Just in case you have an editor who still works on hard copy (I do occasionally so I can take a break from my computer), the chart below may help you decipher some of the symbols your editor scrawls in the margins.
So, you’ve written your book manuscript and you think it’s amazing. Or maybe you just have an idea for a book that you think is amazing. What do you do next?
Back in the day of the renowned editor Max Perkins, you could throw your rough pile of brilliance over the transom of the publishing house, and your in-house editor would make it into an equally brilliant published book.
Times are different. Now your brilliant manuscript (or proposal) has to be polished-perfect to even be considered. And . . . if you want to get anywhere near one of the big publishers, you have to go through a literary agent.
So, once you’ve gotten the feedback and guidance of a professional freelance editor or writing coach and you’ve rewritten your manuscript and/or proposal (as many times as necessary), the next step is to search for potential agents. (Where and how to search is for another post.) But once you are ready to make your submission, what do agents want to see?
This article in the online Writer’s Digest does a pretty good job of covering the basics. (The one important piece that’s not covered, other than a passing mention, is how to prepare a proposal. But there are plenty of other resources for that online.)
Also, be sure to read each agent’s submission guidelines on their website. Every agent has a different set of requirements for what they’d like to receive from you (e.g., query letter first, synopsis, first ten pages, first fifty pages, etc.). And be sure you’re pitching to an agent who has interest in the type of work you’ve written.
I invite any of you to share your own wisdom and experiences (or pitfalls and pratfalls) in submitting work to a literary agent. Just add a comment!
“Will you review my manuscript and tell me whether it’s publishable?”
This is a common request I get from prospective clients.
My short answer is: Every manuscript, no matter how good it is, needs a critique (also known as “constructive feedback”) to become publishable.
In response to the critique, the author then does rewrites. Fewer rewrites if the manuscript is close; more rewrites if the writing needs more help. The final step, when you’ve done your last rewrite and addressed all the bigger-picture stuff, is to have your manuscript copyedited (also called “line editing”).
In light of that, it may not make sense to pay for a review to see if your manuscript is publishable, because unless you’ve already received a critique, done your rewrites, and had the manuscript edited, the answer is: it’s not publishable (yet).
It’s more cost-effective for you to go straight into having a critique, since you will need one anyway. In a critique, I give you feedback on the bigger picture—the developmental issues (e.g., plot, character development, themes, dialogue, description, etc.). I make comments directly in the manuscript, at the spots where something catches my attention. I also do a write-up summarizing the salient points.
What you end up with is a custom-made “user’s manual” for rewriting your book. A step-by-step guide created just for you.
So, start with a critique. It’s not as scary as it sounds!
I just read a lovely piece in the L.A. Times by writer and book reviewer Héctor Tobar. If you have doubts about whether you’re a good (or good enough) writer, read his article: In defense of ‘bad’ writers.
How many times should you send out a manuscript—and get rejected—before you put that one on the shelf? And if you deem one manuscript a failure, should you push forward to write another?
There is no pat response because no one can answer these questions but you.
The more accurate questions, perhaps, are these:
- How many times can you withstand rejection without losing the faith to carry on?
- How burning is your passion to write and share it with the world?
- How open are you to getting qualified feedback on your manuscript?
- How many times are you willing to rewrite until you get it right?
I wish I had those wonderful stats and stories to pull from a hat: X sent out Y manuscript Z number of times before it finally was accepted and published. I know those stories, but I just can’t remember the names of the writers they’re about. You know the ones: some fifty rejections before going on to finally be accepted and become a bestselling classic. (If you know any of those stories please share some with us!)
Succeeding as a writer does not necessarily mean succeeding easily and gracefully. Not everyone gets to sail effortlessly across the finish line. Some will limp across that frontier (from unpublished to published and paid) with plenty of bruises and scrapes from a harrowing journey.
But those who persevere have a chance of getting there. And those who are willing to rewrite—as many times as it takes—have an even better chance.
If you have a question about writing, and you think the answer might benefit others as well, please send me an email at Nomi.theWriteCoach(at)gmail.com, and I’ll set to work on a blog post that answers your question. (It’ll be kind of like you’re giving me a writing prompt and benefiting from what I come up with!) If I don’t know the answer, I’ll do my best to find you some resources where you can find the answer.
Then, keep your eyes open for my response (in the form of a blog entry)!
It gives me great joy to share what I’ve learned about the craft of writing over my 20 + years as a book editor, writer, and writing coach.
I look forward to hearing from you.
I’m all ears.
I’ve finally finished the manuscript I’ve been working on and handed it in to our editor at Random House (ah, that’s why there haven’t been any posts in a while). It’s a book on which I’m the collaborative writer. It has been an amazing project! More on that as it nears publication (spring 2014).
Now that I finally have a breather, I’ve decided to spruce up my site. Made changes here and there, including the addition of a page of writing samples. I’ve started with just one sample, a personal essay I wrote a few years ago and read aloud at the Tasty Words essay show in Santa Monica.
I’ll add more samples soon, when I figure out what I’m allowed to post (copyright issues, etc.); I do a lot of writing for other people.
To see the new page, click here.