Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Is The Manuscript Ready?

I'm often asked at workshops, How do you know when the manuscript (MS) is ready? When do you put down the pen or keyboard and send it off to the editor? When is it appropriate to: a) finally get the sleep I've been putting off, b) open that bottle of Veuve Clicquot I've been saving, c) and/or hide and slit my wrists.

Generally though, I have a conversation with myself that asks if there is anything more to say. If not, that's it, I'm done. For the time being that is. When a manuscript is finished you are the last person to judge its quality. It needs, like champagne or a good red wine, time to age. I'm not suggesting set it aside for four or five years, more like four to six weeks.

But first make copies of everything pertaining to the MS and put them on a hard drive storage device (your choice) and a memory stick. Put the stick someplace where the sun don’t shine, like a bank vault. And yes, your computer will crash and destroy everything tomorrow – so do it NOW.

While the MS is maturing, start your cover design ideas, marketing, contacts for publishing, etc. I will discuss this in much greater degree in later blogs. But now is the time to get everything in order for after the MS is edited.

There are thousands of editors out there; they literally come in all shapes, educations, experience, and specialties. Ask around at workshops, ask writer friends, even send emails to other writers and ask how they like their editor. Ninety-nine percent of freelance editors need a continuing flow of writers and MSs to stay alive. Interview them, buy them lunch, feel comfortable with them. At some point they will drive you crazy, make them feel guilty about it.

There are story editors, technical editors (fact checkers), copy editors and line editors. Each is a specialty with a different skill set, many will offer it all, but very few will succeed. Get your editor on board, costs will vary but expect for a 90K MS to pay about $1,200 to $1,800 for the job. Some are less, be wary of more than that. This estimate is for a copy and line editor, and don't pre pay a dime. Make them work for it. Most do not work with a contract – trust is a big thing in the writer's world. And they will not steal your MS, so don’t worry.

Back to the MS:
After it's been retrieved from the Bat Cave, print it out double-spaced and read it aloud. Make notes on the margins, circle corrections, and move quickly. The idea is to see if it flows, reading out loud will tell you a lot. Does your voice come through in the words – you'll know.

Make your changes to the MS. I then put the whole MS into a very cool program called SmartEdit. This program breaks the whole MS into words and how often they are used: phrases, clichés, adverbs, and a few other word and language issues. It is not an "editing" program. It is a seek and destroy program. We all fall into word traps that show up, sometimes in paragraph after paragraph. They are often trite words or phrase that we miss – using Word's find feature will help you can find these words and allow you to replace them.

Beta Readers:
These are invaluable friends and associates who are willing to read the MS at this point and give you feedback. I often will include a questionnaire with the MS to jog their memory or try to draw out criticism. Be careful though, friends are that, they will often not tell you what you want – a detailed and thorough critique. If you are in a writer's group that allows this – great. I've not done this though so I'm not sure how good they work. These Beta readers are gold, if you find one or two keep them close.

Submit the MS to your Editor:
I suggest that whether you decide to self-publish or try to go traditional the MS has to be as perfect as you can make it. Send this revised and updated MS to your editor. I work with Track Changes in Word and so do many editors. This should be clarified before you engage them. Some also work on paper – so be prepared.

The editorial process is under your control, if you are still looking at your MS structure now is the time to be sure it's what you want. Weigh the suggestions of the editor; are they right? Are they also onboard with your intent of the story? Do they get it? As you write more books the editing often becomes less (in volume of corrections) – you should be getting better and this is where it shows.

And remember, today agents and publishers may do an edit on the accepted MS for reasons that will drive you crazy – but won’t even look twice at a MS that's a mess – send them the best you can do.

Next week:
What is the book going to look like?

More Later . . . . . . . . . . .

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