Are You Sure It’s Ready?

Everybody wants to get published. Once my first manuscript was completed, I didn’t hesitate to send it out. I knew it had a few grammatical and structural errors. There’s no way you can catch them all. That’s what an editor is for, right? My story was so good, or so I thought, an agent would jump on it and have their editors correct my mistakes.

Well, that wasn’t exactly what happened. I’ve written numerous posts outlining the errors I made in that first very, very rough draft. When you begin your writing career, odds are you don’t know what you don’t know. Writing a publishable piece of work isn’t easy.

I received a rejection letter from every agent I submitted to with the exception of one, who I like to think saw a promising new author in that mess somewhere. She did reject my work as well, but instead of sending a form letter, she praised what was right and pointed out what was wrong.

Her list was long, and I was more than a little shocked once I realized how rough that first draft really was. She used words like head-hopping, writtenese, and dragging dialogue. That didn’t even include the grammatical and structural errors. You know, the ones the editor was going to correct :-), although she pointed those out too.

Do your homework and remember, that first draft is the first draft. Get it done, then get it good.

Something to think about!

-Jan R

Are You Sure It’s Ready?

Will Your Manuscript Be Rejected?

This is one of my favorite blogs. I wish I could claim it, but the post was actually written by Jerry Jenkins. I love his work. If you haven’t visited him, I would highly recommend you do. He did put a disclaimer at the end of this article saying it was ok to share with friends, so I am in no way stealing his work. Hope this helps someone and hope you consider visiting his site.

It doesn’t sound fair.

It doesn’t seem right.

But here’s a dirty little secret of the writing life you need to hear:

Any veteran editor can tell within two minutes whether they’re going to reject your manuscript.

It takes longer to decide whether they’ll recommend it for purchase, of course, but—sad to say—it can, and often does, go into the reject pile just that fast.

“What?” you say. “Before I’ve had a chance to wow them with my stupendous villain? Before my mind-blowing twist? Before my plot really takes off?”

Sorry.

And I’m not exaggerating.

Why?

Because the competition is so stiff and editors have so many manuscripts to read, you have only nanoseconds to grab them by the throat and hang on.

Every writing mentor hammers at this ad infinitum: Your editor is your first reader.

Every word counts. You get one chance. You must capture them from the get-go.

Am I saying editors look for reasons to reject your work?

No, no, a thousand times no! They’re looking for the next Harry Potter!

Editors want you to succeed!

Then how can they know so quickly that your book won’t cut it?

In my lifetime in the business I’ve heard dozens of reasons, but let me give you my personal top five from my experience as both an editor and publisher:

  1. Throat-clearing

This is what editors call anything that comes before a story or chapter finally, really, begins. It usually consists of a page or two of scene setting and background. Get on with the story. Get your main character introduced, establish and upset some status quo, then plunge him into terrible trouble that reveals the engine of your story. Is it a quest, a journey, a challenge, what?

There’ll be plenty of time to work in all those details that seemed so important while you were throat-clearing that would have cost you a sale. For now, your job is to start with a bang.

  1. Too many characters introduced too quickly

I’m usually wary of generalizations or hard and fast rules, but almost any time I see more than three characters within the first few pages, my eyes start to swim. If I feel like I need a program to keep track of the players, I quickly lose interest.

Your reader is trying to comprehend the story, and if you ask him to start cataloging a cast of characters right away, you risk losing him. Keep things simple until the story has taken shape.

  1. Point of View violations

Maintain a single Point of View (POV) for every scene. Violate that cardinal rule and you expose yourself as an amateur right out of the gate. Beginners often defend themselves against this criticism by citing classics by famous authors or citing J.K. Rowling, the exception who proves the rule.

Times change. Readers’ tastes evolve. This is the rule for today, and it’s true of what sells.

  1. Clichés, and not just words and phrases

There are also clichéd situations, like starting your story with the main character waking to an alarm clock, a character describing herself while looking in a full-length mirror, future love interests literally bumping into each other upon first meeting, etc.

Also avoid beginning with an evocative, dramatic scene, and surprise, surprise, the main character wakes up to discover it’s all been a dream. There’s nothing wrong with dreams, but having them come as surprises has been used to death and takes all the air from the balloon of your story.

It’s also a cliché to have your main character feel his heart pound, race, thud, or hammer; and then he gasps, sucks wind, his breath comes short… If you describe the scene properly, your reader should experience all that and you shouldn’t have to say your character did. Put your character into a rough enough situation, and the reader will know what he’s feeling without having to be told—and hopefully, he’ll share his distress.

  1. Simply bad writing:
  • Written-ese

This is what I call that special language we all tend to use when we forget to Just Say It. I recently edited this sentence from a beginner: “The fire drop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

I had to read a few more paragraphs to have a clue to what it even meant. That’s written-ese.

Hollywood screenwriters coined this term for prose that exactly mirrors real life but fails to advance your plot. There’s nothing wrong with the words themselves, except that they could be synopsized to save the reader’s time and patience. A perfect example is replacing all the hi’s and hello’s and how are you’s that precede meaningful dialogue with something like: “After trading pleasantries, Jim asked Fred if he’d heard about what had happened to Tricia. ‘No, what?’”

  • Passive voice

Avoid state-of-being verbs. Change sentences like “There was a man standing…” to “A man stood…”

  • Needless words

The most famous rule in the bible of writing hints, The Elements of Style, is “Omit Needless Words,” which follows its own advice. This should be the hallmark of every writer.

Example: The administrative assistant ushered me through the open door into the CEO’s office, and I sat down in a chair across from his big, wood desk.

Edit: Obviously, there would be a door. And even more obviously, it would be open. If I sat, I would sit “down,” and naturally it would be in a chair. Because I’m seeing the CEO, a description of his desk would be notable only if it weren’t big or wood.

Result: The administrative assistant ushered me into the CEO’s office, and I sat across from his desk.

Re-examine these 5 common mistakes, and study more self-editing tips here

-Jan R

Will Your Manuscript Be Rejected?

Are You Ready for This?

I hate waiting. The anticipation and anxiety of not knowing what is going to happen stresses me out. Unfortunately waiting is a part of the process when you submit your work to literary agents. Well, unless they are the ones who get back with you immediately after you submit your query, in which case you know they had an automatic rejection letter that went out, and they didn’t even look at your work.

I guess I shouldn’t be so hard on the automatic rejections. I know these agents receive hundreds of proposals weekly, and at least I have a response right away. I’m not sitting on the couch twiddling my thumbs and wondering what’s going on with those particular proposals.

If you have followed my blog, you know my first manuscript is intitled Always and Forever. I’ve worked on it off and on for about 10 years. Like many of you, I poured my heart into it, got my first round of rejections, and pushed it to the side for a while opting to work on something else.

After I got past the sting of the initial rejections, I took classes and read books on how to write fiction novels. I joined a critique group and heard from objective readers just what they thought of my work – what was working and what wasn’t. Something I should have started out with.

I spent another year or so revising and revising again trying to find the perfect balance. Once I was comfortable with my manuscript, I sent it out a second time, only to receive total and complete rejection. Needless to say, the work was shelved.

Throughout this process, I did have one agent to take the time to tell me why my work was rejected. While the premise was a good one, it wasn’t ready. She pointed out the head hopping, dragging dialogue, and numerous structural and grammatical errors that the agents couldn’t see past. While I was able to resolve the issue with head hopping and work on the dialogue, I’m not an editor. My friend’s aren’t either by the way. It’s not fair or realistic to expect your friends and family to read your manuscript and identify all the issues. Unless of course, they are editors.

Maybe your work isn’t as ready as you think it is. I finally hired that editor. She wasn’t cheap, but we came up with a plan that I could live with.

I just sent out proposals again and have received my first request for the full manuscript. I will keep you posted 🙂

-Jan R

Are You Ready for This?

Does My Novel Have to be Perfect?

Yes!!!!!! Especially if this is your first book.  If you’ve already written a best seller, your agent and editor may cut you some slack. If not, that book better be pretty close to perfect, or nobody is going to look at it.  I know you’ve heard this before if you’ve done any type of research, but agents receive hundreds and sometimes thousands of queries a week. They don’t have time to read everyone.  If your manuscript is full of grammatical and structural errors, that’s all the excuse they need to toss it to the side and move on to the next one.

I sent my first manuscript out to five different agents.  I was very excited and a little anxious to hear what they had to say.  I expected some rejections, but not all.  I had put over a year into that novel.  It was my baby. Well, two didn’t respond at all, one said no thanks, and another said it wasn’t what they were looking for. The fifth one responded with a rejection, but also included a why. While she thought I had a really good premise, there were numerous grammatical and structural errors and the dialogue dragged. In short, she said it wasn’t ready for publication.

I was disappointed, but I did take her advice to heart and began the process of editing and correcting structural and grammatical errors, as well as addressing the dragging dialogue. I never really thought about dialogue moving a story before, but I see it now and have a pretty good understanding of what the agent was trying to say.

Truth be known, I was ashamed of myself for sending such poor work to an agent.  I never realized how bad it was until I began the arduous process of making corrections. I definitely didn’t make a good first impression.

-Jan R

Does My Novel Have to be Perfect?

Don’t Give Up!

I write a lot about perseverance, because from everything I’ve read, it’s the one characteristic all published authors have in common. They don’t give up! They take their day or two or however long they need to get over the rejection from yet another agent, and then they dust themselves off and get back to work.

Don’t take rejections personal. The agent’s/publisher’s decision is business related, and truth be known, it may have nothing to do with your manuscript. If there are no obvious flaws with your work, send it out to other agents. Just because you were rejected by one agent, doesn’t mean you will be by the next.

The New York Times best selling author of “The Help”, was rejected by 60 different agents. You read that right. Her 61st attempt was a success. The book was on the best seller list for the entire year and eventually made into a movie.

So why do books get rejected?

Maybe your manuscript just isn’t ready.

  • The author can’t format, spell, and doesn’t understand grammar. The result is  incomprehensible sentences that leave the reader confused, pulling them completely out of the story.
  • Dragging dialogue, head hopping, poor character development, plot holes, info dumping…
  • Maybe your work isn’t that bad and with competent editing, it’s publishable. Staff editors don’t have the time and sometimes don’t even have the necessary experience to clean your work up. Hire an editor before you send your manuscript out for consideration if self-editing isn’t an option.

Maybe your manuscript is ready but….

  • The agent/agency has an abundance of the genre you just submitted, and they are not accepting anything new in that genre until their inventory decreases.  You really weren’t a fit for what they were looking for.
  • Maybe the agent/publisher reviewing your work is in such a bad mood, they would turn down  Nicholas Sparks “The Notebook”,  even if it was handed to them on a silver platter – twenty four did. Agents make mistakes.
  • Maybe the storyline/subject matter you’re writing about isn’t selling right now. Zombie books are getting old. People want something new.
  • The publisher could literally be in a cash crunch, and no matter how great your book is, they can’t purchase it right now. They have a freeze in place until some books start selling, and they can build up their reserves.

What I’m trying to say, is there are a lot of reasons books get rejected, and they may have nothing to do with your work. I’ve read more than once, that perseverance is the key.

If you have a great, publishable piece of work, don’t give up, submit it to other agencies for review. If you have less than perfect work, roll up your sleeves and get to work. Don’t expect someone to fix it for you. They won’t.

It might be time to hire that editor, but don’t give up!!!

-Jan R

Don’t Give Up!

Remember – Less Isn’t Always More!

I think one of the best problems an author can have is writing too much. You shared more information than was necessary. It’s a lot easier to go back and cut than it is to add new content. At least it is for me.

The problem I struggle with is how much should I cut. I’ve been known to take a hatchet to a piece when a whittling tool would have worked much better. A quote I read recently stuck in my head and sums it up perfectly. “Less is more, unless it’s not enough.” David Corbett.

I understand and am living that quote right now. I have a project I’ve been working on for years. Yes, I said years, and before you get to critical, note that the average novel takes 7-10 years to get published. I wrote a blog on it one time to encourage my readers and myself.

At any rate, I took a hatchet to the project and lost interest in it. Every time I pick it up for editing and/or revision, I want to just put it down and be done with it. A story I once loved, had lost its appeal.

Before I even ran across this quote, I had begun to take a closer look at my work. Why wasn’t it appealing anymore? Well, for one thing, the opening wasn’t grabbing my attention and compelling me to move forward.

I deleted the prologue because I read somewhere that they were a no-no. In doing so, I lost the events that compelled the reader to move forward. I lost a thread that was interwoven into the fabric of the story and pulled everything together. I lost important details that were necessary for the reader to make sense of why certain things were happening the way they were.

The quote, “Less is more unless it’s not enough“, describes what I’ve been dealing with perfectly.  Thank goodness I don’t completely delete my work. It’s still there. My plan is to retrieve that prologue. The first chapter will be set 20 years later and the story will go from there.

And by the way, sometimes a prologue is necessary and works, but I’ll talk about that another day.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Remember – Less Isn’t Always More!

Maybe You Should Consider Biting The Bullet!

imageI’ve been working on Always And Forever for about nine years now. Well to be honest, I became discouraged on many occasions. Especially when I received rejections from newly solicited agents. I had gone through the novel for the umpteenth time, and I knew I had corrected every little mistake that could have possibly been overlooked during previous reviews. So, it would probably be more accurate to say I worked on the book for nine years off and on. Some of those offs were many months in duration.

I’ve tried to walk away from the book, but I can’t.  It’s a great story waiting to be told. It’s also a thorn in my side. As much as I try to push it away and move on, I find myself drawn back into the story and a desire to see it published.

One of the Agents I sent my work to, said I had a great premise but the story was riddled with grammatical and structural errors, head hopping, and dragging dialogue. It wasn’t ready for publication.

I took her constructive criticism to heart and took courses, read books, and worked on my manuscript feverishly in an attempt to make it publishable. Well here we are Nine years later and I still have a piece of work riddled with grammatical and structural errors, with no head hopping, and forward moving dialogue.

I’ve had friends read my novel and point out mistakes. I’ve used several online grammar programs, but I still have a piece of work with an unacceptable number of grammatical errors. It’s not ready.

A month ago, a lady that I know started an editing business and said she would love to look at my work. As a favor to me, she reviewed and provided corrections to my prologue and first chapter no charge.

I was appalled at the number of errors she cited. I have no idea how I could have missed so many small things. I was seeing for the first time what the literary agents were seeing when they reviewed my work, and I fully understood what the one agent had offered when she said it wasn’t ready.

Needless to say, I have hired her to help me with the rest of the book. It is an expense, but I’ve come to realize that we can’t edit our own work. As authors, we are to close and can’t see what jumps off the page for people with trained eyes.

Maybe it’s time to bite the bullet. And yes I know that’s a cliché,  but it sums up perfectly what I’m trying to say 🙂

Something to think about.

 

-Jan R

 

Maybe You Should Consider Biting The Bullet!

Commas, Commas, And More Commas!

Lets-eat-grandpaCommas are an albatross around my neck. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but they are frequently my downfall in writing prose. Unfortunately, they are the most common punctuation mark within sentences, so you had better learn their proper use.

What’s the purpose of commas?

  1. Separate main clauses linked by a coordinating conjunction.                                     Example: The house was built, but it had no tenants.                                                                             The meal was cooked, and the kitchen was cleaned.

2.  Set off most introductory elements.                                                                                              Example: Unfortunately, the rest of the house was a mess.                                                                           Of course, I would love to go.

3.  Set off nonessential elements (phrases that could be removed from the sentence              and not affect its meaning)                                                                                                                  Example: The injury, sustained from the fall, needed to be taken care of. The words          set apart by the commas are informative but not necessary to convey the idea.

4.  Separate item in a series/list.                                                                                                           Example: She had eggs, grits, sausage, and bacon for breakfast.

5.  Separate coordinate adjectives.                                                                                                       Example:  She was an independent, hardworking woman.                                                                              The warm, cozy comforter was all I needed.

6.  Separate quotations and signal phrases( she said, he wrote, said Elsie).                          Example: “Knowledge is power,” wrote Francis Bacon.                                                                                    Lisa said, “Do not walk on the grass.”                                                                            There are some exceptions to this rule.                                                                                        Example: “That part of my life was over,” she wrote. “His words had sealed it shut.”                              “Claude!” Jamie called.                                                                                                                          James Baldwin insists that “one must never, in one’s life, accept…injustices                            as commonplace.” (It’s integrated into the sentence so a comma isn’t                                        necessary.)

7. Separate parts of dates, addresses, place names, and long numbers.                                 Example:  July 4, 1776, is independence day.  December 1941(doesn’t need a comma)                              Raleigh, North Carolina, is the location of NC State University.                             Do not use a comma between a state name and a zip code.

8. Use the comma to separate long numbers in groups of three. With numbers of 4          digits, the comma is optional.                                                                                                          Example: 1,000,000                                                                                                                                                    1000

Okay, now you know what I know. This exercise was as much for me as it was for you.       Hopefully, I can retain the information and use it during my next revision 🙂

Hope it helped.

-Jan R

Commas, Commas, And More Commas!

Less Isn’t Always More!

editing-tips-300x230I think one of the best problems an author can have is overwriting. You shared more information than was necessary. It’s a lot easier to go back and cut than it is to add new content. At least it is for me.

The problem I struggle with is how much should I cut. I’ve been known to take a hatchet to a piece when a widdling tool would have worked much better. A quote I read recently stuck in my head and sums it up perfectly. “Less is more, unless it’s not enough.” David Corbett.

I understand and am living that quote right now. I have a project I’ve been working on for years. Yes, I said years, and before you get to critical, note that the average novel takes 7-10 years to get published. I wrote a blog on it one time to encourage my readers and myself.

At any rate, I took a hatchet to the project and lost interest in it. Every time I pick it up for editing and/or revision, I want to just put it down and be done with it. A story I once loved, has lost its appeal.

The past few days, before I even ran across this quote, I had begun to take a closer look at my work. Why wasn’t it appealing anymore? Well, for one thing, the opening wasn’t grabbing my attention and compelling me to move forward.

I deleted the prologue because I read somewhere that they were a no-no. In doing so, I lost the events that compelled the reader to move forward. I lost a thread that was interwoven into the fabric of the story and pulled everything together. I lost important details that were necessary for the reader to make sense of why certain things were happening the way they were.

The quote, “Less is more unless it’s not enough“, describes what I’ve been dealing with perfectly.  Thank goodness I don’t completely delete my work. It’s still there. My plan is to retrieve that prologue and make it my first chapter. The second chapter will be set 20 years later and the story will go from there.

And by the way, sometimes a prologue is necessary and works, but I’ll talk about that another day.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

 

Less Isn’t Always More!

Stay Active – Revisited

active-passive.jpgWhen you write, you want to use the active voice. It’s clean, concise, and simple. The active voice is easy to read and understand.

Subject + Verb

  • Susie sang.
  • Michael ate.
  • Jeffery kicked.

Subject + Verb + Direct Object

  • Susie sang songs.
  • Michael ate soup.
  • Jeffery kicked cans.

These examples are basic, and can be embellished with adjectives, adverbs, modifiers, etc. to dress them up, but the Subject/Verb order should remain the same.

95% of your sentences should be written in the active voice. You want the doer/subject at the beginning of the sentence.

When you use the passive voice in writing, you have to introduce new parts of speech just to make the sentence mean the same as it would in active voice. The result is a wordy sentence that makes you wait to find out who the subject is.

Passive voice – Direct Object + Dead Verb + Participle form of Verb + optional Preposition + optional Subject.

The winner was written on the community board by Carol. (Passive)

Carol wrote the winner on the community board. (Active)

As you can see, passive voice is not simply a reversal of active voice. It has additions, and I haven’t discussed the fact that many passive sentences are incomplete.

The message was sent.

So the above sentence is grammatically correct, but it’s missing information. Who sent the message, and to whom was it sent?

Why would anybody use the passive voice? Well it comes in handy if you’re a businessman or politician. It allows you to avoid responsibility.

  • Your position has been eliminated. vs. I eliminated your position.
  • Your taxes will be raised. vs. I will raise your taxes.

When you’re writing a novel, you’re not trying to avoid responsibility. You’re trying to draw your reader into an exciting adventure that keeps your reader turning pages until the very end.

Keep your sentences active. Something to think about 🙂

-Jan R

Stay Active – Revisited