"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.
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.