My special guest Cate Whittle, author, teacher, speaker, offers her advice and experience on how to fine-tune your manuscript before submission to a publisher.
Cate’s literary expertise covers workshops, writing courses, book launches, school visits and video tutorials—watch out below for her special MANUSCRIPT ASSESSMENT offer—but first sit back, relax, read
‘On the Fine Art of Sending Your Book Baby Out into the World’
Congratulations! You’ve made it—from those first tentative words that broke the curse of the blank page, to the carefully woven ending—you’ve finished your book!
First – bask.
This is an important moment and really deserves celebrating. So many would-be writers never get this far. So celebrate.
While you are celebrating, the manuscript is resting.
You know that.
And you know that you come back to it with fresh eyes to read through and self-edit to make it the best you possibly can. And you know that there will be a multitude of drafts before you say, ‘This is it!’
And then you send it out to the likeliest looking publisher or three?
This can be the falling point for soooo many little fledgling books.
For its first forays out of the nest, there are so many things you can do before you subject it to the scrutiny of an actual publisher.
Allow me to make some suggestions.
Let me call this Levels of Editing.
It is up to you whether you employ all or some of these levels of editing—or whether you feel happy to trust to yourself in some regards—and certainly, you will be editing with your publisher if your work is acquired by a traditional publishing house, but it is always good to be close to all the way there before you approach a publisher. And if you are self-publishing… you’d be well-advised to spend the money.
Was your self-editing.
Focus in on structure and consistency, make sure your opening grabs the reader and your writing flows easily and is paced well. Look at tension and relief. Are your characters believable? Does the setting work? Is your ending satisfying—and does it work for your genre?
Might be your Mum or a Trusted Other.
This is usually good for a feel-good glow (which is great for your confidence), but do not pressure this relationship with a request for honesty. Do not. Enjoy the feel-good glow and move to the next stage.
Your critique group.
Yes, join one. Participate. I cannot recommend more highly this collegiate learning and sharing. Even J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (peripherally Dorothy L Sayers) and those other guys who no-one remembers, all benefited from sharing their work in their Inklings literary circle.
But be aware that this, too, has its limitations. Perhaps you do not work in the same genre so they may not understand all the tropes and symbolism in your text (I speak—lovingly—from the experience of teaching my critique group friends about fantasy). Perhaps you are all learning together. Perhaps your critique partners are unwilling or unable to offer critical feedback.
Where to from here then?
Strictly speaking, this is NOT editing per se. This is where a reader with some experience goes through your manuscript and offers feedback as objectively as possible (although not entirely—reading anything is a subjective and individual process).
A good manuscript assessor will provide a general commentary on:
* Voice, point of view, description, and setting
* Punctuation, spelling, grammar, and vocabulary
* Anything you have specific queries about (e.g. does my opening hook work?)
A manuscript assessment can be completed on a partial text (I offer commentary on the opening three chapters and a synopsis) to keep costs down, or on a complete text. This is your impartial reader who has some experience in the field, giving you their reaction to your book.
Manuscript assessments are often offered by editors as a first pass through your story, to let you know whether you are ready to go further. Published writers, or established teachers or librarians with a strong background in the literary process.
It’s a good starting point without investing a huge amount in the early stages of polishing your text. You should come away with some good ideas about how to develop your work further. Sometimes you can enter into a story coach arrangement with your assessor—but this is a whole extra field.
This is like engaging a manuscript assessor several times over a period of time, reworking and reassessing scenes together to make sure that your story is powerful and ready for the next stage of editing. Check with your manuscript assessor if they are willing to enter into such an arrangement before you start.
N.B: If you are writing non-fiction, this is the level where you might seek out a professional content editor to make sure your information is correct and presented in a way that flows.
Working with a manuscript assessor or a story coach gets you ready for the hard stuff. From hereon it can get intense!
Similar to a manuscript assessment but at a deeper level, this is usually undertaken to evaluate your characters, plot, and setting, and ensures that your narrative flows smoothly and your scenes work to move the story forward. It will look at how your chapters sit and whether they could be arranged differently to make the story more powerful.
This is a skilled task that is best done by a trained professional editor. You may have already engaged an editor for your first assessment, but often this is an opportunity to let another set of eyes go through your work.
Line editing evaluates and offers corrections for the tone, style, and consistency of your work. While a good line edit will also check basic spelling, punctuation, and grammar, for a more complete overview of these mechanics of writing you would be moving to a copy edit.
Again, this is a job for a professional editor. This is all about your spelling and punctuation. This is all about getting your grammar correct. This is all about your word choices (do you need adverbs or will a stronger verb make your writing tighter?), how you lay out your text (paragraphing), minimising repetition or jargon, and weeding out redundancies.
All without losing your voice.
Except proofreading is also NOT editing. By the time you are proofreading all that is done. This is like a final going over to make sure you have dotted all your Ts and crossed all your Is…
This is checking formatting and consistency one final time, and finding those last minute, glaring typos. You can stick to your professional editor for this—or find yourself a professional reader. Your manuscript assessor might be good for this, but make sure they know it is a proofreading exercise. Now is NOT the time to come up with suggestions for a whole different structure.
While all this has been happening, I’m sure you have been researching your publishers for the right fit. Don’t forget to check their submission guidelines and follow their rules—and now you can press GO.
Good luck! May your fledgling fly true and straight and find a home out there (whether you go via a traditional publisher or decide to go Indie).
Thank you, Cate, for such enlightening information!
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Personal note from Cate
In the spirit of celebrating 61 Years Since 1961, I’m currently offering manuscript assessments at only 61% of my usual going price.
This offer closes on 3rd April 2022, BUT if you have something in the wings and would like to purchase an assessment at this price and take a rain check on the assessment until you are ready, just drop me a line email@example.com
I’m currently offering an assessment on the first three chapters (to 10,000 words maximum) on your Junior Fiction (which probably shouldn’t be this long!) or Middle Grade manuscript for AU$110. Alternatively you can contact me for my price schedule for a full manuscript.
To find out more ‘On the Fine Art of Sending Your Book Baby Out into the World’ contact Cate firstname.lastname@example.org
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