Monday, June 1, 2015

Agency Lessons: turn-key ready manuscript

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made. 

I was talking to an editor last week and something he said really stuck with me.
"Editors aren't looking for a fixer-upper."

Of course, I knew this already. But the imagery of a fixer-upper really got inside my head. If you've ever been house hunting then you know exactly what to expect when a listing says "needs a little TLC". It means you should plan to dedicate all your weekends for the next year to stripping old wall paper, fixing loose wiring and hanging gutters. It means that the house could be great, but right now, it's not. It's a fixer-upper.

Unfortunately, I hear too many authors say "With the right editor I know this book could be amazing." They are hoping to find an editor who can take their so-so manuscript and magic wand that baby until it shines like a new pair of glass slippers. But that's not how this works.

Because editors have lots of projects going all at once in various stages. They are coordinating with cover designers on this manuscript and hashing out the layout on the next. They may be working on first round edits with one project at the same time they are holding a debut author's hand at their launch. 

Editors have a lot of roles. And it's true that they play a big role in making sure a book is just right. But they start with books that are amazing and then make them a-MAZE-ing. 

So what can you do to make sure your book isn't listed as needing TLC? 

Everyone has their own process, so I thought I'd share mine so you can see what I do BEFORE my book goes to my editor.

1. Write a craptastic first draft
2. Let it sit so you can forget what you wrote and separate yourself from it
3. Read the first draft, cringe, and make notes of big picture areas that need work
4. Flesh out any issues that impact the whole manuscript such as time lines, disappearing characters, etc.
5. Make edits based on first notes and the big impact issues
6. Work through The Breakout Novel workbook*
*This book is genius and I love it, but it might not be your style. This step is basically forcing you to think about all the nuances of your story. Do you have a full character arc for everyone? Does every character have a unique voice? Are all your characters/scenes crucial? How is the pacing? Is your climax deserved? 
7. Another round of edits to fix all the issues discovered in step 6.
8. Read through again, this time looking at the smaller issues such unclear sentences, overstuffed paragraphs, bad writing in general
9. Fix everything found in step 8
10. First round of Beta readers (I like to start with other authors for my Betas)
11. Fix issues found by first round Beta readers
12. Second round Beta readers (I like to use readers for this round)
13. Fix issues found by second round Beta readers
14. Final read through to look for anything else that might have been missed.

Then, and only then, do I send my work to my editors. If it looks like a lot of work, it's because it is. Your book should be the absolute best your are possibly capable of before an editor ever sees it. And this is true regardless of if you are going the traditional route or going indie. 

An editor is there to spit-polish and shine your manuscript, not resole it. 

By all means, set your eyes on the editor who you think would be the best match for your manuscript, but know that you should never send them anything but your very best.

What other tips do you have for getting a manuscript ready for editing? Any favorite books that help you see your book in a new light? Let's help each other write amazing books.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this and your process that you go through when revising! I don't know what I'd do without my beta readers!

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  2. Oh yes! Couldn't agree more. It's a competitive market and what gives a manuscript an edge over the others is this.

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    1. These days everyone is multi-tasking and editors have plenty of projects to choose from. It only makes sense that the better manuscript will get picked every time.

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  3. I love this post and that phrase is stuck in my head! Awesome!

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