So You’ve Written a Manuscript . . . Now What?

Manuscript babyDespite my lack of words when it comes to blogging and/or new work over the past couple of months, I have slowly but steadily been working on editing the manuscript of my YA/NA novel that I finished a full draft of last December. Along with that draft I had written a sample Agent Query , a sample Submission Cover Page, and a summary. I sent that (along with a revised chapter) to my Instructor for the course I was taking, all before my father passed.

To tell you the truth, the day after my father passed away, I completed a major edit of  the full document because I needed to focus on something other than my sadness. That may seem weird but it was what I needed to do.

As I waited for a response from my instructor, I sent the draft to some readers, and then did another revision based on their feedback. I finished that completely last week (or maybe two weeks ago, I don’t remember). The response from my instructor came about a month ago, followed quickly with my “diploma” for having completed the course. His comments and suggestions made me feel like I had a solid submission packet ready to go, with a few minor corrections/changes.

Still, it took me a long time to face the process. I kept finding excuses, such as I was waiting for updates on publishers or didn’t have time to find agents, or my office was too much of a mess to work in, or I forgot to bring the notes I needed to make the edits, no matter how minor, or . . .

The real problem, beyond my personal struggle and sadness, is my fear of rejection. If I send it out there and get nothing but rejection, will I ever have the courage to publish it anyway? Or will it lie gathering dust in my pile of discarded dreams, along with the manuscript of Giving Up the Ghosts that I gave up on long ago?

Here’s the reality that we all must face as writers. There are, of course, those of us who write purely for the pleasure of putting words on the page, with no intention of sharing those words. (I have journals and journals of those kinds of writing). However, if you have even the tiniest desire to have someone else read what you write, then  you must do something to put it out there, to have people read it. It does no good sitting in your computer or printed out in a pile of manuscript pages where it does nothing but gather dust.

An unread piece of fiction is nothing more than words without a home.

So what do we do with these manuscript babies?  In our world we now have several options:

  • Find an agent (which means being prepared for many rejections or simply non-responses)
  • Try to submit to traditional publishers on our own (which is hard as so many publishers want agented submissions only, and it also means being prepared for many rejections)
  • Self-publish

I’m not against the self-publishing option, and may end up going that route. However, over the past year or so I’ve read a lot of self-published books. Some of them have been excellent. Many of them could have been excellent if they had a once over from an editor or an outside-eye. It’s difficult to edit our own work, especially for beginning authors. Add to that the pressures of doing layout, creating covers, and promoting our own works and sometimes the work seems to suffer.

I don’t want that to happen to my work.

So, I’ve decided to try the traditional route first. I’m looking for agents. I may submit the full manuscript to one or two publishing houses that accept unagented works. While I wait, I intend to look into formatting the manuscript for a professional looking self-publishing approach and decide on the best platform if that ends up being my path.

All of this, of course, requires a plan and action on my part. Something which I find challenging at the moment, except in brief bursts of focused energy. Yesterday I finally got over my excuses, brought the notes, fixed the edits and prepared the material to submit to the one agent I had already selected. Now I need to buy some ink, and send it off. Once I had done all that, I began to search for other possible agents. I found a couple who looked interesting, who only accepted submissions on-line. The ink excuse no longer worked. So, I cut and paste and submitted. (I also had to write a one page summary which has now been added to the materials I am ready to submit.)

Today I signed up for a writer’s conference this May (I wasn’t really procrastinating on this one, there was a big mess-up with my pay this month so I had to wait until I had some money). I plan on submitting the first chapters for a feedback session at the conference.

Excuses are no longer acceptable.  The book is written, now it needs a home.

What I’ve Learned by Writing and Reading

 

“Writing and learning and thinking are the same process.” (William Zinsser)

Some days I struggle with words. But this isn’t a post about writer’s block.

Instead it’s a post about learning.

I’ve realized that I go through cycles; words flow then words fizzle but they will eventually flow again. Meanwhile, I fill the void with ideas and possibilities. I keep my mind open to images. I jot down thoughts. I read . . . I read . . . and I read some more.

Since I can’t seem to move forward in my own creative words, I’ve been focusing on the words of others. I’m participating in Sandra’s Writing Workshop on Facebook, despite my own self-doubts. I swallowed my fear, and submitted a chapter of my book for feedback. I haven’t gotten any yet. Does that mean it’s terrible or people simply don’t have the time?

I downloaded other people’s works with caution, fearful of what I would find. What if their work was so spectacular it made me feel ashamed of my own? What if I couldn’t think of anything to say, either positive or negative? What if participating in this group revealed the imposter in me? The person who has taught writing in the past (although granted mostly research writing) and has everyone fooled that I have any ability with words.

But, as I settled into reading, I had a realization. I’ve learned a lot through this writing  journey that I’m on.  Some of my learning has come from ideas, some is personal to my life, and some has made me a stronger writer and/or editor.  Here are a few things I’ve learned, in no particular order:

  • The Value of the Beginning: How many time have you read something that didn’t draw you in immediately? I admit to being a stubborn reader, and struggling through pages or even chapters of a book that has a fascinating premise in the hopes that eventually I will wade my way through the weak beginning and find something to keep me reading.  But I don’t do that as often anymore. Even though you can find gems this way, I would rather be pulled in by a strong and glorious beginning then labor through endless exposition in the hopes that something wonderful will come along. Of course, this means that I often struggle with my own beginnings, but I think the struggle is worthwhile in the end.
  • The Need to Read Out Loud: I’ve always made this suggestion to my students. “Read your work out loud, it will help you find the weaknesses.” Of course, my students often look at me like I’m insane. “If you don’t want to read it yourself, then have someone read it to you.” That doesn’t change the look. At times I’ve even forced them to read to each other in class.  I read my own work out loud all the time. You can sometimes catch me mumbling in public venues as I try to find the flow of a passage that is particularly challenging. This method helps me discover when I’m being too formal with my words, or too cryptic. It’s not perfect, and I still need to make changes, but it helps me find my own voice as well as the voices of my characters. Trust me, before I post this, I will have read it out loud several times.
  • The Power of the Right Word: I am always mesmerized by writers whose vocabulary challenges me, but I’ve come to realize that an extensive vocabulary isn’t always the best choice. Finding the right word can sometimes mean finding the simplest word, or perhaps it means using a word with a twist and finding a new metaphor. It’s not easy, but the way we use our words–the choices we make–defines our style and our voice as writers.  Words can soar and words can flop. Words can propel us forward or make us stop and think. I envy the people who always seem to find the right word, but I also value my own struggle as I search for the words that sing.
  • Questions Matter: In my classes, whether I’m teaching about theater or writing, I encourage my students to ask questions. I’m currently teaching a course called, Studies in Drama, where I’ve focused the course work on works that challenged society with either political or social change.  My students are required to submit a discussion question for each reading to an on-line discussion group and then respond to at least two questions. What does this have to do with writing? Well, I find that I enjoy questions. If someone asks me a question, then I can find the flaws in my own words. If someone challenges me with a question, then I can find my own answers. I’m not always right, but by exploring the questions, I find new ways into material. As I respond to other people’s materials, I try to respond with questions because questions lead to new thoughts and new answers. Do you enjoy questions or do they frustrate you because you say to yourself, “The answer is right there”? If someone has to ask the question, then perhaps the answer isn’t so clear.

What are some of the things that you have learned on your writing journey? Add to the comments below to make this list grow.

 

 

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