Almost all of the writers conferences are over for the year. Now begins the busy time of refining, rewriting, editing, and polishing to make your manuscript ready for agents’ and editors’ scrutiny. I’m going to point out a few things to be alert to as you read through your manuscript one more time before you submit it.
Receiving requests for your work can cause even veteran authors to get jittery. All out mood swings is probably a better description of a new authors’ emotional state in this window of opportunity. That’s why the first item on this checklist is:
- Take a deep breath and spend time with God. Read Scripture and pray for his help to keep your priorities in place and for the sensitivity to hear his gentle voice offering guidance. Remember, he loves you and wants the best for you.
When your heart stops racing and you are flooded with peace, your are ready to move on to the other checklist items. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it pinpoints areas that pop out to agents and editors quickly as they read the first pages.
- An opening that grabs interest. Does your non-fiction book start out with an intriguing statement that capsulizes the message? Does your novel begin with a unique, action-packed scene in the present? There is no place for easing in. Think of the thousands of other books being proposed along with yours. Your opening paragraphs must compel the professionals’ desire to continue reading rather than to quickly dismiss it and move on to the next proposal. They know if it doesn’t grab their interest, it won’t grab readers, that is, book buyers’ interest either. Causes for quick rejection often involve an uncreative, uninspiring beginning.
- Unnecessary details eliminated. We don’t need to know that the heroine’s red leather purse was underneath her polka dot umbrella on the upholstered seat next to her unless that detail is important to the plot. This is a common occurrence in manuscripts by new writers. Eliminating extraneous words will keep the pace moving forward and readers focused on the story. Details of corroborating sources of information in your book for pastors should be given in endnotes or an appendix instead of in the body of the book.
- Keep it consistent. Are your characters true to themselves? For example, if you introduced your hero as a strong, levelheaded leader, he wouldn’t all of a sudden appear weak and indecisive without first setting up some extraordinary history. A lofty, academic explanation wouldn’t be consistent in a Christian living book.
- Cliches are replaced. Cliches are as common as everyday conversation, but they indicate lazy writing on the printed or electronic page. Replace them with more creative expressions.
- Appropriate use of words and terms. As much as you want to write masterfully like the literary heroes named in Wendy Lawton’s blog on Tuesday, be careful not to overdo it, that is, beyond what you are confident you can accomplish superbly. And be sure to apply the words and terms you choose correctly. These are flaws agents and editors spot right away.
- Flawless grammar, punctuation, and spelling. I feel like I harp on this often, but truly, a few errors on the first few pages will be reason for a quick rejection. Agents and editors assume the writer isn’t a professional that is ready for publication.
Resist the urge toward urgency. it is better to spend a month, if necessary, to polish your book to near publishing perfection than to submit it too soon and reap a quick, “Sorry, it doesn’t meet with our current publishing needs.”
In which areas do you need to polish your manuscript before it is ready to submit? In which areas do you feel confident you are doing well?
Use this checklist before sending off your manuscript to agents and editors. Click to Tweet.
Before you submit your proposal, read through your manuscript using this checklist. Click to Tweet.