On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Making Sure Your Manuscript is Ready to Go

The temptation seizes to start sending out your manuscript or make preparations for publishing it yourself as soon as you've typed "The End" at the bottom of the page. My friends, please don't do this. Not only do you need to take time to craft a submission package if you're looking for an agent or editor, or research your best options for publishing yourself, but your manuscript itself must be buffed to a high sheen. Because publishing is now so easy, books flood our culture. According to the The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in 2009 there were 288,355 new titles published in the USA. You want your book to stand out. As you develop your author name, you want to have a reputation of excellence.

The first step after finishing your manuscript is to calculate the length to see if you're in the ballpark. Rule of thumb lengths might range from 50,000 for a short novel to 80-90,000 words for an average novel. Anything over 100,000 words is a problem no matter what genre unless you're Stephen King. Publishing a DTB (dead tree book) costs the publisher (you or someone else) more than a penny a page, and these costs add up quickly. Furthermore, a too-long manuscript suggests that you're not using words as efficiently as you should be.

Trust me on this. For my own first novel, I cut the first-draft manuscript from 117,000 words to final length of 89,000 words without losing any sense of what was going on -- in fact, the shorter version reads much better.

Excellent books on self-editing give you help when you're ready to go through this process. A classic is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and David King. This book goes over many points you may not have thought of to improve your manuscript, such as handling exposition, improving pacing, and developing a "voice."

It's easiest when editing to go through the manuscript several times, each time looking for a particular type of error. Find your own writing tics -- words or phrases that you overuse. (A good site to flag these is http://www.wordcounter.com/, which lists words by most to least common in a particular passage). Use word search to eliminate passive voice (was, were, have) and adverbs (anything ending in -ly, very). Get rid of nothing qualifiers (began to, started to, somewhat, rather). Eliminate Noah's Ark words and phrases, in which the ideas come two by two. (The "sleek and dark cat" becomes "sleek cat," or even "cat"). Eliminate as many speech tags ("said" and "asked") as you can. I go through this editing process in some detail in my book, The Story Template.

My rule of thumb for a first manuscript is that you should be able to cut at least 10% of the length without changing the sense. I edit many manuscripts, and have yet to find one that didn't follow this rule. For the next entry or two I'll put in some sample edits to give you an idea of how to do this. The trick is to take your time and do several passes: each time makes it better.

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