe not, but I can tell you it would have to be an amazing story in spite of the flaws.  Not just good or even great, but amazing.  I can also tell you this situation was the exception to the rule.  It’s very rare for an editor to do something like this because detailed R&Rs like the ones I sent out for that manuscript take a lot of time.

So my advice in this area is to make sure you revise your manuscript.  Send it out to betas, and if you workshop the first chapter or the first few chapters, make sure you apply what you’ve learned—or revisions you’ve made—to the rest of the manuscript.  There’s nothing stranger than reading a manuscript and learning that when Carla was a child, her mother died.  Then, Carla goes home somewhere around chapter five or six and sits down to a family dinner…complete with Mom.  And no, it wasn’t Mom’s spirit or a step-mother or anything like that.  Mom wasn’t dead in the original draft.  She died because of workshopping suggestions for some reason or another, and the family dinner scene wasn’t revised to reflect this.  Make sure your manuscript doesn’t fall apart because you revised the first few chapters and neglected the rest of it.


Janie Junebug said...

I like to edit a ms that has a good plot but needs to have its face washed and hair combed. I've never had authors who didn't learn to improve their work.


Liz A. said...

I'm in the process of this now. I just revised the beginning, and now I'm making sure that these revisions haven't changed anything later on.

Charity Bradford said...

This is so true! I have so many betas. Each of them is invaluable for the different places in my process. They are the ones that let me know when the manuscript is ready. I've learned that I can't separate what's in my head from what's on the paper so I let them do it. :)

I also think this is a problem propagated by Nanowrimo. Not intentionally mind you, but that whole process is about free writing and getting the story written. Too many new writers stop there and think they've created the next big thing. It's those people I want to take a 2x4 to until they wake up.

Angela said...

Janie, I don't think I've ever come across a writer who didn't improve, either. In all honesty, it's wonderful to see how much a writer improves their craft over time!

Liz, I'm in the revisions process, too. I'm making notes on things I'm changing in the beginning that are supposed to influence later aspects so I can make sure I don't forget those changes later.

Charity, I agree about betas. Different betas seem to naturally focus on different aspects of the story and that can be a great help to writers. I know some writers have to go through a trial and error process before they find their perfect combination of betas, but I think it's worth it. And LOL@2x4. I agree. Nano is great in its own right, but the authors have to realize they have to go back and refine the work they produce during Nano.