manuscript submissions

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!

The End.

Copyright 2009 Teresa Frohock


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2 Responses to manuscript submissions

  1. jenniferneri says:

    How do you decide when your done? No more editing, re-writing, now is the time to submit. I find this difficult. The piece can eternally be made better!
    Your novel sounds fascinating! I would most certainly read it!
    I myself am also writing my second novel while trying to gain representation of my first. I have recently begun submitting my query and am now waiting on an agent who has the full ms going on 3 weeks now. I have almost no fingernails left! Any idea on the correct etiquette on how much time to let pass before sending an e-mail?

    • Teresa says:

      Hello, Jennifer,

      First let me say CONGRATULATIONS on making it that far with an agent! You’re obviously doing something right!

      How do you know when you’re done? I can only speak for myself: I run my chapters through my critique group, polish them some more on my own, then I intend to trade manuscripts with another OWW member so she can read my book from beginning to end; and finally when she sends it back to me, I’m going to read it from beginning to end one more time. At that point, I’m going to have to place a little faith in a bucket and send it on. I think you can also over-edit the life out of a manuscript if you’re not careful. Again, outside perspectives are the best, and no, family doesn’t count.

      I think you’re absolutely right that no matter how often you look at your own work, you’re going to find things to change. Even Stephen King has re-released books that have been re-edited to his satisfaction. So get the manuscript as clean as you can and once you do that final reading, send it out. Then the agents and editors are also going to ask you to make revisions and eventually it starts to feel a little like a job. 😉

      In terms of how long do you wait for an agent to respond to your manuscript? That’s a tough one, but one thing you can do is check the agent’s web site. Usually they give a rough estimate on turnaround times for reading the entire manuscript, and I know you’ve got your nails down to the quicks by now, but three weeks is not unreasonable. Think about how long it takes you to read a novel, maybe a few days, maybe a week, and that’s not counting interruptions like doctor appointments, conventions, conferences, and any those troublesome existing clients the agent may have. Also remember that this is summer; people are taking vacations and workloads are getting shuffled.

      If the agent’s web page indicates a one month turnaround time for full manuscripts, I would give it at least six to eight weeks before I sent an e-mail requesting the status of my manuscript.

      I want to say that when my first novel was considered by an agent, it was almost two months before I heard back from them (but that was a very long time ago and my memory isn’t what it was). I will never forget the letter, though, because the agent thanked me for being so patient and said that while that particular project wasn’t for them, they would consider future projects from me.

      Focus your energy on your new project, because if they like your current novel, then they’re going to want to know what’s next for you, and you really need to have a synopsis and sample chapters ready to go.

      And finally, thank you so very much for your kind words regarding my own manuscript. I’m re-working my own query now, although I’m only half-way through my middle draft. Somedays quickly, somedays slowly, but I feel like I’m making progress.

      Pop in again and let us know how it goes when you do get word. I’m very excited for you and wish you the best of luck!

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