Your Manuscript is Done! Now What?

I’m a slow writer. In creating my novel, I followed author Linda Sue Park’s advice, “Write something every day and then first thing the next day, review and revise it, then keep writing.” Sometimes the next day does not lead to writing, just revising. Or, the whole section might be deleted and you start over. Good writing takes time. A favorite professor at Trinity University told us, “There is no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing.” I’m sure Hemingway or someone famous said that first, but Frank Kerznowski gets the credit today.

After countless hours of living with your characters, the time inevitably comes when you need to share them with someone who can be trusted, someone who is also a writer. These professional friends become your “first readers.” I asked for feedback from a few of them and they so kindly complied, by sending a red line edit back to me or an email with their thoughts. Because A Minor (my novel) intensely weaves classical music into the plot, I asked a dear Redbud Writer’s Guild friend if she would assess the manuscript from a musical perspective. She was a piano performance major in college and she had plenty of wise contributions and questions for me to think through like, Tchaikovsky vs. Chopin concerto choices? What to do about that? Go back to the desk. These comments invoke the need for more research which leads to more revising than anticipated. I fell in love with Chopin’s F minor Piano Concerto as a result.

A manuscript group is invaluable. In my suburban world this looks like a bunch of well dressed women who meet once a month to drink wine, eat low calorie food, laugh and cry over the work presented and then tear your work to shreds. Of course, you’ve known these women for years so everything they share is worthy of your ear and heart. In the group, there should be some more experienced writers than you are and some less experienced. One of the best critiques that came to me from this group was, “She is having a miscarriage on the bathroom floor. Don’t tell me that in one line, tell me all about it. What happened before, what happens after. How was she feeling in that moment?” Because they are women, they will think about your work from a feminine perspective so make sure some of your first readers are men as well, seek balance.

Once your work has survived these rounds in the ring, you are ready for “Joe Plumber.” I found it insightful to receive feedback from someone who was not a literature major, does not write, does not talk about T.S.Eliot at the dinner table, but does read A LOT. What would the average reader tell someone else about your manuscript? I wanted to know. Listen to them. They probably won’t email a detailed summary of comments, but they will tell it to you straight. Revising will be needed after you hear from them. Now you are ready to seek out a real editor who will comb through your manuscript and fix your writing deficits. Mine fell mostly in the realm of point-of-view, too many people speaking and thinking in a chapter. Because this is my first novel and I believed in the story, I decided to pay someone who specialized in fiction editing to do this. It added a couple more months to the writing process, but it put the manuscript in a place of readiness to send out to potential agents and publishers. That is where the fun really begins!

Your Manuscript is Done! Now What?

I’m a slow writer. In creating my novel, I followed author Linda Sue Park’s advice, “Write something every day and then first thing the next day, review and revise it, then keep writing.” Sometimes the next day does not lead to writing, just revising. Or, the whole section might be deleted and you start over. Good writing takes time. A favorite professor at Trinity University told us, “There is no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing.” I’m sure Hemingway or someone famous said that first, but Frank Kerznowski gets the credit today.

After countless hours of living with your characters, the time inevitably comes when you need to share them with someone who can be trusted, someone who is also a writer. These professional friends become your “first readers.” I asked for feedback from a few of them and they so kindly complied, by sending a red line edit back to me or an email with their thoughts. Because A Minor (my novel) intensely weaves classical music into the plot, I asked a dear Redbud Writer’s Guild friend if she would assess the manuscript from a musical perspective. She was a piano performance major in college and she had plenty of wise contributions and questions for me to think through like, Tchaikovsky vs. Chopin concerto choices? What to do about that? Go back to the desk. These comments invoke the need for more research which leads to more revising than anticipated. I fell in love with Chopin’s F minor Piano Concerto as a result.

A manuscript group is invaluable. In my suburban world this looks like a bunch of well dressed women who meet once a month to drink wine, eat low calorie food, laugh and cry over the work presented and then tear your work to shreds. Of course, you’ve known these women for years so everything they share is worthy of your ear and heart. In the group, there should be some more experienced writers than you are and some less experienced. One of the best critiques that came to me from this group was, “She is having a miscarriage on the bathroom floor. Don’t tell me that in one line, tell me all about it. What happened before, what happens after. How was she feeling in that moment?” Because they are women, they will think about your work from a feminine perspective so make sure some of your first readers are men as well, seek balance.

Once your work has survived these rounds in the ring, you are ready for “Joe Plumber.” I found it insightful to receive feedback from someone who was not a literature major, does not write, does not talk about T.S.Eliot at the dinner table, but does read A LOT. What would the average reader tell someone else about your manuscript? I wanted to know. Listen to them. They probably won’t email a detailed summary of comments, but they will tell it to you straight. Revising will be needed after you hear from them. Now you are ready to seek out a real editor who will comb through your manuscript and fix your writing deficits. Mine fell mostly in the realm of point-of-view, too many people speaking and thinking in a chapter. Because this is my first novel and I believed in the story, I decided to pay someone who specialized in fiction editing to do this. It added a couple more months to the writing process, but it put the manuscript in a place of readiness to send out to potential agents and publishers. That is where the fun really begins!

The Editor’s Mark

Happy New Year! The email finally came. It took four days of psyching myself up to open it. Change is inevitable and most of us do not appreciate change, particularly to our creative product. As I rolled through holiday feasting and festing, I nearly forgot about the impending hair pulling session that would ensue as I sat at my desk crying and screaming over the editor’s changes to my manuscript.

His cover letter spoke to all that was wrong without a compliment to ease my fear. As I read through the comments it seemed pretty accurate. In my heart, I knew the change from third person to first person in the last third of the book was a risky one. An editor who had worked through the manuscript with me to get it ready for submission to agents and publishers had asked me to rework it so that the entire story was consistently in the third person. Somewhat stubbornly, I chose not to revise that point of view issue. Buoyed by the fact that Koehler Books had accepted it for publication despite this inconsistency validated me. I knew best, perhaps. Now this “seasoned” editor had asked me to change it and there was no choice. They had bought the book and were preparing to deliver the best possible creative message to the public. Time to comply.

The redo from my end took about two weeks, but I spent five hours on chapter 25. In this critical passage, Clive, the main character, must face the ruthless piano competitors of the Tchaikovsky Competition by giving his own voice to the music. Grappling with Clive’s thoughts while he is playing coupled with what the audience is experiencing, proved to bring new insights into the life of his character. I was back on the stage with him again and I realized how much I’d missed Clive. The revising of that one chapter brought me so much closer to him, his heart and his trials. Yes, authors do get to know their characters as if they are real people!

Instead of pain, the revising process brought a collaborative JOY! This editor, whom I’d never met before, was strengthening the book through his artistic direction. I actually like the finished work much better than what was originally submitted. So, when you find yourself submitted to someone who knows better than you, trust them. Be open to what they can bring and pray like crazy for the creativity to accomplish all they ask.