Monday, November 24, 2014

Is your manuscript ready to submit?

Is it technically clean? Grammar? Punctuation? Formatted properly? Have you followed submission guidelines for the agent or editor you are submitting to? Yes? Then what else will your manuscript need?

It needs to be brilliant. It must stand out from the crowd. Your ghost story may be a little Ghost and Mrs. Muir mixed with Ghost--not a bad concept at all. If so, you have two good examples of concepts to blend. Make certain you fulfill the expectations of the reader.

Taking your writing from beyond good to great. Several books recommend methods to help you understand the difference and ways to evaluate your own work. There are also a couple of blogs I think may be helpful. During a recent weekend workshop on writing, one point struck me as solid genius, and the idea stuck. Think about the best books you’ve ever read. Out of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, how many are memorable? Why? What was it about the subject or characters or plot which made that particular book stand out from the rest? Does your book contain those same elements?

Consider the number of manuscripts agents, editors, and publishers see versus the number of books actually published. How do professionals decide whether to publish one well written, technically perfect vampire novel over another? Or one gut wrenching romance over another? One mystery with compelling twists and turns…instead of another? The answer for a first time author may be in evaluating the first published books by bestselling authors in the genre you write. Once the author’s first book has been contracted, do we ever see that same attention to detail in follow up books? We should. And often we do. But compare your book to the first best seller by Stephen King or one of your favorite authors. A good example might be Harry Potter. The manuscripts were turned down over and over again by many traditional publishers. The first book in the series had to be strong enough, well written enough, unique enough to take a chance with, because buying a young adult fantasy series was a stretch at the time. What did happen, was that the stories had universal appeal. They were well written, the characters were fully developed with the potential to expand as the series did. The plot had a villain worthy of the title and a cast of characters we cared about and wanted to know.

Compare it to Hunger Games. The audience is a little older but the adventure contains the same unique elements. And the first book is strong enough to hold on to fans for the second book, etc. What about Outlander by Diana Gabaldon? Adult content, a historical - time travel - romance. Don’t tell the men who read this series as historical fiction that it is also a romance. Don’t tell anyone grounded in reality about the time travel aspect. Yet even while crossing genres, this series worked. The answer to the question of what makes a best seller--besides selling books--is doing it well—better than the rest.

It’s no longer enough to write a technically perfect novel. To stand out from the rest, the manuscript must rise above all those well written stories. Your story must be robust, your manuscript a masterpiece. Each chapter should demonstrate genius. Tighten the CONCEPT. Clarify the HOOK. Tweak your PREMISE. Each scene must address GOAL, MOTIVATION, and CONFLICT. Then review each of these points and see if you can elevate your novel to the next level, and then the next. Good luck. I’m looking forward to seeing it soon.


Another trick to writing your novel is learning about screenwriting. The first course I took featured Sid Field’s concepts. Those of you using Scrivner for writing may be familiar with the screenwriting program Final Draft. I’ve left a couple of links here for you that may be helpful in plot development.

That being said, a word of caution: Good dialogue generates information in your story, but it shouldn’t replace narrative completely, especially deep point of view. Deep point of view (the characters’ gut feelings and thoughts) is what makes a reader feel or care about the characters and invest emotion in the story. Investment drives commitment. Commitment drives memories. Memories make books remarkable. Remarkable books make best sellers.

Frances Sevilla
Editor - The Wild Rose Press
Fantasy and Crimson