Reading Manuscripts

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

The best part of my job is reading manuscripts. I am writing my blog post and then closing down for the afternoon to read. Sounds like the perfect job, doesn’t it? I wish I had more time to read. Unfortunately this job requires more than forty hours on the phone and on the computer so reading is usually squeezed into evenings and weekends. Or on windy days where the brain is ready for a little R & R.

Happily I don’t read many mediocre manuscripts because even if I’m reading a full manuscript from a potential new client, I’ve already weeded out the ones that won’t work early in the proposal stage. And if I’m reading a manuscript by one of my clients, well, they are already some of my favorite writers. But my process of reading manuscripts has changed since the advent of Kindle and I thought I’d talk a little about that.

I now load the manuscripts onto my Kindle and for the first read through. I read them just like I would read a published book. Because I have read so many excellent published books on my Kindle, I find I’m comparing the manuscript to the very best that’s out there. I’m tougher on the manuscript for that reason and that’s a good thing because the market is tough. When I find myself approaching my Kindle with the same enthusiasm for a manuscript as I do for a long-awaited book, I know I have a winner.

After that first read through I may go back to the computer and use Track Changes to make suggestions on the manuscript but that first e-book-like read tells me all I need to know about the story or the proposed book.

If you are a writer, have you ever tried reading your manuscript on your eReader? It might help you look at it in a whole different way. What are some other ways you can look at your story or your book with fresh eyes? Please jump in and talk. I’m going to be getting my long-awaited root canal this morning so I may be silent for a time but I’ll chime in later. (Have you ever seen anyone so happy to be scheduled for dental work?)

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  1. Sarah Thomas says:

    Yay root canal! Is that an oxymoron?

    I haven’t tried reading my MS on Kindle, but I love the idea. 1) I think it would make my book feel more “real.” And I’m tougher on “real” books. 2) I think it would make me more aware of pacing. I tend to notice breaks more on Kindle because I just can’t bring myself to stop in the middle of a page of text like I can in a printed book (where I can flip ahead more easily). 3) It would rob me of the ability to edit as I go and would force me to just READ.

    Hmmm. Sounds like a powerful tool.

    Hope the numbing agent has worn off and you feel great. That’s always the worst part of dental work for me–not being able to feel my face!

  2. Before sending my last manuscript to my critiquers, I saved it as PDF file and read it as if I were reading a published novel. When I found something small, I changed it in my document. If it was larger, I made a note. Because I couldn’t change things in the PDF, I didn’t get bogged down rewriting, and it helped to keep the flow of the story going.

  3. Lisa says:

    Praying for your root canal. The dentist is never fun!

    I think I am in the minority, but e-readers are so hard for me. I just love the feeling of a book in my hand. This is great advice though, I may have to suck it up and try it!

    I read passages aloud when I am revising. That gives me new insight into how it flows.

  4. Jeanne T says:

    Wendy, I hope your root canal goes well. You must have been in a lot of pain if you’re looking forward to this procedure. 🙂 I’m praying for you.

    I like the idea of reading my MS on my Kindle. Haven’t tried that, but I can see how it could give me a new perspective on what I’m writing.

    I often print out a chapter to read through and mark up for a change of reading. I also like to read it out loud as well, to hear the flow.

  5. Wendy, do not be a hero! Pain meds and frozen peas are your new best friend. (Peas = ice pack, not snack.) 🙂
    I have never downloaded a WIP to my Kindle, but I agree with Sarah – great way to check pacing.

  6. Lori says:

    Have you ever seen anyone so happy to be scheduled for dental work? I have a sister who is dental hygientist and a brother-in-law who is a dentist so they are always happy to be scheduled for dental work. Unless of course my brother-in-law is scheduled for golf.

    Don’t have an eReader yet. Still thinking about getting one.

  7. Lori says:

    P.S. I don’t like being scheduled for dental work either.

  8. Interesting post, Wendy. 🙂 Good luck with the root canal!

    It’s interesting because I have a similar experience with a Kindle.

    When I completed my manuscript earlier this year, one of my first readers read it on her Kindle. I had no idea we could do it, but she had just got her Kindle and was enjoying using it. She asked if I could send it to her and it worked. Of course, I had to see it for myself.

    It was so cool to see my manuscript look like other published e-books. I must say I had a sappy grin on my face as I scrolled over the words of my story. It gave me a taste of what being published is like and I must say it helped push me on!

    I prefer printed books, but I am seriously considering a Kindle purchase to read my future MSs. 🙂 So glad I’m not the only one loving this idea!

  9. Lori Benton says:

    I like to click over to Word’s Full Screen Reading, which changes the page layout to look more like a book if you put two pages up on the screen at a time. I can’t compose new words so well in that mode, but I read through every scene in progress at least once this way. I’ve also been known to switch up the font and the size text on the page. Anything to give it a slightly different look.

    And I never work in double space. Too much white on the page. The words look lonely. I work in 1.5 spacing, but will tighten that up just to change the look, too.

    SO glad you’re getting that tooth fixed. You are such a trooper Wendy, smiling through it all in Monterey. Blessings to you!

  10. Joanne Sher says:

    My hubby has read my MS on his Kindle – should send it to myself too LOL (I haven’t had mine very long). I haven’t seen if I can use the text to speech feature, but I think that would be a VERY cool way to look at your manuscript with new eyes (or ears, in this case!).

    Praying your root canal goes well.

  11. I did download a manuscript to Kindle a couple years ago. What I noted then was that paragraphs indented only if I had the manuscript margins set up to automatically indent after a return. If I tabbed the indent, the indent didn’t show.

    Anyone know of other weird things like that? Now that we know how Wendy reads our submissions? 🙂

    I had a colonoscopy a handful of years ago (hopefully that isn’t TMI), and I remember afterward thinking that wasn’t all bad because I got a room to myself for a day and read a few good books.

    Sure hoping you’re feeling okay enough to read after your procedure, Wendy, and that your old pain is no more.

    • Kindle formatting is funky. It doesn’t accept double spaces, double returns, tabs, etc. It only follows STYLE formatting in Word, so it can look odd on your device.

      That’s why service-companies charge so much for the conversion to Kindle. They pretty much have to reformat your whole document, one paragraph and one heading at a time.

      Perhaps if you upload as a .doc document or .pdf document, rather than as a book, it’ll look better.

      • Michelle Ule says:

        Works really well on the Ipad in either Pages or Kindle. Newer technology, perhaps?

        (My Kindle is second generation)

      • Michelle, that’s a good point. I’ve got the second gen Kindle too. And the document I uploaded then was a .doc. I’ll have to experiment with my friends’ newer Kindles, if they’ll let me. 🙂

        Thanks, Bill.

    • Jeanne T says:

      That’s funny, Sally. I had a hard time finding something to be thankful after one of those. 🙂 Except that it was over. 😉

  12. Lacee Hogg says:

    What a great idea! Then your eyes don’t hurt as much as when you are in front of a computer screen for so long. (I am an incredibly practical person.)

  13. As soon as those little files go into your tooth, the relief happens. Whew!

    Yes, I read my mss on Kindle. Love it. Feels like a book (or not) and helps me spot flaws. Excellent idea.

    A writer can use free software called Calibre to actually convert .doc files to .mobi (the Kindle format). Calibre even has a preview screen to show you how your book will look on different Kindle devices.

    It just feels more real when it’s on the Kindle.

  14. Michelle Ule says:

    I absolutely use the Kindle as a writing tool (so, you can write off the cost, right?)

    It makes a great exercise aid as well. I sit in the easy chair with my feet up reading the manuscript. Every time I find an error I want to change, I get up and go to this computer, where I find the spot and make the correction.

    I’m not going to tell you how many times I got up while reading my novella, An Inconvenient Gamble, but let’s just say the dog no longer sat beneath my feet after the first chapter.

    The other thing I’ve done is activate the reading feature on my Kindle and had it read my manuscript to me while I was weeding.

    That was insightful in some ways and awful in others–think GPS voice attempting to read your precious words. But, it did enable me to recognize flaws and where my own eyes started to glaze over in the text, I knew I needed to make changes.

    Use those tools, that’s why the techy folk love them!

    (Note: I cannot dictate a manuscript to Dragon, however. At least not yet).

  15. I haven’t read my whole manuscript on my Kindle because I’m afraid I’ll find errors and have no way to note them unless I open the document on my computer and fix it right then and there.

    But I can see it being very useful. And hopefully if my ms is in the late stages of revisions, I wouldn’t find quite so many errors. Hopefully. 😉

  16. Sarah Grimm says:

    I have never known anyone to be excited for dental work. 🙂

    I have, however, read my manuscript on my kindle. I find it helps me to read it like a “real” book. I notice different things to edit and have more fun reading it that way because it makes me feel like I’m just … a little … closer to that “real” book status.

  17. Love the idea of putting my own MS on my Kindle in pdf so that I can’t self-edit as I read!

    I hope your afternoon goes as well as it possibly can, and what better way to soften the blow of the dentist than with a bunch of good books!

    Are you reading proposals and sample chapters, too? Are ya? Are ya?


  18. Stephanie M. says:

    I always print out my ms to review, and then change the font and print it again. It’s amazing what you find! I also read any troubling bits out loud to see how to fix something awkward.

  19. Oh yes! For my first read-through after it’s finished, I stick it on my Nook. So much more convenient than sitting at my computer to do it.

  20. Judy Miller says:

    I always read my manuscript on my Kindle. I find it’s a great way to see things differently. I also like to read the story aloud. I’ve discovered that helps with lots of issues, as well. And there’s nothing like an extra set of eyes. I have a friend who reads my manuscript over once I think it’s ready to submit. And there’s always something I didn’t find!!

  21. I’ve never considered using my Kindle this way, but it sounds like a great idea. Like some of the others, I read my manuscript aloud. It helps me to see where the flow isn’t right. If I stumble over words, then the reader probably will too.

    Hope all goes well at the dentist.

  22. Good luck with the root canal. I hope it brings much-needed relief!

    I read my last manuscript on my Kindle and was amazed at the things I caught by using it as an editing tool. Flow issues and pronoun/name usage jumped out at me, and as others have mentioned, the “real book” feel changes your perspective. Now I recommend a Kindle edit to all my writing friends.

  23. I like putting my manuscript in various formats to see how they’ll appear. My wife won’t read it unless she can do it on her Kindle. My daughter has a IPad, so I have to convert them to various forms. There’s a free program that’s good for doing that called Calibre .
    No I’m not promoting them. I’m sharing a free tool I enjoy.

    Wendy, I hope your canal work goes swimmingly.

  24. Wendy, I hope the root canal brings you relief. I’ve had one and actually, it wasn’t painful during or after the procedure. I was blessed with a great dentist. You’ll be in my prayers. 🙂

    Unfortunately I can’t afford an e-reader at the moment, but it sounds like a great idea. I, like Jeanne and others, read my manuscript aloud. It helps so much that it has become my main revision tool. I also, like Lori Benton, have set up the screen for two pages so the manuscript reads like a book. Printing pages out and reading them also helps. The combination of these plus the feedback from my critique group help enormously.


  25. Thankfully, I’m a member of a fantastic writers group composed of seasoned, knowledgable, critical writers. We take turns reading sections of our work and then are open to critiques. After that, I send the mss to a lady who represents my target audience and whose tastes match my own. She critiques then I incorporate and let it sit for at least a month before reading it through again. Let’s face it: a book is never “done.” Even after publishing, I see minor things I wished i’d written differently.

    Sorry to not be more helpful, but time is the only way I know to read my own work in a different light.

    Thank you for the opportunity to share.

    Mike Addington

  26. Amanda Dykes says:

    I love this suggestion, and today I stumbled by accident upon another way to get a MS to look more like a book. I took my MS by flash drive to the copy place and had it printed out so I could make notes on my read-through today, and when the man behind the counter handed me that stack of white pages, I was puzzled at the format: it had printed out with grey columns to the right of every page, I think because I’d clicked on “track changes” somewhere in the past few days. The results are a galley-like manuscript, with the words taking up only about as much of a page as a print book would.

    I’m hoping the result will be the same as you described on the kindle: I’ll be tougher on it in the book-like format.

    Off I go to ruthlessly read.

    (And prayers continue for the root canal!)

  27. Sue Harrison says:

    I love doing a read through off my ms on my Kindle. The first time I did that, I’d just sent a ms to my agent and was horrified at all the typos I found on the Kindle that I hadn’t noticed when I did a hard copy and an on-computer edit. I immediately sent an apology to my agent, who was very gracious! Thank goodness!

    Since then I’ve read 2 ms for a friend on my Kindle and just took chapter by chapter notes in a notebook and emailed those notes to her. A great way to edit! My other favorite way is to read my ms aloud. That really helps me check up on my chosen voice and on dialog.

    Wendy, hope the dentist appointment is by now over and you have your “new tooth” in great working order!! You do know, don’t you, that a root canal demands a relaxed evening with someone else providing supper and doing any household chores? (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! I have a very wise dentist.)

  28. Dale Rogers says:

    Sorry about your root canal–I hope it went well.
    Something that freshens my perception of my work is having someone read it aloud to me. I catch little things that don’t work, and if the message isn’t clear, that comes through too. Also, I like to have a pair of fresh eyes read it and give me notes on discrepancies.

  29. Praying your root canal is a success!

    I haven’t read my manuscript on the Kindle yet. Sounds like an excellent idea.

    I enlist fresh readers for my novels. I have two new readers for the second book. Both gentlemen have not read my first book. I am trying to see if book two can stand on its own.

    One of my first readers has requested I send book two to him on his reader. Hopefully Vince will catch any glitches that have gotten past both me and my critique group.

    My daughter has offered to read my book on her Nook. She is my toughest critic.

    May you be blessed with as painless a recovery from your dental work as possible. 🙂

  30. Somebody needs to invent a book/kindle holder that can rest on the patient during a dental procedure but won’t get in the way of the dentist. Maybe suspend it from the ceiling? Reading could distract the patient from the pain. Hmmm…have to think about that one. Praying for a quick recovery for you today, Wendy.

  31. Tari Faris says:

    I know what you mean about two read throughs. Often when I am giving feedback to a fellow writer I read the first time to take it in and then go back for comments.

    I have read my manuscript on my eReader and I love it. And all four of my beta readers read it on either a kindle, nook or iPad. They all loved that format too and it made for a quick turn around for their feed back. I must admit that since one of my readers was in Africa, sending an .epub for feedback was much easier for both of us.

    Of course my proof-readers had to be in Word with track changes.

    Praying for a quick recovery for your teeth.

  32. Michelle Lim says:

    I love this idea, Janet! Thanks for sharing it.

  33. I read my manuscripts on my Kindle when I feel like they’re done (but are they ever, really?), and I know what you mean. Suddenly, it feels like a “real book.” And the mistakes are glaringly obvious. I’ve also had the Kindle read my book to me–another way to spot glaringly obvious mistakes, but very time-consuming.

  34. Hi Wendy . . .

    I like to have my dog Doodle read my MS out loud to me. She is very literate and can pronounce most words except for anything even closely related to a cat.


  35. The Kindle is one of my favorite tools in my editing toolkit. I typically use it for my final editing check. Mistakes that have otherwise gone unnoticed tend to leap out at me.

  36. Wendy, I am very glad to see your smiling face at the top of this blog post, and to be reminded that today is Tuesday, because you are here posting your words of wisdom. 🙂

    What if someone else (who you trust immensely) read your MS out loud to you? (sounds a bit terrifying doesn’t it?) I wonder how different our stories would sound pouring out of another persons mouth, with their inflection, hesitations, and expressions. That would be a revealing exercise.

  37. Ann Bracken says:

    Getting a root canal is like banging your head on the wall. It feels so good when it’s over. I hope yours went well, Wendy!

    Okay, total technotard here, how do I get my manuscript downloaded to my kindle?

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