My daughter Ann works with analysts who are always being asked for materials to present to high-level executives. Often her conversations sound like this:
Coworker: “I don’t have any idea what they want.”
Ann: “Create something, show it to them, and let them tell you how to change it.”
This process has proven successful time and time again.
I share this because it’s some of the best advice a creative in any field can use. An agent or editor can’t work with a blank screen. A critique partner can’t offer advice or feedback based on nothing.
You may be nervous about putting your thoughts on the screen. Will they seem as fascinating as they were when you were plotting during a steamy shower? Write them anyway.
And sending chapters to strangers who, because of the sheer volume of amazing manuscripts they receive every day, may be looking for a reason to reject your work, may make you nervous. Nervous is normal here. But often I’ve worked with authors through more than one manuscript and many ideas before we hit on one we both felt would be successful. However, without any words, I could not have identified the author’s talent and ability. As for changes? A willingness to make changes shows the author’s dedication and work ethic. Both are critical, especially during several layers of edits that occur during a publisher’s editorial process.
Change is inevitable. Give us something to change.
How many drafts do you usually go through before you feel your manuscript is ready?
Do you have critique partners? How do they help you the most?
What makes you the most nervous about sending your manuscript to editors and agents?
Lee Ann Mancini
Great advice, Ann! I am still working on my manuscript – over a year now. I am writing a non-fiction, educational book – and the Lord keeps giving great information to add. My editor has read this book twice. She will read it again a third time. This is the work that needs to be done before submitting to an agent or publisher.
What makes me nervous is thinking that I have not done my best and that would be the bases for a rejection. For this very reason, I am not rushing – but preparing!
I have learned that writing takes time, talent and help from those who have experience!
This was such good encouragement! Honestly, I’m most concerned about agents seeing my query letter and not liking it well enough to look at the manuscript. What do agents look for most in query letters?
Ann is right! For many years I worked with physician committees. I found them to be much better at editing something than writing it from scratch. Often, one of the doctors would say, “this is almost right, but . . . ” and suggest the perfect tweak.
When it’s time to send my work out to critique partners or agents and publishers, I tell myself that an “almost right, but” response is both compliment and course correction.
What I like about my editor is how she gives me choices on the change–if you want it to communicate this and such, then, these are your choices. What I don’t like is her tendency to cut out poetical-type renderings of scenes that lend a true creative touch to the children’s story which I then must explain. On the other hand, after I explain it to her, she learns something too and is most times totally on board, with suggestions on how to make it successful with correct grammar etc. When she is not, there is a pause and she says kindly that I am the boss and it is my story. What I don’ t like in being on the side of so many re-writes is the feeling that I have left behind the simple story, then I re-read it again and fall in love with all the changes, except for that one part, which I end up re-doing. When does it end? My editor says when I say it does. HA! Praying for the Lord’s wisdom!!
I usually do 5 drafts, including reading the manuscript aloud (or having it read to me). Around draft 3, I send it to my critique group who are real good at issues with plot and characters not being consistent. I would suggest everyone get a critique group whether in person or online.
I hate sending to my editor because I’m always worried she’s going to say that my manuscript is terrible and to just toss it away. She never has, yet sometimes I feel like I could have done better. The problem is, if I kept the manuscript until I felt it was perfect, it’d never get done.
On this fell morning I awoke,
and all there was, was pain;
half my life is up in smoke,
and half is down the drain.
And so I asked Almighty God,
“What can you do with me?”
The Lord replied, not over-awed,
“Now, son, just let Me see…
we’ll change the focus of your day
and allocate your time
so you can work a different way,
colour outside your lines
to make the insult of infirmity
My glory of eternity.”
As long as I’ve known you, Andrew, you’ve always coloured outside the lines!
Doing it again now, Shirlee…against all intention and reason, I’ve just started another novel.
Damon J. Gray
OH! I’m so glad to read this, Andrew! Thrilled even!
Go get ’em brother!
Write on, brother!
What great advise. You have a very wise daughter. I’m reminded of a past comment from an employer: “Ginny, if you do something and it’s wrong, you’ll get in trouble. But if you do nothing you’ll get in a lot more trouble!” Thank you, Tamela.
Typically, I go through 3-5 drafts before I feel like my manuscript is read. With my current WIP, I’m working on my second draft, then I’ve hired an editor to go through the manuscript for developmental edits. Once those are completed, I’m planning on making edits, sending it to my beta readers, making any further edits, then submitting to agents and editors! Sounds like a really long process now that I’ve typed it out…but I hope it’ll be worth it!
One of the nicest compliments I’ve received was when my editor said I am great to work with because I’m open to ideas without being offended. I don’t mind making changes. In fact, I like the idea that God is using a whole team of people to get a message out there. It might be my book, but if I’m doing it for Him – it’s not really mine.
I love your daughter’s advice on giving them something to change. I have been published more often because I tried, not because I always got it right. If the editor liked the concept, they’ve usually given me the chance to change what was necessary.
Thanks for the wisdom.
Kristen Joy Wilks
That is so good to remember. We are doing something similar with our camp logo design. The designer quoted us a price for three mock-ups and a polish of the design that we like best. A wise creative to give us choices right from the beginning so that we can all figure out what exactly it is that we want. On my RomComs, that I know will find a home with my publisher, I tend to do four or five revisions, including getting feedback from my critique partner. On books that haven’t found a home yet, I tend to continue revisions into infinity and beyond in the hopes that the story will grow until it is irresistible.
Colleen K Snyder
My current WIP will go through at least 4 revisions – if you don’t count the continual revisions I do self-editing while I’m writing the first draft. I write a chapter, read it to my critique group who gives me revisions, rewrite it, and will read it to them once again. Repeat as necessary.
As to what makes me most nervous when submitting? Getting a form letter back with, “This does not meet our needs at this time” without telling me what they thought of it. And yes, I research and examine and make sure what I send IS what they carry. It’s frustrating to be told “You missed the mark” but you don’t know if the shot was too high, too low, off to the left or right. Feedback helps!
A Hollywood writer explained to me that you often need to explain concepts in relationship to what the audience already knows. He wanted to pitch a TV version of my novel, “The Last Apostle.” That book is based on….what if John, the last apostle of Jesus Christ, is still alive and living in Seattle.
The TV show concept had John involved in situations throughout history and helping out people. Because he’s 2000 years old, lots of potential options layered over his modern day life in Seattle.
He pitched it to a couple of studios telling them, “This is touched by an Angel meets Quantum Leap.”
Like Ann’s suggestion, they need something to start with. It helps if it’s something they understand and can expand on or alter.
My struggle is getting feedback from readers who are actually working with the people/audience I am hoping to reach. After teaching an ESL Bible-based class for several years, I reworked the material (through numerous revisions) into a devotional study that I hoped could be a tool for ministry to “aliens and strangers” among us. I have sent it to four ministries connected with our church and two ministries with leaders I know. Only two of the six indicated they would look at the material, but no word since.
How do we find “sensitivity” readers to give us feedback?
I finally finished writing my nonfiction narrative and I’ve lost count at the number of drafts. More than I’d ever imagined. Finished product does NOT look like the original draft from years ago when I first got the book idea.
Yes, I belong to a critique group. They point out my strengths and weaknesses.
Greatest concern about sending manuscript to editors and agents: they have so much to read that I get the impression they often judge an entire book on the first page. Granted first page is HUGE and entices a reader to buy the book. However, how do we work together with an editor and make necessary changes if the everything seems to hang on that first page? Just curious.
Sharon K. Connell
Since I’ve been writing, I figured that’s the way it should be. You write your story, and then you wait for others to make comments on what should be different. LOL
My system is to write out the story non-stop the first time, go back and read it through, making changes along the way. The next time through is a self edit, using 3 edit programs, read aloud program, and sending each chapter off to my critique group in ACFW. As I get the critiques back, I make changes accordingly. After I’ve gone through the entire story this way, I re-read it before I send it to my professional editor. When she sends it back, I make needed changes and then re-read it to make sure there are no more changes I need to make. That’s about 6 drafts. So far, it’s worked for me.
I think it takes 4-5 drafts.
I don’t have a crit partner or group (praying for one) but I find it easier & more productive to brainstorm with someone else.
I have 3 unmarried sons. Two have played D2 & D3 college football. Bobby Lee is 275 lbs, a defensive tackle; Jesse Dalton is 210 pounds but bench presses 315 with a 4.64 forty and plays down linebacker and strong safety. All Wheaton North grads. Danny Ray is, well . . . Danny. They are good Christian young men and are handsome devils. They do, however, smoke the occasional cigar and play poker. They are, all three, raised evangelical but practicing Anglicans (conservative). Need I say more, Ann?
Damon J. Gray
I don’t get nervous about sending a manuscript off for editing. I actually find it somewhat exhilarating. Looking at an editor’s markings provides me with an abundance of “Wow!” and “Whoa!” and “Aha!” experiences. So many times I have looked at the markup and been blessed to see how someone could understand what I wrote in a way foreign to what I intended, or that just a simple rewording could bring tremendous clarity to a sentence or a paragraph.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.
I am on about my sixth revision of my first novel. I study how other authors write and then try to get the sense of how they do it. How did they pull me into the scene? There is always something new to learn. I hope to finish the sixth revision very soon and send it out. There comes a point where you simply need a professional to have a look-see. There also comes a point where your beloved friends and relatives need to step aside with the critique and you move on.
I don’t have critique partners nor have I sent manuscripts to editors or agents. I don’t know any, haven’t been to any writer’s conferences, etc. I desire to finish three manuscripts before I start looking for an agent or publisher, that way I can say that I have a good amount of publisher material. They’re taking less of a chance on me because I have stuff in the pipeline ready to go.
But my first manuscript has gone through four or five drafts. Each time, I changed a lot about it. For a while I was writing by the seat of my pants until I went back to outlining. Now when I make a new draft, it’s the details that change. Big picture stuff stays the same.
The thing I’ve struggled with most, and continue to struggle with, is how to add God in a way that glorifies Him. I write science fiction LitRPG. My genre is narrow, consisting mainly of self-published books on Amazon. The community is so small, most of the authors have congregated on Reddit. There’s an untapped market for Christ-centered books there, but doing it in a way that glorifies God is the challenge.