Monday, July 03, 2006

Getting to That Ninety-Five Percent

In my last post, I offered advice given by Steve Laube. He said, "When approaching an agent make sure you put your best possible manuscript in front of them. We often see proposals and sample chapters that are 85% ready...But that isn't enough. We need to see material and ideas that are closer to 95% ready for the market."

Of course, the same advice holds true when approaching a publishing house. To make our work shine, we've got to be sure it's a step above most of what is being submitted. That means submitting compelling stories and well-written manuscripts. It means pushing ourselves to create something that stands out as being just a little better, just a little more polished, just a little more publishable than the rest of what's sitting in the slush pile.

Most of us understand this and are trying hard to do it. The problem isn't in wanting to achieve that 95%, but in being able to know when we have. Some writers believe every page they write is on par with GONE WITH THE WIND, or TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD. Others, like me, would never submit anything if they based submitting on their own assessment of the work they do. To find a happy medium, I go through a three step process.

1. Absence makes the heart....more realistic.
I always build in extra time when I plan how long a manuscript is going to take. I don't do it so that I can have my contracted manuscripts in early, but so that I can have anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks to set my book aside. During this time, I work on new ideas, write reader letters, or prepare a synopsis for another project. What I don't do is give in to temptation and read over the work I just finished. When I do come back to my work, it's with fresh eyes. I print the manuscript out and read it as if it were a book, using red slash marks in the margins to indict places where the story doesn't flow. If sentences need to be chopped, I do it on hardcopy. While I'm doing this I take notes regarding the plot and any potential problems with it. Only when I'm finished do I turn on my computer and begin revising.

2. Sometimes it Pays to Pay

This is something I feel strongly about, but is not in any way required. When I finish imputing the changes that were indicated through step one, I hand my manuscript off to my freelance editor. I've mentioned Sara before. She's been editing for me since before I was published. We've built a rapport and a no-nonsense approach to the process that can be humiliating, but is always effective. Basically, she does her best to tear my manuscript apart, and I do my best to put it back together correctly. If you've been writing for a while with little success, paying an editor to look at your work may be the way to go. Before you do this, I'd suggest checking out a variety of services, asking their prices, their client list, and exactly what it is their service offers. Finding a good one is like finding a good agent - it can only enhance your writing and help you in your quest toward publication. Having a bad one is useless. If any of you are interested in hearing more about this, please let me know. I've got a lot more to say on how to find a good fit, but don't want to waste time if the subject isn't of interest.

3. The Family Challenge

I don't have a critique group. If I did, I'd have a critique challenge instead. Once I've finished implementing the changes recommended by my freelance editor, I print off four copies of the manuscript and hand them out to willing victi...readers. This is my final step before submitting. My readers aren't editors, they're not experts, they are just what I've called them - readers. They know good books because they love to read. Just as with my freelance editor, I've built a solid relationship with my readers that has nothing to do with the fact that they're family. My readers know I'm counting on them to spot problems. They don't want to let me down. That means they give me honest critiques that go beyond 'it was good'. Helpful critiques go something like this - I really liked the story, but the ending didn't seem to fit. The mystery was good, but there wasn't enough romance. It was too preachy. It didn't have enough scripture. My rule of thumb for this - if more than one person comments on a particular thing, I change it. If only one person comments, I consider changing it.

When I finally turn in my manuscripts, I know they're as close as I can get to that 95%. Sure, the process takes time, paper, and sometimes money, but if it means creating a great book, it's worth it.

If you're in the market for a freelance editor, I know of a few that might be helpful:

- (put freelance editor in the subject line and mention my name if you do decide to contact her)

- The Story Sensei

From now until July 15th, I will be holding a fabulous contest for my Story Sensei critique service. I will draw the names of TWO lucky winners! They will each receive: A free synopsis critique – up to 10 pages single-spaced, a $40 value!AND
A coupon for 25% OFF any manuscript critique – whether full or partial manuscript, any number of words. For a 100,000 word manuscript, that's a savings of $250!
In addition, EVERYONE WHO ENTERS will receive a 10% OFF coupon for any service, whether synopsis, query letter, or manuscript critique (full or partial). For a 100,000 word manuscript, that's a savings of $100, just for entering. Go to my Story Sensei blog and post a comment to enter the contest.
- eharlquin critique service

I know these links are next to useless. I just can't seem to figure the link thing out. Sigh.


Lynette Eason said...

Hi Shirlee, Well, thanks to your 1000 a word day "challenge" I'm now 75,000 words into what's supposed to be a 65,000 word,....thank you...ha! Also, thanks for the link to Sara. I plan to contact her once I finish the manuscript, edit it, and think it's perfect. Then she can tear it all apart for me to put back together...hehe. Anyway, have a great 4th tomorrow.


Sabrina L. Fox said...

I think another thing for new writers is finding out what kind of writer you are and what kind of critique help you need.

I know I struggled with this a lot. I knew that I knew nothing. LOL. So everthing a person told me to change I changed it. When you do that over and over you end up with a story that isn't yours and if you're like me, you feel lost as to where to go next.

I like that you wait to see if more than one person notices the same thing before you change stuff.

Shirlee McCoy said...

Wow, Lynette! That's awesome!

Sabrina, I'm the same way. That's why I never let anyone see a manuscript before it's in final draft form. The stuff I send to my freelance editor is something I'd be willing to send to Harlequin if I were on a tight deadline. I'm very funny about letting anyone see my writing before it gets to that point because I just know I'd change everything and end up writing someone else's story!

Shirlee McCoy said...

It worked, Sabrina! Thanks!

Sabrina L. Fox said...

You go, girl! ;)

Camy Tang said...

Thanks so much for the shout-out, Shirlee! I just talked with your agent this weekend at ICRS, BTW. :)