After months of hard work, the magic moment has arrived when you type those magnificent words at the end of your manuscript: The End. Your manuscript is complete; you have edited, slashed, and worked your fingertips raw at the keyboard. Your family assures you that you have penned the next New York Times bestseller! But (we all knew that was coming, didn’t we?) when you mail the manuscript, the agents keep rejecting you, and your work never rises to the top of the slush pile. What gives?
Sometimes in our excitement to get our work finished, we submit the manuscript too soon. Whether it is a short story or a novel, we send a good manuscript when, with a little more objective editing, we could have written a really great manuscript. So how do you know when you’ve taken your manuscript as far as it can go?
The first thing is to examine who is helping you critique your work. Family members are a great start, don’t get me wrong. I often use my daughter as a sounding board for plot developments and characterization, and her advice has been invaluable to me.
However, I have to recognize that she isn’t going to pick up on structural developments that other writers would immediately see. So the first thing you need to do is determine when and how to use family members to critique your work. Then you need to join a critique group, whether it is an online critique group specific to your genre or a critique group that meets once a month in your area.
Develop a thick skin, because your great masterpiece will definitely receive some constructive criticism. There will be problems with sentence structure, plot developments, and characterization that you thought were perfectly detailed, but others will find perfectly confusing.
Now that you know every word isn’t golden, the next step is to learn how to weed through the criticisms. One of the hardest tricks is to differentiate between the critiques that will make your novel better and those that are personal issues with a particular person.
When evaluating critiques of my work, I have to be harsh with myself and really examine if there wasn’t a better way to phrase a sentence or idea even if I disagree with the critique. I try to consider everything and play the devil’s advocate with myself.
I also use the rule of three, sometimes shortened to the rule of two if the problem is apparent. For example, I had two people who critiqued my chapters, and both of these gentlemen noted that I consistently started a lot of sentences using participles.
I went back and re-read my chapters with that one point in mind, and I immediately saw that they were right. What was not apparent to me on my four hundredth reading was immediately discovered by two alert writers. Had an editor or agent read those chapters prior to my edits, they probably would have tossed the manuscript into the trash.
Once you’ve had others critique your novel, then you will need to read it like you would any other book looking for plot and characterization problems. Check it again for missing words or poor grammar. Now you’re finally ready to submit your manuscript for publication!
Copyright 2009 Teresa Frohock