If you’re like over 50,000 writers, you have at least a 50K word manuscript sitting in front of you, hot off the presses from NaNoWriMo 2022. Many of you have continued that journey, adding to that hefty start and are now hovering around 90-100K words (or more).
And now, you’re looking at a life’s dream, excited with your new word baby, and thinking about taking that next step, well-aware the post-holiday submission window is open (or opening) for many agents.
Some of you have your finger hovering over the ‘Submit” button for your dream agent right now.
STOP! Do not hit enter. Do not pass “Go!”
Even if you’ve written the greatest story concept in history, your rough draft from NaNo is just that…rough. There’s a popular phrase for it, but I won’t share that here—this is, after all, a family-friendly blog. Unless you are Stephen King, who’s said to be able to write so well that his first draft IS the final draft, your draft needs a lot of attention, before it’s ready for prime time.
The risk of taking manuscript shortcuts
If you’ve been around me long enough, you’ve heard this story. But whether you’re new here or have been hanging around awhile, this experience is worth a listen. It may very well save you from tears. Lots and lots of tears.
I wrote my very first manuscript during NaNoWriMo. I knew very little about writing, only that I loved my story. I dutifully wrote and wrote until NaNo ended. Then, I spent several months finishing the story. I knew enough by then to look for continuity—are my character’s eyes the same color on page 152 as on page 10? I knew the character needed to grow.
And I knew I could edit my own manuscript.
The pitch that made me soar
I entered PitchWars with my story, hoping to get a bite. And I did! I got a FULL request. Unfortunately, my manuscript was not ultimately chosen by my would-be mentor. But I was encouraged, so I kept trying to get my story out there. Somewhere between pitch contests and cold submissions, I got several agent requests for partial samples of my manuscript.
I WAS SO EXCITED! My wonderful story was on it’s way to glory! (I might have already been casting the future movie in my head).
The emails that broke my heart
As anyone who has submitted knows, the ‘refresh email’ function was developed solely to torture writers. I have no idea how many times a day I checked my email, junk mail, and auto delete–but I’m sure my enter key was close to breaking. I know my nerves were.
Then it happened! I got not just one, but several positive responses. AND they wanted to see more!
I’m glad I didn’t crack open the champagne just yet, because what followed were emails—very gracious and kind emails—explaining where I fell short.
Emails that said, “and for those reasons, I’m passing on this manuscript.”
The good, the bad, and the ugly cry
I don’t know if it hurt more to know, but the agents absolutely loved my story concept. Another loved my voice. One even said I had made her cry in a particularly emotional scene. (That scene required at least a box of tissues to write).
Where did I fall short?
- Plot holes
- Weak character arc
- A few scenes that were confusing
I had been over the manuscript again and again. It had all made sense to me. How had I missed all those flaws?
Where did I fall short? I was too close to the story, too sure of my editing skills, and (most importantly) neglected to get an editor—particularly a developmental editor.
There was a big box of chocolates and some ugly crying.
I know what I should have done. Afterall, hindsight is 20:20. That manuscript still sits on my shelf, dusty. It could never be resubmitted to those agents (unless and agent asks for a ‘Revise and Resubmit,’ they generally don’t want a rejected manuscript sent to them again, despite edits.)
Even now that I have a wonderful agent and a different manuscript on its way to publication in January 2024, it’s been too painful to consider re-editing this first story, until recently. It’s been several years; the wounds are just healing.
Take your manuscript down the road less traveled
If you really want to get your story noticed in the right way, instead of jumping to hit that submit button, give your manuscript the love it really deserves:
Not for you. For the manuscript. Put it away for awhile, then go back and reread it with fresh eyes. For how long? A week? A month? No one really has a sure-fire timeline. Just pick something. When you re-read the manuscript, you’re likely to see a few blemishes that need work.
- If you’re feeling drained from all that writing, here are tips to rejuvenate your own creative spirit, so you don’t burn out.
Grab a cup of coffee (or whatever refreshment powers you), roll up your sleeves, and get ready for the hard work. Clean-up the manuscript to the best of your abilities. If you haven’t already studied how to craft a well-written story, consider applying the concepts of one (or more) of the following references to your project. If you’ve been elbow deep in self-editing for awhile, check out this article on knowing when to move on.
- Resources: Several of these references have dramatically changed my approach to storytelling. My wonderful agent, Amy Collins with Talcott Notch Literary Services, recommends those with an (*).
- An introduction to beat sheets, by Jami Gold
- Craft Books:
- Seven Drafts*, Allison K WIlliams
- Story Genius, by Lisa Cron
- Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks
- The Bestseller Code*, by Jodie Archer and Matthew L Jockers
3. Get beta readers
- Get feedback: ask a few trusted people to read the manuscript and give you feedback. In general:
- avoid the “yes” people—the ones who always tell you your writing is great
- avoid the negative people—the ones who always tell you your writing sucks
- Where to find beta readers
- Local writing groups—check with your librarian, who often knows of such groups.
- Search Facebook or Meet Up for local groups
- Conferences and local writing workshops
- Writing Organizations
- Many have ways for new members to connect with seasoned members. Some even have critique partnering support.
- Never pay for beta reading!
- Some people hire out as beta readers. They don’t necessarily have any credentials or expertise. They may not have knowledge of the expectations of your genre. Since writers generally beta for each other as a common kindness, save that money for an editor.
- Stranger Danger!
- Do not, under any circumstances, email your manuscript to a stranger for a beta read. You just may find it published under someone else’s name.
I’ll get a lot of flack for this one. I know editors cost money, which few of us writer’s have to toss around. Still, I highly encourage you to find an editor. There are many kinds of editors- from line editors to developmental editors (yes, the kind I wish I’d known about). If your funds are limited, figure out where you need the most help and hire that kind of editor.
Many writers argue they know enough to edit themselves. Most of them are wrong. Writers are generally too close to their own story to edit it well, even if they actually do have the talent needed.
Some writers elect to self-publish, instead of worrying about investing in editing to enhance an agent submission. Don’t get me wrong, I support self-publishing. But it’s important to note that self-publishing does not absolve writers of the need (and duty) to give readers a polished piece of art, instead of one with misspellings or plot holes. Readers aren’t likely to throw down a hard-earned $10-15 for a book replete with misspellings and plot holes. If they do, they won’t make the same mistake for your sequel.
Now can I submit?
Yes. The time has come.
Now that you hold a shiny, polished manuscript, your next step is to consider how and where to submit it. I recommend researching pitch contests and agents fully before submitting anywhere. Make sure the pitch contests have bona fide agents involved. Consider pitching in person at a conference (some agents closed to submission will still take clients from a conference pitch). And definitely make sure you only submit to agents seeking your genre manuscript.
Here are just a few of the many great resources to consider:
- The Official Manuscript Submission Wishlist Website
- Writing a query letter (Note: Everything on Jane Friedman’s website is worth the read)
- How to prep for pitching
- Writing Conferences with agent pitch sessions- there are so many. Here are just a few to get you started:
Did this help you decide what to do with your draft? Where are you in your writing journey? Let us know in the comments!