Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Writing a story and Writing a Damn Good Story

What’s the difference? I suppose most of us have a gut feeling and know when we’ve done mediocre work and when we’ve exceeded our expectations.

Well, it really doesn’t matter what we think of our writing or what our critique group, family and friends think of it, does it, you ask. It’s what the acquisition editors think that counts, isn’t it – you ask.

It’s all very subjective. If a rejection comes, we try another – we know someone will like it. But…is it really ready for that step?

What we learn in reading various guidelines for various publishers is about all the same. Isn’t it? But are they the same? Yeah, sure there may be differences in formatting, differences in genre preferences or even the call for submissions, but what is that they really want. What?

Ok, so they want well edited and proofread-to-death-and-beyond manuscripts. Ha – considering most editors and proofreaders, who are being paid to catch things, miss as much as the rest of us do – why should we be so diligent? Good question.

There is no such thing as the perfect manuscript, but you must take the time to perfect your manuscript. It needs to be better than the one read before it and what comes after. The competition is fierce. If you write contemporary like I do. I want my work better than yours and you should want your work better than mine – don’t think you’re work is better and ready – know that it is. Take the time.

Question yourself. Is it the best you can do? If you think “it’s the best I can do”, then you need to go through it again. If there’s one niggling doubt that you missed something because you were tired or not feeling well when you went through a section, then you need to go back through it.

Why? Well, other than the fact that your name is going to be on the book, you want it to be something you feel good about. Another thing, anything a reviewer or a reader finds wrong will determine if they purchase or read another one of your stories.

And, your manuscript might find itself in a pickle as it heads up the line to be read. The publisher could ask that the editor become more selective in the genre you’re writing. They could be overloaded and need to balance out by acquiring more of other genres. You may still have a chance if you’re story is clean and grabs the editor right off the bat. This begins with a great intro in the body of your query. It must also be spotless and engaging.

Publishers want stories coming in and going out to customers. They want a product to sell. The editors in charge of making this happen want manuscripts as error free as possible. Their job is not to clean up your spelling, misused words, punctuation and most of all, not there to teach you when to mark a change of point of view or notice when you slipped into a different one during a scene – it’s your job to catch all those things. Their job is to find stories with fresh guts – yes, smelly raw meat – they want a fresh grabber even if it’s a new twist on an old line, something you’ll remember when the last page is turned. If the work is riddled with so many issues they should never see, they aren’t going to see the guts, much less enjoy it.

Take your time. Yes, we’re all excited to finish a story and can’t wait to turn it in to someone who’s surely going to love it as much as you do, but a first draft, a fleshing out stage and a proofread may not be enough. If you’re not positive it’s 99.4% perfect, go through it again. Otherwise, you won’t be happy to find the editor isn’t willing to offer a contract.

Your story won’t have a happily ever after until certain criteria are met.

Thanks for reading. Even though I have trouble letting go, this pep talk was for me every bit as much as for you all.

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Linda Banche said...

Bekki, you're right about proofing your ms. Typos can lead to a reject.

At the NEC-RWA conference I went to in March, one of the talks was about why editors reject manuscripts. One real-life example was of two equally interesting manuscripts. One had a lot of typos and one didn't. They went with the one with fewer typos. Why? Because it would take less time to edit.

A great story with a messy presentation won't sell.

Bekki Lynn said...

I wouldn't say they won't sell -- I've seen them sell and they continue to every single day -- but I've also seen the same writers become extremely frustrated when their next manuscript is rejected because of those same issues that were accepted before.

I know they expect you to learn from the edits of the first book and apply what you learned from one book to another.

When those types are given a contract, you have to wonder why. Do they have a quota to fill? Are they that desperate to expand their author list? Did they see something in the work to make the extra effort worth it?

I hope the latter is the case. But I wondered this about my work when I saw the stupid things I'd missed.

I'm nitpicking all over myself right now. There was so much missed through so many pairs of eyes on my books that it's embarrassing to hear someone comment on errors they saw. For me, it makes me want to pull the book and fix it and put it back. I can't do that though.

That, and reading editor blogs where they are just plain sick of authors who don't take the time.

Savanna Kougar said...

Bekki, interesting about reading the editor blogs. It's probably a good thing I don't. I fight being 'too perfect' sometimes, or writing the story to edits rather than the story, which is a muse killer.
I don't like endless going overs, so I do try to keep it short and sweet. What works best for me is letting some time go by, then revising and/or catching the errors.

Bekki Lynn said...

I admire those who can do that, Savanna. I know in reading your work, it works for you.

I have to put distance between draft and fleshing out stage, but then I also have to put time before I proof. If the story is too familiar you can't really see it because you know it too well. Right now, I'm some, walking away and when I return I go back through what I'd last done and then move ahead. I'm finding I'm catching more stupid mistakes this way. And I'm making mistakes I didn't use to make. Things I know better than to do.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Wise words, Bekki. I agree - and once a writer begins to send out, keep going. Unless you have the same comment from 3 different editors, if a ms returns to you, then send it out again.

Savanna Kougar said...

Lindsay, that's a good strategy... send it out again, as long as the publisher is one you think you want to work.

Bekki Lynn said...

Yes, never let a rejection get you down for long. It's hard at times, but push on.

Believe in yourself. Believe in your work.

Don't let anyone tear you down.

Now, I need to take all this good advice and apply it.

Savanna Kougar said...

Bekki, it ain't easy, usually. But keep on pushing...
I'm going over Stallion of Ash and Flame again... so, it will be a better story... before I submit it to Siren... Diana is interested.