Tag Archives: agent

Writing Lessons from the Playground

Yesterday when I dropped my boys off at school, the temp was a balmy 34 degrees.  Here’s what I saw:

  • Frost on the ground.
  • Kids in t-shirts and shorts.
  • Kids in shorts and sweatshirts.
  • Kids in pants and t-shirts.
  • Kids in jeans and jackets.
  • Very few hats and/or mittens.

The jacketed kids played.  The half-dressed kids huddled.  The mittenless pulled their sleeves over their fingers and the hatless/hoodless pressed their hands against their ears.

Today, the temperature gauge on my truck read 43 degrees.  Here’s what I saw:

  • Pants and long sleeves.
  • Lots o’ mittens and hats.
  • A fair number of jackets.
  • Everybody playing.

This strikes me as the same sharp reality that we writers get when we begin submitting our first manuscripts.  We are simply unprepared for the journey.  We often go into writing a novel with little or no understanding about the process as a whole.  We write to “the end” and we feel accomplished.

And we are.  What we aren’t is ready to send it out.  We aren’t ready to succeed.  We aren’t ready for the yes and the hard work that will follow.  So, I offer you: 

Writing Lessons from the Playground

  1. Wear long sleeves: Get your manuscript in top form.  Even a cool breeze is tolerable if we protect our core.  A poorly edited manuscript leaves us completely vulnerable to the elements, which ultimately culminates in a form rejection.
  2. Wear long pants: Write a killer query letter.  No, this doesn’t mean only dress pants are acceptable.  Jeans or sweat pants are just fine, as long as your attire query fits your story. 
  3. Wear a hat: Research your agents/editors before ever sending out your submission package.  We lose the bulk of our body heat through our heads.  A simple cap helps regulate our core temp.  Likewise, careful research into an agent’s likes, dislikes, preferences, past sales and business style are a must.  Too often, we get so wrapped up in the idea of any agent/editor attention that we lose our heads and forget that not all acceptances are a good fit for us.
  4. Throw on some mittens: Keep writing.  Write your marketing proposal and write your next book.  Write your blog.  Write in your diary or write a short story or article.  Write.  Keep your fingers limber and warm.  Prepare for the next step in your journey, because sometimes an agent/editor says yes.  And when he does, you’ll want nothing more than to be able to play in comfort. 
  5. And you  know what comes after fall…snowsuits and boots.  Receiving a publishing contract takes us from writer to author.  We literally become wrapped up in the written word.  We edit old pieces, write new ones, brainstorm for even newer ones, network socially and juggle real life.  It’s a veritable snowstorm, and one we won’t survive unless we fully prepare for life as a writer.  Routine, organization, resetting of priorities…the list is endless, but it all starts with a long-sleeved shirt on a frosty morning.

Yeah, one miserable cold snap was enough for parents and kids to drag out the warm clothing.  It was enough for everyone to realize how ill-prepared we were for playground fun.  It was enough to redirect our behaviors and approach something as simple as dressing with a bit more purpose and thought.

I’m not going to lie.  I get that it’s totally embarrassing to be the first wussy kid on the playground to don a stocking hat.  There’s something uncool about being warm until you’re so cold you can’t feel your toes.  When my boys balked about their hats and mittens yesterday morning, I provided them with my mantra: Put them in your backpack.  If you’re not cold, don’t use them.  Your choice.  But at least you’ll have them when you need them.  At least you’ll be prepared.

And so, dear writers, I ask: are you prepared?  What steps have you taken to help smooth your path to success?  Do you stash your mittens in the bottom of your bag, or do you unabashedly wear them for all the world to see?

Curious minds want to know.


A Little Taste of SCBWI Love

So, I finally made it to the other end of the world.  Seriously, from the West Corner of Minnesota to the East side of Iowa is a freakin’ haul.  But, I’m glad I made the journey.

Bubbly, humorous and oh-so-kind (she helped me fill my water glass) Editor Molly O’Neill presented two mini workshops for us today.  One was a writer’s boot camp to help us get to know our characters better.  The second was an in-depth look at 25 book beginnings that caught her eye.  It was fabulous to  hear her express why each of these first words made her editor’s heart go pitter patter.

In the end, it was all about connection.  Yes, there are more kinds of connection than simple character connection.  Many more kinds.  To name a few: setting, familiarity and tone.  And once she connects, there is one sure-fire way to get her more deeply engaged in a story.

In her words: “It delights me when a character does something unexpected, but in character.” 

The moral: Writer, know thy character.  Henceforth the boot camp.

On Rejection: It doesn’t mean the story isn’t any good or that a writer can’t writer.  It just means “I personally didn’t react to this in a way that makes me the best advocate.”

So there.  No does not mean we have failed.  I just means our story failed to create a stong enough connection with one particular agent/editor.

And on a whole new level: I met Agent Awesome–sat by him at the opening, as a matter of fact.  I also met another one of his clients.  Imagine that, two clients within six hours of each other.  That’s a pretty big deal when you consider writers the sheer miles it took to get here!  And she’s super sweet.

Well, really, all writers who attend SCBWI conferences are sweet.  I’ve been to five over the years and never once have I found any highschool drama.  There are no prom queens among us.  We are all working toward our dream of putting our writing into the hands of children.  And that is enough to humble the published and support the newbies.

SCBWI rocks…and not just because their directions were impeccable.

Okay, time to decompress with a good book and a little sleep.  More to come tomorrow.  Also, you can follow me in real-time @catewoods on twitter breaks.

hugs and good night

Ever Wonder about Library Books?

And how they got on the shelves?

Check out Books and Such Literary Agency’s blog for a low-down on how it all works and how this motivated agency is making inroads in the marketing world.

Some writers I know have shied away from the library market, pooh-poohing it as an unnecessary avenue in which to sell their books.  After all, library books are free, no?

Well yes, to the public.  But not really. 

Every book in a library has been purchased with real money.  With over 2,500 on the Library Locator–the nifty thing Books and Such is part of–this “free” market could help an author sell-through and earn back an advance.

 Not to mention, if a library is connected to the public education system like ours is, certain types of books can quickly make their way onto purchase orders–in multiple copies.  

So, is the library market an untapped avenue for you as a writer, or does this free service seem a bit too trifling to pursue?   Which shelves would you like to see you work on and why?

Personally, the library is my target.  It’s the quickest way for my books to find themselves in the hands of my intended audience.  Books are expensive and many households don’t have/use expendable cash for literature.  Yet every week, kids file down the hallway and make their way into the vastness of the library where they are encouraged to check out something–anything–just to get them to read.

And that, my friends, is where I want to be.  I want my unlucky pirate family to be waiting on the shelf, beautifully illustrated and just waiting to stow-away in the back pack of some elementary student. 

Not to say that the end cap at any bookstore would make me pout, but I do have fond childhood memories of libraries and virtually no bookstore moments beyond shaking hands with Louis L’Amour. 


Introducing the UMTS for Writers

I ordered a book last week.  If you haven’t heard, TK Richardson’s debut novel, Return the Heart, was released earlier this month.  I’ve been waiting for this moment for the better part of a year. 

My book was supposed to arrive last week Friday.  However, a quick click on my UPS confirmation link confirmed that the very important package I was tracking would not arrive on time. The reason?  A late train.  At exactly 5:07am on Thursday.  Thanks to a pokey engineer, my book languished in the UPS station all weekend instead of on my nightstand.

I was bummed that I couldn’t read it, but thankful I knew where it was and when to expect it.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could track our manuscripts so easily?

A simple link to the Universal Manuscript Tracking System would make our lives so much easier.  We wouldn’t have to worry and fret over where our manuscripts were at any given time.  We would know with the click of a key.

  • Monday, June 21, query departure via email at 7:42am.
  • Monday, June 21, query entered agent’s spam box at 7:42am.
  • Monday, June 21, e-query resent at 7:43am.

Already the stress is washing away.  Our query reached its destination.

  • Thursday, June 24, agent read query at 6:19pm.

Aha!  We got a read.  No more wondering if Dream Agent was out sick with H1N1.  He’s in the office and ready to roll!

  • Thursday, June 24, agent requested a full at 6:39pm.
  • Thursday, June 24, sealed envelop and put full in mail box at 6:40pm.
  • Saturday, June 26, full delivered to agent’s desk at 4:28pm.

By Friday, July 30th, we would be going a little schizo with the old, wait-and-see method.  Did our manuscript get lost in the mail?  Did Agent Awesome get in a car accident?  Is his mother giving birth to twins at this very moment?  What in the green blazes can possibly be more important than the Next Great American Novel?

Enter the Universal Manuscript Tracking System and we would know that Wonder Agent’s plane had been delayed and he was still hanging out out the Zimbabwe airport awaiting the next flight home.   

Oh blessed, mercy.  Our manuscript is still in the running.  With UMTS we wouldn’t fret about the fate of our manuscript–maybe the agent, but not our writing.

Assuming Uber Agent arrived back in the States, UMTS would alert us the second our manuscript left his desk and landed at the round table during the weekly editor’s meeting.  We could track when the marketing department sketched out the sales potential.  A confirmation email would pop up on our desktop when Agent America popped our return letter in the mail.

Estimated time of arrival: August 28th at 11:34am.

Still too stressful?  Upgrade to PUMTS, the premium service, and receive a summary tracking form delivered on June 21st the second your query leaves your email.

  • June 21: resend query due to spam catcher.
  • June 24: please send your full via snail mail.
  • July 30th: don’t fret, agent stuck in Zimbabwe.
  • August 28: Agent response due.  Estimated time of arrival: 11:34am.

With UMTS we would only have to stress over our morning coffee on August 28th.  Which is much preferable to getting hives for two months straight every time the phone rings or the mailman passes by in his little blue uniform. 

Wonder how much the Universal Instant Response Manuscript Tracking System would cost?

UIRMTS Confirmation Response

June 21st: 7:43am

Dear Author,

Please note that you will receive a contract for representation via snail mail at 11:34 am on August 28th.  While this sounds like a long wait, our system informs us that you will need to resend your query due to Greatest Agent Ever’s spam filter.  In addition, you will need to send a full via snail on June 24th.  After a difficult time with international travel, Agent Incredible will return to the States in early August.  He will immediately send your manuscript on the editorial rounds and respectfully submit an acceptance letter as soon as humanly possible.

Thanks for using the UIRMTS.  It has been our pleasure in furthering your literary career.

Happy Monday~ cat

Be Prepared

All night the song from Lion King has been going through my mind.   

It’s easy to think that we are prepared when we begin submitting our work.  Reality, however, may be much different. 

For instance, how well do you know your novel?  I mean really know it.  I’ve heard of writers attending critique sessions at conferences and when asked questions about where their manuscript is headed, they fail to have an answer.  They had been so wrapped up in other projects, they were no longer intimate with the details of their initial manuscript.

What are your MC’s motives?

How did you pick the villain?

Where does your novel take place and why?

Love your manuscript so much you can talk about it in short, concise thoughts.  Don’t risk losing your potential editor or agent or future reader by rambling about the plot. 

My Dear Daughter loves to regurgitate movies for me.  She always provides me the long version, complete with quotes and back tracking.

Your readership doesn’t love you as much as I love my daughter.  They will not have the patience for us to “remember” the details and spew them out willy nilly.

Be prepared.

Get a pitch–a one sentence summary of your novel–and be prepared to use it.

Prepare a mini-synopsis for those moments when someone asks for more, but has little time to spend while you search for the right words.

Reread your manuscript and familiarize yourself with the characters, plots and story that you are trying to sell.  Because if you can’t, nobody else will.

Be prepared.


PS.  If you don’t believe me about getting the facts straight from an earlier post, just check out the comments.  Laura was kind enough to spare me more than a day’s worth of embarrassment by reminding me which Disney movie this song was from.  Never assume and never forget to edit.

I’ll take one agent with a side of fries…

Shopping for agents and editors is a bit like going out to eat.

There’s the fast food method where purchases are made at the drive-thru based on a picture menu and a price.  I would equate this to a random search on the internet or a bound writer’s market of some kind. 

These are impulse buys at a time when we are rushed and excited and don’t really consider the fine points of an agency or publishing house.  We see something appealing (instant gratification) and subsequently spend our money on heart, not nutrition. 

Sadly, there are too many unreputable individuals in the publishing industry for us to make informed choices at the window.  Often, we choose poorly and end up paying for it in loss of rights, poor representation, or worse yet, being swindled out of our hard-earned money on services that reputable agents and editors do not charge for.

Next we have the smorgasboard buffet purchase where we can physically see and smell the goods rather than relying on a facsimile at the window.  Is the lettuce as crisp as it looks?  Is the pizza topped with one pepperoni in real life or the twenty-seven it shows on the menu?  Does it smell appetizing or greasy? 

Another advantage of walking through the buffet is the ability to see who else is eating there.  If everyone in the room weighs 700 pounds and is dressed in thread-bare clothes, we may consider that the food isn’t healthy or cheap.

If, on the other hand, the customers range from the beautifully dressed and svelt to the Average Joe in a pair of working blue jeans, it may indicate a balance between health and the price tag.

The problem with buffet submissions is that we often waste oddles of time.  Ours and agents.  Not everyone on the buffet will be into our type of story.  However, the temptation to sample everyone is strong and we end up querying our picture books to hard-core sci-fi agencies.  This benefits no one and frustrates everyone. 

Buffet queries often get returned as form rejections.  Submitting in this fashion is a matter of quantity and the return is iffy.  Some writers mass mail up to fifty agents or editors at a time.  If it’s a number’s game, they figure, eventually it will pay off. 

I don’t roll that way.  Instead, I prefer quality over quantity.  This would be the equivalent of finding the right restaraunt to take your beloved to on your first wedding anniversary.  Classy, good reviews, excellent food, specialized. 

This is the kind of agent I want. 

I want to know who I’m submitting to and why.  I want a track record, stellar word-of-mouth, good connections and experience in my genre.  If an offer for representation comes in, I want to say yes without scrambling to see if there is a “better” agent available. 

 So how do we find the five star agents?  The same way we find the five star food joints.  We research.  We speak with others who have worked with them.  We check out books they have repped or published to determine how our manuscript fits their tastes or needs.  We become selective in our search and submission process.

Resources to aid your seach:

  1. A market guide such as Writer’s Market.  There are choices besides the Writer’s Digest based books and can be found in print and online.  These are great starting points in my search. 
  2. Preditors and Editors: a low down on who’s got the goods and who doesn’t in the publishing arena.  If your initial targets score poorly here, it may be time to cross them off your list.  Another resource is Writer Beware. 
  3. Websites geared toward helping authors and agents connect.  Agent Query is incredible.  Query Tracker is spoken highly of in my writing communities in regards to helping writers pinpoint potential markets for their manuscripts. 
  4. Writing organizations that provide a sense of community.  On or offline organizations can be found.  I belong to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  They provide timely and accurate information as well as many opportunities for writers of juvenile literature.
  5. Other blogs or websites that cater to the emerging writer and provide well-rounded advice and recommendations.  They can be found everywhere.  Howevever, pay attention to the author of such blogs and sites.  What do they have to gain by providing their POV?  Writer Beware has a section on blogs.
  6. Agent or Publishing House websites.  Be specific in your research.  What do they want and how do they want it?  Their home site should always trump printed info.
  7. Conferences: track down your top choices and see if they’re speaking.  Meeting agents or editors personally can go a long way in understanding their visions and whether you’ll click with them or not.  Editors and agents also give far more specific insight into their tastes and wants than you can find elsewhere.

Consider all the time you spent writing and revising your manuscript.  Do you really want to order a side of fries and a milk shake?  Or do you want to wow your beloved with a prime-rib dinner in a quaint atmosphere?   My advice: 

Seek quality agents and editors to handle your baby.  Don’t just pass it off to the assistant at the drive-thru window.

What’s your advice on finding an agent or editor?  Have you shopped in the wrong place before?  If so, what tips can you provide to help others from making your mistakes?

Universal Appeal

By now some of you have met my DH.  You know he manages an ag dealership and hunts small, helpless animals.  Ostensibly to feed the family, though I’m not sure how Mr. Hare fits into that.  DH’s also a fitness buff.

Two years ago, he insisted on having his own work out room in the basement.  I’m pretty agreeable so I helped design the room and carry the stair master, the treadmill and the rowing machine down the stairs.  I stopped at the Universal Gym. Mostly because it was heavy, but also because I dislike them. 

Which leads me to the question: why do they call it universal?

It has no bicycle saddle, I can’t climb stairs on it and the last time I tried to sprint on it, I fell off and broke my nose.  Okay, that didn’t really happen, but you get the picture.  It is not universal.  Nor does it have universal appeal.  For every ounce of love DH has for it, I equal it in hate.

Literature is no different.  Not one novel in the history of writing has universal appeal.  For every advocate, there is a dissenter.  And yet aspiring writers continue to judge themselves by the books they do not like. 

As much as I like to pretend otherwise, I have fallen into this trap.  Tucked inside my desk drawer is a hideous picture book that I do not like.  I keep it because it inspires me. 

“If ABC got published then surely my XYZ will,” I say as I stuff the book into the far recesses of my desk.

Does this make me a snob?  Maybe.  Most definitely.

But I’ve been trying to change.  Over the years I have learned that the publishing industry is highly complex.  It is not a solo jog on the treadmill.  Rather, it’s a lot like those pulleys and weights on DH’s universal machine.  Everything is interconnected in ways I don’t always see or can’t begin to understand.  Yet my lack of comprehension does not change the fact that these systems must all work together to create the end result.

In writing, I must have talent, ability and perseverence just to get my story onto paper.  This is closely followed by motivation and honesty.  Yep, honesty.  I have to assess my writing with a discerning eye. 

Instead of dragging my old nemesis, The Picture Book, out from the drawer and comparing it to my work, I have to look at my writing indpendently.  They are two completely different pieces of literature.  Someone already believed in that book.  Mine has yet to wow the Publishing Gods.  And, inevitably, my writing will have faults too.  Who knows, it may be tucked away in another aspiring writer’s desk drawer for inspiration.

I hate the reality of that, but it doesn’t stop me from trying.  Sometimes years go by before a manuscript is ready for a serious work out–the one it will get by agents and editors and marketing departments and design staff.  At any stage in the process, someone can decide that my proposed, next best-seller hits them like The Picture Book hits me.   

No writing has universal appeal.  I loved the Bartimaeus Trilogy, my brother didn’t read past the first five pages.  Yet it made the rounds and can be found in a book store near you.

For a manuscript to journey from rough draft to end caps, it must undergo a rigorous work out on the universal machine.  We must provide the best work possible.  Our agents must love, love, love our book enough to gamble next year’s mortgage on it.  Editors, marketing managers and designers must believe in the project enough to put their sweat and ink into it.

If writing is a quick stint on the Stair Master, publishing is a work out on the Universal Gym.  I can tone my manuscript solo, but without the pulleys and weights, my writing will remain in my desk drawer next to The Picture Book.

It’s not to say everyone will love my books after purchasing them with their hard earned money.  I’m smart enough to know that.  However, somewhere along the way, I must have a team willing to pull for me. 

I’m sure that has Universal Appeal!

Do you find yourself comparing your work to published pieces?  If so, what do you take away from the experience?  Does it help you move forward or simply fuel your frustration?

Have you ever found a book with Universal Appeal?  If so, I’d like to know about it.

The Seven Degrees of Beta Readers

Manuscript critique is an integral part in a writer’s journey from rough draft to polished manuscript.  When we critique our own work, it’s called editing.  Each manuscript usually goes through any number of self-critiques by the author.  However, somewhere along the line, we need an extra set of eyes and a fresh perspective to help us really see the nuances of our writing: what works?  What doesn’t? 

I am a firm believer that Beta Readers of all ilk are desirable.  Even the least likely person to articulate their thoughts can make a tremendous impact on a manuscript’s direction–as long as we’re willing to listen.

And so I bring you The Seven Degrees of Beta Readers.

  1. White Belt: Those Who Love You.  Moms and grandmas make great White Belt readers because they boost your ego and encourage you to write more.  White Belts give great back pats and say things like, “Wonderful.  I loved it.”  What they really mean is “I’m proud of you for actually stringing all those words together.”  This is valuable feedback–not on the manuscript, but about you as a writer.  It is encouragement to reach for the stars.
  2. Orange Belt: Friends.  Find the ones who love you enough to read your work, but not enough to lie to you.  Orange Belts can be the first real feedback on your story as a whole.  However, be specific about what you want these Orange Belts to do.  In the past, I’ve handed mine a clean copy and said, “Jot down questions as you go, let me know where you’re confused and certainly please note the typos if they jump out at you.”  This is a great process for finding those niggling plot problems like “How long does it take for maggots to infest a dead fish?” 
  3. Yellow Belt: Expert in the Field.  If you’re writing a religious piece, hit up your clergy for a take on realism.  For a psychological thriller, find a willing psychologist to pinpoint what works and what doesn’t regarding mental health.  Kids make great Yellow Belt readers.  Have middle graders and teens stop reading when they get bored and mark the spot.  Watch the eyes and actions of younger kids when you read aloud.  When attention is lost, your manuscript needs work. 
  4. Blue Belt: Critique Partner.  These can be difficult to find, but they earn their belts by slogging through manuscrips of writing buddies and receiving critiques in return for their efforts.  The internet has made it possible to find like-minded writers anywhere in the world.  Face to face groups are a little more difficult to organize, but can be found by hitting the library and writing conferences.  Keep in mind that this arrangement is the only Beta Reader that is a partnership.  Balance is key.  Critique and be critiqued.  Respect and be respected.
  5. Green Belt: Mentor.  Writers come in varying degrees of experience.  Finding a mentor with experience, time and committment can be magical.  Having a Green Belt on your side makes your learning curve in the writing industry much shorter.  These relationships are more one sided, with the mentor doing the critiquing, guiding and cultivating.  Mentorships can be awarded at writer’s conferences.  That’s how Kate DiCamillo got her start.  They can also be found via social networking.  When something clicks, go with it.
  6. Purple Belt: Writing Instructor/Coach.  Colleges often offer creative writing classes, while some seminars or writing institutes offer correspondence courses.  Freelance coaches can also be found online or at conferences.  With Purple Belts come fees.  The coach is paid to read, critique and shape you as a writer.  Before signing up, make sure you know what you’re getting out of the course and who the instructor is.  You don’t want a bitter failed-writer-turned-teacher to coach you. 
  7. Brown Belt: Freelance Editor.  These Beta Readers should be skilled in the English language and the art of story telling.  Check them out before committing and forking over your hard earned cash.  In return for your money, you should receive professional advice on your manuscript.  Just remember, they don’t love you like a White Belt and they will not lie.  Make sure you are ready for the hard truth before sending out your baby.  If you’re unprepared, dreams can die in the hands of a Brown Belt.  The flip-side is that dreams can also be realized if you’re willing to gut out the process and take yourself seriously.  This degree of reader is not for the faint of heart.

And finally, when your manuscript has gone through various types for readers, each nitpicking their own thing, you are ready for the Master Ninja.  The Black Belts of the writing world.  The highest Beta Reader of them all. 

Your agent or editor. 

These Black Belts love your writing enough to take a gamble on your book.  They offer time, expertise and committment–as long as you are willing to work hard with them on rewrites, marketing and self-promotion.  It is a partnership, a mentorship and, if you’re lucky, a friendship. 

Like all things in writing, The Seven Degrees is not set in stone.  Beta Readers can be fluid.  They can put on different belts depending on the project and earn higher belts as they mature and grow.

The most important thing to remember about Beta Readers is this: every time someone reads your writing, they are doing you a favor–whether you like the outcome or not.  Getting back a less than stellar critique doesn’t negate the time and attention put into it. 

Be specific about what you want and realistic about what you’ll get.  Advice is yours to take or ditch.  Consider the critique carefully and learn what you can from the input, even if you don’t agree with it. 

And always, thank your Beta Reader with a smile, no matter which belt they wear. 


Clean Lines-in books and in bedrooms

For Christmas, Dear Hubby and I exchanged bed sets. 

We replaced our old and ratty one for a shiny, new one.  It was time.  The mattress was sagging, the dressers were nicked up and the night stand was really an end table masquerading as a place to put our lamp. 

Our new bedroom is dark, heavy and full of clean lines.  There is nothing extra in our room and, in fact, we purged a chair, some pictures, candles and other “things”.  We also replaced the dingy, four-kids-and-a-dog, white carpet (not our choice) for a yummy chocolate flecked, low nap piece that will wear much better.

It was a great exchange and reminds me of my latest edit project.  Getting rid of favorite words, phrases and scenes can be extremely difficult.  Obviously I wrote them for a reason.  I loved them.  I wanted to keep them forever.  But somewhere along the way, they got worn out. 

Like the carpet, they didn’t withstand multiple readings.  They became faded and matted down.  No longer exciting to walk on.  Chapters became catch-alls for extra words like our dressers collecting trinkets.  Shiny baubles that we thought spruced up the place.  In reality, they did nothing but clutter.

Thanks to two outstanding critiquers, she-who-shall-remain-nameless and my cyber buddy, my chapter book manuscript has been pared down to the essentials.  I ditched the pretty baubles and replaced them with strong, active words that moved the story along. 

Monday I finished up my “final” edit and have since fallen in love with my story all over again.  Just in time.  An agent I queried last spring requested a full.  To non-writers, that means, the agent wants to read the entire manuscript before deciding whether he/she wants to represent it.  It’s a huge step in the endless cycle of submissions. 

So how can we ensure our manuscripts have clean, uncluttered lines?  In theory, the process is simple.  In practice, it can be hard–if only because parting with things we created can be gut-wrenching.  Here’s how I edit.

  1. Print out a paper copy of the rough draft and attack it.  I cut entire chapters, add new ones and generally do a lot of road work–filling in plot holes and connecting the story arc to make sure my road gets from point A to point B.
  2. Fix story discrepencies, fill out characters, watch for typos (always) and pay attention to things like pet words (that, suddenly, etc), dialogue tags (adding action rather than he sighed, she harrumphed) and weak verbs (replacing was going with things like ran, trudged and snuck).  Beta readers are helpful at this stage.
  3. Read the manuscript from front to back to “listen” with my reader’s ear. 
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 until I have replaced my old and ratty manuscript for a shiny, new one.

How do you exchange your rough draft for a clean-lined, ready to submit manuscript?  What kinds of things do you find cluttering up your metaphorical dresser?  What wears down your writing like foot-traffic on a carpet?

Happy editing~ cat

P.S. As a side note, agents and editors are like interior decorators–no matter how perfect our manuscripts might seem to us, they have an eye for finding a better color combo, a great accent piece and the forgotten plot bunnies hiding under the bed.