Saturday, November 14, 2015

How to Prepare Your Manuscript for Submission

So you have the next best seller. It will be difficult for you obtain representation for your book unless you take the time to make sure your manuscript is at its best.

Here are some tips I have learned along the way to prepare your manuscript for submission to literary agencies, literary magazines, and other venues.

Grammar Check and Spell Check

A great way to turn off your potential future literary agent is to submit a query and manuscript laden with grammatical errors. It's so easy to at least use your word processing program's spell check and grammar check. If you don't do anything else, do this one thing, and you'll be able to catch most typos and misspellings.

The reason I say most is because your word processing program's grammar check and spell check function is limited. It won't pick up correctly spelled words used in the wrong context, as well as other types of errors.

For instance, your spell check and grammar check would not pick up the error in this sentence:

Jack bought Jessica a 24 carrot diamond ring.

"Carrot" is spelled correctly, but of course, Jack most likely didn't buy Jessica a ring made out of rabbit food. He bought her a 24 carat diamond ring.

To experiment, I ran the sentence with the veggies through my word processing program, and the only advice the grammar check had for me was the fact that the 24 and the carrot didn't have a hyphen between them. It suggested I revise it as "24-carrot."

I've used Grammarly and Ginger in the past. These are pretty good to use so you can learn your own habitual unproductive grammar usage patterns. They do pick up more than most word processing programs' spell and grammar check. Plus, Ginger has a tutor feature that keeps track of your errors, then teaches you the correct grammatical principal, while Grammarly checks for plagiarism. They each have a low monthly cost to use every year, but if you do plan on writing for a living, it will help you catch even more embarrassing grammatical errors that could have been avoided.

Keep in mind that no grammar app is perfect. I still found mistakes even when I was done correcting pieces with different apps. Use apps to catch most mistakes, and be a student of grammar to pick up the rest.

Let It Sit

I know. You're excited. You want to see your work in print. I totally relate, believe me.

However, the biggest favor you can do for yourself is to let your project sit for a little while.

Even if you read your work backwards (a trick I've read recently some people use to self-edit their works), you are still caught up in the emotion behind what you've written.

All writers and even editors experience this phenomenon. I learned about this when I was a student in my mental health counseling program and working on my thesis. Once you are "too familiar" with the piece you're reading, writers and editors will develop a blind spot to the work's flaws.

One way to overcome this effect is to put the piece aside for at least a month, or even more time if possible. You won't have the perspective of an outsider would have to correct your work (which is the most effective way to prepare your manuscript), but it will help a great deal.

Hire an Independent Editor

Hiring an independent editor is an effective way to ready a manuscript for submission. Until writers receive feedback for their work, they don't really know what could use improvement until they are told. No amount of self-editing will help writers overcome their own unproductive writing patterns because until we know what mistakes we commonly make, we will continue making them over and over again until someone can point it out to us.

You won't hear a literary agent suggest that you hire an editor for your work because of our professional ethical obligations. Rather, you will receive a rejection letter with a general statement.

As Predators and Editors warn, hiring an editor will not guarantee publication. However, hiring a great editor can result in a few different outcomes on your work:

  • Your manuscript will be grammatically correct.
  • If you hire an editor who has an expertise in the type of manuscript you've written (i.e. - nonfiction how-to book or sci-fi/fantasy fiction), with a knowledge in the market your book falls under, you will be able to have another person's viewpoint about how your writing seems to your future readers.
This last point is especially important. Have elements in your story been done to death? Does your dialogue come off as blathering or boring? Do the elements in your plot all line up? Are your sentences concise or long and rambling? A good editor should be able to provide you with this type of feedback.

One author I met recently, Grandmaster Jim Mather, author of the Arrow Series, has a very effective strategy for producing high quality novels. He uses two editors. His manager told me that he enjoys using two editors because it provides him with a more balanced perspective on polishing his manuscripts to their very best.

Most recently at my editing job, to cut down time on article production, I suggested to my boss to allow me to simply make the needed corrections within the publishing system instead of going back and forth between different editors. Rather than jumping on the idea, she stated she would think about it. Here are her words: "Yes, on the one hand, it does cut down on production time. On the other hand, the more people we have working on articles, the better they become because of each editor's unique perspective."

Good point, boss. :)

For more tips on manuscript preparation, I recommend you check out Predators and Editors' excellent resources. On the website, if you take a look at the listings for editors, some have the red words next to their names, "Not recommended," a comforting and useful feature of this website.

Plus, when you have a chance, look up The Rebecca Pratt Literary Group's listing with Predators and Editors.

Have the Right Attitude

If you do choose to work with an independent editor, it's important to be open to any suggestions your editor may have. The number one killer of manuscripts, believe it or not, is a writer's pride. Even if you have managed to garner the attention of a literary agent, understand that your work will go through many edits as different contributors help you fine-tune your manuscript to get it ready for the appropriate market. If you are not open to suggestions, this will kill your career faster than handing in an imperfect manuscript.

Plot Your Course

Of course, you could just self-edit your work and submit your manuscript to a literary agent. I did this and obtained representation. However, this would not be my top recommendation.

If you don't have any published writing experience where you have been regularly edited and are getting paid for your work, you might want to give the "hiring an editor option" some serious consideration. Your literary agent, to the best of his or her ability, will represent you and your work. Your literary agent will certainly be a wonderful influence as you shape your writing career, but your literary agent is not responsible for teaching you how to write well. Everyone needs a feedback system to hone their skills in any profession. For writers, this is most important.

Literary agents, according to Michael Larsen, have different types of clients. There are clients who you know have a great story, have better than average writing skills, but their manuscripts still need work. These are clients you know you will be working with for a couple of years getting their manuscript ready to send out to publishers. Then there are the clients that have everything ready to go. Their manuscript is flawless and they have a marketing plan in place, as well as an established publishing platform for their work.

If you want to be the latter type of client, manuscript preparation should be one of your areas of concentrated efforts.

Happy writing. We're looking forward to seeing your work.

Kirsten Schuder, M. S.
Associate Literary Agent