So you think that your manuscript is finished…

So you think that your manuscript is all done!. You’ve edited it more times than you care to think about, you’ve sort and incorporated external feedback into it, and you’ve even prepared a super synopsis, author bio and cover letter to send off to various literary agents and publishers. Let’s just hold on a moment.

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I don’t even want to admit how frequently I have been in this position only to go back to the piece of work of few days/weeks/months later to find it full of horrible typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical inconsistencies. I know that it is enormously difficult to get a work word perfect but in order to put your best foot forward I recommend that you (we) take the following steps:

  1. Finish what you hope is the last version of you manuscript. Put it aside for a few weeks (maybe a couple of months if you need a real break from it)
  2. Set out an editing plan. Remember that planning is essential. As the saying goes “If you fail to plan, then plan to fail.” This applies to editing as much as it does to everything else. Check the following for each chapter/section
    • Is this section necessary or just filler material?
      • What is the purpose of this section?
      • How does it contribute to the overall story?
      • How does it move the story towards the climax point?
    • Character development
      • What characters feature in this section?
      • What is their role/purpose in this story?
      • How does each character contribute to the plate development?
      • Are they necessary?
    • Plot development
      • How does this section link to the previous section?
      • Does it flow on evenly from the previous section?
      • Are there any lumpy bits? (Too long, clunky dialogue, boring sections)
      • Does it flow into the next section evenly?
      • Are names/places/events consistently referenced throughout the piece?
    • Formatting
      • Check all spelling, Look for words like hear/here and make sure the correct one is used.
      • Check all contractions. Are you using them or is the text formal?
      • Check punctuation (read out aloud).
      • Look for grammatical errors, half finished phrases, and odd expressions.
      • Check how the text looks on the page (fonts, headings etc)
  3. Print out a copy of the manuscript. (Really! Working from a hard copy gives you a new perspective.)
  4. Depending on the length of the book, review a couple of the chapters each day. Mark up the changes on the hard copy. Then go back and read the chapter out aloud to check the flow of sentences and punctuation.
  5. When you are done make the corrections on your electronic copy.
  6. Print it out again.
  7. Go through your check list again but this time start at the last chapter/section and work backwards to the start of the novel.
  8. Do a final check of the document. Look for formatting inconsistencies – font, chapter headings, page numbering, table of contents etc.
  9. Do a final change of the electronic document.
  10. If you have time, set the document aside and repeat this process again in a few weeks/months.

Good luck with your editing process.

The importance of feedback

A member of my writer’s group recently read the published version of “Pete and the Persian Bottle“. Her second comment to me (the first being that she enjoyed the book) was that she was amazed to see how much I had changed the book from the original draft and how I had incorporated the feedback I had received into the work.

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Feedback is essential when writing any piece, be it a poem, journal article, short story or full novel. It is also very hard to get. Feedback from relatives and close friends can be a little one-sided with people unwilling to point out plot flaws, character issues and grammar disasters. I am lucky to belong to a writers group and can consistently rely on feedback from at least half of the group members. Not everyone has this luxury. In order to obtain a professional /industry opinion, I submitted my draft novel to Writers Victoria for a manuscript assessment. Now this wasn’t cheap, but it was really worth the effort as I got some frank and fearless advice on structure and plot development – in fact it resulted in my doing a much-needed complete re-write of the book.

Here are some tips when asking and receiving feedback from others:

  1. Don’t ask for feedback if all you want are positive comments about your work. Be prepared to make changes to your piece.
  2. Be prepared to hear some hard truths (yes this hurts and is difficult to manage. If you want to be an author you’re going to have to get used to it).
  3. Ask for feedback on specific areas.
    • Is the dialogue in chapter X stilted?
    • Does the story flow well?
    • Is there sufficient plot build up?
    • What genre do you think the story belongs to?
    • Can you check my use of commas?
  4. When you get the feedback, shut up, listen and note. Don’t start making excuses, arguing points or going on the defensive (especially if you want future feedback).
  5. Leave the feedback for a couple of days and then return to look at it. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
    • Did the same issues come up over and over again? (Character X seems 2 dimensional, the chapters don’t flow well etc). If there are regular themes to the feedback then you need to take note.
    • Are there things you disagree with? Consider why the person gave the feedback. Did they not understand what you were trying to say? If so then why not? Do you need to re-phrase/re-write a section?
    • Spelling/use of words. If you use the same word(s) or expressions too frequently then do a ‘search’ for them in your text and mark them for future editing.
    • Make an edit and review plan. Make out all areas where changes are suggested in the main text. and go through them systematically. Review the suggestions. Change (or not change) as you see fit.

Remember that people have taken the time to read your piece, think about the work, and have presented their feedback in the most effective and least offensive way they can. You don’t have to accept all of the suggestions and changes but do think about why they may have been made.

Good luck with your next draft!