Monday, September 17, 2012

When Is My Manuscript Ready? Part 2

"My advice to writers would be to aggressively seek the truth--forget about your ego--and do one more draft than your agent tells you to."
          --Jonathan Karp, EVP and Publisher for Simon & Shuster 
If you don't believe writing a book is both hard work and hard to do right, see if this post doesn't enlighten you. Why? Because there is more to getting a manuscript ready than meets the eye and so much to think about. In this continuation of getting a MS ready to submit or query, the focus is on content.
Agent Lara Perkins shared at writeoncon what she looks for in new manuscripts:
A good, interesting Hook includes: 1) Unique and Compelling World-building, or complexity, originality, a sense of fun and wonder. 2) Great Voice, or confident, clean writing,with personality and a unique perspective. 3) A Page-turning Pace, or an engaging plot and tight pacing--high stakes, believable obstacles, unexpected but earned twists and turns. 4) A New Twist, or how the book fits in the market and is different enough from what is out there, freshness.
High-level Work. "An agent-ready manuscript does not have to be perfect, but the story, the voice, and the characters need to be very strong and compelling. So what I mean by 'working on a high level' is that all of the important, big-picture elements are there and are developed, unique, and gripping.  . . . it does need to be a manuscript that an agent-reader will not be able to put down (because of the characters, story, and pacing)."
Finally, Perkins asked good questions that can be used in both plotting and revising. She says, "Have I asked myself the following Big-Picture Questions about my manuscript--and revised if the answer is no?" Here's a content checklist:
                      Does my story have a clear beginning, middle, and end?
                       Do my characters have interesting and relatable goals in which a reader can invest?
·                                 Are the stakes high?
·                                 Are my characters unique and differentiated from one another—in the way they speak, in the way they act, in the choices they make, in their goals/hopes/dreams?
·                                 Do my characters change throughout the story? Do they have character arcs, with definite beginnings, middles, and endings?
·                                 Are the obstacles that keep my characters from achieving their goals believable and interesting?
·                                 Are all the scenes and characters necessary to the story?
·                                 Is the action moving at a page-turning pace?
·                                 Do my chapter endings and beginnings fit together in a way that propels the reader into the next part of the story?
·                                 Am I the only person who can tell this story and is that reflected in the voice?
·                                 Is the voice consistent and well-matched for this story?
·                                 Is my story different from what’s out there? (Hopefully, this is the easiest question to answer because you’ve been reading constantly in your genre and age group…right?)
Lara Perkins is an Assistant Agent and Digital Manager at Andrea Brown Literary. Lara jointly represents select clients together with Senior Agent Laura Rennert, with a focus on picture book, middle grade, and young adult children’s fiction. Lara has a B.A. in English and Fine Arts from Amherst College and an M.A. in English Literature from Columbia University. She has been on faculty at various California writers’ conferences, including Book Passage and the Big Sur Writers’ Conference.

Monday, September 10, 2012

When Is My Manuscript Ready? Part 1

I’m getting ready to submit mt YA LDS historical fiction, The Seventh City. So close I can taste it. Like playing Hide and Seek and announcing “Ready or not, here I come!” Am I as ready as I think I am? Nobody wants to be obsessive, yet we don't want to submit too early. I've already made that mistake.

Revisions are a must and can be overdone, but I’m not talking about revision lists today. I’ve done those, blogged about those. We’re talking content here. Perhaps the most important readiness test comes from letting others read it, someone besides your mother. This takes courage for some, but I've always enjoyed letting others find and point out what may be hard for me to see. It makes my work easier. Through experience we learn to find trouble spots on our own.

Agent Lara Perkins wrote on this subject for the 2012 WriteOn Con. She says, “Have I shown my manuscript to at least 3 people and seriously considered their feedback?” She goes on to highly recommend joining a critique group. Check. My group helped me scene by scene, and I am indebted to them. Since that doesn’t allow for one’s memory to connect all the dots and tie the lose ends, it was important for me to seek beta readers who could read through a fairly polished MS in a short time. Again, I would suggest at least another 3 people. 

I have found a variety of depth in the feedback and am grateful for those who questioned everything they noticed. A writer has more in her head about what is going on than the reader and one reader will notice something different than another. Cherish and consider all feedback. Don't feel locked into it but make sure you have sound reasoning not to follow it. Occasionally you might get negative feedback that is not constructive. Not everyone states it in diplomatic, helpful ways. If one person has made you feel badly, consider the source and compare it against other feedback. We improve with practice and education. For those writers finding multiple layers of problems in their MS, hiring a content editor might be the way to go. 

Ms. Perkins also wants to see a hook, if the story works on a high level, and have her big-picture questions answered. We’ll take a look at what this means next week. For now, I’ll be waiting for what those final readers have to say. 

So how do you know when your MS is ready to submit to an agent or publisher?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Jennifer Voices A Riddle

I loved this article from Jennifer A. Nielsen at on a tricky subject I'll let unfold. I especially loved her description of said subject. Enjoy!
Here’s a WriteOn Con riddle for you: Publishers want it, readers love it, authors seek it. Nobody can define it, but everyone can recognize it.
Okay, I admit it. That was a terrible riddle, completely unsolvable unless you read the title, in which case you know this is a discussion on voice.
Voice is the sound of your writing; your unique use of dialogue, description, characterization, and syntax. If it were a song, voice is the music, the rhythm, the beats upon which each sentence rises and falls.
A common mistake for beginners is writing the way they think will sell their story. Some browse the thesaurus for fancy words, others bloat their sentences with filler words, and occasionally a writer lifts scenes from her favorite authors but changes out minor details. Ultimately, these strategies betray the writer as an amateur, because none of them lead to the authentic voice all editors crave.
Okay, you say, I sorta get it. Sorta. Here are six tips to help you identify your voice.
1.                  Study other voices. As you read, try to distinguish the unique sound of the author’s words. Why does Kristen Cashore sound different from Scott Westerfield who sounds different from Dan Wells? The better you are at spotting voice for others, the more clearly you’ll see your own.
2.                  Learn all the writing rules. And then forget them. All writers should know the rules of grammar, punctuation, syntax, and rhythm. Learn the rules of your genre, the conventions of characterization and exposition, and the common pitfalls in a story. You must know these rules, so that you know how to break them. If everything you write conforms to a standard English textbook, you’re probably doing something wrong.
3.                  Know your characters. Just as each writer has a unique voice, every character in your story should have their voice too. The better you define your characters, the stronger your writing of them will be.
4.                  Try a different genre. I once had a critique partner who wrote adult crime novels. They were okay, but not publishable. Then one day he heard an old frontier story and decided to fictionalize it. His YA historical had a brilliant voice, and might’ve been the story that broke him into the market, but in the end, he gave up because he insisted he was a crime novelist. Maybe you are exactly the writer that you think you are, but there is no shortage of examples where someone finds their voice in a very different place than where they thought they would be.
5.                  Know your stuff. Personally, I’m not much for the “write what you know” philosophy. I prefer, “write what you love” because when you love a topic, you want to know all about it. Voice often suffers in a manuscript when the author doesn’t have a firm grasp on the details. For example, if the character is riding a horse, the author should understand enough about horses to bring authenticity to the scene.
6.                  Write for yourself. In the wake of any big novel, editors are flooded with copycat manuscripts. Many of them are brilliant books in their own right, but many are quickly rejected because it’s obvious the writer is only offering a cheap imitation of the original. Write the story that is in you, the way only you can tell it.        (Skipped book examples of voice next.)
Exercises to Help Find Your Voice:
1.                  Write a brief description of someone you know as if you were a psychiatrist, a criminal, and an artist. Then write their description as yourself.
2.                  Write the scene you’ve always secretly wanted to write. Not to be published, edited, or even seen by anyone else. Just let the self-indulgent words flow and see what comes.
3.                  Read your work aloud, and try to feel when your words are not authentic. If you’re forcing out the words, then you are not staying true to your natural voice.
And finally…
Remember that “voice” doesn’t develop in your first month, and in most cases, not your first manuscript. The more you write, the closer you come to finding it. So get writing!

 Jennifer A. Nielsen was born and raised in northern Utah, where she still lives today with her husband, three children, and a dog that won’t play fetch. She is the author of The Ascendance trilogy, beginning with THE FALSE PRINCE; of The Underworld Chronicles, beginning with ELLIOT AND THE GOBLIN WAR; and will write the sixth book of the Infinity Ring series. She loves chocolate, old books, and lazy days in the mountains.